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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.

What We’re Watching: 2/14/14

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Germantown, MD, February 13, 2014 -- David Cavell, Sr. uses a snowblower to dig out after a winter storm dropped over a foot of snow on the Washington, DC area. FEMA/Aaron Skolnik Germantown, MD, February 13, 2014 -- David Cavell, Sr. uses a snowblower to dig out after a winter storm dropped over a foot of snow on the Washington, DC area. FEMA/Aaron Skolnik

FEMA, through its regional offices in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Denton, TX, and its National Watch Center in Washington, D.C. as well as its federal partners, including the National Weather Service continues to monitor the winter storm that made its way up the East Coast. It brought as much as 18 inches of snow to some areas and over an inch of ice.

Conditions have continued to improve as the storm moves northward into Canada; however the effects of the storm are still being felt along the coast. Earlier this week, President Obama declared emergencies for 91 counties in the State of Georgia and all counties in the State of South Carolina, at the request of the governors.  A FEMA Incident Management Assistance Team is located at the Georgia Emergency Operations Center and another team has deployed to the South Carolina Emergency Operations Center. Additional teams are on alert for deployment as needed.

Our friends at the National Weather Service forecast the potential for a new winter system to bring additional snow to parts of the East and Ohio Valley Friday into Saturday. With the potential for more snow, we want to encourage you to take time to ensure you and your family are prepared.

Your emergency supply kit should include a three-day supply of food and water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio and extra flashlights and batteries.  It should also include items specific for your family’s needs such as medication, pet supplies and anything else you may need. Thoroughly check and update your family's emergency supply kit and add the following supplies in preparation for winter weather:

  • Rock salt to melt ice on walkways;
  • Sand to improve traction;
  • Snow shovels and other snow removal equipment; and
  • Adequate clothing and blankets to help keep you warm.

Some other winter tips to keep in mind:

  • Put a few winter supplies in your car – An extra blanket, rock salt, a shovel, and some food and water will come in handy should you have car trouble or become stranded in your vehicle.
  • Keep your phone charged – This is a good tip regardless of the type of severe weather. Cell phones can be lifelines during an emergency or a power outage, so have a plan for keeping your device charged up so you can connect with loved ones and call for help, if needed.
  • Stay up to date with your latest forecast – visit weather.gov or mobile.weather.gov on your smartphone for the latest conditions in your area.
  • Listen to local officials – stay tuned to the news and listen to directions from local officials.
  • Limit travel during a storm – only venture out on the roads if it’s absolutely necessary. If you must travel, let someone know your destination, the route you plan to take and when you expect to arrive.

For more winter tips, check out Ready.gov/winter on your computer or phone.

Opportunities to Serve on National Councils

National Advisory Council

Earlier this week, we announced pportunities to serve on the National Advisory Council.  The NAC was established by the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, to ensure effective and ongoing coordination of federal preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation for both natural and man-made disasters. The NAC consists of up to 35 members, all of whom are experts and leaders in their respective fields.  Appointments are for three-year terms, unless otherwise noted.  The Administrator may also appoint additional candidates to serve as a FEMA Administrator Selection for three-year terms.   Applications and nominations will be accepted through March 14, 2014.

Visit the National Advisory Council page for more information on the NAC or for instructions on how to submit an application.

 

National Youth Preparedness Council

FEMA is also accepting applications from young leaders dedicated to public service and interested in making a difference in their communities to serve on FEMA’s National Youth Preparedness Council.  The Youth Preparedness Council is a unique opportunity for young leaders to serve on a highly distinguished national council and participate in the Youth Preparedness Council Summit.

These young leaders have the opportunity to complete a self-selected preparedness project and to share their opinions, experiences, ideas, solutions and questions regarding youth disaster preparedness with the leadership of FEMA and other national youth preparedness organizations.

Individuals aged 12 to 17 who are engaged in individual and community preparedness or who have experienced a disaster motivating them to help their community, are encouraged to apply to serve on the Youth Preparedness Council.

All applicants must submit a completed application form and two letters of recommendation. All applications and supporting materials must be received no later than February 24, 2014.

Visit the National Youth Preparedness Council page for more information on the National Youth Preparedness Council or to download the application.

Have a great and safe weekend!

What We’re Watching: 2/7/14

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generator on truckHorsham Township, Pa., February 6, 2014 -- FEMA generators arrive in Pennsylvania after President Obama made emergency federal aid available to support the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in response to this week’s extreme winter.

