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Lessons for business resiliency in 140 characters or less


Hurricane Sandy, the recent, deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma and the Boston Marathon bombing are stark reminders that businesses and commercial and industrial properties are susceptible to a wide variety of emergencies.  Hurricanes, extensive flooding, blizzards, ice storms, fires and utility disruptions are just some of the emergencies that can impact a business’ operations, bringing fresh urgency to the need for business preparedness and resiliency efforts.

Such emergencies and disasters have the potential to cripple or even destroy businesses – of all sizes and scope – that are unprepared for such events; studies show that 40% of businesses that do not have emergency plans in place do not re-open after a major incident.

Having businesses that are resilient to emergencies ultimately helps local communities and citizens recover from disasters faster – which is why business resilience is so important to FEMA.   Engaging an entire community in disaster preparedness, response and recovery activities is a main responsibility of FEMA’s Private Sector Liaisons, who work in all ten FEMA regions across the country.  As the Private Sector Liaison for FEMA Region I (which covers six states and 10 Indian Tribes in New England), I arranged for our regional office to participate in the “Weathering the Storm: How Properties Can Prepare and Respond” event that NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, hosted on May 31, 2013. 

The event focused on the important steps commercial property owners should take to prepare their properties and protect their tenants – a great topic that doesn’t get talked about enough. It also featured a variety of experts who discussed topics including the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, developing a storm preparedness plan, insurance impacts and legal challenges, and “preparing buildings for tomorrow.”  

With support from NAIOP Massachusetts executives, FEMA Region I Acting Administrator Paul Ford and the directors of our National Preparedness, Hazard Mitigation and External Affairs divisions, a team of FEMA experts spent several hours at the event, sharing literature with and talking to attendees interested in learning how FEMA can help them protect their business, property and tenants. 

To help capture the insights from the speakers, we live tweeted the event from the Region 1 Twitter account (@femaregion1).  So rather than rehashing all of the lessons they shared, here are the bite-sized messages posted during the event – some great tips for businesses: 

  • Vivien Li, President, The Boston Harbor Association:
  • Alfred Scaramelli, Senior Vice President, Beacon Capital Partners, LLC:
  • John Brandstetter, Managing Director, The Brandstetter Group:
  • Peter See, Boston Properties

The event in Boston last week is a great model for other communities to follow. It was successful because it provided a platform for business owners to share their stories from disasters in a way that others could apply to their own companies.  Preparing for emergencies makes good business sense. The better prepared your business and employees are and the more resilient your business is, the faster your operations can recover – helping not only your business but your community as well.

I’m thankful that NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, allowed FEMA to participate. I hope other communities will learn from this event and business owners who weren’t there will take the lessons to heart!

Other resources

What we’re watching: 6/7/13


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.

map of projected rainfallImage of projected rainfall totals over the next 48 hours, courtesy of the National Hurricane Center.

Tropical storm Andrea & the threat of flooding

We’ve been closely monitoring Tropical Storm Andrea all week long, and forecasts from the National Weather Service are calling for a wet weekend for much of the East Coast.  While Andrea may not bring powerful winds, the main threat from the system will be localized flooding.  If you’re along the East Coast, remember to keep a close watch on your local weather conditions – especially if flooding could be a possibility.  A few flood safety reminders to keep in mind over the weekend:

  • Don’t walk or drive through flooded areas – the water depth can be misleading and the current can be unpredictable.  It only takes a small amount of standing water to make you lose control of your vehicle, so be prepared to take alternative routes if you drive upon flooded areas.
  • Avoid streams, storm drains, and other low-lying areas that can flood easily and quickly.  Flash flooding can occur very quickly and these areas can be very dangerous.
  • Listen to any directions given by local officials.  A NOAA Weather Radio is a great way to receive severe weather updates 24/7, and you can also tune in to local radio/TV for updates for your area.
  • Visit on your computer and on your phone for a full list of flood safety tips.

