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What We’re Watching: 1/18/13

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At the end of each week, we post a "What We’re Watching" blog as we look ahead to the weekend and recap events from the week. We encourage you to share it with your friends and family, and have a safe weekend.

Not too late for a resolution

Even though we’re mid-way through January, it’s not too late to update your list of New Year’s resolutions.  Losing weight, learning a new language, exercising more, or picking up a new hobby are all great – but you can also Resolve to be Ready in 2013, and compared with the others, it may be the easiest resolution to follow up on! 

We’re asking people to take steps to better prepare their families, homes, businesses, or neighborhoods for emergencies.  There are lots of ways to start, but visiting Ready.gov is a great way to become more familiar with the risks in your area.  The site also has simple, straight-forward steps you can take today to keep you, your family, and your community safer in 2013.

And if it still seems like too much to handle, you may want to check this out:

Do 1 thing

This is a web-based preparedness program that encourages participants to become better prepared by tackling one topic each month.  The topic for January was “Make a Plan”, something that is near and dear to us at FEMA.  The Do 1 thing campaign was recently featured on the CDC Public Health Matters Blog, and I wanted to share a section of it:

For January, the first Do 1 Thing step is to “Make a Plan.”  When disaster strikes, having a family communication plan can help you and your loved ones know what to do and where to go.  In most emergency situations, you must react quickly and having a plan will help everyone stay calm and clear-headed.  

"When there is a fire at my house, I have to run to the swingset in the backyard and wait for Mama and Daddy." - Brianna, 6
 

house picture

There are many different ways that you can check this month off your list.  Think about what kinds of disasters can impact the area where you live and talk to your family about what you would do if you have to evacuate.  Are you in a hurricane zone? Are you affected by winter weather, tornadoes or extreme heat?  And don’t forget  the lesser expected, but also important event such as flu outbreaks and accidents.

You can also discuss your evacuation plan with your family. A friend of mine  in Kentucky sat down with her 6 year old, Brianna, to tackle the basics: where to go if there is a fire.  They talked about  different ways to get out of the house in an emergency and where to meet the rest of the family outside.  Brianna chose the swingset in the backyard as the safe spot, and drew a picture of the meeting point.

To solidify your evacuation plan, you can hold evacuation drills at home and practice getting out quickly.  The more practice you have, the more confident you will be in a real emergency.  This applies to everyone in your family, young and old.  Amanda, my oldest friend, talked to her kids about home emergencies and set up a practice fire drill at the house.  Sean and Mia met up at the telephone poll in their neighbor’s yard.  They also learned different ways to escape in each room of their house, and who to call in an emergency.

As part of your planning, sit down and come up with a list of resources that you would need in an emergency. List out the important phone numbers, medical information, insurance information, and utilities information relevant for your family.  Keep this list with your emergency kit so that you can find it quickly if you need it.   FEMA offers a handy printable family emergency plan to help get you started. 

I hope you’ll join me bringing in the New Year by making a similar resolution!  Have a safe and enjoyable weekend.

Does a Pink Wig Belong In a Disaster Supply Kit?

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

“Does a flashlight and extra batteries belong in an emergency kit?”

“Yes!” the room full of students, between the ages of 6 and 11, shout!

Suffern, N.Y., Jan. 10, 2013 -- FEMA For Kids promotes emergency preparedness at Lime Kiln Elementary in Suffern, NY by teaching students how to create an emergency supply kit. In addition, emergency safety related books, pamphlets websites are provided to students and staff during the safety preparedness question and answer session.

Suffern, N.Y., Jan. 10, 2013 -- FEMA For Kids promotes emergency preparedness at Lime Kiln Elementary in Suffern, NY by teaching students how to create an emergency supply kit. In addition, emergency safety related books, pamphlets websites are provided to students and staff during the safety preparedness question and answer session.

“How about a pink wig?”

“No!” they shout.

On a recent morning, Nina Coleman took various items out of a disaster supply kit, held them up and asked students at Public School 215 in Far Rockaway, NY what supplies do and don’t belong. Weather Radio elicited a resounding “Yes!”

“First Aid Kit?”

“You bet.”

“A high-heeled boot?”

Giggles. “I don’t think so.” 

These kids are residents of a neighborhood battered by Hurricane Sandy and they listen carefully to the FEMA for Kids (Ready Kids) presentation, an interactive program designed to teach children about emergency preparedness through hands-on activities, lively question and answer sessions and storytelling.

Coleman is a natural with kids. She ought to be. She’s the mother of three daughters, ages 2, 3 and 6.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Coleman, Assistant Manager of FEMA for Kids Community Relations Strike Team, has been conducting outreach to schools, after-school programs and youth organizations throughout New York City to inform students and teachers about disaster preparedness. With a background as an instructor of mortgage loan software, she is comfortable in front of a classroom.  She has also come equipped with a banner she has hung in front of the room showcasing the children’s book characters Flat Stanley and Stella, FEMA’s new ambassadors for FEMA for Kids.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 4, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley visit the FEMA Joint Field Office (JFO) in Queens, NY to attend meetings with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, FEMA partners and associates.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 4, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley visit the FEMA Joint Field Office (JFO) in Queens, NY to attend meetings with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, FEMA partners and associates.

