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From Coding to Tangible Results: FEMA’s First Open Data Town Hall

Mockups of a Disaster Assistance Assessment Dashboard are shared with participants at FEMA's first-ever Data Town Hall. Developers at Appalicious created the dashboard to utilize publicly available data sets, including some of FEMA's open data.Mockups of a Disaster Assistance Assessment Dashboard are shared with participants at FEMA's first-ever Data Town Hall. Developers at Appalicious created the dashboard to utilize publicly available data sets, including some of FEMA's open data.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a few “hackathons” and “data jams”, both inside and outside of the government space.  These events often have a simple premise: bring together tech experts from different disciplines and organizations so they can create cool, useful solutions or products.  The challenge at these gatherings isn’t coming up with great ideas – the tough task is transforming big ideas into tangible to-do lists and, ultimately, a useful product. 

The approach to FEMA’s first-ever Data Town Hall was refreshing because our OpenFEMA team harked just as much about project management and results as they did about getting creative when using FEMA’s data. The attendees were asked to break into five challenge tracks: GIS, Disaster Assistance Assessment Dashboard, Accessibility, API and Fire Viz; each with a specific project and private sector team lead.  Then experts from the tech sector, government, and non-profits worked to “move the ball forward”. 

The projects were all at different stages of development – some were new ideas gathering requirements, others built upon progress from the White House Safety Datapalooza, last year’s National Civic Day of Hacking, or individual effort by emergency management stakeholders.

One of the challenge tracks at FEMA’s Data Town Hall was for an Interactive Application Programming Interface (API) Explorer.  The explorer would help developers explore FEMA’s API to make the agency’s data easier to use in third party applications or platforms. As you can see, each challenge track had to identify its phase of development, purpose, current state, and what the end result could look like.One of the challenge tracks at FEMA’s Data Town Hall was for an Interactive Application Programming Interface (API) Explorer. The explorer would help developers explore FEMA’s API to make the agency’s data easier to use in third party applications or platforms. As you can see, each challenge track had to identify its phase of development, purpose, current state, and what the end result could look like.

The common thread across all the challenge tracks was a passion for using government data to make the world a better place.  After the event, I asked several attendees about the next steps for their projects and how they plan to use FEMA’s data.  Their responses (below) show the value of bringing a variety of stakeholders together to identify and solve common problems.

Respondents

  • Jon Nystrom – ESRI (Geographic Information System Company)
  • Noah Reiter – Rave Mobile
  • Brian Purchia & Yo Yoshida  – Appallicious
  • Marcus Louie – Socrata

Question: Why did you choose to attend?

Jon, ESRI: I attended the event to learn more about the direction that FEMA is moving with their Open Data initiative.  Having access to data gives a level of government accountability and allows everyone to participate in the mission of saving lives during a large catastrophic event. 

Noah, Rave Mobile: My original reason for attending was to represent the International Association of Emergency Management (IAEM), as a member of its Emerging Technologies Caucus. However, once I learned more about the event, I was equally interested to learn more about FEMA’s OpenGov initiative, particularly as it relates to accessibility.

Marcus, Socrata: I decided to attend because I loved the work done during last year’s National Day of Civic Hacking, and I wanted to continue this great work.  Last June, a fire exploration application was created in less than 24 hours using a sample of the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) data that FEMA released for the event.

Brian & Yo, Appallicious: My reasons for attending we’re a bit more personal. San Francisco is my home and unfortunately it has seen its share of disasters. I really wanted to find a way to help the city I love and others prepare for and recover after a disaster.

I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s Office of Civic Innovation and the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) on a number of open data and resiliency projects. I have learned so much from SFDPH about community resilience efforts I was hopeful that I could be helpful to FEMA’s efforts.

Question: Why are you passionate about this work?

Noah, Rave Mobile: All of us are committed to the development of solutions that enhance individual and group safety and security by connecting the public with public safety and emergency management solutions. The discussions around accessibility relate directly to several of our solutions, which provide timely information to 9-1-1, first responders and emergency managers.

Brian & Yo, Appallicious: I’ve always loved technology and public service. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to help make government more accessible to citizens, but I did not know how I could make a difference.

As open data efforts began to heat up with the federal government’s launch of Data.gov and San Francisco’s open data efforts, DataSF.org, a light bulb went off. I began to start thinking about opportunities to transform the way people interact with government. Data.gov, DataSF.org and other open data efforts are making government information easily accessible for developers to make all kinds of civic-minded products that make government work better. 

Vice President Joe Biden has summed up how technology will transform government, quoting Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “All’s changed, changed utterly. Terrible beauty has been born.” It is incredible how much has changed so quickly.

