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Learning from Hurricane Sandy Champions of Change

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How much of an impact can a small group of volunteers make after a disaster? 

Last Wednesday, I had the honor of addressing the Hurricane Sandy Champions of Change – a group of “ordinary” people who did (and are still doing) extraordinary things to help those who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  Many of them suffered damage to their homes and businesses as a result of the storm, but continued to fulfill the needs they saw in their communities.

champions of change at table

CAPTION: Washington, D.C., April 24, 2013 – The White House Champions of Change event which honored people and organizations directly involved in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy. These hidden heroes implemented innovative, collaborative solutions to meet the unique needs of communities and neighborhoods as they worked to rebuild after the devastating effects of this disaster.

The exceptional work of these Champions of Change reminds us that every disaster, big and small, brings out champions in our communities.  It’s our job as government leaders to recognize this and support their success. This impressive group showed us what it takes to be a champion:

  1. Champions aren’t afraid to act – When people hear the term “first responder”, they often think of fire engines and search and rescue teams.  And that’s right.  But many times, the “first responders” after a disaster are neighbors and those within the community.  They’re the ones immediately knocking on doors, checking on friends and loved ones, and seeing if people’s basic needs are being met.  And neighbors are the ones who know the community best. What makes the Champions of Change a special group was that they were able to identify the unique needs of their own communities and respond to them.

    As the Champions shared their individual stories, a few of them said “Do what you’re good at.”  That’s a great perspective, and that’s exactly what they did –they took it upon themselves to help their neighbors— applying their skill set to solving real problems.  If they knew how to cook, they prepared meals. If they could gut and pump homes, they got to work. If they could set up wireless networks for internet access, they made it happen.  Having an impact during and after emergencies can be as simple as focusing on what you’re good at and taking action.
  2. Seeing the public as a resource, not a liability – Within government, there’s often been a tendency to rely on government alone to respond to emergencies.  This top-down approach, assumed people needed to be taken care of and have their needs met for them. 

    What the Champions of Change demonstrate is that this way of thinking is shortsighted – individuals and communities often rise up and solve problems on their own.   We have to look to all of us to solve problems and bring our best.  The best approach by government is to work with the public as a valuable partner— a resource that helps after a disaster, not a liability that needs to be taken care of.  Those impacted by disasters aren’t “victims”, they are “survivors”.  Those of us in government should be continually looking for ways to work alongside impacted individuals and communities so we can bring every possible resource to bear in helping their neighborhoods recover. 
  3. Solutions built around government are too small – Another reality that the Champions of Change brings to light is how big disasters can be.  If we only build solutions or systems that work within the capabilities of government, communities will suffer.  What happens to that system when the disaster is bigger than the government’s scale?  What happens to those impacted by the disaster when that system doesn’t do what it’s supposed to?  Government by itself does not have all the answers – the team responding to disasters must be much bigger than that.

    We can’t fall into the trap of government having the answers because disasters hit communities and families.  That’s why we need to build our response and recovery systems around the public first.  Members of the community need to be at the planning table alongside government, businesses, and non-profit organizations because they’re the ones that best know the needs of the community and they’re the ones who are often the first responders. That’s what the Champions of Change did – they identified people’s needs in the community and scaled their solutions to meet those needs.

champions of change at table

During the event, the Champions were also asked to give their advice to others on how to prepare for emergencies, and our FEMAlive Twitter account captured what a few of them shared:

Without the tireless efforts and countless hours of volunteers, we would not be as far along as we are after Hurricane Sandy.  There is still a lot of work to be done for every community to fully recover.  The purpose of Wednesday’s event at the White House wasn’t just to recognize the impact of the 17 Champions of Change – it was also to inspire others to act.  I hope you will follow the lead of what these Champions of Change are doing in their communities and take action to make your family, street, town, neighborhood, or city more resilient.

For more on the White House Champions of Change, visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions.

Getting it right for Indian Country

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When you're tackling a new and challenging topic, starting from a solid foundation is crucial to success.  Right now, there is an opportunity to change how the federal government provides disaster assistance and we’re looking for tribal leaders to help set a solid foundation for those changes.

