Indiana Customer Service

May 2017

DMVs give back to their communities, including when disaster strikes

By the time Hurricane Matthew made landfall outside of McClellanville, South Carolina, as a Category 1 storm, Kevin Shwedo, executive director of the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, had been preparing for years.

After being appointed in 2011, Shwedo spent a year and a half visiting all 67 DMV branches in South Carolina and realized every office was doing something different. So he created a synergistic training plan in mid-2012. “We didn’t ask anybody, we just made the decision we were going to close every Wednesday from 8:30–9:30 a.m.,” Shwedo says. During that time, he took a team of experts to train the 67 DMV branch managers, who then educated their respective staff members on emergency preparedness each week.

“For a couple of years we practiced for nothing, but it was still the right thing to do,” Shwedo says. “When the storm actually came, the team was ready and trained to respond to a gap that existed in the organizational structure of the state.”

Ready to Respond

After shutting down DMVs that were in the path of the storm, the first thing Shwedo’s team did just before Hurricane Matthew hit was volunteer 40 people to run the call center for the emergency management division instead of answering DMV calls. “The call center was so effective we had people from Florida calling and asking for information from our call center because they were able to get through and wanted evacuation information or where they could go for help,” Shwedo says.

Once they had an estimate of how wide the hurricane’s path would be, but before the storm hit, Shwedo says DMV panel trucks were sent out around the state to bring generators, printers, cameras and computers to various locations where residents could go to quickly replace their ID cards, licenses and titles. Insurance companies were also stationed at these same parking lot locations.

Prior to the emergency, Shwedo’s team wore the same polo shirts to work every Friday because of the DMV’s partnership with Donate Life America. “That became good in the storm,” he says. “When my people were out volunteering at Team South Carolina events and passing out food, water, bug spray and tarps for homes, every one of them had a DMV shirt on.” This helped members in the community see people from the DMV helping in an atypical way that surprised them, says Shwedo, who estimates 125 individuals from his 1,300-person organization helped for various long- and short-term disaster recovery programs. Shwedo himself was awarded South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto, for his efforts.

Before a natural disaster strikes, Shwedo says it’s important to know where your first and second line supervisors are and how you plan to communicate with them, so once the storm passes you know they are safe and how you can contact them when they need to come back and re-open. Then be ready to help out others who have ‘mission-essential tasks’ that need additional help. “If all you are focused on is your mission, your state is going to fail,” he says.

Shwedo’s other suggestion: Spend time talking to other states about their disaster recovery programs to find out what they did to prepare, what equipment they used, and if they have any long-range sales and operations planning in the works. “Steal their great ideas so you don’t have to reinvent them,” he says. “Look for the gaps in your plan that can be augmented through the brilliance of theirs.”

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The Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security responded to a 2016 wildfire near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Once the smoke cleared, the Driver Services division activated its mobile units to help customers who needed new licenses and identification. Governor Bill Haslam initiated an executive order waiving the fees for customers who were affected by the wildfires.

Fighting a Fire

When Gatlinburg, Tennessee, broke out in flames in 2016 in the state’s worst natural disaster, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security in Sevier County responded by coming directly to its citizens in need. They set up two mobile van units to make sure there was an operational DMV center on wheels available. A vetting station was set up outside for individuals to fill out applications and answer a few personal questions, including their Social Security numbers, before their photos were cross-referenced via electronic data files.

“We used those two mobile units to set up shop in Gatlinburg so everyone could come to one central location to access the government services they needed,” says Michael Hogan, director of Driver Services Issuance at the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Each unit was operated by three or four people, including two examiners and a supervisor who helped issue interim licenses. The $12 credential fee was waived via an executive order from the governor.

“Twelve dollars is still a lot of money when you’ve lost everything,” says Hogan, whose state also had to help those affected by a tornado in eastern Tennessee around the same time as the fire. “When you lose everything, sometimes one of the biggest hurdles is getting new identification.

A driver’s license isn’t just used to operate a vehicle. It’s used for getting medicine, registering to vote, opening a bank account and for getting on airplanes, so it’s important for people to have it.”