Jon, ESRI: We are increasingly seeing large events affect the world and that appears to be trending upwards with the population growth and potential climate change.  With events like Hurricane Sandy, support was coming in from around the globe due to the access of Open Data. With disasters, there is always going to be the unknown; designing the solutions and apps before the event will allow mission operators to make decisions based on these new data feeds and analytics.  

Question: What was the most interesting thing you learned that day?

Brian & Yo, Appallicious: The information obtained from FEMA staff, including CTO Ted Okada, the Red Cross, and other industry professionals, was priceless. The most important thing we learned from the event was where some of the data sets were sitting and introductions to others in the industry that will help us complete the build of the Disaster Assessment and Assistance Dashboard (DAAD).  Another important part of that day was that we discovered flaws in the third iteration of DAAD. We found this out through feedback from disaster professionals. We will iterate on and integrate this information into the upcoming build of the product. 

Marcus, Socrata: There is so much more about the NFIRS data than I originally thought!  There's a lot that can be done with it that I didn't see was possible in the data that was released for the National Day of Civic Hacking. 

Noah, Rave Mobile: The most interesting thing I learned during the FEMA Data Town Hall was FEMA’s commitment to assisting emergency management practitioners’ and developers’ with creating technological solutions that will enhance preparedness and safety.

Question: What did you or your project gain from having the event in person?

Marcus, Socrata: For starters, none of us knew each other before the event, so simply holding the event allowed us to coalesce around a shared interest.  Setting aside a day to learn more about the data and to discuss its possibilities was helpful for everyone.  The event was a good start to building momentum around this particular effort.

Brian & Yo, Appallicious: There is no better way to get feedback while still in discovery phase then being at an event like this. Bringing professionals together to work through concepts is an extremely efficient and effective way to develop the best possible product. It also gave us many different ideas for inclusion in the product, how best to launch it and who we should be thinking about partnering with for it to be successful.

Question: What phase of the innovation cycle is your project in, and what are the next steps for moving in to the next phase?

Noah, Rave Mobile: Whereas most of the other working groups have considerable data sets to work with, the Accessibility Team will likely need to establish a data set and, specifically, a knowledge base of its own. The technological elements of our team’s solution are perhaps easier to develop than is the sourcing of the information for the knowledge base that our solution will leverage. Therefore, we have tentatively identified two parallel objectives for the next phase of our project. The first is to begin to compile various needs that individuals might have during a disaster (i.e. an interpreter or vehicle capable of accommodating a wheelchair) and then begin to compile the available resources for individuals with various needs. Simultaneously, we will begin designing the public-facing user interface for the sharing and receiving of these preparedness resources.

Jon, ESRI: We are just in the beginning.  We are looking for use cases for developing open data and feeds into useful tools for State and Local responders.

Marcus, Socrata: We have a couple of prototypes that were built last year.  These were built in 24 hours and without access to subject matter experts.  The result is that we developed some really great looking data exploration tools, but we are not sure whether they are actually serving anyone's needs.  Instead of starting from the data and seeing what we can do with it, our next step will is to focus on the stakeholders and their needs and the build tools around that.  

Brian & Yo, Appallicious: We are currently narrowing the scale and scope using the feedback from this last meeting and over the next two weeks we will begin development of DAAD. Stay tuned!

Finally, I’d like to offer a big “thank you” to all those who attended our first-ever FEMA Data Town Hall.  Look for more updates in the coming weeks as the OpenFEMA team continues to check in with project owners and track progress.   For more on FEMA’s open government initiative, visit fema.gov/openfema.  If you’re a developer, I encourage you to check out the API for FEMA data to dig deeper into our open data sets.

Editor's Note: FEMA is providing this information about third-party products as a reference. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.  The views expressed by Data Town Hall participants do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Countdown to America’s PrepareAthon!

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Do you know what you would do during a disaster? Do you know if your community is at risk of tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires or flood?

Only about two-in-five Americans say that they have a plan for what to do in an emergency. We need to change that. That’s why on April 30th, individuals, organizations, and communities will come together to prepare for emergencies on the very first National Day of Action: America’s PrepareAthon!

America’s PrepareAthon! is a nationwide, community-based campaign to increase emergency preparedness and resilience through participation in hazard-specific drills, group discussions and exercises conducted at the national level every fall and spring.

Earlier this week at the White House, Administrator Fugate joined The Weather Channel, AARP and emergency management pros from across the country in a Google+ HangOut on why it’s important for individuals to prepare and describe how they will engage in America’s PrepareAthon! It was a great discussion and if you missed it, you can watch the video here:

On April 30 and throughout the spring, America’s PrepareAthon! activities will focus on preparing individuals, organizations, and communities for tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. Be Smart. Take Part. And prepare today!