When President Obama signed into law the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, he amended the Stafford Act to recognize the sovereignty of tribal governments, and this was a big step in the right direction to better meet the unique needs of Indian Country after disasters.   However, there's still work to be done to shape disaster assistance programs and processes most effectively.  That's where we are now -- we are consulting with tribal governments, tribal leaders, and tribal stakeholders to consider changes to a range of federal disaster assistance processes and topics:

  • Input on the major disaster declaration process, 
  • Criteria to declare a major disaster, 
  • Program delivery, and 
  • The unique aspects of Indian culture that might not be currently considered by the rules. 

I encourage our tribal partners to join us in developing rules through consultation.  You’re invited to join a series of upcoming tribal consultation calls, provide ideas to FEMA’s online collaboration community, or send an e-mail to tribalconsultation@fema.dhs.gov.  Now is a great time to make sure the unique needs of Indian Country are considered throughout the federal disaster assistance process.

Why are we looking for input from the community?  Up to this point, FEMA has established rules around the disaster declaration process, assistance programs, and other aspects of federal assistance to meet the needs of state governments and individuals in those states.  Now, with the recent amendment to the Stafford Act, we have an opportunity to change those rules with regards to the sovereignty of tribal nations. 

In a little more than two months since the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act became law, the President has already signed two disaster declarations directly for Indian Country. The new changes have already resulted in federal disaster assistance going directly to tribal communities.

But there’s still much to be done. That's why we're having these consultation calls, gathering feedback online, and asking for e-mails. Once the consultation concludes, FEMA will draft proposed rules. Learn more about how to join this discussion by visiting FEMA’s online collaboration community, or send us an e-mail at tribalconsultation@fema.dhs.gov.  

Hi - I’m Craig, KK4INZ

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Last week at FEMA HQ, I met with the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for Amateur Radio.  The ARRL is coming up on its Centennial Celebration next year and has been a valuable partner in emergency management through the decades.

amateur radio executives

CAPTION: Left to Right: ARRL General Counsel Christopher Imlay, W3KD; ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ; AARL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Mike Corey, W5MPC, ARRL President Kay Craigie, N3KN; FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, KK4INZ; FEMA Chief Technology Officer Ted Okada, K4HNL.

For those of you that are not familiar with Amateur radio, or ham radio as it is sometimes referred, it is the use of certain radio frequencies as a hobby, to exchange non-commercial messages, as a tool for education and experimentation and for public service community activities including assisting in emergency communications.

As a radio amateur, I enjoyed talking with them about the contributions that Hams can make in times of disaster “when all else fails.”

We’re looking forward to their annual Field Day, coming up in June, where I will test my own field gear. It is a great event to encourage first responders and citizens to think about how to prepare for disasters and how to develop a plan for themselves and their communities. And perhaps it will inspire more to consider this great hobby that also has a long and legendary history of public service to the nation.

We’re grateful to our friends at ARRL and look forward to partnering with them in exercises and efforts to plan, prepare, respond and recover from future events that we may face.

-Craig, KK4INZ

Changing laws for the better - recognizing tribal sovereignty

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On January 29, President Obama signed the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013. In addition to providing assistance to individuals, families, and communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy, the act also included a very important amendment that impacts tribal governments.

Here are the basics: the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act provides a legislative change to amend the Stafford Act (which is an act that outlines how the federal government provides assistance to communities impacted by disasters).  This amendment will provide federally recognized tribal governments the option to choose whether to make a request directly to the President for an emergency or major disaster declaration, or to receive assistance, as they do presently, through a declaration for a State.

What does that mean for emergency management, and why is it important for our nation?  Here are the key things to know:

  • The Stafford Act now clearly reflects federally recognized tribal governments’ status as sovereign nations, giving them the same status as states when requesting federal disaster assistance. Prior to being amended, the Stafford Act mandated requests for an emergency or major disaster declaration by the President could only be made by the Governor of the affected state. As a result, federally recognized tribes were statutorily excluded from making a direct request for a Presidential declaration and were required to make a request through the state(s) in which they were geographically located. 