“Hacking” to raise fire safety awareness

Last weekend’s National Day of Civic Hacking drummed up some great energy and enthusiasm around the country.  The event brought together technology enthusiasts, developers, and community organizers to solve problems and challenges in their neighborhoods by using technology.  As one of the government sponsors of the event, FEMA posed a challenge for developers to create an online visualization of fire incidents across the U.S. using data from the U.S. Fire Administration.

It was inspiring to see a few groups start to tackle our challenge - developers around the country came up with three prototypes after the weekend was over.  Here are the links - visualization one, visualization two, visualization three - you can see how each one has a unique approach to visualizing the data.

In addition to the prototypes using our fire data, there were other awesome initiatives focused on emergency preparedness.  One in particular was “Hack the Rock” – a citizen-driven group in Rockaways, NY who used Hurricane Sandy as the impetus for developing easy-to-use apps that could help keep residents safe.   One app they came up with is a checklist that customizes safety information based on the scenario you’re in.  (For more on the Hack the Rock group’s efforts, visit their project page)

Reflecting on Missouri Buy-Outs

Earlier this week, an event that didn’t receive much fanfare across the country demonstrated a success story for preventing flood damages.  A levee breach occurred in West Alton, Missouri, flooding the area around the levee.  However, due to property buyouts that have happened in recent years in the flood-prone areas around the levee, minimal flooding impacts were felt by homeowners and businesses.  Here’s what Beth Freeman, FEMA’s Regional Administrator in Region 7 (covering Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska) had to say about it:

Last spring, during our annual Bring Your Child to Work Day, a youngster asked me about the “feel good” in what I do, and the work of FEMA. As I left the office yesterday I had that “feel good” moment I think that young person was referring to.

Every time a state receives a federal disaster declaration, money is set aside for projects that will help to reduce the impact of future disasters. Sometimes it can be difficult to see the benefit these projects bring to a community, but yesterday, when news of the impending levee breech in West Alton came across my email, I knew the money the State of Missouri invested in flood mitigation in St. Charles County was paying a dividend.

Through the work of local emergency mangers, community planners, and Missouri’s State Emergency Management Agency, over 200 flood prone properties within West Alton have been acquired since 1994 through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).  And throughout St. Charles County 1,437 properties have been purchased.   

When the river goes below flood stage once again, we will have additional data to study the cost of these acquisition projects compared to the projected cost of disaster recovery that would have been needed over the years had the buy-outs not occurred. But today, the value of this work is much more personal. It is measured in the well-being of the families who are safe and not wondering what will be left of their homes and way of life once the floodwaters recede.

Visit for more on FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Program, or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website for info on the ongoing flood fight efforts in Missouri.

Practicing emergency response

Practicing is an important part of emergency management.  It’s something FEMA and our federal, state, and local partners do on a regular basis to make sure we’re prepared to respond in the event of an emergency.  Over the past several months, we’ve been getting ready for the Atlantic hurricane season (which started June 1) by going through several simulated disaster scenarios.  These scenarios, or exercises as we call them, help us practice coordination, test our equipment’s capabilities, and ensure we have a thorough understanding of what works well and where we can improve. 

One exercise we participated in recently was called “Ardent Sentry”, hosted by our partners at NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command.  The exercise simulated a complex disaster scenario – multiple hurricanes that had cascading impacts.  Administrator Fugate and General Chuck Jacoby, of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, wrote up a summary of the exercise with details on how the federal family is getting prepared for an active 2013 hurricane season.

Photos of the week

Finally, here are a few of my favorite photos that came into our Photo Library this week:

therapy art after tornadoMoore, Okla., June 5, 2013 -- Plaza Towers Elementary School first grade teacher Sarah Tauscher, writes on a brick from the school during a healing arts project. The project called {HOPE} raisers is a group of individuals, businesses and causes that care about the community from all over the country. Together they use their time, talent and treasures to create community engagement and Raise Some Hope. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

tornado memorialMoore, Okla., May 30, 2013 -- A Moore resident visits the memorial shrine at Plaza Towers Elementary School. The area was struck by a F5 tornado on May 20, 2013. Andrea Booher/FEMA

Have a safe weekend!