Here’s how to join:

  • Register: Participate in America’s PrepareAthon! at ready.gov/prepare.
  • Be Smart: Download guides to learn how to prepare for a tornado, hurricane, flood or wildfire
  • Take Part: Plan activities and host an event locally on April 30th
  • Prepare: Practice a drill or have a discussion about preparedness
  • Share: Promote your activities, events and best practices with national preparedness community members

For more information on America’s PrepareAthon! and to download easy-to-use and free resources go to: www.ready.gov/prepare.  Follow the conversation via @PrepareAthon / #PrepareAthon.  And stay in touch; for questions or comments email PrepareAthon@fema.dhs.gov

What We're Watching: 4/4/14

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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.

Editor's Note: The America’s PrepareAthon! Google+ Hangout section has been updated with a link for lLive Closed Captioning for the event.

Supporting Individuals and Communities Impacted by the Washington Mudslides

Snohomish County, Wash., March 26, 2014 -- A FEMA Senior Leadership Meeting takes place discussing the Oso Mudslide. From the left to right is Michael Hall, Federal Coordinating Officer, Sharon Loper, FEMA Deputy Region Administrator-Region X, Ken Murphy, Regional Administrator-Region X and Jackie Gladish, Operations Chief-Region X. Steve Zumwalt/FEMASnohomish County, Wash., March 26, 2014 -- A FEMA Senior Leadership Meeting takes place discussing the Oso Mudslide. From the left to right is Michael Hall, Federal Coordinating Officer, Sharon Loper, FEMA Deputy Region Administrator-Region X, Ken Murphy, Regional Administrator-Region X and Jackie Gladish, Operations Chief-Region X. Steve Zumwalt/FEMA

Earlier this week, President Obama announced a major disaster declaration for the state of Washington in response to the Oso Mudslide. The President's action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Snohomish County, including the Sauk-Suiattle, Stillaguamish, and Tulalip Tribes.

At the request of the state, FEMA deployed Urban Search & Rescue IST White, CA-TF7 and 20 Canine Search and Rescue Teams have been deployed in addition to the Urban Search & Rescue WA TF-1 deployed as a State Asset. Our National-IMAT West, Bothell MERS personnel and MEOV are also deployed to Washington and assisting with ongoing response and recovery operations.

37 a.m., the same time that the mudslide occurred on Saturday March 22, 2014. Washington National Guard personnel continue to help the community of Oso in the wake of the mudslide. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Rory Featherston WA ANG)Tech. Sgt. Tayler Bates and Tech Sgt. Tony Rohrenbach, members of the Washington Air National Guard, 141 Civil Engineer Squadron pause for a moment of silence at 10:37 a.m., the same time that the mudslide occurred on Saturday March 22, 2014. Washington National Guard personnel continue to help the community of Oso in the wake of the mudslide. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Rory Featherston WA ANG)

Due to the localized impacts of the disaster, FEMA is working closely with residents, tribal members, and business owners who sustained losses in the designated area on a one on one basis.

For updates on response and recovery efforts, follow FEMA Region 10 on twitter or visit the state’s disaster page.

Monitoring Severe Weather

Today and into the evening, our partners at the National Weather Service forecast a slight risk for severe thunderstorms across parts of the Central Gulf Coast. If you live in that region, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Know your severe weather terminology:
    • Severe Thunderstorm Watch - Tells you when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.
    • Severe Thunderstorm Warning - Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.
    • Tornado Watch - Tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.
    • Tornado Warning - A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.
  • Remember the 30/30 Lightning Safety Rule: Go indoors if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to commercial radio or television newscasts for the latest information. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.
  • Be alert to changing weather conditions. Look for approaching storms.
  • Look for the following danger signs:
    • Dark, often greenish sky
    • Large hail
    • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
    • Loud roar, similar to a freight train.
    • If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.

For more tips on severe weather, visit Ready.gov/severe-weather.

We will continue to monitor the severe weather activity and provide updates as needed.  We encourage you to monitor local weather conditions in your area as weather can change in a short amount of time. Stay up to date by visiting www.weather.gov on your computer or http://mobile.weather.gov on your phone.

Join us for an America’s PrepareAthon! Google+ Hangout

We’re getting ready for America’s PrepareAthon! – a nationwide day of action on April 30, 2014. There are a lot of ways you can join in, like holding a preparedness discussion or taking part in a drill so you know what to do during an emergency.

To find out more, join Administrator Fugate, the Weather Channel, AARP, and local leaders from around the country on Monday, April 7 for a Google+ hangout at 1:00 p.m. ET to discuss America’s PrepareAthon! Join the conversation now by asking questions on Twitter using #PrepareAthon. And you can watch the Hangout live on Mondayat 1:00 p.m. by visiting the White House Google+ and YouTube pages.