    The change to the Stafford Act is particularly important because some states could not readily work with federally recognized tribes under their state constitutions and laws.  This could create obstacles in the emergency response and recovery process.  Here’s a quick example.  To receive federal disaster assistance, the Governor must activate the state’s emergency plan and demonstrate that state and local capabilities in the affected areas are insufficient.  Depending on the tribe’s status and applicable state law, the Governor may not have independent authority to take such actions with respect to tribal lands.

    Now, federally recognized tribes have the same status as states, removing legal barriers from developing stronger relationships with the federal government, while allowing tribes to directly request federal assistance.
  • The Stafford Act now allows consideration of all of a tribe’s affected land.   Disasters don’t respect borders – their effects can stretch across multiple counties and states, and the impacts can vary widely from community to community.  Prior to the amendment of the Stafford Act, the federal and state governments made it hard to meet the needs of impacted tribes, especially when tribal nations cross over one or more state lines.  Before the Stafford Act amendment, an affected tribal government would have to submit a request to the governor of each state within which the tribe’s lands are located to request an emergency or major disaster declaration.

    For example, both North Dakota and South Dakota experienced flooding during the spring of 2009.  This flooding affected lands under the civil-regulatory authority of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but within the political boundaries of both North Dakota and South Dakota.  North Dakota received a declaration for both the state and for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal lands immediately after the incident, while South Dakota’s major disaster declaration came several months later because the statewide impact differed there.  This put FEMA in the untenable position of only providing assistance to one portion of the affected Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lands, though the incident affected all of the tribe’s lands in both North and South Dakota.

    Now, tribal governments have the option to choose whether to directly request federal disaster assistance for the impacts within their own borders, not the borders of their surrounding states.

I applaud the hard work and tireless support of the Administration, tribes and the organizations representing more than 300 tribes nationwide for this important amendment to the Stafford Act.  Effective emergency management requires a team – and I am proud we have taken an important step in recognizing the vital importance that tribal nations play as part of that team.

For more information on the work being done with our tribal partners and Indian Country, visit www.fema.gov/tribal.

A Commitment to Stay with New York, Its Hospitals and the Long Term Recovery

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Ceiling panels missing. Wires dangling. Layers of dust. Floor tiles removed and concrete exposed. Five feet sections of walls cut from the ground up, and in some cases, completely removed. Flood lights and construction lights strung along corridors. The constant hum of fans.  Hard work. And determination.

These were all things that Mike Byrne and I witnessed on Friday after spending a few hours visiting with employees at Bellevue Hospital and Coney Island Hospital.  A few weeks ago I also visited NYU Hospital, and the reason for the visits – because I believe it’s important to get a firsthand look at the damage and hear directly from hospital staff about what they experienced, as well as what their thoughts and ideas are for moving forward.

It was important that Mike Byrne was with me on these visits. Not only is he a New Yorker, but he is also my point person in New York and is the one responsible for coordinating FEMA’s response and recovery efforts.  Our recovery effort is very personal to him.  Aside from his personal connection to New York, you should know he has worked on many recovery projects and is the right person for this job.

Before we walked around with staff at Bellevue Hospital and see the damage and recovery work, we had to put on yellow protective boots and wear face masks because the area was still being decontaminated and cleaned.  I saw the lower areas of the hospital where their equipment and mechanical systems are housed, which were completely inundated with saltwater and destroyed.  The orange paint on the wall indicated how high the water rose, a striking reminder even though the water is no longer visible.

At the Coney Island Hospital we saw the same items damaged – water pumps, electrical systems, computer networks – all of the things we need for our facilities to stay up and running.  When we walked around with staff, I was in a pump room that was completely filled with water, floor to ceiling.  The hospital shared that they are only handling urgent care walk-ins as they continue to get their hospital back to full working operations.

I made it a point to also thank the staff on the frontlines, and to thank them for all of the hard work they have done to get the doors to the hospital open again, because even if it’s incremental, it’s good for a community to see some services come back online.

