Through FEMA, Brennan ’16 Assists Survivors

By Susan Gettlin | June 22, 2017

When disaster strikes, Shawn Brennan ’16 responds. 

As a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster survivor assistance specialist, Brennan is on the front line of responders, aiding survivors in their recovery by making sure the FEMA process is clearly laid out and answering questions about housing, loans, and their businesses. 

Since starting with FEMA in June 2016, Brennan has been deployed to two disaster sights: Baton Rouge, La., and Darlington and Columbia, S.C. As the “boots on the ground,” DSAs are the first FEMA personnel that survivors encounter.

Every survivor has their own story to tell, and we are here to listen and assist.

“You have to always have your head clear and understand that these individuals are going through one of the toughest situations in their lives,” Brennan said. “Every survivor has their own story to tell, and we are here to listen and assist. Being able to provide a service that benefits the survivors is what makes this job so rewarding.”

In August, Brennan spent about 30 days in Baton Rouge with residents and business owners. Dispatched only two days after the flooding, Brennan said the waters hadn’t receded yet when they arrived, which meant DSAs had to begin registering residents at a Cosco. He recalled hearing about the challenges of residents trying to reach the store, including some who required emergency assistance. 

“They really try to get you ready, but it’s not like seeing it firsthand,” Brennan said about the two-week orientation he went through in June. “We have a saying: ‘You’re never going to go back to normal, but you will find a new normal.’ You have to put yourself in people’s shoes. Be patient.”

For Hurricane Matthew in South Carolina, Brennan remained deployed from Halloween through the end of November. He went door-to-door to work with residents who had been impacted by the hurricane. Many survivors showcased a tremendous amount of resolve, including a 90-year-old woman in South Carolina who drove herself to the help center rather than waiting for assistance. 

“For many of these people, it’s not their first rodeo,” Brennan said. “People have had many experiences with FEMA. We are there to reassure them that they’re not going to be lost throughout the process. We want to help them out any way we can.”

As a Criminal Justice major with a minor in Emergency Management, Brennan said his goal at Arcadia was to find a career where he could help people. He found his calling while interning at the Burlington County Office of Emergency Management. He said emergency management “struck a chord” with him after he saw how his co-workers handled the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Eventually, he hopes to work with one of the New Jersey emergency management teams near his hometown of Howell.

“Everyone should have a chance to recover and move on,” said Brennan. “It’s been a great experience, and a great way to start my career.”