At Far Rockaway’s P.S. 215, approximately 70 percent of the students (and a majority of the teachers) had been affected by the hurricane. At times, children may be left out when it comes to the recovery process of a disaster and often they have several questions regarding storms. Informing children how to prepare for a disaster helps to alleviate their fears and increases the chance that they will stay safe during a disaster. 

Their questions can range from the serious, “What do you do if your car goes into floodwater?” to the head-scratchers: “What happens to the fish when there’s a hurricane?”

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

While our FEMA for Kids instructors cannot determine the fate of the fish, the answer to the first questions is: you never try to drive through floodwater, especially because the depth may be deceiving. The mantra is: “turn around, don’t drown.”

Our instructors use every opportunity to reinforce how important it is to be prepared.

She tells the children to learn about the different types of disasters, to make a communication plan (knowing your family’s contact information) and to know their evacuation route. 

The students are reminded that they should practice their evacuation route just like fire drills at school. And when a storm is predicted, Coleman tells the children to be sure to listen to the news or weather radio to find out if an evacuation is being ordered. The children are encouraged to visit www.ready.gov/kids where they can download the Flats and take them on their journey to learning and teaching the family about disaster preparedness.

Much of this advice is something the children will speak to their parents about, which is another plus of the program. “It helps us spread the preparedness message,” says Coleman. 

Coleman does whatever it takes to make sure this message gets across, even if it means putting on a silly fluorescent pink wig and doing a little dance. It really gets their attention, but that’s the idea. 

Judging by the positive response from the children – most of them said they were going to go home and put together a disaster supplies kit (minus the pink wig and high heel boot) -- readiness has come to Rockaway.

For more information and games for kids on disaster preparedness, visit www.Ready.gov/kids.

Lessons from Sandy: A Word on Innovation

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When people think of innovation, they usually think that it is something for the tech or design world—they don’t associate it with government or bureaucracy.  But, FEMA sees the role of innovation differently.  We recognize the value of innovation—that through innovation we can develop new and creative solutions—and deliver these solutions to those that need them the most- survivors.    We have been working on a number of fronts to incorporate innovation into our program and process.  And during our ongoing response and recovery efforts in Hurricane Sandy, we have been taking our approach to innovation one step further.

Soon after Sandy made landfall, FEMA deployed an Innovation Team-- a multi-sector, cross functional group made up of people in government, non-profit and international organizations, volunteer groups, businesses, and concerned citizens: the whole community.  At the most basic level, this team is all about creatively solving problems by receiving individual input from a diverse spectrum of stakeholders. They are about obtaining a perspective that is broader than just one sector, yet are agile and nimble enough to be a catalyst for real, impactful change to real world challenges.   The team collides networks of people together and leverages the amazing resourcefulness of the many organizations that have an interest in serving individuals and communities impacted by disasters.

The Innovation Team is by no means FEMA’s first experience with innovation.  We innovate on a regular basis, throughout our programs by valuing a forward leaning survivor centric approach to problem solving.  However, it is the first time that an entire team was dedicated to developing solutions to real time problems.

In order to identify the real time challenges, the team co-located alongside FEMA employees in one of our disaster field offices in New York City.  In doing so, they were able to work within FEMA and outside FEMA to identify challenges and fill gaps where necessary.  There, they could tap into their networks, be a “fresh set of eyes”, and question underlying assumptions.  The team is able to accomplish innovation in a number of ways: First and foremost, through always keeping the disaster survivor in mind when working towards and delivering solutions.  Second, is by looking for ways to connect government with external groups. And third, is making time to talk regularly and brainstorming without restraint.

Providing internet connectivity in Red Hook

Hurricane Sandy affected hundreds of thousands of people in varying degrees- from leaving them with no electricity or running water, to damaging or even destroying their homes, to causing injuries.  And with all of this devastation, there are many forms of assistance potentially available to help.  It is our job to make sure that everyone affected by the storm knows about what assistance is available and how they can apply for that assistance.  One way that we provide that information and assistance to survivors is by setting up disaster recovery centers in impacted locations—places where disaster survivors can talk face-to-face with staff from the state and FEMA about what assistance options are available.  Soon after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, FEMA needed to set up over 40 of these disaster recovery centers in New York alone.

As is often the case, these disaster recovery centers are set up in neighborhoods hit hard by a disaster – and in Red Hook, New York, this was no exception.  After the Innovation Team arrived at the center in Red Hook and spoke with the staff and disaster survivors, they realized there was a great need for internet connectivity.  There were “hard lines” set up and a very weak Wi-Fi network—but this not enough.  In this world of smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers—only having the options to sit at a hard lined computer is not going to fit the bill.

So the Innovation team sprang into action – they tapped into their network and linked up with IT volunteer organizations and highly skilled community volunteers.  Within two days, not only had the Wi-Fi network area doubled, but it had also become accessible in a popular neighborhood courtyard and several of the surrounding buildings, providing hundreds of residents the ability to use the internet-- access information, check in with family and friends, and apply for disaster assistance online. 

But we didn’t just make people come to us in Red Hook. We sent the internet to them.  Teams from our Community Relations group were already going door-to-door in damaged neighborhoods, ensuring that word got out about the assistance that was available.  We gave these teams iPads with internet connectivity—internet connectivity that came from a new satellite link up that the Innovation Team established.  As a result, the internet was traveling door-to-door in neighborhoods throughout the city, allowing survivors to register for assistance from their own homes that were still without power, and allowing our teams to stay better informed of the changing needs on the ground. 