Live closed captioning is also available during the Hangout.

Visit ready.gov/prepare for more information or check out this blog from FEMA alum Paulette Aniskoff at the White House.

FEMA Celebrates 35 Years of Commitment

Earlier this week, we celebrated our 35th anniversary of serving the American people.  Each and every day, FEMA employees are on the frontlines working with our communities, tribes and disaster survivors – always ready to do what is needed for the American people during some of their most trying times.

Throughout the years, we’ve continued to refine, redefine, and reshape the way we do business to better serve the American people. Since April 1, 1979, when President Jimmy Carter signed the executive order that created FEMA, our commitment to the people we serve and the belief in our survivor centric mission has and will never change.

Visit our 35th Anniversary page to see a timeline of our activity over the past 35 years.

Have a safe weekend!

Emergency Managers Practice for Emergencies, and So Can You

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If you work in the emergency management field, you’ve probably heard about the 2014 Capstone National Exercise.

For those who haven’t, it’s a complex activity comprised of five distinct, but linked, component events: Alaska Shield , Ardent Sentry 14, Nuclear Weapon Accident/Incident Exercise, Eagle Horizon and Silver Phoenix. Together, these activities help us examine the core capabilities described in the National Preparedness Goal.

More specifically, the events and participants include the following:

  • Alaska Shield: State emergency management agencies and FEMA will commemorate the anniversary of the 1964 9.2 magnitude Great Alaskan Earthquake with an exercise that tests response, recovery and mass casualty care.
  • Ardent Sentry 14: In conjunction with Alaska Shield and other exercise sponsors, the Department of Defense will exercise its Defense Support to Civilian Authorities’ mission.
  • Nuclear Weapon Accident/Incident Exercise: The Department of Energy will participate in the Capstone with a scenario that tests response and recovery following an accident during secure transport convoy of nuclear weapons.
  • Eagle Horizon 2014: During this exercise, many federal departments and agencies will activate their continuity of operations and reconstitution planning to test their continuity plans and ensure that primary mission essential functions can take place from alternate facilities.
  • Silver Phoenix 2014: This recovery focused event is threaded across the entire Capstone and explores challenges associated with prioritizing, and conducting recovery activities involving multiple geographically-dispersed and competing events using the National Disaster Recovery Framework.

We plan activities like Capstone to help our participants think through how to respond to and recover from a catastrophe. Many different people play a role in how our nation responds to disasters, so these exercises include not only FEMA but also our partners in federal, state, tribal and local government, the private sector, and non-profit and faith-based-organizations.

Exercises are facilitated by FEMA’s National Exercise Division, which is where I work.  Just like FEMA’s role with coordinating these exercises, everyone has a part to play in building our nation’s reliance to disasters. For example, you can visit Ready.gov right now for simple steps to prepare yourself, your family and your community for whatever emergency may come.

This April you can also participate in America's PrepareAthon! It’s a chance to hold your own exercise or participate in one in your community—almost like what FEMA is doing right now.

While we can’t prevent disasters, it’s important we all do what we can to prepare for them. Everyone can do their part, so I encourage you to learn more about America's PrepareAthon! and consider how you and your community might get involved.

Got five minutes? Get the flood safety 101

Quick trivia question: what’s the most common disaster in the U.S. that impacts the most people year after year?  The answer: Flooding.  This week, we’re focused on flood safety as part of National Flood Awareness Week.  I went back through the video archives and pulled out two stories that demonstrate our key themes for this week.  If you’ve got five minutes, these two videos are worth your time.

The first one is from Hurricane Irene in 2011.  It profiles a town in Vermont that dealt with significant flooding and shows many of the ways flooding can disrupt our lives. 

View in FEMA Multimedia Library

The take a way: have a plan so you know what to do in case of a flood.  Think through questions like:

  • What roads in my community tend to flood first?  Will this impact my travel around town?
  • How will I stay in touch with family/friends if flooding knocks out cell phone service?
  • Where would I go if local officials tell me to evacuate the area due to flooding?
  • What’s the risk of flooding for my area?

If you haven’t thought about these questions before, don’t worry.  Ready.gov is a great resource for making your plan today.

The second video is especially relevant for homeowners and builders.  Here’s how two homeowners in Sea Bright, New Jersey minimized the impact of flooding from Hurricane Sandy by taking deliberate steps in and around their homes.  It all starts with knowing your neighborhood’s risk for flooding, then taking the appropriate steps.

