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The Red River Flood Fight: Visiting the Team in Action


Yesterday I concluded a three-day visit to North Dakota to get an up close look at the flood fighting efforts going on in the Red River Valley. This was my fourth trip to the state this year, and I continue to be impressed by the spirit and resilience of these communities.

FEMA Region VIII Administrator Robin Finegan in rain gear thanks North Dakota National Guard members wearing uniforms for all their hard work. She's shaking their hands
Fargo, ND, April 10, 2011 -- FEMA Region VIII Administrator Robin Finegan thanks North Dakota National Guard members for all their hard work. Photo: Micahel Rieger/FEMA


While meeting with state and local leaders and first responders, I saw firsthand the can-do spirit of the residents and local leaders that has been so critical as they fight these floods year after year. The entire community is involved and it is truly inspiring.

TV camera in foreground. FEMA Region VIII Administrator Robin Finegan and North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple stand at podium and talk with members of the Media about the flooding Cass County which is seeing historical flood levels.
Fargo, ND, April 11, 2011 -- FEMA Region VIII Administrator Robin Finegan and North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple talk with members of the Media about the flooding Cass County which is seeing historical flood levels. Photo: Micahel Rieger/FEMA
At FEMA, we also are proud to be part of that community flood fighting effort. An Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) from our region is currently deployed to North Dakota and a Mobile Emergency Response Support (MERS) vehicle is in Fargo-Moorhead to coordinate federal response assets. Numerous federal agencies are involved in functions ranging from search and rescue operations to law enforcement to interoperable communications. Based on state requests, FEMA directs federal agencies to provide the needed assistance.

This coordination hasn’t just happened over night. Since last spring, we have been working with states and tribal nations across our region to plan and prepare for this spring’s flooding, but as we often say at FEMA, we can only be as prepared as the public is prepared, and the people of North Dakota have once again stepped up in a truly dramatic fashion.

When I was up in North Dakota, I also was privileged to see the dramatic difference that mitigation efforts made in the City of Grand Forks. The community was devastated by the Red River floods of 1997, but through investment, community involvement, and planning, along with a combined federal, state and local partnership, the community rebuilt both a better and a safer community. It’s a shining example of what we can do when we bring all our resources together for a common goal.

The Red River flood fight will most likely continue for weeks, but this is a challenge that the people of the Red River Valley are ready to meet.

From the DHS Blog: Presidential Policy Directive 8 – National Preparedness

On March 30, 2011, President Obama signed Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 8 on National Preparedness.

But what does that mean exactly? Well, as the Department of Homeland Security writes on their blog:

“this directive instructs the federal government to take action to strengthen our nation’s security and resilience against a variety of hazards, including terrorism, pandemics, and catastrophic natural disasters.”

To read the full post visit

News of the Day: USA Today on Social Media and Disasters

As many of you know, here at FEMA, our social media channels are a key tool in our communications toolbox. And we don’t just think about them as another way to put out a press release – social media is changing the way we do business.

Under the leadership of Administrator Fugate, FEMA has launched a mobile website to make critical information more accessible for disaster survivors, and we use Twitter @fema and @craigatfema) and Facebook, along with many other forms of communication, to better support our state and local partners, communicate with the public, and gain situational awareness of what’s happening on the ground before, during and after disasters.

In other words, it’s another way we can go out and listen, so that we can better serve our customers – the American people – by using the tools that you are all using.

Today, USA Today further explored this in an article about how Twitter, Facebook and other tools were used during the Japan disaster. As the article highlights, one of the greatest benefits of social media is that it also empowers the public to be active members of our emergency management team:

“Japan's disaster has spotlighted the critical role that social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube and Skype increasingly are playing in responses to crises around the world. They may have been designed largely for online socializing and fun, but such sites and others have empowered people caught up in crises and others wanting to help to share vivid, unfiltered images, audio and text reports before governments or more traditional media can do so…

"We've got to stop looking at the public as a liability and start looking at them as a resource," Fugate says. What makes social media so different than other emergency response tools, he says, is that it "allows a two-way conversation in the impact zone, so that we can link people with information, resources and ideas."