It’s telling of the staff that serve their communities, because it’s their hard work and determination that has gotten them this far. What’s even more telling is that the staff are also storm survivors themselves, and they have their own personal recovery work to do, all the while they get the hospital back up and running.

I wanted to share some photos from both hospitals:

Bellevue

exploring hospital
CAPTION: New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- Bellevue Hospital Associate Executive Director of Facilities Management, Michael Rawlings, center, explains the damage incurred by Hurricane Sandy to Administrator Craig Fugate, left, and FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, right. Due to the continuing efforts of abatement, visitors are required to wear protective gear when going into areas where cleanup continues.

tour of the hospital

CAPTION: New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- Administrator Craig Fugate, left, and FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, right, get a tour of Bellevue Hospital in Manhatten, by Associate Executive Director of Facilities Management, Michael Rawlings, center. The orange line on the wall indicates how high the flood waters were after Hurricane Sandy. Due to due to the continuing efforts of abatement, visitors are required to wear a face mask and rubber boots.

Coney Island

inside hospital control room

CAPTION: New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, second from right, gets a tour of flood damaged areas of Coney Island Hospital by Director of Faciliites, Daniel Collins, right and Senior Vice President of Coney Island Hospital Arthur Wagner, second from right. FEMA officials and senior hospital staff joined the Administrator on the tour.

examining damaged floor

CAPTION: New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, center, listens to Senior Vice President of Coney Island Hospital Arthur Wagner second from left, along with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, second from right, during a tour of flood damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Flood waters damaged many of the operational components of the hospital.

inside damaged hospital

CAPTION: New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- Administrator Craig Fugate, right, along with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, left, get a tour of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy at the Coney Island Hospital. They were joined by hospital administration and were shown areas of the hospital impacted by Hurricane Sandy. This particular room has imaging equipment that was destroyed by the storm surge waters.

During my conversation with staff from both hospitals, I also discussed three items that I see as the way forward from Hurricane Sandy, which can be described as the now, the temporary and intermediate work, and the long term work and planning.

The first item, or the now, is helping the hospitals with the bills they have now, because of the extraordinary cost they have incurred from when the storm hit, up until this point.  We call these protective measures, and as part of the President’s major disaster declaration for counties in New York, we can reimburse them for their emergency work.

Building off of the first item, the second item is looking at how much temporary work can be done to get back to capacity, to get hospital units back up and running.  These are the intermediate steps, but it’s prioritizing and looking at the critical aspects of the hospital and the functions they need to serve their community – whether it’s a unit for trauma, psych or radiology.  These are not necessarily full term permanent solutions, but just like getting a clinic open, what’s next, and is there a function this hospital serves that other, surrounding hospitals don’t, meaning there is an even greater need.

And building off of the function theme, as the staff continue to think through long-term solutions, I encouraged them to look past just rebuilding and making changes based on the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  What I mean by that is, if we mitigate just against what occurred during Sandy, we’re not really mitigating against the worst case, because the next storm could be much worse.  I heard this from others, that after Hurricane Irene, they changed or improved their protection plans based on Hurricane Irene’s impact, but it didn’t help with Sandy because the storm surge was so more devastating then Irene.

This is what I mean, that all of us in the emergency management field need to do – we need to shift the way we’re thinking about making our communities stronger and better.   We can’t make them stronger and better just based off of the last storm, because next year or in 10 years, even if there’s one more foot of water then what we had with Sandy, then we’re back to the same problem – and what did we accomplish?

Mike Byrne has the right people on his team who know hospitals, and we’re going to get this done.  I don’t want missed opportunities and I want to get it right the first time, so I’ve told the team the mantra is speed, not haste.  The goal is to do it once, and then it’s done, and it’s done right.

The recovery work individuals, families, businesses, and hospitals have in front of them won’t happen overnight, the recovery will take time, but we’re not going anywhere.  Our commitment at FEMA is to stay with New York – and all of the impacted states for that matter – until the job is done.  FEMA staff (community relations specialists and registration assistance specialists) continue to work in the impacted neighborhoods to talk with survivors, and I know Mike is continuing to attend town hall meetings, so he can personally talk with survivors, because just like we talked firsthand with hospital staff, he likes to talk firsthand with survivors to have a conversation with them and answer their questions directly.