You may not need to put in flood vents or raise critical parts of your home over a certain elevation level, but steps like these may be right for those who live in flood prone areas.  The quote that makes the video for me is: "Will we ever see another storm like that? I don't think so, but who knows?"  The homeowners recognize that while some disasters are unlikely, that shouldn’t stop them from being prepared, just in case.

All week long we’ll be sharing flood safety information on Twitter, Facebook, and on Ready.gov.  I hope you’ll join us this week in learning more about what flooding can do and how you can take steps to get prepared.

What we're Watching: 3/14/14

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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.

Weather Outlook

According to the National Weather Service, this weekend from the Upper Midwest to New England, you can expect cooler temperatures than we’d expect for this time of year. A low pressure system off the coast of Texas is also expected to strengthen and move into the Southeast, bringing heavy rain and high winds from the Florida Panhandle to Eastern North Carolina.

As the system moves farther North, the precipitation has the potential to bring some late season snow. It’s expected to bring 3-6 inches of snow to the Mid-Atlantic region beginning on Sunday evening and going into Monday.

The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang summed up the fluctuating weather we've been experiencing in Washington, D.C. well with this tweet:



Stay up-to-date with the weather forecast in your area by visiting www.weather.gov and mobile.weather.gov on your mobile device.

Thawing into Flood Season

While it might not seem like it everywhere yet, spring is right around the corner. And with spring comes an increased chance of flooding, as we see heavier rainfall and melting snow.

Next week, we’re teaming up with NOAA for National Flood Safety Awareness Week. All week long (March 16-22), we’ll be sharing flood safety information and tips along with the steps you can take to protect your family and home from flooding.

You don’t have to wait until next week to start learning how to protect your family and home from flooding – you can visit Ready.gov/floods today for information on flood safety, and check out FloodSmart.gov for information on the benefits of flood insurance.

We hope you’ll join us in spreading the word. Have a great weekend!

Editor's Note: FEMA is providing this information about third party events as a reference. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

What We’re Watching: 3/7/14

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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.

Weather Outlook

According to the National Weather Service, there’s a mix of winter weather in store for parts of the country this weekend. Parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes should expect cold temperatures this weekend, particularly Sunday. Heavy rain and mountain snow is also expected for parts of Oregon, Northern California and Northern Idaho. Heavy rain is forecasted for parts of Central and Southern Texas through Monday and lastly, high winds for the down-sloping regions of the Northern High Plains on Sunday.

Stay up-to-date with the weather in your area by visiting weather.gov or http://mobile.weather.gov on your mobile device. 

Spring Forward and Check Your Smoke Alarm

This Sunday, it’s time to change the clocks for Daylight Savings Time and spring forward. While you’re fixing the time on the clocks in your house, take the opportunity to check that the batteries are working on your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

Remember, a properly installed and maintained smoke alarm is the only thing in your home that can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Learn more smoke alarm tips from the U.S. Fire Administration.

Severe Weather Preparedness Week Wrap-Up

All week long, we’ve been sharing severe weather stories, preparedness information, safety tips, and encouraging everyone to learn the severe weather hazards that affect your area and take steps to ensure you’re prepared against them.

One of the stories we shared came from Shane Cohea, Director of Safety, Security, and Emergency Preparedness for the Norman Regional Health System, who shared his experience from last May when EF-4 and an EF-5 tornadoes struck his hometown of Moore, Okla. As the Director of Safety, Security, and Emergency Preparedness, it was Shane’s responsibility to ensure the hospital had an emergency plan in place and on May 20, 2013 with an EF-5 tornado was headed directly towards the hospital, his plan was put to the test.

Here’s a piece of his story:

For the past 15 years, I have been coaching, leading, and requiring Norman Regional Health System’s 2,500 employees to have a plan to protect themselves and our patients. At the time we had 3 hospitals: Moore Medical Center (MMC) in Moore, Okla. and 2 hospitals 8 miles south in Norman, Okla.  Normally, my family travels the 20 miles with me to the hospital command center. This was not the case on that day in May. As I sat alone in the quiet hospital command center, dreadful words came from the live weather updates on TV. A massive, deadly tornado touches down in Norman, Okla., only a couple of miles east of our main hospital (Norman Regional Hospital), where I am working.

You can read all of Shane’s story on our blog.

We want to thank everyone who helped us spread the word and encourage severe weather preparedness this week. Just because the week is almost over, it doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to share your severe weather stories or photos and inspire others to change. Be a force of nature and continue encouraging your family, friends, neighbor, and coworkers about the importance of preparing for severe weather.

Visit Ready.gov/severe-weather for more information on preparing for severe weather.