This example of the Innovation Team’s work in Red Hook is just one story, one way we are trying to assist disaster survivors through the approach of connecting government with businesses and non-profit organizations.  Why are we doing this?  Because no one group has all the answers and FEMA is just one part of a large team.  Government agencies need to tap into the vast amounts of knowledge and expertise that thrive outside our walls.  And the same holds true for companies and volunteer-led groups. Government can be an invaluable partner; we have resources, networks, and experience that can contribute to solutions.  The innovation team is one way for us to continue to partner with the whole community.

What we’ve learned so far

  • The most valuable innovations often produce both tangible and intangible benefits:

While the Innovation Team was at Miller Park in Staten Island, NY they realized that there weren’t enough generators to provide service to the tents set up to provide assistance to disaster survivors.  The dropping temperatures created a challenge in keeping the area heated.  To solve this problem- the innovation team worked with local officials to move a spare generator onto the hitch of a FEMA truck and bring it to the site.  With the additional generator, both tents warmed up and the survivors were served that evening in comfort and security.

             New York, N.Y., Nov. 17, 2012 -- FEMA Innovation Team assists with connectivity enhancements at FEMA Disaster Recovery Center.

            New York, N.Y., Nov. 15, 2012 -- Innovation Team meets with partners to assist in Hurricane Sandy recovery.

            New York, N.Y., Nov. 12, 2012 -- Members of the Innovation team meet with partners to assist Hurricane Sandy operations.

Much of the way the Innovation Team adds value is through localized solutions like these– where they look at a situation objectively, identify a problem, suggest a solution, and contribute to its success.  In this case, the team worked across organizational boundaries for electrical power, light, tents, communications, transportation, and different levels of government.  Ultimately, their work helped keep disaster survivors warm – people who were already under a great deal of stress.

  • Innovations that come with cost savings can be doubly sweet.

Setting up a disaster recovery center or an office in the field requires a basic level of telecommunications. At the very least, the site should have telephone, power, and, ideally, internet.  This can be a tall order in areas with little to no infrastructure remaining after an emergency.  In some cases, FEMA will bring vehicles or equipment, such as a Mobile Communications Operations Vehicle or MCOV, to establish the basic level of communications needed to provide assistance.

             Milford, Conn., Nov. 8, 2012 -- A Nor'easter dumped a foot of snow in the hard-hit town of Milford. A Mobile Communications Office Vehicle (MCOV ) is supporting a Disaster Recovery Center operation in this hard-hit coastal town

These vehicles help FEMA and our partners operate in areas with telecommunications in areas we otherwise may not be able to, which is a great thing.  But these vehicles are a scarce resource, and after an event like Hurricane Sandy, they are in high demand in many locations that need help to get up and running.  And one of these locations was the Rockaways. 

As FEMA staff and the Innovation Team worked to set up a disaster recovery center in a Rockaways neighborhood, they needed an MCOV in the area to support the limited telecommunications infrastructure.  However, instead of increasing demand on the limited supply—they developed an alternate solution.  The team, through a combination of government, industry, academia and volunteer sources, set up equipment and services to create a communication network capable of supporting FEMA’s mission.  Ultimately, they used an existing internet connection to enhance connectivity, allowing an MCOV to be used elsewhere.

The model of connecting government with outside networks has been around for a long time, but FEMA is putting a new spin on it through the Innovation Team.  The work done before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy has inspired several new partnerships.  FEMA is now assessing the lessons from Hurricane Sandy and evaluating new potential projects.

These past success stories and ongoing projects will only continue to be successful if we take the lessons learned from the Innovation Team and Hurricane Sandy and continue to focus on delivering solutions to disaster survivors.  We need to keep collaborating—bringing groups together, challenging our commonly held perceptions, and relentlessly pursuing solutions that can offer a much needed ray of hope to those in need.

FEMA will continue this conversation during our next FEMA Think Tank Conference Call being held at the White House on February 6, 2013.  This call is open to the public – it is a forum to bring the whole community into this conversation about incorporating innovation into emergency management.  To learn more about the FEMA Think Tank and get information on the call, please visit www.fema.gov/thinktank.

What We're Watching: 1/11/13

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At the end of each week, we post a "What We’re Watching" blog as we look ahead to the weekend and recap events from the week. We encourage you to share it with your friends and family, and have a safe weekend.

Cold Weather Next Week

Although some areas across the U.S. are experiencing abnormally high temperatures for January, the National Weather Service is expecting much cooler temperatures throughout several parts of the U.S. over the next week.  Here are some winter weather safety tips to keep in mind if cold weather is expected in your area:

  • Limit travel during a storm – only venture out on the roads if it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Stay up to date with your latest forecast – visit weather.gov or mobile.weather.gov on your smartphone for the latest conditions in your area.
  • Have an emergency kit in your vehicle – if a winter storm develops suddenly, have supplies on hand in case you’re stranded in your vehicle.
  • Take precautions for power outages – winter storms often cause power outages, so be sure your family and home take steps to sustain yourselves for at least 72 hours.