Pennsylvania emergency assistance

Yesterday, President Obama made emergency federal aid available to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in response to conditions from the extreme winter weather earlier this week.  We’re working closely with our partners at the state to meet any needs, such as powering critical facilities that protect life and property.  To that end, we’ve moved and readied generators to support the Commonwealth as needed.  

Winter Comes Out West

The Rockies and Pacific Northwest must have felt left out.  Not to be outdone by all the snow we’ve seen in the Midwest and East Coast, many portions of the western U.S. will be dealing with snow and cold temperatures this weekend. 

If your area typically doesn’t deal with a wintry mix falling from the sky, here are a few simple things to remember:

  • Put a few winter supplies in your car – An extra blanket, rock salt, a shovel, and some food and water will come in handy should you have car trouble or become stranded in your vehicle.
  • Keep your phone – This is a good tip regardless of the type of severe weather. Cell phones can be lifelines during an emergency or a power outage, so have a plan for keeping your device charged up so you can connect with loved ones and call for help, if needed.
  • Drive slowly and carefully – If you’re not used to driving on snowy or icy roads, take extra caution when traveling.  If local officials advise you to stay home and not travel, it’s best to heed their advice and stay off the roads.   

For more winter tips, check out Ready.gov/winter on your computer or phone.

With that, have a great and safe weekend!

Prepare. Stay Safe. Rebuild.

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Philadelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Photo of the game field used to challenge robots teams have built. Objects in the photo include various obstacles that are designed for teams and their robots to overcome. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMAPhiladelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Photo of the game field used to challenge robots teams have built. Objects in the photo include various obstacles that are designed for teams and their robots to overcome. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMA

Sounds like it could be a new Ready Campaign, doesn’t it?  But, actually, it’s the tag line for this year’s FIRST Lego League (FLL) Competition challenge: “Nature’s Fury.” 

Here’s the background: In early fall of each year, FLL releases their challenge, based on a real-world scientific topic. Teams of up to ten children, along with an adult coach, enter the challenge and compete by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field (Robot Game) and developing a solution to a problem they have identified (The Project Presentation) guided by FLL Core Values during an official tournament.

In the 2013 Nature’s Fury Challenge, 200,000 children ages 9 to 16 from over 70 countries explored the awe-inspiring storms, quakes, waves and more that we call natural disasters. Teams discovered what can be done when intense natural events meet the places people live, work, and play.

Given the topic of this year’s challenge, FLL reached out to FEMA Region III to see if any emergency management experts would be interested in volunteering as judges for a Qualifying Tournament scheduled for Saturday January 11 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA. 

Interested? Of course I was! Legos and Emergency Management are two of my all-time favorite things. I quickly submitted my name, attended training, and excitedly awaited the opportunity to see what the teams had devised.  Our Regional Administrator, MaryAnn Tierney, had also planned to participate but couldn’t do so that weekend since Region III was activated in response to a chemical spill into the Elk River in West Virginia.

When I arrived at the Franklin Institute I could immediately feel the energy and boundless enthusiasm of the teams, their coaches and the volunteers.  We paused for the Opening Ceremony and Pledge of Allegiance after an initial round of project, robot design and core values judging.  Judging continued until just after lunch and then the focus shifted to the robot competition tournament.  The robot tournament room was sheer pandemonium—teams, coaches and volunteers all cheered wildly and encouraged the teams as they participated in the competition round.  The action paused at the end of the robot competition so that the final tournament results could be tallied but the energy in the room continued.   The teams laughed, clapped and line-danced as music blared over the speakers. I haven’t had that much fun in a long time. 

Philadelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Members of the Moravian Academy Team assemble their robot prior to the completion of the competition. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMAPhiladelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Members of the Moravian Academy Team assemble their robot prior to the completion of the competition. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMA

The Qualifying Tournament champions were That Other Team: Laura Dodds, Matt Lebermann, Charles Cote, Ian Beazley, CJ Stiles, and Kaity O'Hanlon. The team is from the University Scholars Program in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and is part of the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School.  That Other Team’s project proposal was for a mobile app that would use the barometric pressure sensors now being included in many smartphones to improve and localize tornado warnings now broadcast by other sources.  The team had clearly done their homework and done it well.  They understood the tornado threat, had looked at how tornado warnings were issued and explored current and emerging technologies.  Best of all, they started off their presentation with a light-hearted skit with characters from the Wizard of Oz.  Their project proposal was extremely impressive while still being fun (an FLL core value).  We wish That Other Team and all the other qualifying teams the best of luck as they continue the competition.