Video of the Week

Here’s a great video from Chelsey Smith about her experience surviving tornado. It’s a reminder of how preparedness can save lives. Chelsey established a response plan at a young age in Alabama at the encouragement of her parents. When a tornado passed through her neighborhood, her family remained safe and unharmed.

 

View in FEMA Multimedia Library

Join the FEMA Team

Do you have an interest in technology and disaster response and recovery? Then you’re in luck – we’re looking to add a Tech Corps Specialist to our National IMAT team.

Responsibilities include:

  • Integrating resources & expertise from the tech sector during disaster response and recovery operations;
  • Building a network of technology partners that are prepared, trained, and certified to engage in disaster response on a voluntary basis;
  • Leading the identification, assessment, and prioritization of technology related community and survivor disaster response and recovery needs that can appropriately be addressed by voluntary resources.

Learn more about this position & more about Tech Corps at www.fema.gov/tech-corps.

Have a great and safe weekend!

 

Two Days. Two May Tornadoes.

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On a typical Sunday in May, I enjoy attending Journey Church and spending time with the family. May 19, 2013 was not a typical Sunday.

 Damage Sustained at Moore Medical CenterOn May 20, 2013 an EF-5 tornado struck the town of Moore, Okla. The mile wide tornado caused extensive damage to the Moore Medical Center. In the photo, the exterior of the medical center show the exposed damage caused from the strong winds in excess of 200 mph. Photo courtesy of Norman Regional Health System

The National Weather Service had been reporting as early as May 16 that May 19 and 20 could be deadly.

For the past 15 years, I have been coaching, leading, and requiring Norman Regional Health System’s 2,500 employees to have a plan to protect themselves and our patients. At the time we had 3 hospitals: Moore Medical Center (MMC) in Moore, Okla. and 2 hospitals 8 miles south in Norman, Okla.  Normally, my family travels the 20 miles with me to the hospital command center. This was not the case on that day in May. As I sat alone in the quiet hospital command center, dreadful words came from the live weather updates on TV. A massive, deadly tornado touches down in Norman, Okla., only a couple of miles east of our main hospital (Norman Regional Hospital), where I am working. I suddenly realize our hospitals are no longer in danger and feel a sense of relief knowing staff and patients are safe.

Almost instantly it hits me that massive EF-4 tornado, with winds from 166-200 MPH is heading directly for my family.

Knowing the plan I had been working on for 15 years at the hospital was solid – it only took a split second to realize my plan for my family had failed. Although I protect more than 2,500 people daily, my wife, 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son are in the tornado’s direct path without a place to survive.

Immediately, I text my wife pleading for her to drive the 1/8 mile to a neighbor that has a tornado shelter. As expected my fears are realized. I cannot call or text my family, neighbors, or anyone in the area. The tornado has wiped out all communication between us. Watching the storm live from a safe command center was heart-wrenching, wondering the fate of my loving family. Minutes later, I arrive home to a battered car, home, shattered windows in both and smiling kids holding softball-sized hail. It was like an Easter egg hunt with large hail stones for the kids. They had survived in the neighbor’s shelter. Immediately, we implemented a new family plan for the predicted severe weather the following morning.

When I returned home I was wondering how to approach the subject of nearly losing my family, $11,000 home damage, and having to pay the car deductible by taking our best car out of the garage. Instead of addressing any of these topics my only statement to my wife was “There will be storms with high likelihood of tornadoes tomorrow”. She asked, “What time and what is the plan?” We decided she should be at my office by 1pm, since the NWS said storms could form any time after 1 pm. She arrived on May 20, at 1:01 pm and stayed in the safe area while I proceeded to incident command area.

Twelve hours later:

On May 20, 2013 I promised myself to never allow my family to not have a proven plan. My family was to meet me at 1 p.m. in my office. As I dropped my car off and called my insurance carrier to have the windows replaced, I was receiving terrible news. The National Weather Service predicted a chance for larger tornadoes and more super cells after 2 p.m. I emailed all management positions at all three Norman Regional hospitals and every physician clinic to inform them today could possibly be worse than yesterday. As I typically do, I find a quiet place to say a quick prayer asking for guidance and courage to make the correct decisions.

Moore Medical Center Destruction following TornadoPhoto of the destruction the May 20, 2013 EF-5 tornado caused the Moore Medical Center. The medical center took a direct hit from the tornado, fortunately those who sought shelter, patients, and employees were not injured. Photo courtesy of Norman Regional Health System

As fate would have it one nurse manager out of three hospitals called to verify her plan with me. Shortly after our conversation, things changed quickly. Our worst nightmare was about the test every emergency plan we have ever constructed. A deadly EF-5 tornado with winds over 200 MPH was on the ground. Schools were in session, a baby had just been born, and another mother was in active labor. Hundreds of motorists were speeding into the entrances of our hospital, looking for shelter, as our courageous employees pull and direct them to a safe area. All of these innocent people are in the direct path of this monster tornado.

