Beaufort News

Bluffton woman dedicates herself to disaster relief

Having retired after a lengthy career in the insurance industry, Annette Cheek knew she wanted to transition into government but wasn't interested in a desk job.

"I wanted to find government work that did not require sitting in an office, and a position which would utilize my experience in the insurance industry," the 48-year-old Bluffton resident said.

It took a chance encounter and conversation with a federal worker that put Cheek on her next career path -- as a disaster generalist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"I was sold from the get-go," Cheek said. "In 2008, I started applying online for FEMA work and was contacted ... and asked if I was interested in applying as a 'reservist for FEMA.' I was thrilled to hear about the position and the process began."

Cheek received word last month that she had been selected to join a nationwide team of disaster generalists, a group of reservists that deploy across the country and provide basic disaster relief to those in need. Disaster generalists perform a variety of basic functions after a disaster, such as canvassing areas to inform residents about FEMA's programs and serving people stranded at shelters or hotels, according to FEMA.

As part of her new responsibility, Cheek must be ready to help those in need at a moment's notice. According to FEMA, disaster reservists should keep a constant watch on severe weather conditions nationwide and keep a travel bag packed in case they are asked to deploy on short notice.

Now an empty-nester, Cheek said her new job satisfies her love of traveling and helping others.

"The idea of combining travel with helping people was very exciting to me," Cheek said. "With no children at home and no full-time job, I was free to pursue my passion for adventure and work for the government."

Cheek still must pass several online exams and an extensive background check by the Department of Homeland Security before being deployed, though she says she's looking forward to the opportunity.

"I am pleased to be accepted into this program and excited about helping others in a time of disaster," Cheek said. "This position was a dream come true for me."