CHDS alums lead FEMA, Peace Corps Covid-19 vaccination pact

Two Center for Homeland Defense and Security alumni are at the center of an historic agreement between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Peace Corps aimed at accelerating administration of Covid-19 vaccine.

FEMA assistant administrator, field operations, John Rabin (Executive Leaders Program cohort 1402) and Peace Corps Response director Sarah Dietch (ELP 1402) signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organizations in March that allows Peace Corps volunteers to work in FEMA-supported Community Vaccination Centers starting in mid-May.

This will be just the second time in the Peace Corps’ 60-year history that its volunteers will work in the U.S., following its efforts in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Typically, the Peace Corps and its volunteers are only authorized for international service. But they can deploy volunteers domestically at the request of FEMA pursuant to the Stafford Act when the organization receives a mission statement after the President declares an emergency.

“Given the national scale of this (Covid-19) public health emergency, addition al human resources are needed for a limited period of time to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine as quickly as possible, especially among underserved populations,” a Peace Corps representative said. “So far, 65% of people receiving their vaccine at a Community Vaccination Center are from high-need, underserved groups. This is an evolving and dynamic situation where the needs change day-to-day. Returned Peace Corps volunteers have valuable prior experience in entering new environments and quickly adapting to a variety of situations. Their experience using language and cross-cultural skills will also be a benefit in the (vaccination centers) given the diverse populations expected to seek service at these locations.”

Peace Corps Response director Sarah Dietch and FEMA assistant administrator John Rabin sign Covid-19 vaccination agreement.

Rabin said discussions about a potential partnership began nearly a year ago when the pandemic first required program adjustments and FEMA officials reached out to the Peace Corps to see what could be done with volunteers returning from their international service stints, and that continued when the community vaccination mission emerged.

Noting that FEMA has a number of Peace Corps alumni, Rabin said they were “very familiar” with the program and that allowed for the organizations to find a workable solution.

As the agreement was nearing completion, Rabin said he and Dietch both realized they knew each other, and he said Dietch realized it was through the CHDS Executive Leaders Program.

Dietch said the two had first met during ELP cohort 1402 in 2014-15 but had not stayed in touch and the signing of the agreement was the first time they had seen each other since graduating from the ELP.

“One of the most significant benefits of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security Executive Leadership Program was learning from others working in the national security field whether it was other federal partners such as FEMA or first responders at the state and local level,” Dietch said. “There is always a need to coordinate limited resources and build on expertise and experiences of other partners. I appreciate that FEMA very early on recognized that Peace Corps Response volunteers could contribute to the vaccination distribution in the United States.

“My training at CHDS helped me think creatively about partnerships, to work with agencies that can fill gaps in your organization, not just stick with your traditional partners. This is particularly important as we face a challenge as great as the global pandemic. I am so ha;ppy to be lending all of my training and experience to this amazing effort.”

Rabin said the CHDS program offered a unique opportunity to develop a network and a “shared understanding of our missions for the greater good.”

According to Rabin, FEMA will bring Peace Corps volunteers to the federal agency’s Personnel Mobilization Center in Dallas, TX on May 17 where they will be sworn in, trained and sent off to their vaccination centers.

FEMA is providing support to Covid-19 efforts across the U.S. through personnel, supplies and funding to help establish or expand more than 500 state-led community vaccination centers and more than 70 mobile vaccination centers.

The agency has provided more than $4.47 billion for Covid-19 vaccination efforts at 100% federal cost share, covering supplies, staffing, training and transportation.

Peace Corps volunteers are slated to perform general duties at the centers, including checking in patients, scheduling second dose appointments, directing traffic, providing language support, and the like.

Those eligible to serve in the special domestic deployment include returned volunteers evacuated from their overseas posts in March last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Peace Corps temporarily suspended its global operations last year, evacuating nearly 7,000 volunteers from 61 countries due to the pandemic.

Dietch said the Peace Corps is now busy preparing for its volunteers to return to overseas service, and the FEMA assignment gives the organization “hands-on experience as it looks to develop overseas Covid-19 programming.”

The collaboration is being implemented through Dietch’s Peace Corps Response program, which sends volunteers with specialized experience to short-term service assignments for up to a year.

When the Peace Corps sent more than 270 volunteers to respond to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it was Peace Corps Response predecessor Crisis Corps that managed the deployment to assist FEMA’s relief operation.

Rabin said the collaboration between FEMA and the Peace Corps could be replicated in other ways in the future.

“I think it has set FEMA up to use (the Peace Corps) in the future,” he said. “If the need fits with the (Peace Corps) program, all the hard work has been done.”

The Executive Leaders Program provides a unique educational opportunity for senior-level homeland security and public safety leaders from federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal agencies, and the private sector, at the forefront of the nation’s homeland security mission, offering a non-degree, graduate-level program meeting the immediate and long-term needs of leaders responsible for homeland security and public safety by bringing together a variety of disciplines and jurisdictions into one room.

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security located at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA is the nation’s homeland security educator.