As the weather continues to get colder and with cases of the flu on the rise, make sure you and your family are taking the proper precautions to stay healthy this winter. Visit the Center for Disease Control website for more information on the flu or download the American Red Cross app for tips on how to stay healthy.

New Mobile Site

Our mobile site has been renovated! Not only have we given the site a new look and feel, we’ve made it more user-friendly and easier to navigate on your smart phones. In addition to the new look and feel of the site, some other changes include:

  • Both graphic and text version of the website – If your phone is not compatible with the graphic version, you will automatically get redirected to the text only version.
  • Easier to navigate menu – The new accordion style menu allows for easier navigation to content and previous pages visited.
  • Updated content – We’ve added information on making a family communication plan, building your emergency kit, information on how to donate and volunteer responsibly, and links to our state and local partners mobile sites.

So if you haven’t done so, bookmark our mobile site on your phone so no matter where you may be when a disaster strikes, you’ll be able to access important life-saving information that can be the difference in the event of an emergency.

Hurricane Sandy Update

As of today, over 525,000 storm survivors have applied for assistance and $1.19 billion in federal aid has been approved.  As we continue to support Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts across states affected by the storm, I wanted to highlight some great resources and information available to disaster survivors:

Here are a few photos of our ongoing recovery efforts. For more photos or videos on Hurricane Sandy, visit our Hurricane Sandy Collection.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 8, 2013 -- Community Relations Specialist Jean Ones Austin distributes flyers to Haitian small businesses about recovery information following Hurricane Sandy. FEMA provides assistance information to everyone that was impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 8, 2013 -- Community Relations Specialist Jean Ones Austin distributes flyers to Haitian small businesses about recovery information following Hurricane Sandy. FEMA provides assistance information to everyone that was impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Fort Monmouth, N.J., Jan. 8, 2013 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino tours a Temporary Housing Unit (THU) community at Fort Monmmouth with a U.S. Army Corps Housing Task Force leader. As part of an ongoing effort to ensure families and individuals impacted by Hurricane Sandy get the support they need, FEMA licensed THU's from the Department of Defense for eligible disaster survivors as part of an Individual Assistance function.

Fort Monmouth, N.J., Jan. 8, 2013 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino tours a Temporary Housing Unit (THU) community at Fort Monmmouth with a U.S. Army Corps Housing Task Force leader. As part of an ongoing effort to ensure families and individuals impacted by Hurricane Sandy get the support they need, FEMA licensed THU's from the Department of Defense for eligible disaster survivors as part of an Individual Assistance function.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 7, 2013 -- External Affairs Report Specialist, Rebecca Eith and IT Specialist, Jerry Chan are two of the many FEMA local hires that are working in the Hurricane Sandy recovery process. In the aftermath of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, FEMA is hiring local employees to help with the recovery of many communities impacted by the storm.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 7, 2013 -- External Affairs Report Specialist, Rebecca Eith and IT Specialist, Jerry Chan are two of the many FEMA local hires that are working in the Hurricane Sandy recovery process. In the aftermath of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, FEMA is hiring local employees to help with the recovery of many communities impacted by the storm.

For the latest Sandy recovery information, visit your state disaster page.

For a complete list of state disaster pages, visit www.fema.gov.

Have a great (and safe) weekend!

Saving $1 Million on the Waterfront

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Brian Robbins grandfather, Harry, started making paper bags with a folding machine in his garage in 1935. As a child, Robbins’ father would ride his bicycle to hand out flyers to promote business. In 1940, Harry had the good fortune to meet a wooden pail maker – someone who made wooden shipping crates – who introduced him to corrugated boxes.

Many years later, the family operation went on to become Cornell Paper & Box Company, a $14 million-a-year business located on Brooklyn’s historic waterfront in Red Hook. Even on a cloudy day, one can see the Statue of Liberty in the distance, raising her torch in the mist.

The company no longer manufactures paper products, but buys and distributes corrugated boxes throughout the U.S. Brian has been running the business for the last 15 years with his father and for much of that time has watched nervously as the water, which in some areas is about 15 feet from his 150-year-old brick warehouse, eroded the shoreline. In early 2000, the pier outside the warehouse finally collapsed.

Brian said he knew it was a matter of time before the erosion would make the building vulnerable to a huge storm, like a Nor’easter. He was concerned that one of the walls would easily be knocked right out with the force of a surge.

When Hurricane Sandy inundated Red Hook with floodwaters in October, Robbin’s warehouse took a huge hit – but not as bad as it might have been had he not initiated a major mitigation project. Four years earlier, trucking in 1,500 cubic yards of armored stone, Robbins spent half a million dollars to build riprap, an embankment of large stones to prevent erosion, and a retaining wall to protect his property. Even though the low-lying land was covered in about five feet of water after Sandy, flooding the warehouse, Robbins says things would have been a lot worse. He had no doubt the outer wall would have been knocked out had he not prevented the erosion from continuing.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a bulk head wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a bulk head wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a stone wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a stone wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Robbins started the project in early 2008 and finished by September of 2010. Robbins joked that he had to get approvals from every government agency in existence. In the middle of it, the financial markets crashed and he spoke with his father about whether it was the best time to go forward. But he decided it HAD to be done or he’d be in worse shape, if a major storm hit. 