Secretary Donovan, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is tasked with working directly with communities as they come together, to map out what their new community looks like, and they aren’t going anywhere either.  Mike and the rest of the FEMA team in New York, in support of the State and affected communities, will continue to work closely with Secretary Donovan’s team.

Again, and I can’t say this enough – FEMA will stay with New York until the job is done.

This Thanksgiving, a Time of Reflection

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This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the partnership of everyone who makes up the emergency management team – individuals and communities, organizations and companies, and all levels of government – because no one can do it alone when it comes to planning for a disaster, responding to one, or recovering after one.  This year we have definitely had our work cut out for us – from wildfires, to the derecho, to Hurricane Isaac, and Hurricane Sandy, we’ve tackled each disaster by working together as a team.

As a result of Hurricane Sandy, this Thanksgiving may be different for many compared to years past.  Survivors of Sandy who are going through the recovery process, like all survivors of disasters, will feel stress and uncertainty.  But there is one thing I am certain of, and that is that we as a nation will always support those in need.  We’ve weathered storms in the past, and the Whole Community effort endures.  I’m confident that the communities impacted by Sandy will be strong and enduring in the end.

To the many emergency management partners assisting the survivors: you find yourselves away from home because duty calls, so know that I’m thankful for your service and sacrifice and I’m humbled by your actions, as this is the ultimate example of neighbors helping neighbors.

As we always do at this time of the year, but especially after this year, I ask everyone to take a moment to reflect on their blessings and what they’re thankful for this year, and on behalf of everyone at FEMA, I wish you a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving.

Hurricane Sandy Recovery Efforts

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One week ago today, millions of Americans from North Carolina to Maine braced for Hurricane Sandy.  That evening for over 12 hours, hurricane and tropical storm force winds, storm surge, and flooding impacted 12 states, with over eight million people losing power. Transportation systems in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, DC came to a halt, and more than 12,000 commercial flights were grounded.  And for the first time since 1888, the New York Stock Exchange was closed for two consecutive days because of a natural disaster.

Days before the storm stuck, at the direction of President Obama, the entire federal government was mobilizing to support the anticipated state and local response to the storm.  The President declared an emergency in over a dozen states, and resources and commodities like food, water and blankets were pre-positioned.  FEMA staff was deployed to work side-by-side with their state and local counterparts to ensure coordination in response to the impacts of the storm, and urban search and rescue teams were deployed to prepare to support state and local efforts.  First responders up and down the east coast knocked on doors to urge those in danger to get out of harm’s way. 

Before the tropical storm force winds stopped blowing on Tuesday, President Obama had declared a major disaster declaration for the states of New York and New Jersey, immediately making federal financial assistance available to individuals in the impacted regions.  As of this afternoon, over 230,000 individuals in the impacted areas have registered for financial assistance, and over $210 million has been provided to survivors.

We know that the human and economic toll of Hurricane Sandy will be severe and long-lasting.  More than 100 people lost their lives and were victims of this storm - they will not be forgotten.  In addition, there were billions in losses to small businesses and personal property.  But out of this tragedy, there are stories of survivors pulling together, neighbors helping neighbors, and communities beginning to rebuild.

We know that there are many challenges ahead and that recovery will not happen overnight.  Many survivors remain without power, and many are finding themselves without shelter.  FEMA will remain in support of our state, tribal and local partners, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Even as television cameras turn to other stories, we will be on the ground to support the survivors.

If you are a survivor, it’s important to take that the first step is to register with FEMA, by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or going online to www.disasterassistance.gov on your computer or mobile device. 

As we have seen in the past few days, a disaster can happen to any of us, but by working together as one team, we can recover and we can rebuild. 

Practicing Safety and “Shaking Out”

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shakeout drill

CAPTION: Administrator Craig Fugate (left) and Deputy Administrator Rich Serino practice "Drop. Cover. Hold On." as part of the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill held October 18.

