Whistles blow and bells ring whenever another Souris River flood survivor returns to a repaired home or finds a new home.
A year after the 2011 flood, employees in the Minot office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency continue to work with displaced residents in their quests for permanent housing and cheer when those efforts are successful. There's the sound of whistles in the office when homeowners move back and cow bells when renters find permanent housing.
"Everybody gets excited," said Laura Grueneberg, voluntary agency liaison with FEMA. "We are happy when people get back on their feet. It is a celebration."
Jill Schramm/MDN • Adam and Alyssa Cool walk June 13 with their dog and son, Jaxton, in Virgil Workman Village, where they are living until their house is rebuilt.
Grueneberg, who previously worked for Lutheran Disaster Services, is among local residents hired by FEMA to put their community knowledge to work in assisting with the recovery.
Tammy Kloehn, who worked at Minot Air Force Base before joining FEMA as recertification adviser, said some displaced residents might be more open to FEMA employees who know the community and understand what they are going through. Kloehn had to temporarily leave her home when floodwaters filled the basement.
Grueneberg and her husband and four children are in a new house after selling their flooded home. They had lived for five months in a FEMA temporary housing unit, which they had been thrilled to get after being couped up in a hotel room for almost four months.
For residents who remain displaced, the slow pace of the recovery is discouraging, Kloehn said. Kloehn regularly meets residents in FEMA housing units to help them with their housing plans, providing leads on rental properties and offering assistance to homeowners working on repairs. She said the lack of affordable housing is the primary concern for renters while homeowners are frustrated by delays because contractors are over-booked and aren't getting to their houses.
"Things are not going as fast as they would like," she said.
Grueneberg, who is FEMA's liaison with local recovery organizations, said there is a great need for more supplies for Recovery Warehouse. The Unmet Needs Committee has given grants up to $1,900, but for someone with a gap of $50,000 to $75,000 between personal resources and repair costs, it's not enough, she said.
Part of her job involves searching for and assisting in applications for grants that can help people narrow that gap. One of her projects involved landing on a state grant that is provide funding for rebuilding.
"Knowing that you are getting people additional help and that they are able to move back because of something you do is incredibly rewarding," Grueneberg said.
Christopher Geck, FEMA's human resources supervisor in Minot, works behind the scenes, handling deployments of other employees. FEMA has about 60 employees working in Minot on various aspects of the disaster aftermath. Many are from North Dakota but some are from out of state.
Geck was born in Minot but moved as a child and has lived the past 22 years in Mandan. He is a former member of the North Dakota Army National Guard. He worked as a security officer in FEMA's Bismarck office during the flood threat from the Red River in 2009 and later applied for a reservist position in FEMA's finance and administration section. FEMA calls up its reservists when help is needed in disaster recovery around the country.
Last year, Geck assisted family and friends who experienced flooding in Minot and now enjoys being part of an agency active in the recovery effort.
"It's very, very fast paced," he said. "It is motivating."
FEMA spokesman Brian Hvinden said the agency has no timeline for how long it will have an office in Minot. Employees will remain as long as they are needed, he said, noting that the Minot office likely will phase out gradually. A Garrison native, Hvinden has been among employees assigned to Minot.
Grueneberg said she has learned much through working with FEMA.
"It has provided me a lot of insight into how other organizations work," she said.
Kloehn said the job has been an eye-opener for her as well.
"I didn't realize what FEMA was all about," she said. "You start to be able to see the positive things that they do."