I can’t imagine a better winter Saturday than spending time with a young people who were really excited to find creative solutions for real world emergency management problems caused by nature.  The exposure and experience they gained by working through these issues in their teams allowed them to not only learn more about the science and engineering needed to devise such solutions, but they also were able to gain valuable insight and feedback from professionals in the field  for which they were improvising these solutions. 

It was a great experience for me--a judge—too. It was a chance to have a positive impact on potential future emergency managers, and the solutions they proposed for real world problems reminded me that there is a younger generation out there looking up to us, wanting to be just like us one day. That’s pretty cool. As were the Legos!

(Editor's note: We are providing links and references to third party sites and organizations for your reference. FEMA does not endorse any non-government entities, organizations or services.)

What We’re Watching: 1/17/14

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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.

Update on West Virginia Response

FEMA is continuing to support the ongoing response efforts following a chemical spill in Charleston, W.Va..

Charleston, W. Va., January 11, 2014 -- Trucks full of water arrive in Charleston, W. Va., for distribution to residents affected by the chemical spill.Charleston, W. Va., January 11, 2014 -- Trucks full of water arrive in Charleston, W. Va., for distribution to residents affected by the chemical spill.

The first trucks full of water for tomorrow have begun arriving in Charleston. #WVwater pic.twitter.com/Uo0fp4eNoz

— FEMA Region 3 (@FEMAregion3) January 12, 2014

At the request of the state, FEMA has been delivering water to a staging area in Charleston, W.Va., where it is turned over to the state for distribution. The trucks started rolling in last Friday evening, and since then, more than 4 million liters of water have been delivered to the state. Bottled water continues to be distributed to affected residents by the state in coordination with the local officials of affected counties. 

Residents in affected areas are encouraged to continue to listen to state and local officials for guidance on water quality and the location of water distribution areas. For more information and continued updates, visit the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management website and Facebook page.

Monitoring the Colby Fire in California

Yesterday, FEMA authorized the use of federal funds to assist the state of California in fighting the Colby Fire currently burning in Los Angeles County. This authorization made FEMA funding available to reimburse up to 75 percent of the eligible firefighting costs.

At the time of the request, the fire was threatening 500 homes in the areas of Glendora and San Dimas with a combined population of 100,000.  Mandatory evacuations have been issued by local officials for approximately 7,000 people.  As of yesterday, the fire had burned an excess of 1700 acres of State and private land. 

Residents in the path or potential path of the wildfire should continue listen to state and local officials for updates and guidance.

Also check out our Social Hub for updates and information from trusted government sources in the area. You can also find tips on how to be prepared for wildfires over at www.ready.gov/wildfires.

Know a Young Person with a Passion for Preparedness?

FEMA is looking for youth leaders dedicated to public service and making a difference in their community to serve on FEMA’s National Youth Preparedness Council.  The Youth Preparedness Council is a unique opportunity for young leaders to serve on a highly distinguished national council and participate in the Youth Preparedness Council Summit.

Additionally, these youth leaders have the opportunity to complete a self-selected preparedness project and to share their opinions, experiences, ideas, solutions and questions regarding youth disaster preparedness with the leadership of FEMA and other national youth preparedness organizations.

Any individual between the ages of 12 and 17 who is engaged in individual and community preparedness or who has experienced a disaster motivating them to make a positive difference in their community, may apply to serve on the Youth Preparedness Council. Individuals who applied last year are highly encouraged to apply again.

We encourage you to share the application with young people who might be interested in applying. All applicants must submit a completed application form and two letters of recommendation. All applications and supporting materials must be received no later than February 24, 2014, 11:59 p.m. EST in order to be eligible. New Youth Preparedness Council members will be announced in May.

Favorite Tweets of the Week

Finally, here are some of our favorite tweets shared our partners across the country:

Stay connected in an emergency with these tips for your mobile device. #Virginia #rva #hrva #northernva #swva pic.twitter.com/pOc3FsnzoU

— VDEM (@VDEM) January 14, 2014

"If you can pack a gym bag, you can pack a disaster bag." Infographic from @AnaheimFire: http://t.co/r5NcTfesy4 pic.twitter.com/fm1RJnOXUj

— Readygov (@Readygov) January 13, 2014

Get the new all-in-one tool to help you be safe during disasters. Download the FREE! #ReadyNC app. Available in... http://t.co/T0ezrPr4Dj

— NC Emergency Managem (@NCEmergency) January 17, 2014

Have a great weekend and stay safe!

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