With more than 260,000 employees, DHS has the third largest workforce of any federal department, behind the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs. These employees chose a life of service, one that can mean long hours away from their families and homes. At DHS, we recognize that families are important for employee support and resiliency. Whether it's traditional family, friends, colleagues, or community, having a support system is so vital for public service employees. Families may be behind the scenes, but their love and support are instrumental to our mission success.
Below is the first of many DHS employee profiles celebrating the special bond of family and friendship.
Erin Lynch’s fascination with weather began during her childhood as she and her father would listen to summer thunderstorms on their enclosed porch. Despite being initially frightened by thunder, Erin found comfort in her father’s presence and grew to find thunder relaxing. “Some of my favorite times were just sitting on the porch with my dad in the summer listening to rain hit the roof and the thunder roll,” Erin fondly recalled.
Erin’s love of weather followed her to college, where she obtained a degree in meteorology. Determined to find a career that combined her love of weather with a service mindset, Erin joined the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) FEMA Corps program, where she gained valuable emergency management experience and deployed to various service projects around the country. After finishing her two service terms with AmeriCorps NCCC, Erin joined FEMA’s National Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) White, which responds to disasters across the country to help communities respond and recover.
Weather has become a herculean force in Erin’s life over the past three years. As a member of National IMAT White, she must be prepared to deploy year-round. When disaster strikes, IMAT needs to be on a coordination call within two hours of notification and at the disaster site within 12 to 24 hours.
Erin always keeps a “go bag” of essentials in her car so she can travel at a moment’s notice. Over the years she has missed holidays and special occasions due to the unpredictable nature of her job. “Disasters don’t stop for holidays or vacations,” stated Erin, acknowledging how she has adapted her lifestyle to accommodate the unpredictable nature of her job.
Erin’s team usually avoids taking vacations between the hurricane season which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. Instead, Erin, who lives in Virginia, visits her family in Massachusetts in the winter and spring, which is IMAT’s quieter season. But even then, there’s no guarantee a disaster won’t strike.
In December 2021, a nighttime tornado devastated rural communities in Kentucky, destroying more than 15,000 buildings and killing 71 people. The catastrophic tornado spawned a massive emergency response. Erin and her team were on a coordination call the next morning and on the ground in Kentucky by 8 p.m. This was considered a “no notice” event, unlike a hurricane where IMAT can generally predict a deployment based on forecasts.
With such an unpredictable and demanding job, Erin leans on her family for a source of strength and normalcy in her chaotic world. “They offer up their time to help me decompress from the stress of what I’m seeing, which is something I’m always grateful for.”
Erin makes her family a priority, connecting with her parents during a weekly call. This call helps her separate from work and gives her parents the opportunity to check in on her wellbeing, especially during emotionally taxing deployments.
When Erin first joined IMAT, it was difficult for her mother to adjust. She worried about Erin’s wellbeing and whether she was eating and sleeping enough during deployments. Erin is conscious of the toll her career can take on her parents, but after three years at FEMA, she believes her mom is beginning to adjust. If anything, Erin’s job has strengthened her family bond and made them more resilient.
One of Erin’s closest family members is her grandmother, who she considers her favorite person and a significant part of her family support system. They have a virtual date on Saturday nights to connect and talk about what is going on in their lives. When Erin shares a frustrating moment or stressor from her deployments, her grandmother will usually tell an encouraging story from her own past. Erin relishes these stories, such as when her grandmother worked on Capitol Hill in the 1950s. Erin has fond childhood memories of bonding with her grandmother at symphony orchestra and ballet performances. Every year, they would dress up, go out for lunch, and attend the Nutcracker at the Wang Theater in Boston. Now, when Erin gets the chance to visit home, she always takes her grandmother out to lunch.
Erin’s support system also includes her colleagues and friends. IMAT functions like a family, watching out for each other during deployments that can result in demanding 18-hour workdays. They regularly discuss their own boundaries and burnout signals, providing much needed support such as squeezing in a quick 10-minute walk together to physically decompress from the demands of their day.
Meanwhile, Erin’s friends in Virginia offer a stable community after deployment. Typically, IMAT have five days after deployments to disconnect from the stressors of their job. For Erin, this means hitting the trails or going on a camping trip with her friends. She also enjoys just sitting in a quiet apartment and enjoying the company of friends. She credits these interactions with her friends for helping her come out of the ‘deployment fog’ to reset and get ready for the next one.
Despite witnessing the devastation that disastrous weather can cause, Erin doesn’t let it affect her love of mother nature. She finds solace in nature, using her time off to disconnect from work and disappear into the woods. “After a deployment, I need to go back into nature to recharge, seeking the peace of nature instead of the chaos of the environment that I just came from.”