The Big Picture: The role of mapping in assessing disaster damages

Almost two years to the day of the Joplin tornado anniversary, a devastating EF-5 tornado hit the town of Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, 2013. The path of the Moore tornado was 17 miles long and two miles wide.   After a devastating event like a tornado, assessing the damages and painting a picture of the affected community is of utmost importance.  The better information first responders and emergency managers have about damaged areas, the more effectively they can prioritize areas of needs and deliver services.

From the start of the response, geospatial teams from across multiple agencies and the private sector had a game plan and an expectation of deliverables needed to bring clarity to a complex situation.  Almost immediately after the tornado, our geospatial analysts began producing baseline information maps (i.e. demographics, population density, and economic statistics) to provide situational awareness to the response teams. 

map of tornado damagePublicly available aerial imagery was leveraged with demographic information to show the impact of the tornado’s path (Map Credit: ESRI)

Within the first few hours after the tornadoes struck Moore, Civil Air Patrol (CAP) was leveraged by the State of Oklahoma to collect aerial imagery along the tornado path. FEMA added to this effort via a Mission Assignment to collect ground photos of the devastation.  All of the images collected from the CAP team were geo-tagged and uploaded to the FEMA Geoplatform. In addition to the CAP imagery, FEMA leveraged a new DHS contract for high-resolution aerial imagery. Combined, this imagery assisted us in delivering house by house geospatial damage assessments of the affected area.  A major contributor to this effort was the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).  Collectively, the FEMA/NGA team was able to deliver highly accurate geospatial damage assessments within four days of the event. These assessments were leveraged by various response and recovery programs across all levels of government to focus their efforts on the most heavily impacted sites.

map of tornado damagePublicly available imagery was leveraged to see a before or after of the affected area. (Map Credit: ESRI)

One of the main goals of FEMA’s geospatial team is to provide the accurate, readily available, and timely information to support first responders and local officials.  By posting the data we collect and analyze publicly, private companies (such as Google’s Crisis Map of the Oklahoma Tornado) can leverage government provided information to reach a larger audience during times of crisis.  Survivors can use the interactive maps to check the affected areas, and more importantly their personal property from a remote location, without disrupting response efforts or putting themselves in dangerous conditions. 

The groundwork for the geospatial team’s response to Moore was laid two years earlier in response to the Joplin tornado of May 2011. After the Joplin tornado, a pilot project was launched to conduct house by house damage assessments using aerial imagery.  The initial pilot project produced over 8,000 detailed damage assessments which leveraged National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) imagery.  In addition to NOAA imagery, CAP was identified as having the capabilities to collect initial situation awareness aerial photos.  The assessments completed during the pilot program were done rapidly and proved to be very accurate. 

Timely, accurate information displayed on a map has always been useful to emergency responders – and I’m looking forward to continuing our work and contributing to the emergency management team’s response to emergencies.  For more on the efforts of FEMA’s geospatial team, visit our Geoplatform.

Here's the current, clickable Oklahoma tornado situation map, along with other images from the May 20 tornado that struck Moore:

View Larger Map

map of tornado damageNational Geospatial-Intelligence Agency preliminary damage assessments displayed on FEMA'’s GeoPlatform. (Map credit: FEMA)

map of tornado damageTornado situation map with ground and aerial imagery. The viewer can click on any symbol to display data and photos associated with that particular location. (Map credit: FEMA)

‘Prepare for the worst, hope for the best’

Editor's Note: This blog originally appeared on the U.S. Coast Guard Blog.

Petty Officer 2nd Class James Hockenberry, a flight mechanic at Air Station New Orleans, with his family. Photo courtesy of the Hockenberry family.Petty Officer 2nd Class James Hockenberry, a flight mechanic at Air Station New Orleans, with his family. Photo courtesy of the Hockenberry family.