Even with the mitigation effort, one wall of the warehouse sustained a huge crack that will cost about $270,000 to repair. Cleanup will run another $400,000. In addition, the flooding inundated about $900,000 worth of soggy boxes. His flood insurance will cover $500,000 to repair the building and another $500,000 for damaged inventory. (Flood insurance coverage for business is different than coverage for individual homeowners, which tops out at $250,000 for structures and $100,000 for contents).


Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Workers at local Red Hook business Cornell Paper and Box Company, continue cleanup of boxes inside the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Workers at local Red Hook business Cornell Paper and Box Company, continue cleanup of boxes inside the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Local Red Hook business, Cornell Paper and Box Company, continues cleanup of boxes at the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Local Red Hook business, Cornell Paper and Box Company, continues cleanup of boxes at the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

To make up the difference, he will have to take out a half a million dollar low-interest disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (which also provides low-interest loans to homeowners to repair disaster damage). It will take a few months for Cornell to be able to house the paper inventory needed to bring business back to the way it was. In the meantime, Robbins is trying to make up the loss by renting out emptied areas of his warehouse for storage space, (one client is storing his motorcycles where stacks of cardboard usually sit). 

Even so, Robbins estimates that if he had not taken the mitigation measures, it would have cost him another million dollars out of pocket. Now the plan is to bring in another 400 tons of armored stone to replace what Sandy took away.

Robbins says that after making the repairs he’ll be even better protected for another storm. And save another million dollars – or more.

After a presidentially declared disaster, FEMA provides funding to the state for mitigation grants. For more information on applying for one, here is a link to HMGP FAQs.

What We're Watching: 1/4/13

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At the end of each week, we post a "What We’re Watching" blog as we look ahead to the weekend and recap events from the week. We encourage you to share it with your friends and family, and have a safe weekend.

New Year – Get Prepared

With the start of a new year, many of us have once again made a resolution to live a more healthy life, shop less and save more, donate to a charitable organization, among many others. And although it’s sometimes difficult to keep the momentum after the first couple of weeks in the New Year, why not make a few small and simple changes to help you and your loved ones prepare for an emergency?


Disasters can strike anywhere, at any moment, so it’s important to make sure you and your families are prepared. Here are a few simple tips to help get you prepared should an emergency occur:

  • Set a monthly reminder in your calendar to test your home’s smoke alarms – the first of every month in your personal or work calendar can serve as a great reminder to test your smoke alarms. While you’re testing your smoke alarm, practice your emergency escape plan. After all, practice makes perfect.
  • Be Informed and Make a Plan - Not all communities in a state or territory share the same risks, so it’s important to learn what to do should a disaster strike in your area. Visit www.ready.gov for a list of tips on staying safe before, during and after a disaster. Once you’ve learned the facts, make a family emergency plan. Your family may not be together when a disaster strikes, so it's important to know how you will contact one another, where you will meet up and what you will do in case of an emergency.   Don’t forget about making plans for your pets – they are important members of the family too.
  • Pick up one item for your emergency kit on each of your shopping runs – building your family’s emergency kit doesn’t need to happen in one fell swoop. Pick up canned food, bottled water, a battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, and other recommended emergency items over the first month or two of the year, that way you spread the cost of building your emergency supply kit.

Keeping our New Year resolutions can be difficult, but taking these steps to help keep you and your family members safe can be fun and simple.

Winter Is Upon Us

As we move further into the winter months and old man winter continues to rear his (sometimes) ugly head, I wanted to take a moment to remind of some tips for staying safe this winter.

  • Have an emergency kit in your vehicle – if a winter storm develops suddenly, have supplies on hand in case you’re stranded in your vehicle. Some items to include in your kit include:
    • Flashlight with extra batteries
    • Water
    • Blanket
    • Adequate clothing such as gloves, hat, scarf, and extra clothes
  • Take precautions for power outages – winter storms often cause power outages, so be sure your family and home take steps to sustain yourselves for at least 72 hours and be sure you have winter weather supplies such as:
    • Rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways
    • Sand to improve traction on exterior walkways
    • Snow shovels and other snow removal equipment
  • Limit travel during a storm – only venture out on the roads if it’s absolutely necessary. If you have to travel, be sure to let someone know your destination, expected arrival time and the route you’re taking.
  • Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts).
  • Practice safe snow removal - moving snow can be strenuous, so take breaks and make sure to give your body a rest.  Overworking yourself in cold weather can put extra strain on your heart.

Familiarize yourself with winter weather terms often used to identify a winter storm hazard and discuss with your family what to do if a winter storm watch or warning is issued:

  • Freezing Rain creates a coating of ice on roads and walkways.
  • Sleet is rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Winter Weather Advisory means cold, ice and snow are expected.
  • Winter Storm Watch means severe weather such as heavy snow or ice is possible in the next day or two. Follow local news reports and be alert to changing weather conditions.
  • Winter Storm Warning means severe winter conditions have begun or will begin very soon. Stay indoors during the storm and avoid traveling.
  • Blizzard Warning means heavy snow and strong winds will produce a blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts and life-threatening wind chill.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning means below freezing temperatures are expected.

Visit www.ready.gov/winter-weather for a more complete list of what to do before, during and after winter weather and extreme cold.