As I sit in the command center, instincts and experience took over. Some of the actions I remember clearly, others not so much. I immediately called for all leadership to join me in the command center at 3:04. It had been 24 minutes since I had put Moore Medical Center (our hospital in the tornado’s path) on alert. Typically, I place all three hospitals on alert when conditions and wind shear are this severe. This was not a typical day.

Now a mile-wide tornado was devastating the city of Moore. Watching live on TV, I informed our CEO that we will have massive amounts of injuries and causalities present to all three of our Emergency Departments from a storm of this magnitude. Our decision was tough – do we call a disaster code while the tornado is in our town and risk employees traveling back to work to save lives?

We did make the decision to call a Code Yellow (disaster code) to prepare staff for the huge influx of patients we will be receiving.  Now with a command center congested with Leaders, it was evident this was as severe as the 1999 or the 2003 tornadoes. We are working diligently to protect lives and save those that are injured. We establish an incident commander and command staff. I quickly remember the lessons learned from Joplin, Missouri after taking two trips to that facility in hopes of better preparing our health system. A majority of our patients, staff and visitors have sought shelter in Moore Medical Center’s designated safe area with the exception of the single Nurse Manager who called me earlier. She was with a physician and another nurse assisting the mother who was in active labor. There were positioned on the second and highest floor.

Photo of the Tornado that Struck the Moore Medical CenterThis photo shows the mile wide tornado that struck the town of Moore, Okla. on May 20, 2013. The EF-5 tornado caused massive damage to several hospitals, schools, and hundreds of homes and businesses. Photo courtesy of Chance Coldiron

3:21 p.m.:

About 48 minutes after I called the alert for this hospital (MMC) the EF-5 tornado has already wiped out two elementary schools, hundreds of homes, and killed way too many children and innocent citizens. Then, it slams into Moore Medical Center. The 200-mile-per-hour winds threw a Nissan Altima onto the second story roof above the laboring mother. More than 30 cars have been rolled onto the first floor rooftop. The winds also lifted a commercial dumpster from over 300 yards away and slammed it into the building. The winds ripped parts of the roof off the structure. Horrifyingly, the winds pulled the wall off the second floor surgery suite being used to deliver the baby. It ripped the wall apart like removing the lid off a can. With a 10-foot-by-10-foot hole in the wall, the staff put the patient in another room to protect the mother and unborn child.

Damage Sustained to Moore Medical CenterAn EF-5 struck the town of Moore, Okla. in May 2013, causing extensive damage to the Moore Medical Center. This surgery suite shows the extensive amount of damage the tornado caused. This room was being used as a delivery room, before it had to be evacuated. Photo courtesy of Norman Regional Health System

3:30 p.m.:

Working in our command center we hear our extended work family, brothers, sisters, took a direct strike by the deadly tornado. Our command center full of busy command staff, preparing to care for what ended up being 140 patients, fell silent. Ten miles seemed like ten states away. Not a sound could be heard. No one in that room has ever shared what their thoughts were for that 1-2 minute period, but mine were of prayer and hope. Jumping back into action I immediately informed the CEO that we will have a huge loss of life in our hospital structure. We need to send the convoy we assembled 10 miles south of the storm to rescue our work family and patients. We start getting calls from the news media including CNN, and eventually those inside the building reach our command center requesting appropriate actions to take. Staff from Moore Medical Center informed me that they all survived and without injury. My response was that of disbelief and denial.  It would be impossible. I’ve been in this business too long to know that is not how these situations end.

Damage at Moore Medical Center following TornadoThis used to be a welcome/reception area for the Moore Medical Center. An EF-5 tornado with wind gusts in excess of 200 mph, struck the medical center and caused extensive damage to the facility. Photo courtesy of Norman Regional Health System

On a typical day a good plan can save some lives. On days that are not typical, facing two tornadoes with a focus on preparedness, a great plan can save every life in the building, including my family, and our work family.

On May 20, 2013 there were zero injured and zero killed at Moore Medical Center. I will be forever grateful for those that had the heart and courage to execute the plan, the first responders, those that delivered food and water, and every single person that assisted Norman Regional Health System.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed by Shane Cohea do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

Two Projects Showing Why we Think Portland is Cool

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July 13, 2013, Portland, OR – Participants of the Portland Disaster Relief Trails load supplies on their customized bicycles. The community-based event showcases how bikes can be used to transport food, water and supplies to support their community in an emergency.July 13, 2013, Portland, OR – Participants of the Portland Disaster Relief Trails load supplies on their customized bicycles. The community-based event showcases how bikes can be used to transport food, water and supplies to support their community in an emergency.