With contributions from Susanna Marking, Office of External Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As Hurricane Isaac inched towards the Gulf Coast in August 2012, Petty Officer 2nd Class James Hockenberry was assigned to an aircrew tasked with relocating a Coast Guard helicopter outside of the storm’s path. Left behind were his wife and two boys.

A flight mechanic at Air Station Orleans, Hockenberry’s duty to respond doesn’t stop when there is a storm on its way and he ensures his family is prepared well in advance of the storm first and foremost.

A Coast Guard aircrew flies over flooded Louisiana during Hurricane Isaac, Aug. 11, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo.A Coast Guard aircrew flies over flooded Louisiana during Hurricane Isaac, Aug. 11, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Stationed in New Orleans for the past three years, Hockenberry and his family have seen firsthand the very real danger tropical storms and hurricanes pose. Together, the family ensures they are ready before, during and after a storm. The Hockenberry’s summarize their hurricane preparedness plan into one simple mantra – “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

“Even if the news is predicting a small hurricane or a large tropical storm, you never know what can happen,” said Hockenberry. “I’ve noticed that the smaller hurricanes can quicker upgrade to a major hurricane right before they make landfall.”

Communities all along the Gulf Coast count on Hockenberry and his fellow lifesavers to take action during a storm, but his family is counting on him as well. He is a lifesaver but he is also a dad.

“At the beginning of Hurricane season our command briefs us on the expectations for the upcoming season. From there I go home and I talk with my wife and my in-laws – who live only 30 minutes away – about what to expect,” said Hockenberry. “We discuss our evacuation routes…depending on the path the hurricane might take.”

Locating an additional place for shelter, identifying key evacuation routes and communicating with those around you are all critical in staying safe before a storm hits. During Isaac, his family stuck with the plan, allowing him to focus on the mission at hand – saving lives.

“I’m glad my family went to [my wife's] parent’s house because it was one less thing I had to worry about,” recalled Hockenberry. “I’m also glad they decided to go to Mobile even though no evacuation order had been given for the same reasons.”

Coast Guard helicopters from air stations Mobile, New Orleans and Houston inside the Air Station Houston hanger for protection and routine maintenance as they wait for Hurricane Isaac to make landfall, Aug. 28, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard Brahm.Coast Guard helicopters from air stations Mobile, New Orleans and Houston inside the Air Station Houston hanger for protection and routine maintenance as they wait for Hurricane Isaac to make landfall, Aug. 28, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard Brahm.

Along with discussing plans, the Hockenberry family prepares an emergency kit. Filled with food that won’t spoil, gallons of water, flashlights, batteries and extra diapers, the kit is ready regardless of what is forecasted. They also fill up a propane container – to have something to cook with, buy extra ice and top off all vehicles early since gas lines fill up hours before a hurricane makes landfall.

Discussing emergency plans and having the necessary tools is an annual reality for Hockenberry and his family. But despite the frequency, they never let their guard down.

“Isaac was only a Category 1 however it caused widespread flooding because it was so slow moving and power was out around the city for about five days after the storm had passed and base didn’t get power back until eight days after the storm had passed,” recalled Hockenberry.

The Hockenberry family’s preparedness was put to the test during Isaac but they stuck to their plan and everyone stayed safe. We encourage you and your family to stay ready as well. You are the first line of defense to make sure you and your loved ones stay safe during a hurricane. The time to prepare is now.

What We’re Watching: 5/31/13


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.

fema administrator fugate at podiumMiami, Fla., May 31, 2013 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate speaks at NOAA's annual Atlantic Hurricane press event discussing the upcoming hurricane season.

