Wow, what a first week of training. Since arriving last Sunday, this is basically the first time I have been able to come up for air. Starting Sunday night, we had team building exercises. On Monday, introductions, purpose, organization, and doctrine. One of the cool things that happened on Monday that I did not write about in my last post was that we all had to take an Oath of Office, the same one the President has to take. That was a humbling moment.
Tuesday and Wednesday was the basic "welcome to the company" stuff - HR, benefits, rules, regs, EEO, all that fun stuff. Tuesday night, however, I did get my badge! I now have my "Federal Emergency Response Official" badge :) Thursday and Friday we had a Basics of FEMA course, covering the high level doctrine and overall response process. It was a good overview, however, slightly dry. In addition to our in classroom classes, we were given a list of about 40 independent study on line courses we need to complete by the time we leave here. Everything from the ICS basics to a class on Constitution Day. And if that was not enough, we have required books to read for class. They started us all out with "The First 90 Days in Government" - talk about a page turner! We need to have that one done by the end of this next week, at which point we get book number two in the FEMA Book Club.
Our team is really good, lots of experienced people on it. There are a couple like me that are new to FEMA, so I am not completely alone in that account. Our team has also been meeting at nights after class to prepare our selves and get to know each other better, both professionally and personally. We spent all day yesterday (Saturday) working in our teams. As our leader put it, we are 100% dedicated to this academy for the 12 weeks we are here. So they are going to take every chance we can to meet and build our skills.
This works well too. There is not much to do here besides work on FEMA stuff. Transportation is limited at best, and non-existent at most times. So far the meals have been good, except for now over the weekend. Last nights dinner was really bad, but no transportation services to go out even though we were told they would. Good thing I had some snacks in the room.
This next week we have classes specific to our position. So I should be in IT classes learning their systems and policies. At least that will be a little more interesting than basics classes.
So why all this work and push to get done? Well, in just about 2 weeks, we will be taking our Incident Management III certification test. This test will certify both us as individuals as well as us as a team. This will make us an official Level 3 response team. A couple weeks later, we take our Level 2 certification. At that point, the boss says we can be sent out. While most of us have been thinking August 1 as our start of deployment date, the Administrator told all of us that after June 1, we could be called out the field!
And then finally, before we leave the academy, our last item will be our Level 1 certification. This is the major league item - the reason we are all here. These tests are not easy. They said that in the normal field operations, a team would work together for at least 10 YEARS before taking the Level 1 test. We need to be at that level in 12 weeks. So yes, the pressure is on! They tested 16 teams 2 years ago - 3 national type 1 teams and 13 type 2 teams. Of the 16 teams, which at that point had been together for at least two years, only 4 of the 16 teams passed. Not a very high success rate. And they are looking at us to pass first time at each of the three levels.