Happy New Year!

Forkston Township, Pennsylvania Gets its Bridge Back

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A bridge is one of those things that can so easily be taken for granted. Even one that we may rely on to cut our day-to-day work commute in half, or allows us more frequent trips to the grocery store, after a while, can seem like an assumed part of life. But when these critical conduits are lost, as was the case when Hurricane Irene devastated parts of Forkston, a township near the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, the significance of these vital crossings is more fully realized.          

Recovery from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee is still in process here in Pennsylvania, where residents of Forkston just learned that FEMA has approved nearly $7 million in federal Public Assistance funding for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to reconstruct a bridge and nearby roadside that was at the heart of the community until Irene devastated it in late August 2011.

Few of us will soon forget how, even two weeks after Irene, many Forkston residents could not get to their homes because the bridge was gone. What’s more, some residents who were at home when Irene hit were stranded, cut off from critical resources. Some of the trapped residents made dramatic efforts to cross the Mahoopany Creek so they could access food and other necessary items. At one point, individuals even used ropes to inch across the water. They strung two ropes across the creek at different levels and shimmied, placing their feet on the lower rope while gripping the higher rope with their hands. Two of those ropes are visible in this photo (below) of people walking along what was left of Windy Valley Road along Mahoopany Creek.    

residents look over damaged bridge

CAPTION: The remains of Windy Valley Road, along the Mehoopany Creek in Forkston after Hurricane Irene. Stranded residents extended two ropes across the creek at different levels to shimmy across the creek for supplies. Photo by Jake Danna Stevens (Photo courtesy of the Scranton Times Tribune)

A gravel crossing was installed to pinch-hit as a means of passage until a more substantial structure could be built. But two days later, Tropical Storm Lee hit. High velocity floodwaters, fueled by a swollen Susquehanna River, washed the hardscrabble expanse away.

temporary gravel bridge

CAPTION: PennDot installed a rough-hewn gravel crossing over Mahoopany Creek on State Route 3001 in Forkston Township, Pa. after Hurricane Irene destroyed the original bridge that stood there. Two days later, Tropical Storm Lee washed it out. Photo by FEMA/Liz Roll

In December 2011, $2.4 million in federal funding was obligated to PennDOT to restore the bridge in its original location on State Route 3001. The project included removal of the collapsed bridge and placement of a temporary “Acrow Panel Bridge” in the vacant spot. Commonwealth-owned asphalt road, guiderails, shoulder and road embankments were also included in the project.

temporary bridge in forkston

CAPTION: A temporary bridge now stands over Mahoopany Creek on State Route 3001 in Forkston Township, Pa. Nearly $7 million in federal PA funding was approved in December to replace the temporary bridge with a permanent structure. Photo by FEMA/William Lindsey, Jr. 

The temporary bridge was a significant improvement, but in mid-December, FEMA approved $6,924,799 for the Commonwealth to reconstruct the bridge and to rebuild portions of surrounding Windy Valley Road.

FEMA’s share is 75 percent of the total $9,233,065 estimated cost of the reconstruction project.  The remaining 25 percent share of the cost will be paid by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

This kind of project is made possible through FEMA’s Public Assistance program, with close coordination among our state and local counterparts.  FEMA manages the program, approves grants and provides technical assistance to the Commonwealth and applicants. The Commonwealth educates potential applicants, works with FEMA to manage the program and is responsible for implementing and monitoring the grants awarded under the program. Local officials are responsible for identifying damage, providing information necessary for FEMA to approve grants and managing each project funded under the program.

Through Public Assistance, FEMA is able to better the lives of those impacted by disasters like Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. An informative list of Frequently Asked Questions about the program, which is an interesting process, is posted on www.FEMA.gov.  I look forward to continuing to help Pennsylvania recover from these storms and sharing more stories like these in the future.

What We’re Watching 12/21/12

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At the end of each week, we post a "What We’re Watching" blog as we look ahead to the weekend and recap events from the week. We encourage you to share it with your friends and family, and have a safe weekend.

Winter weather

Today officially marks the beginning of winter, but cold, snowy, and icy conditions have already been felt by millions around the U.S.  Across much of the Midwest, a winter storm is bringing snow and ice that may cause headaches for those taveling over the weekend for the holidays.  As the map below from the National Weather Service shows, there are a lot of winter weather watches and warnings across the country, so make sure you keep up with your local forecast at www.weather.gov or mobile.weather.gov on your phone.

And if you’re looking for ways you can stay safe before, during, and after winter storms, visit Ready.gov on your computer or mobile phone.

weather map

CAPTION: Map from the U.S. National Weather Service showing current severe weather advisories, watches, and warnings. This map is automatically updated by the National Weather Service.  

Safe Holiday Travel

As it is every year, holiday travelers will inevitably take to the skies, railroads, and roads to visit with loved ones this weekend and next week.  So here are some holiday travel tips to keep in mind, no matter your mode of transportation:

If you’re taking to the friendly skies:

  • When getting to the airport, unanticipated heavy traffic, road construction, and road closures can put a severe kink in your plan. Give yourself enough time to arrive at the airport early - there may be a longer wait than usual for the holidays.
  • Make a choice to not feel rushed while at the airport. Families and individuals traveling with medically necessary liquids this holiday season will be able to take advantage of TSA’s popular family lanes. Designed to let families take their time and ask questions without feeling rushed.
  • In this TSA blog post, they cover lots of holiday travel reminders and provide great tips for traveling this holiday season, including what to expect with wrapped packages; whether or not pies are allowed (along with this important note: additional screening of pies does not include TSA officers tasting the pie, no matter what they tell you… AND if you want to bring a live turkey, you might want to have a word with the airline first); and information on the type of razors that are allowed and how to pack makeup.