Kicking off the Atlantic hurricane season

We are coming to the end of National Hurricane Preparedness Week, which means the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season (June 1) is almost here. All week long we’ve been sharing hurricane safety tips on our website, Facebook and Twitter accounts.  There are lots of ways you can get prepared for hurricane season at – especially important if you live in a coastal area – but I will share two things you can do in the next five minutes to make sure your phone is ready for the start of hurricane season:

  • From your phone, text the word HURRICANE to 43362 - You’ll receive hurricane safety tips every two weeks from FEMA’s dedicated text message number.  It’s a great way to have regular reminders sent to you that can inspire action to staying safe.  (Standard message & data rates apply.)
  • Download the FEMA app – It’s filled with tips on what to do before, during, and after a hurricane – and other disasters, for that matter.  Should a storm hit, the app has maps of any open shelters or FEMA disaster recovery centers.  And one thing I really like about the app is that even if cell service is unavailable, you can still access all the safety tips since accessing them doesn’t require a data connection.  The app is available for Android, Apple, and Blackberry phones and tablets.

So start the 2013 hurricane season off on the right foot.  Have a plan for how you, your family, and your business will stay safe if a hurricane or tropical storm impacts your area. has all the info you need, so check it out today.

Hacking for good – National Day of Civic Hacking

Coming up this weekend, developers and technology enthusiasts will meet in 95 locations across the country to solve challenges relevant to our communities, states, and our country.  FEMA is one of the government agencies supporting the effort through our Fire Data Visualization challenge.   We’ve recently released the world’s largest fire-related dataset to inspire people to use the data and build an online data visualization that inspires fire awareness and safety at the local level.  There are lots of other great challenges from other agencies and organizations, so I encourage you to check them out and join the effort if you’re interested!

FEMA around the web

In addition to upcoming events, I wanted to share a few articles, as well.  Earlier this week, we launched new public service announcements about the Wireless Emergency Alert system.  The New York Times did a great write up about the alerts, how they are automatically enabled on many smartphone models, and how they can save lives.  If you haven’t seen the new public service announcements – here it is:

And related to the start of the Atlantic hurricane season, a few of our employees were featured on other blogs. Both are great perspectives and worth the read:

  • Microsoft Citizenship Blog – FEMA’s social media lead talks about the lessons he’s learned about using technology (and especially his phone) as a resource before, during, and after emergencies
  • Coast Guard Compass blog – One of the members of our External Affairs team talks about how right now is the ideal time to prepare and gives the key steps to doing so.

Photos of the week

To wrap up, here are some of the photos from our photo library this week.

oklahoma tornado damageMoore, Okla., May 27, 2013 -- Disaster Survivor Assistance Team (DSAT) member, Kathleen King and FEMA Corps member, Ana Canizales canvas the Whispering Oaks area of Moore. They are providing disaster related information and taking FEMA disaster assistance registrations. The Moore area was struck by a F5 tornado on May 20, 2013. Andrea Booher/FEMA

dog check upOklahoma City, Okla., May 28, 2013 -- Local resident Elijah Meza is fitted for a pair of glasses by Vision Source volunteer optometrist Taylor Oliphant after an eye exam. Vision Source is providing local residents with eye care who were impacted by the recent tornado on May 20, 2013. The center is set up at the Graceway Baptist Church. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

With that, have a safe weekend!

Searching for Items for our Emergency Kit – Hurricane Week Edition

It’s National Hurricane Preparedness week and our friends at FEMA wanted us to do something fun to make sure Stella and I are prepared for the start of hurricane season, June 1. We’ve heard a lot about how it’s important to have an emergency kit – it is a collection of basic items your family may need in the event of an emergency.

So to help us get our kit together, we did a scavenger hunt for things already around the house that are also great things to use during an emergency.

 Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their emergency supplies kit. Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their emergency supplies kit.

First we had to find our battery powered weather radio that sends out alert when severe weather is in our area.  We also found a basic first aid that we can add to our kit.

 Alexandria, Va., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stella participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their scavenger hunt. Alexandria, Va., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stella participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their scavenger hunt.

Next we needed to find something to help us see in the dark in case the power goes out… our clue says it would be under the sofa… it’s a flashlight!

 Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their emergency supplies kit. Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their emergency supplies kit.

We’ve got a good start so far, but there’s more we can add to our kit. Our next clue says to head to the kitchen pantry for something to quench our thirst. We found bottled water....

 Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella participates in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for her emergency supplies kit. Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella participates in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for her emergency supplies kit.

Our final clue says to look under the sink for something to help our radio and flashlight work.

 Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stanley participates in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for his emergency supplies kit. Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stanley participates in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for his emergency supplies kit.

We found batteries!

The scavenger hunt was a fun and easy way to help us get prepared! We used simple items around the house to get our kit started. And you can do the same. Getting prepared doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Take items from around your house and start your emergency kit today!

Visit to learn how you can prepare for the upcoming hurricane season!

National Dam Safety Awareness Day: Dam Safety is a Shared Responsibility


May 31 is National Dam Safety Awareness Day, established to encourage and promote individual and community responsibility and best practices for dam safety, and to highlight the steps people can take to prevent future catastrophic dam failures or lessen the impact of a potential failure.  FEMA recognizes National Dam Safety Awareness Day in order to help promote the benefits that dams can offer to communities nationwide.

This commemoration serves as an important national initiative for FEMA at both the national level as well as through several local events this year in Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Virginia. One of the events happening in Henrico County, Virginia is the Virginia Dam First Aid Program.  It’s aimed at helping Virginia dam owners with routine and emergency repairs that will be demonstrated at Echo Lake Park by Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.

National Dam Safety Awareness Day commemorates the tragic failure of the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on May 31, 1889, which resulted in the loss of over 2,200 lives, and was the worst dam failure in the history of the United States.

damage after Johnstown floodDestruction after the South Fork Dam failure in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: National Park Service

Dams are a vital part of the American infrastructure and provide economic, environmental, and social benefits. Anyone who has enjoyed an artificial lake knows some of these social benefits firsthand.  The benefits of dams, however, can be countered by the risks they sometimes present. The failure of even a small dam is capable of causing significant property and environmental damage, as well as the loss of life.

For 30 years, FEMA and its federal partners have worked to reduce the impacts of dam failures across the nation through the National Dam Safety Program. The program, led by FEMA, is a partnership of States, Federal agencies, and other stakeholders encouraging individual and community responsibility for dam safety. Reducing the risk of dam failure is the driving force of the National Dam Safety Program, central to the mission of ensuring that the public and property owners downstream of dams are informed of the risk of dam failure.

Here’s a snapshot of what the National Dam Safety Program is all about:

  • Raising public awareness of dam safety,
  • Lessening the impacts of dam failure by assisting States in establishing and maintaining dam safety programs,
  • Providing technical training to state and federal dam safety staff, and
  • Supporting research and the development of guidance to advance the practice of dam safety to improve public safety.

States have the responsibility for regulating about 80 percent of the dams in the United States. With support by the National Dam Safety Program, state dam safety programs have been raising dam safety awareness with the goal of preventing a dam failure like the one experienced in Johnstown over a century ago.  The program serves as a real investment in preventing dam failures and reducing the impacts of such failures on lives and property.

A great example of the National Dam Safety Program in action is in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  With funding from a National Dam Safety Program grant, the Commonwealth developed a process for estimating costs and prioritizing dam safety rehabilitation needs across the state.  In 2012, the Virginia legislature approved $14 million for the repair of State-owned high hazard  dams in need  of repair throughout Virginia, largely as a result of the research and analysis from this program.

So take a look at the resources below and learn more about dam safety.  On this National Dam Safety Awareness Day, or any day that you’re enjoying the benefits of a dam in your community, remember that a team effort goes into making them as safe as possible.

Other resources

Take Action & Pledge this National Hurricane Preparedness Week


hurricane winds

We’re kicking off National Hurricane Preparedness Week! Once again, we’ve teamed up with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to encourage all Americans to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season, which officially starts this Saturday, June 1 and lasts until November 30. Above all, hurricanes are powerful forces of nature that not only cause damage to coastlines, but also hundreds of miles inland as well because of flooding.  