Prior the disaster, Hogan says the mobile centers had been used as multipurpose vehicles to help military veterans receive commercial driver’s licenses via Tennessee’s Highways to Heroes Program. The mobile units also are useful for giving back by going to rural counties that have limited resources and may not have a facility, he says.

Convenient Service

Disaster relief isn’t the only way in which DMVs give back to their communities. When it comes to helping veterans and the homeless, Spencer R. Moore, commissioner at the Georgia Department of Driver Services, says, along with having a great team, the DDS’s mobile dual-axle trailer has been essential in providing support for its 67 customer service centers around the state, including two in Cobb County, which has the third highest population in the state with 751,763 people. 

To test out its DDS Mobile Emergency Licensing Unit before it was needed for emergency situations, the DDS went to the Savannah-based 165th Airlift Wing inside of a Georgia Air National Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft hangar to register drivers who were in the military. The unit was staffed by six examiners—four people issuing licenses and another two helping out with administrative tasks.

“We thought about the complexities of what we ask our military folks to do,” Moore says. “This provided an opportunity to ease the burden of the many things they need to accomplish in their everyday lives.”

Since then, the DDS has also deployed the unit to help other citizens in special circumstances, including when Mercedes- Benz relocated its headquarters to Sandy Springs, Georgia. “We had an event in which we serviced many of the corporate headquarter employees to ensure their transition into our state was a welcoming one,” Moore says. 

During the Governor’s Day of Service in 2015, the mobile unit was used to provide licenses and identification cards at the City of Refuge Homeless Shelter in Atlanta. This year, when a tornado killed seven in the tiny town of Adel, Georgia, the unit helped, too. “Quite frankly, I don’t even know how some of them made it to that location,” Moore says. “They were still bandaged up. One gentleman had bandages around his head and told us about how his child was thrown across the room and he thought he was going to lose his child.”

Regardless of the situation, Moore says being service-oriented is an essential part of being a motor vehicle agency. He says his goal is to always service 95 percent of the customers in 30 minutes or less. “We’re the one-stop-shop, and customers don’t have an opportunity to go somewhere else to get their service,” says Moore, whose agency issued 4.3 million driver’s licenses in 2016. “As a state agency, we have to be in tune with the public we serve.”

Using Resources Wisely

Lt. Michael Webb, commander of Kentucky State Police Public Affairs, says even though his organization is under a tight budget crunch, it makes the most of what resources it has to give back. Since it started its ‘Cram the Cruiser’ holiday food drive in 2010, it has grown exponentially. “We barely have enough cruisers to take calls in,” Webb says.

Cram the Cruiser
The Kentucky State Police’s 7th annual ‘Cram the Cruiser’ holiday food drive raised nearly 170 tons of nonperishable food items for families in need during a three-week period.

The Kentucky State Police now partners with 81 Kroger grocery stores and Pepsi, which pays for promotional banners, signs and materials. Hundreds of other locations across the state help spread the word about the food drive as well, including doctor offices, churches, and schools that reward students with ‘dress down days’ and other incentives to encourage donations.

To facilitate the food drive’s operation between Thanksgiving and the third week in December, Webb says 23 regional coordinators enlist the help of civilian volunteers, rotary and lions clubs, churches, and local troopers based on the need and size in their areas.

“This is not a one-size-fits- all answer,” Webb says. “It’s a program that could be tailored, whether its cram a cruiser or shopping cart, or taking someone a ham, or shop with a cop. It doesn’t have to be at Christmas, but you have to find a way to have rapport and to establish trust between the community and officer and officer and the community.”

During the summer, Webb and others head to Trooper Island Camp in Burkesville, Kentucky, where about 700 underprivileged 10 to 12-year-olds go to summer camp for a week. 

To receive donations and find volunteers for these give-back programs, Webb says the Kentucky State Police actively promotes its operations on social media and has 21,600 followers on Instagram, 43,600 followers on Twitter, 158,000 followers on Facebook and uses its YouTube channel to share videos.