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the full story here.
And as always we want to know any creative ideas you have for how we can better use social media. Leave a comment below or Tweet us @fema.

Celebrating volunteers in emergency management

Wadena, MN, June 22, 2010 -- An American Red Cross emergency vehicle provides meals and beverages to volunteers at the Wadena City Cemetery which sustained severe tree damage during the June 17, 2010 F4 tornado. Volunteer agencies play an important role during the recovery process. FEMA/Michael Mancino

Wadena, MN, June 22, 2010 -- An American Red Cross emergency vehicle provides meals and beverages to volunteers at the Wadena City Cemetery which sustained severe tree damage during the June 17, 2010 F-4 tornado. Volunteer agencies play an important role during the recovery process.

We often reference the importance of the emergency management team – the collective group of individuals and organizations that help America prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters of all types. At the start of National Volunteer Week, we would like to specifically highlight and say “thank you” to the voluntary agencies and individual volunteers that play an integral role as part of the team.

President Obama says it best in his proclamation:

Volunteers are the lifeblood of our schools and shelters, hospitals and hotlines, and faith-based and community groups. From mentoring at-risk youth and caring for older Americans to supporting our veterans and military families and rebuilding after disasters, these everyday heroes make a real and lasting impact on the lives of millions of women and men across the globe.

During National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the profound impact of volunteers and encourage all Americans to discover their own power to make a difference. Every one of us has a role to play in making our communities and our country stronger. I encourage all Americans to help us renew progress and prosperity and build a brighter future for our Nation by visiting to find a local project.

If you’re looking to volunteer your time and talents to help Americans before, during and after disasters, here are a few great places to start:

And feel free to leave a comment below if you’ve had a volunteer group help you or your neighborhood in the past, or you have a great volunteer organization in your community.

Share your experience:

If a volunteer group has ever come to your aid or if you have a great volunteer group in your community, please share your experience below.

What We’re Watching: 4/8/11

Editor's Note: On May 16, 2011, we removed an image of the National Weather Service Hazards Assessment map.

Severe weather outlook
Over the next few days, the National Weather Service is calling for severe weather in many parts of the U.S.  The Pacific Northwest is expected to see periods of heavy precipitation, along with parts of the Midwest.  In the South, drought conditions should continue, setting the stage for possible wildfire outbreaks in parts of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

Red River Valley flood fight
In addition to severe weather, the Upper Midwest is also combating localized river flooding, specifically in the Red River Valley.  Through our regional offices in Denver, Chicago and Kansas City, we remain in close contact with our state and local partners in all areas that could be impacted, as well as our partners at the National Weather Service Forecast Offices.

At the request of states, we have established a national Incident Support Base in Arden Hills, Minnesota and have been pre-planning with states to designate staging areas for use, if needed.  In addition, Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT) deployed Minnesota and North Dakota as well as a Mobile Emergency Response Support (MERS) vehicle to support North Dakota coordination efforts in Fargo-Moorhead.

Yesterday, President Obama signed an emergency declaration for North Dakota, providing federal support to state and local flood fighting efforts.  Check out the “Floods” category to learn more about how we’re supporting the emergency management team in the Upper Midwest.

California search-and-rescue team in the news
A story in the Orange County Register highlighted training by the California Task Force 5 urban search and rescue team in an earthquake drill.  They are one of the 28 locally-managed urban search and rescue teams located in various cities throughout the U.S., who are frequently training and going through similar exercises.  In the event of a major disaster, FEMA can activate the teams to assist in rescuing victims of structural collapse incidents or to assist in other search and rescue missions – read more about the teams in this post.

Great Central U.S. ShakeOut
In just over two weeks, on April 28, 10 states will participate in the Central U.S. ShakeOut earthquake drill (Indiana will hold their ShakeOut on April 19).  To date, 1.7 million participants have signed up to learn and practice how to respond if an earthquake strikes.  Visit the ShakeOut website for more information, and be sure to take advantage of the resources available once you sign up.

Guest Post: Disasters and Public Health

As National Public Health Week draws to a close, as events in Japan shift toward recovery, they act as an important reminder of how closely tied disaster emergency management is to health. Indeed, medical concerns of citizens are always a preeminent focus of any disaster response.

