Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) mission is to help people before, during, and after disasters.  The sponsor for this internship is Office of Response and Recovery (ORR).  The ORR oversees response, recovery, and logistics operations, which span a broad range of emergency management activities in field and office settings.

Emergency Management Resource Planning Analysis and Visualization at FEMA

Projects in the ORR support various DHS Research Areas including: Emergency Preparedness and Response; Community, Commerce & Infrastructure Resilience; and Advanced Data Analysis and Visualization, as FEMA continues to research ways to improve resource planning to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of services to disaster survivors.

Projects will focus on ORR resource planning, and in particular, using applied mathematics and statistics to build components of forecasting models that predict workforce requirements.  The models will consider factors such as the predicted negative impacts of hazards, and the emergency management resources available, or needed, to respond and recover from those hazards.  Key questions include:

  • What are the expected impacts of hazards?
  • What emergency management resources are available to address the expected impacts?
  • Where are the most vulnerable populations and how can FEMA best match available resources to meet the needs of those populations?
  • What is the best way for FEMA to match resources to requirements?

Interns will work with a team of Emergency Management Specialists who have led and participated in internationally and nationally recognized research projects.  The work atmosphere is collegial with a strong emphasis on collaborative learning to strengthen emergency management practices.  The physical work setting is at an office at FEMA Headquarters, and may involve field data gathering at FEMA locations in the immediate Washington Metro Area.

2019 Intern Reflection:

This summer has been very exciting so far. FEMA is an incredibly large organization, so it has been amazing to get a glimpse into what different branches and teams do on a daily basis while also gaining an understanding of the organization's broader structure and various emergency management principles. One notable element of this internship has been the freedom I have been afforded, even as a college student. My intern coordinator made it clear from the first day that I would be able to select the team I wanted to work with, and that flexibility and freedom to explore cannot be overrated! In general, the work environment is friendly, incredibly supportive, and fairly relaxed, but people take their jobs and the organization's mission quite seriously.

Though there are opportunities available regardless of a student's skillset, I ended up choosing to work with the Data Science Section within the Workforce Management Division, where I have been using R and Keras to build out personnel request models and simulate deployments through FEMA's centralized Deployment Tracking System (DTS). My end goal is to use this simulation to optimize the DTS algorithm (responders get sorted based on various criteria that determine who gets asked for what disaster and when) parameters and thus improve the time it takes for personnel to deploy to disasters and also minimize the numbers of unfulfilled requests made from disaster sites. Doing so has given me insight into machine learning, helped me learn R more seriously, and also gave me a significant role in FEMA's work. I am incredibly lucky to be working on such an interesting problem as an intern, and the people around me have been supportive and more than willing to teach me anything I need to know. FEMA is an exciting place to work, and the exposure to emergency management in a government (but not at all partisan) capacity has been incredible.

Sophie Khorasani '21

2018 Intern Reflection:

This summer has been an incredible opportunity to understand how FEMA operates and to get to be a small part in it. Each morning begins with the daily operations briefing, where we hear about all of the current work the agency is doing and learn about any incoming storms. Although everyone is very serious about their work, oftentimes everyone is joking around while we’re waiting for the briefing to start, and that fun yet dedicated environment continues as I go back to my desk.

I’ve been working in the Business Management Office in the Office of Response and Recovery (ORR), specifically in Human Resources. I’ve been able to use my applied math background on various analysis projects, like creating probability models to help with the hiring process. Before coming to FEMA, I only had experience coding in Python, but since being here I’ve learned how to code in R and I've been able to use it to complete lots of analysis projects. I’ll be presenting one of these projects with the FEMA analytics community in a couple of weeks, which I'm really looking forward to.

Being at FEMA has been such a learning experience, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn and work among such dedicated people!

Olivia Phillips '20

2017 Intern Reflection:

I have so enjoyed my experience at FEMA. Last semester I took a course at the Kennedy School on crisis management, and my experience at FEMA has provided an in-depth look at strategies for mitigating natural disasters. I have come to understand the various branches of the organization and the scope of FEMA's significant responsibility. My day typically begins in the morning with an operations briefing, in which I sit in on FEMA’s executive team meeting and daily assessment of potential natural disasters and possible damage that might result. I have been fascinated to observe how the intensity of the meetings ramps up when potential natural disasters become more of a threat. FEMA headquarters across the nation telecast into the meeting to learn of recent developments. Daily life as an intern at FEMA headquarters has been particularly interesting because of the friendly demeanor of the FEMA employees who have been happy to welcome me to the agency for the summer.

In addition to the various tasks in the office, interns are also assigned a personal project that we work on throughout our time at the organization. The personal project asks us to creatively address an issue or problem FEMA faces after developing a knowledge-base of the inner-workings of the agency. Because I lack a STEM background, I was initially concerned about identifying a personal project that contributes to the organization, but with guidance from FEMA staff I am happy to have landed on a project I'm very excited about. My personal project utilizes 3D printing to recreate historical sites that might be affected by disaster. My hope is to create an enduring testament to historic locations across America that might be destroyed or severely damaged due to a natural disaster. In addition, by putting this plan into action I hope to reduce the amount of federal funds allocated towards the preservation efforts of historical sites.

I have had a wonderful summer at FEMA and am so grateful to the IOP’s Director’s Internship Program for providing me this wonderful glimpse into federal disaster relief.

Jenny Horowitz '19

Washington, D.C.