When a disaster strikes, Mark Misczak is a beacon of light for survivors, helping them receive much-needed government support and assistance.
During his 22-year career with FEMA, Misczak has responded to some of our nation’s largest disasters, including the great flood of 1993 that occurred in nine Midwestern states, the Cerro Grande forest fire that burned 48,000 acres in New Mexico, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Hurricanes Andrew, Katrina, and Sandy.
“What other job could you have where you are able to help someone who has completely given up hope and help them put things back together,” said Misczak. “To make that impact on people, it has been a life changer for me.”
Since 2008, Misczak has been the deputy director of FEMA’s individual assistance division, which provides disaster survivors with financial and direct services help. This includes everything from emergency shelter and food to home repairs, medical and dental expenses and funeral and burial costs.
Called “forward thinking” by his colleagues, Misczak has taken time after every disaster to engage with the field staff and absorb the lessons learned so that he can work with agency leadership to make needed adjustments to the assistance program at the national level.
“Not only do I have a responsibility to make sure the program runs well, is properly resourced and has the right people, but I also need to make sure the program fits the event that we are serving,” said Misczak.
“We need to look at the program from the perspective of the disaster survivor – the American citizen who needs their government to help them,” he said.
Misczak most recently worked with FEMA’s leadership team to make significant changes to the individual assistance program during the agency’s response to Hurricane Sandy. As the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, Sandy affected 24 states, with New Jersey and New York communities hit the hardest.
Starting in late October 2012, Misczak spent three months in New York City advising Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s housing recovery office and local officials, and worked in partnership with other FEMA leaders, Gov. Cuomo’s office and the mayor’s staff to provide assistance to survivors that FEMA had never offered before.
One of the key programs Misczak helped institute was the NYC Rapid Repairs, which enabled residential property owners affected by Sandy to make emergency repairs so that their homes could be used for shelter in place, and to also protect these homes from further damage, including permanent or temporary restoration of heat, power and hot water.
Misczak said enabling individuals to stay in their homes reduced the need for less timely and less efficient forms of temporary housing and was a “big step forward in how FEMA is able to provide assistance.”
This sentiment is echoed by Brad Gair, director of New York City’s housing recovery operations, who noted that in 90 days, the city was able to repair more than 20,000 residential units.
“It is the most remarkable post-disaster housing program that I have seen, and Mark played a critical role in helping us stand up this program,” said Gair.
Some residents, however, were unable to return to their homes due to the catastrophic damage and required temporary housing assistance. Misczak and his FEMA colleagues stepped in with resources, data and advice to help the city craft its own program that provided blocks of hotel rooms located near the damaged areas. As a result, nearly 1,000 people received shelter in a safe, sanitary environment near their communities, schools and churches, said Gair.
Gair credits Misczak’s “incredible knowledge of the FEMA system and regulations” for making these two programs a success. “We needed Mark to help us with creative ideas and that is why we turned to him. He represents the best of FEMA,” he said.
Although much has changed in the 22 years Misczak has been providing assistance, one thing has remained constant, and that is his devotion to ensuring disaster survivors and communities get needed support.
“Mark never says something can’t be done. He always comes back with an option or another approach and that is priceless, especially when working with people who may have lost everything in a disaster, said Deborah Ingram, FEMA’s assistant administrator for recovery.
“He’s our hero,” she added.
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.