Regardless of the nature of a particular disaster, the underlying health of affected populations has a significant impact on disaster management. Populations across the U.S. struggle on a day-to-day basis against a myriad of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, asthma and other common illnesses. With good planning and the implementation of effective public health measures, care of patients with these types of common health conditions can be managed effectively in a disaster without increased negative effects to the health and well being of the affected populations. However, our systems of day-to-day public health must be closely tied with disaster management to ensure that our hospitals and clinics are equipped to handle the surge of patients that often accompanies a major disaster. In order to work well during a crisis, these systems work together on a regular basis. Developing a system for educating the public about prevention of common illness and disease and managing small-scale personal emergencies is a great example of an area public health and emergency management can work together. Individuals and communities need to understand both how to manage their own health issues on a day-to-day basis as well as how they would manage these issues if a disaster were to strike. Having a public that is educated about how to manage their own health issues during a disaster is a key component to mitigating the health effects of disasters on individuals and communities.

Federal preparedness grant programs emphasize the need for planning, coalition building, and exercises. Yet in order to function effectively such efforts must be integrated in a coordinated fashion throughout health and medical systems, as well as systems of emergency management across federal, state and local levels. While these systems work well together in some communities, as a nation, we need these efforts to be integrated and seamless in every town and every region across the country. We may need to start thinking differently about how we approach preparedness and response - for instance encouraging the healthcare sector to think in a more geographical sense about how resources can be shared between hospitals, or how communities can work together to assess and address acute needs in disaster situations.

Members of the Iowa-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team help to move a patient along with flight nurses and medics who will be transporting patients to hospitals that are operating outside of the area impacted by Hurricane Ike.
Galveston Island, TX, September 18, 2008 -- Members of the Iowa-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team help to move a patient along with flight nurses and medics who will be transporting patients to hospitals that are operating outside of the area impacted by Hurricane Ike

One of the challenges we face is that the health communities reside both in public and private sectors. Hospitals and healthcare facilities are businesses, and while it's not always easy for emergency managers and health officers to coordinate seamlessly with one another during a crisis, it's even more difficult for public health entities and the private sector to share information and address needs during the height of a disaster. During the course of the past few years we have seen some successful examples, such as corporate pharmacies working with the federal government to disseminate flu vaccine during H1N1. We know success in this realm is possible, it’s now a matter of integrating these practices as a part of day-to-day business so that the system functions naturally in an emergency.

In public health, we want communities to be resilient which they are means being capable of preventing, withstanding and mitigating the stress of a health incident and to recover in a way that restores the community to self-sufficiency, to pre-incident health levels (or better). I'm sure that's your goal, too. So, please, if you haven't already, reach out to your local hospitals, healthcare facilities and public health offices. Invite them into your exercises and to be part of your planning.  And remember that as a citizen, you personally play a key role in this as well by preparing in advance for your own health-related needs and having a family plan to support those needs. It's important to work together and for each of us to be prepared now if we're going to respond effectively as a whole community when every minute counts.

- Nicole Lurie, M.D., MSPH

Federal Assistance in Severe Storms and Tornadoes: Our Role

The spring season is upon us, which often brings volatile, fast-moving weather systems to many parts of the country (as we’ve already seen). We’ve done several blog posts about our role in winter weather and spring flooding, so we wanted to give the basics of FEMA’s role in severe storms and tornadoes.

The bottom line is that – as with all disasters – FEMA is only a part of the emergency management team that helps the nation prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. This team includes federal, state, local and tribal officials, the faith-based and non-profit communities, the private sector and - most importantly – the public.

Just after a storm or tornado
When a severe storm or tornado hits, the first responders are local emergency and public works personnel, volunteers, humanitarian organizations, and numerous private interest groups who provide emergency assistance required to protect the public's health and safety and to meet immediate human needs.

In some cases, the damage to the community and needs of residents overwhelms the resources of state, territory, tribal, local government, and voluntary agencies. It’s these instances where a governor may request a major disaster declaration from the president to provide supplemental federal disaster assistance.