The impact of Hurricane Sandy was felt in Puerto Rico, Florida and other parts of the East Coast, and this video shows just how much damage Hurricane Sandy caused in the Northeast:

All week long we’ll be posting hurricane safety resources and information, encouraging everyone to take two simple actions:

  • Pledge to prepare – It’s an easy step as you take action to prepare your home, family, and business against hurricanes and other severe weather. By taking this pledge, you’re taking the first step in ensuring you’re ready for severe weather.
  • Share your pledge with someone you know - Once you pledge, encourage other family members, friends, and neighbors to take the pledge and prepare for hurricane season. We hope you join us in spreading the word this week and encouraging everyone you know to prepare. Having a plan and being prepared for can make a world of difference during an emergency and severe weather.

And in case you missed it, you can also receive hurricane safety tips directly to your phone, by texting HURRICANE to 43362 (4FEMA).  And of course, standard message and data rates apply.

I hope you’ll join us in sharing hurricane safety this week!

All that Stuff Called Debris


As you have seen on TV, a tornado leaves behind large amounts of wreckage and debris.  Unfortunately, that debris is generally made up of people’s homes, community buildings, cars, trees, and all sorts of things that a tornado may destroy with winds that can exceed 200 MPH. In order for disaster survivors to even think about rebuilding their homes or their schools or hospitals the debris needs to be picked up and removed.  FEMA and the federal government can assist by helping to pay debris removal costs.

tornado debrisMoore, Okla., May 22, 2013 -- Residents look at the place their home stood after a tornado struck the community of Moore, Oklahoma on May 20th. Andrea Booher/FEMA

Local and tribal officials such as mayors, county commissioners, school superintendents, and emergency management officials ultimately make the decisions about how debris gets picked up, where it goes, and who does the work. Generally speaking, they have several options. They can have their own employees do the work, local volunteers and organizations can help, the town could hire a company with heavy equipment, or they could request assistance from the state who can ask the federal government to help if necessary. At this point local officials in Oklahoma are deciding which of these options they will use to go about getting all the debris picked up.

At FEMA, our role is very much a support role by joining the whole community team of local, state and tribal officials, disaster relief organizations, volunteers, and disaster survivors. One of our most valuable contributions to the mission is in the form of funding. As the debris left by the storm is being picked up, FEMA works with the state, local, and tribal officials to provide federal reimbursement for the removal costs. If you’re interested in what FEMA can fund, you can look at our Debris Management Guide.

search and rescue in tornado debrisMoore, Okla., May 22, 2013 -- FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (Nebraska Task Force 1) team members search house to house for survivors in a tornado devastated neighborhood. Andrea Booher/FEMA 

We can also assist the state with technical experts from FEMA or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who can offer assistance to local and tribal officials on debris management. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may also provide guidance on how to safely handle hazardous waste debris. In Oklahoma, FEMA will be providing additional funding above our normal 75 percent cost share funding for debris that is quickly picked up through a new pilot program.  Remember, the quicker the debris is picked up, the faster people can rebuild their homes.

Local and tribal officials may ask disaster survivors to help with debris removal by bringing debris from their property to the curb or by helping to sort the debris into different categories. If you try to move debris please be careful. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality published guidance on debris management for residents, including how to handle chemicals and other hazardous debris.

All of the debris typically doesn’t just end up in the landfill. It is often sorted before being picked up or taken to a staging site where it is sorted. Just like taking your garbage out on a normal day, items should be recycled and used again helping the environment and in some cases being sold, such as precious metals like cooper, for money.  With FEMA’s new pilot program, your local or tribal government may be able to use proceeds they earn from the recycling of debris for other debris removal or emergency management needs. 

The removal of debris is a big job, but FEMA remains committed to assisting state, tribal and local officials and helping their communities in the recovery effort. If you would like to join the team and help those who were affected by the Oklahoma tornado, we have some information on our website, or you can visit the Oklahoma Strong webpage.

tornado debris damaged carMoore, Okla., May 22, 2013 -- Moore resident looks at home destruction caused by an F5 tornado that struck on May 20. Andrea Booher/FEMA

Oklahoma Tornadoes – Update & Photos from the Ground


meeting fema staff at disaster recovery centerMoore, Okla., May 22, 2013 -- Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, center, and FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino, left visit a Disaster Recovery Center that is set up to help residents impacted by the recent tornado that swept through the area on May 20, 2013.

Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and communities affected by the tornadoes in Central Oklahoma.  We continue to coordinate the federal response efforts in supporting our state, local, and tribal partners on the ground.  Here are a few quick updates on what’s happening now:

  • We’re encouraging those impacted by the storms to apply for FEMA assistance at on their computer or phone, or by calling 800-621-3362.  So far, over 2,200 Oklahomans have applied for disaster assistance.
  • Three Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams are on the ground helping survivors register for FEMA assistance.  These teams are using internet-enabled tablets to register people as quickly as possible, as well as to record any unmet needs that affected individuals or communities are experiencing.
  • Two disaster recovery centers are open near damaged areas so those affected by the tornadoes can speak face-to-face to staff from FEMA and the state.  At the centers, staff answer questions about the disaster assistance process or what help may be available. 

In addition to the items above, more than 127,000 liters of water and nearly 30,000 meals have been delivered to the state at a Federal Staging Area in Oklahoma City in support of the local response efforts.  There are many other actions our federal, state, local, and tribal partners are taking and you can find the latest at

We’ve seen an outpouring of support for those impacted by the deadly storms, so if you’re outside of the impacted area and are looking for ways to help those that have been affected, check out  It has information on donating and volunteering responsibly – by doing things like donating only through trusted organizations, volunteering through established channels, and sending cash (not goods) to organizations providing relief. 

As we often say at FEMA, responding to emergencies takes a team effort.  Minutes after the tornadoes struck, this team moved into action, including first responders, federal, state, local, and tribal governments, first responders, non-profit organizations, volunteer groups, and members of the public.  There have been a lot of stories of heroism amidst this tragic tornado, so I wanted to share a few visuals and updates from how the emergency management team is helping on the ground. 

Texas Task Force 1, Urban Search and Rescue

rescuers pull out dog in cageWhile conducting a rubble pile search yesterday, Squad 2 members came across a void space with two dogs in a crate. After freeing the dogs, the crew carried them down the pile to safety. (Photo credit: Texas Task Force One)


Nebraska Task Force 1

rescuers remove debrisMoore, Okla., May 22, 2013 --Federal Urban Search and Rescue Team Nebraska Task Force 1 work with local fire fighters in searching a ravine for potential survivors of the recent tornado. A tornado destroyed many parts of the community on May 20, 2013. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

rescuers remove debrisCAPTION: Moore, Okla., May 22, 2013 -- FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (NE TF1) team members search house to house for survivors in tornado devastated neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma. Andrea Booher/FEMA

Oklahoma National Guard

national guard in damaged streetOklahoma National Guardsmen conduct search and rescue operations in Moore, Okla., May 21, 2013, after a devastating tornado killed dozens of people there, May 20. The guardsmen are assigned to the 63rd Civil Support Team. (Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James)

American Red Cross

american red cross suppliesMay 21, 2013, Moore, Oklahoma. Red Cross volunteers Doris Baker (left) and Tiffany Stuhr (right) from Oklahoma help distribute supplies in the affected communities. (Photo credit: Jason Colston/American Red Cross.)

red cross volunteerA volunteer for the American Red Cross cleans a photo that was recovered from the damaged area. (Photo credit: American Red Cross)

Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services

salvation army disaster suppliesMay 22, 2013, Salvation Army staff unload supplies for those impacted by the Oklahoma tornadoes. (Photo credit: Salavation Army Emergency Disaster Services)

Feed the Children

Oklahoma Humane Society

humane society check upMay 21, 2013, Staff and volunteers work intake as animals come in. We've had 70 animals come in, and expect to have about 200 come through our doors. (Photo credit: Central Oklahoma Humane Society)


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