CHICAGO – About 50 members of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workforce are assisting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) response to support the needs of communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic and they have been deployed to work alongside FEMA officials and medical personnel who administer vaccines in Illinois and Rhode Island.
These TSA employees serve on the agency’s Surge Capacity Force (SCF), a voluntary program for federal employees within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agencies that allows non-FEMA employees an opportunity to support disaster response efforts. TSA’s Surge Capacity Force has 400 volunteers and when deployed, they leave their regular TSA jobs to deploy for up to 45 days to a disaster location.
They have typically been sent to assist FEMA in its hurricane relief efforts. However, earlier this month the group of TSA employees from more than 30 airports and TSA headquarters deployed to vaccination sites in Chicago, Il., and Providence, R.I., and they will remain on site until at least mid-April. If they had not already received a vaccine when they deployed, one was administered to them when they arrived at their designated site.
The Chicago-based vaccination center is located in a hotel adjacent to O’Hare International Airport where TSA volunteers are assisting FEMA
vaccinate the thousands of individuals who work at or are based out of O’Hare and Chicago Midway International Airports.
“When individuals enter the vaccination center, they are somewhat anxious, but when they leave, they seem much more relaxed and at ease,” says Marvin “Rodney” Rucker, who is serving as a unit lead at the vaccination site in Chicago. When he’s not assisting FEMA, Rucker serves as an Assistant Federal Security Director at Yeager Airport in West Virginia.
The vaccination center shifts are long, typically 12 hours a day, six days a week. Volunteers rotate to different steps along the vaccination center process. Some TSA employees work in the intake registration room, checking people in using a tablet, ensuring that they have an appointment. Others work at a station where reverification takes place and a vaccination card is handed to the individual. The vaccination room is staffed by medical professionals who administer the vaccines. The fourth station is an observation area where individuals who have just received their vaccine wait for a minimum of 15 minutes before they head home.
“Working in the observation room is a fun, enjoyable assignment,” says Sandra Boyd, a Transportation Security Manager who works at Harrisburg International Airport in Pennsylvania. “Generally they’ve been through the entire process in only about 20 to 25 minutes. After their vaccines, people are excited and talkative and generally glad that they received their shots. Plus, on their way out, they thank us for being there.”
“It’s very rewarding work,” said Kevin Moses, a Transportation Security Manager who works at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport in New York. “People who come through our vaccination site are excited to be here. They clearly appreciate what we are doing, for being part of the process to get them their vaccine.”
“I’ve always had a career that focused on service to the community,” said Jason Quant, a Transportation Security Inspector for Cargo who works out of Norfolk International Airport in Virginia, and is serving as the lead in the registration room in the Chicago vaccination site. Quant has been a fire fighter, served in the U.S. Navy and been a deputy sheriff before joining TSA in 2002. “I’m the type of person who, when I see someone needs help, I do what I can,” which is why he signed up to serve on the Surge Capacity Force.
Scott Barnhart, a Transportation Security Manager who works at Eppley Airfield in Nebraska, has been helping in the observation area where “I answer people’s questions, help individuals who may need some additional medical assistance and then guide people to the center’s exit after they have completed their wait in the observation room. The flow of people is one-way to help ensure social distancing,” he said.
“I think of it as a checkpoint,” said Transportation Security Manager Mike Hanson from Philadelphia International Airport. “I’m making sure that people show up have an appointment and direct them to the next step along the way to getting their vaccine. It’s been running very smoothly.”
The Surge Capacity Force, first authorized by Congress as part of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) of 2006, was designed to allow all DHS staff an opportunity to help communities and survivors following a large-scale disaster. The program was previously activated in 2012, when 1,100 non-FEMA DHS employees, including hundreds of TSA employees supported disaster response and recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and again in 2017 when more than 4,000 DHS staff members and members of the TSA workforce assisted Americans impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
TSA currently has 400 members on its Surge Capacity Force. Individuals who have been deployed to assist FEMA at vaccination centers came from these airports plus TSA headquarters: ACY, ATL, BDL, BUF, CHS, CRW, CVG, DAL, DEN, DTW, IAH, JNU, LAX, MDT, MEM, MIA, MLI, MSP, OKC, OMA, ONT, PDX, PHL, PHX, PLN, RDU, RIC, RNO, ROC, SFO and SPI.