When does a governor make a request?
Sometimes the governor makes a request soon after the storm ends, and in other cases, a governor may wait in order to get a full assessment of the damage, before requesting a disaster declaration.

A major disaster declaration provides a wide range of federal assistance programs for individuals and public infrastructure, including funds for both emergency and permanent work.

To explain what we mean by “assistance”, here’s an excerpt from one of our previous blog posts on the disaster declaration process:

A major disaster declaration request will also include a request for assistance under one or two broad categories of assistance, which we refer to as public assistance (PA) and individual assistance (IA). Public assistance is financial assistance for repairing public infrastructure, like roads, schools, fire stations, etc.

Individual assistance can be provided to eligible individuals and households who are uninsured, or under-insured, and suffered losses due to disaster damage. It’s important to remember that by law, the amount of individual assistance a person or household can receive is capped (just over $30,000 for this year), and may not cover losses to the extent that a flood insurance policy would, which is why we are often encouraging families to purchase insurance. This assistance is also intended to support only necessary and serious needs that resulted from the disaster. The best way to make sure you and your family are protected against the devastating impacts of flooding is to have flood insurance.

FEMA is also able to provide assistance by serving as a coordinator for the federal agencies that can help support response and recovery efforts. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses its engineering and contracting capabilities to support FEMA and other federal, state and local government agencies in a wide variety of missions during natural and man-made disasters. Learn more here.

While we can’t fully predict when and where severe storms and tornadoes will occur, the entire emergency management team – a team that includes the public – can take steps now to reduce their impact. Visit for an outline on how to get prepared for any disaster.

Other links
How to build a safe room in your home or small business

News of the Day: Forecasts Point To A Busy Hurricane Season

Waters of the Rio Grande flooded parts of the city of Roma after Hurricane Alex. More than three feet of water flooded this house.
Roma, TX, July 24, 2010 -- Waters of the Rio Grande flooded parts of the city of Roma after Hurricane Alex. More than three feet of water flooded this house.

With hurricane season less than two months away (the season runs from June 1 – November 30), forecasters are already predicting an active season for Atlantic storms. Yesterday, researchers at Colorado State released their annual forecast, calling for 16 named storms and five major hurricanes*.  This is one of several forecasts that will come out in the next few months, but it further underscores the need for all of to get ready now for hurricanes and other hazards.

At FEMA we're doing our part to prepare for this season, but as we always say, the public plays a critical role as well.  If you live in an area at risk for hurricanes, the time to get prepared is before the storm season begins., our preparedness website, outlines three simple steps to getting prepared for hurricanes, or any disaster:

* A hurricane is considered a major storm if it has sustained winds of greater than 110 miles per hour (Category 3 and above).


In Photos: One Year Ago...Earthquake Damage

Approximately one year ago on April 4, 2010, a 7.2 earthquake struck southern California, causing damage to structures in Imperial County. The President later declared a major disaster for the affected area, and Federal funds were made available to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the affected area.

We wanted to take a look back at some of the photos from the earthquake, in hopes you'll be inspired to prepare for an earthquake if you live in an area that's at risk.

Earthquake damage to a building from the 7.2 quake that struck southern California.
Calexico, CA, April 6, 2010 -- A magnitude 7.2 earthquake rocked the city on Easter leaving many facilities, roads, and public buildings closed.

An awning is damaged from the earthquake in southern California on April 4, 2010.
Calexico, CA, April 6, 2010 -- This photo shows damage to a business in the affected area.

Calexico City Building Manager explains to a business owner the structural concerns regarding the property following the earthquake.
Calexico, CA, April 6, 2010 -- A magnitude 7.2 earthquake rocked the city on Easter leaving many facilities, roads, and public buildings closed, and heavily damaged. Calexico City Building Manager Ralph Morales explains to a business owner the structural concerns regarding the property.

Many areas in the U.S. are at risk for earthquakes, including the West Coast, Midwest, and parts of the East Coast, so make sure you visit to get prepared today. And if you haven’t done so already, register to participate in the ShakeOut earthquake drill to join thousands of others in learning earthquake safety.