Portland Oregon is one of the coolest prepared cities in the Pacific Northwest. They continue to find fun and innovative approaches to make themselves and their community a safer place to live. 

A bicycle friendly city, they are the creators of the Disaster Relief Trials, which is an event designed for cyclists of all levels, where through a series of challenges the participants showcase how bikes can be used to respond to a major disaster (such as an earthquake) to transport food, water and supplies to support their communities.  This event is a homegrown, community driven practice, showcasing how bikes can and will support Portland in emergencies and disasters.  That’s smart, healthy, practical, and cool.

July 13, 2013, Portland, OR - Participants of the Portland Disaster Relief Trails navigate through obstacles with a bike full of disaster supplies. The community-based event showcases how bikes can be used to transport food, water and supplies to support their community in an emergency.July 13, 2013, Portland, OR - Participants of the Portland Disaster Relief Trails navigate through obstacles with a bike full of disaster supplies. The community-based event showcases how bikes can be used to transport food, water and supplies to support their community in an emergency.

But there’s more. Leaders at the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, and Clean Energy Works dreamed up a pilot project for how to use a FEMA grant to seismically retrofit 30 homes throughout Portland.  Through a Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grant of about $100,000, they will be improving the stability and safety of these homes. Leading by example and helping homeowners and neighborhoods be ready for the next big one.

This pilot project shows that community-driven mitigation strategies can have a strong benefit to cost ratio (1:3) and, more importantly, do not require millions of dollars to get done! It’s about the partnerships and finding ways to stretch grant dollars further.

February 20, Portland, OR – Local officials show reporters results of the earthquake retrofit pilot project.  The innovative project was possible thanks to a partnership between the City of Portland, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, Clean Energy Works, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management and FEMA. (Photo by Cory Grogan, Oregon Office of Emergency Management)February 20, Portland, OR – Local officials show reporters results of the earthquake retrofit pilot project. The innovative project was possible thanks to a partnership between the City of Portland, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, Clean Energy Works, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management and FEMA. (Photo by Cory Grogan, Oregon Office of Emergency Management)

This model house shows some aspects of earthquake retrofitting look like. The circle on the right shows a ceiling joist, while the left-hand circle shows another joist that can keep a home from being displaced from its concrete foundation during an earthquake.This model house shows some aspects of earthquake retrofitting look like. The circle on the right shows a ceiling joist, while the left-hand circle shows another joist that can keep a home from being displaced from its concrete foundation during an earthquake.

Portland is setting the example for what it means to have a whole community approach to preparedness and public safety. They are focusing on making neighborhoods, communities, their city and state more resilient, one innovative idea at a time.

And that’s why we think Portland is so cool.

Editor's Note: FEMA is providing this information about third party events as a reference.  FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

What Goes into a Flood Map: Infographic

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FEMA's Tom Pickering discusses flood maps with one of the people who attended an Open House on flood maps in Jefferson Parish. Jacqueline Chandler/FEMA

Helping homeowners and communities know their risk of being impacted by disasters stands as one of our top priorities at FEMA. When you know your risk, you can prepare for the worst, take steps to mitigate against hazards, and protect yourself, your family and your property.

Year to year, flooding is the most costly disaster in America. Flood maps play a vital role in helping us prepare for flooding by informing communities about the local flood risk. Flood maps help communities to incorporate flood risk into their planning. They’re also the basis for flood insurance rates through the National Flood Insurance Program, which FEMA administers at the direction of Congress. By law, you may be required to get flood insurance if you live in the highest risk areas. But flooding can happen anywhere -- about 20 percent of all the flood claims come from areas with lower risk. And you don’t have to live close to water to be at risk.

The process for developing and updating flood maps is a long one – and for good reason. It allows communities and property owners at all steps of the process to incorporate the best available data into each community’s flood maps. Projects typically take from 3-5 years to complete, but sometimes they can take longer.  Through the Risk MAP program, flood maps are developed using the best available science, analyzed by some of the leading engineering firms in the field. The mapping standards are published, vetted, have been peer reviewed, and are updated continuously to ensure they are aligned with current best practices.

The infographic below gives you an overview of all that goes into a flood map from beginning to end. The more that communities and homeowners know about this process, the better we can work together to make sure that we build safely and resiliently and are prepared for flooding and other natural disasters.

For full text of the infographic below, visit our document library.

Graphic explaining what a flood map is, how they are made, who works on them, how flood risk is reviewed, and how the public can appeal a flood map decision. For full text of this image, visit http://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/91087.

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