If you’re traveling by train:

  • Have a personal emergency kit in your bags that includes items such as a small first aid kit, bottled water, snacks, medication, cell phone charger, and a flashlight.
  • Bring activities to keep yourself and family entertained during the trip.

And for those of you who are hitting the open road:

  • Mother nature has a way of closing down and clogging the roads during severe weather. So besides the holiday gifts and goodies you transport this holiday season, be sure to have an emergency kit in your car with water and food, prescription medicines, blankets, and items unique to your family.
  • Plan your trip ahead of time - whether you’re using a GPS system or a traditional map, plan your travel route in advance, and let friends and family know the route and your anticipated time of arrival.
  • Cut down on the number of times you hear “Are we there yet?” Bring activities, games, and books to keep the little ones entertained so you can focus on arriving at your destination safely.

No matter how you are traveling, stay up to date on the latest local forecast at www.weather.gov or mobile.weather.gov.  For more information from TSA on your phone, download the TSA App for iPhone and visit www.tsa.gov/mobile.

Have a great, safe weekend!

FEMA Corps, Expanding Opportunities for Young Adults

Last August FEMA rolled out a program with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) called FEMA Corps.  It’s made up of young people between the ages of 18-24, many of whom are interested in a career in emergency management. As part of our response to Hurricane Sandy, we deployed members of FEMA Corps to assist with our operation.  In the story below, 22-year-old Elizabeth McSherry shares her experience working in New York.

New York, N.Y., Dec. 1, 2012 -- Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, right, talks to FEMA Corps members aboard the Training Ship Empire State VI, docked on the East River at the foot of the Throgs Neck Bridge. The ship has provided accommodations for volunteers from FEMA Corps and Federal Surge groups who have come to assist in the recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy.

New York, N.Y., Dec. 1, 2012 -- Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, right, talks to FEMA Corps members aboard the Training Ship Empire State VI, docked on the East River at the foot of the Throgs Neck Bridge. The ship has provided accommodations for volunteers from FEMA Corps and Federal Surge groups who have come to assist in the recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy.

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to live a different experience than most. My parents were treasure hunters and I spent a majority of my childhood on their boat traveling in the Bahamas. Looking back, I almost feel as if I took those years a bit for granted; I never would have thought that the very boat I grew up on would be lifted and dropped in someone else’s yard. But when Hurricane George came through in 1998, that’s what happened. Little did I know, 14 years later, I would be on the other side of disaster recovery.

My FEMA Corps journey began in Vicksburg, Mississippi and Anniston, Alabama, where I completed my training for Americorps and FEMA, respectively. From there, my team and I were deployed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to support the Hurricane Isaac response.

In Baton Rouge, my assignment was to make a series of courtesy calls to let survivors know we were actively working to find resources for them. After dialing page after page of phone numbers, I ended up speaking with an older lady who suffered extensive damages as a result the storm. I was incredibly nervous that she would be frustrated, but rather than an angry tone on the other end of the line, a voice came through that was so appreciative to even hear someone was still working to help her. A simple phone call can make a difference.

Lincroft, N.J., Nov. 29, 2012 -- FEMA Corps members have been deployed in every department to support the recovery effort during Hurricane Sandy.

Lincroft, N.J., Nov. 29, 2012 -- FEMA Corps members have been deployed in every department to support the recovery effort during Hurricane Sandy.

In New York, on the Hurricane Sandy response, I continue to come across inspiring people. As an anthropology major, I love culture and I'm particularly enthralled with the diversity you find in New York. In the Rockaways, where I’ve spent most of my time, I’ve met people from all different geographic, economic, professional and religious backgrounds. Just by walking through the streets and knocking on their doors, I’ve become so much more aware of the incredible culture here in New York. And the way the different communities unite together as a city is unbelievable.

During my first few days, we were assigned to canvass neighborhoods in Broad Channel in Rockaway. We ran into a few survivors that told us about a man who lived nearby in a wheelchair. Upon reaching his house, we were shocked to find that not only was he safe and in good health, he had in fact been providing food, water and beds to his neighbors who had lost everything. Despite his own home being severely flooded and damaged, the fact that this man, clearly undeterred by his limited mobility, opened his own home so unselfishly and without any hesitation rendered us all completely speechless.

In Breezy Point, again, I felt a strong sense of community. Many were appreciative to see us and relieved to have someone just to talk to. One man I came across was this big, tough guy who was venting about what he and others in the community had been through, but when asked if he had applied for assistance, he insisted he wasn’t interested. I think a sense of pride was what may have discouraged him. But later that day, when we went to work at one of the Disaster Recovery Centers, I saw that same gentleman waiting. Not only was he there to get information for himself, but he had a list names of people in the community he was looking into potential assistance for as well.

In the month and a half my team was in New York, the progress I witnessed was absolutely incredible. Although we all were frequently exhausted by the various assignments we had been given each day, it truly makes it all worth it when you can step back and realize that you’ve played even a small part in such a huge recovery effort.

Silver Linings and Silver Bells, Paying it Forward

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Editor’s Note: FEMA does not endorse any non-government entities, organizations, or services.

The one silver lining of disasters is they can bring out the best in humanity. The world becomes connected – people in countries from across the oceans send food, money, blankets and other supplies. And neighbors help neighbors, paying it forward, and continuing to do so for as long as it takes. With the holidays approaching, the desire to pay it forward is even more heightened.

To me, nothing illustrates how kindness begets more kindness in times of crisis than the story of 87-year-old Patsy Roberts, someone who has been described as “the matriarch” of her block – a strong, faithful friend and neighbor in the Belle Harbor community of Rockaway. She never forgot the mailman’s birthday, passed by a tossed trashcan without returning it to its place, or hesitated to cook a meal for someone in need. She performed random acts of kindness as routinely as she walked along the beach each morning and went to church every Sunday.

After Hurricane Sandy, she was forced to leave her home of 50 years. Much of her personal property was destroyed, including thousands of cards she had saved over the years from friends and family. She told her daughter, Virginia, and son-in-law, Cristian, that she was saving them “to read when my time came to remember everyone I love.”

 

 N.Y., Nov. 4, 2012 -- Rockaway Sandy Survivor hugs her great grand niece Jasmine.

Patsy gave the family strength the night of the storm. “At first, she didn’t want to leave her home,” says Virginia. “But she agreed to come to our house, a few blocks away from the ocean.” At about 11:00 p.m., the Dobles home was surrounded by five feet of floodwater. “Telephone poles and cars were coursing through that water,” says Virginia. “I’m not being melodramatic when I say I have never been so scared in my life. My brother-in-law called and told us a fire was heading toward us. Then we saw flames leaping 13 feet high.”

When Virginia told her mother they would have to flee the house and go out into the water, she said, “Okay, if that’s what we have to do, we’ll do it.’”

“She went upstairs and put her slicker on – the one she’d wear for her morning walks – and was stoic,” says Virginia. “Living through WWII and the depression made her that way. Meanwhile, I was hysterical. But my mother’s calmness helped me.”

As Virginia’s husband was inflating trash bags to use as flotation devices, the family saw a black vehicle drive through the waters in front of their home. “It was like a mirage,” she says. “Eight guys with a raft on top…they yelled to us, ‘Stay in your home. The wind has shifted!”

The fire did indeed turn in the other direction. “I don’t know who they were, but they saved our lives,” says Virginia.

The family is now waiting to hear how much Patsy’s flood insurance will cover before making plans to repair and move back in to her lifelong home. In the meantime, her son-in-law, Cristian, who calls each card she’s sent to people over the years a “little prayer,” initiated a letter writing campaign in the media for her.  So far, she’s received more than 1,500 cards.

“It’s wonderful,” says Virginia. “She was a very active woman and now she can’t really go out because of the damage and the air quality. These cards are therapy for her.”

 New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- Hurricane Sandy Survivor Patsy Roberts, in her daughter's guest room with the hundreds of letters she received from supportive friends, neighbors and strangers after she was displaced from her home in Belle Harbor in Rockaway, Queens.

It’s a good thing Virginia’s husband didn’t tell her ahead of time about his card campaign. “I’m kind of a Grinch,” she laughs. “I am so glad he didn’t tell me because I would have been like, ‘absolutely not!’ But this is the best thing for her. The outpouring of love and support is inspiring. And people are sharing personal details of their life, not just superficial things. They’re making a real connection. It restores your faith in the goodness of people.”

For those who are looking for ways of making a wonderful difference in a hurricane survivor’s life, here are some organizations that help Sandy survivors for the holidays as well as beyond:

  • Toys for Tots: This organization, run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, lost much of its inventory of toys in New York during the storm. 
  • Fashion Delivers: A non-profit organization which collects excess inventory from companies to distribute to those in need. This Saturday, Dec. 22, and Sunday, Dec. 23, the group is organizing free holiday shopping for Sandy survivors in Staten Island. Pre-registration with a FEMA number is required for admission. Staten Island residents who would like an invitation can contact Tony Navarino at Fashion Delivers’ partner agency Tunnel to Towers at 718-987-1931.  For more information visit www.FashionDelivers.org
  • Believe in Belle Harbor: An organization founded by the Roberts family in partnership with Team Rubicon, a group of retired military veterans who volunteer their time to help at disaster sites www.believeinbelleharbor.com. For Team Rubicon: www.teamrubiconusa.org
  • Where to Turn: Organized a toy drive where families can pick out two toys per child at a former store located at 3948 Amboy Road in Great Kills, Staten Island, from noon to 7 p.m. until Christmas Eve. Families must show photo ID with proof of address as well as their FEMA number to qualify. www.where-to-turn.org
  • BrotherMelo: This youth program will be hosting families affected by Hurricane Sandy with a Holiday Party with donated toys, clothes and household supplies. Saturday, December 22 at the Community Center 110 West 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231, Red Hook, Brooklyn, from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information or volunteer opportunities, you can contact karlharpersanders@yahoo.com

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