Those of us in emergency management have a lot to say about getting prepared.  We urge folks to learn about the hazards in their area, get an emergency kit, and have a plan for what to do if a disaster should strike.  Despite those commonly-used messages, there’s one thing I wish we encouraged people to do more – practice.  Practicing your emergency plan makes you comfortable with it. And it also makes it much more likely that during an emergency, you will actually use the plan you drew up and practiced ahead of time. 

Practicing can have an impact on your own safety, too – which is why FEMA was encouraging participation in the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill that happened earlier today. Thousands of organizations and millions of people around the U.S. participated in the drill and practiced how to stay safe should an earthquake strike their community.  They put the three steps of “Drop. Cover. Hold On.” into action whether they were at their office, school, or home.  

Even if you missed the ShakeOut drill this morning, you can practice earthquake safety at any time.  It’s as easy as finding a table or desk where you can practice:

Practicing these steps is a great starter for getting better prepared.  Earthquakes occur all year long across our country – in a lot of places you wouldn’t expect. And whether your community is vulnerable to quakes, blizzards, hurricanes, floods, or wildfires, I challenge you to take simple actions and raise your practice to the next level:

  • Know the resources in your home – if a disaster struck tomorrow, would you have enough supplies, water, and food to sustain you and your family for at least 72 hours?  If you’re answer is “probably not” then Ready.gov has some great tips on building your family’s emergency kit with items already around your home.
  • Know the resources in your community – do you know the emergency management resources in your neighborhood or city?  Where is the nearest hospital?  Is there a safe room or shelter where you could go in the event of an emergency?  If your answers are “I’m not sure”, then check out this list of emergency management agencies and start learning about the key resources available in your neighborhood.
  • Know how you would stay in touch with family and friends – if the power was out and phone lines were unavailable, do you know how you would communicate with loved ones to let them know your status?  This is a vital part of any family emergency plan – you can download a template of a family plan at Ready.gov so you can answer “yes” to this question.

Finally, I’d like to give a big “thank you” to the schools, businesses, government agencies and families who participated in today’s Great ShakeOut drill.  I hope it got you thinking about how to stay safe should an earthquake strike.  Leave me a comment below and let me know how the ShakeOut drill went for you, or how you plan on participating next year!

One Step Closer to Tribal Stafford Act Amendment

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Last month I emphasized my support for amending the Stafford Act to allow federally recognized tribal governments to make a request directly to the President for a federal emergency or major disaster declaration.  Today, the House of Representatives passed the 2012 FEMA Reauthorization Act, including Section 210, which includes such an amendment to the Stafford Act, and affirms the sovereignty of tribal governments.  If Congress passes and the President signs such legislation into law, my office will act promptly in the development of appropriate regulations and policies for implementation.

We’re one step closer to getting this change into law -- and it has been Tribal leadership and organizations, representing more than 300 tribes, who have engaged members of the House and Senate to act on this issue.  In fact, dozens of tribal leaders are on Capitol Hill today for “Tribal Unity Impact Week” to discuss their priorities with Members of Congress, including this change to the Stafford Act.

FEMA has strong, long-standing relationships with tribal governments and they are essential members of the emergency management team.  The U.S. Government has a unique nation-to-nation relationship with federally recognized tribal governments and amending the Stafford Act to recognize this sovereign relationship will only strengthen the way that FEMA supports tribal communities before, after and during disasters. The House’s action today is an important step forward for this legislation which would strengthen our nation's emergency management team.

How We Prepared for Isaac

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It’s been three weeks since Tropical Depression #9 became “Isaac” in the central Atlantic.  Over that time, we saw a slowly growing and changing storm and a closely coordinated emergency management team that was ready to respond to it. The team included local, state, tribal and federal government, the private sector, faith-based organizations and volunteer agencies– and FEMA was proud to be part of it.

I traveled across the Gulf Coast, before, during and after the storm, and witnessed years of advanced planning become a smart response. Investments in mitigation paid off, preventing the storm from being more destructive. Emergency managers didn’t wait for the storm to hit, and FEMA worked with state and local authorities to prepare and get supplies in place. Finally, we had an eye on recovery before the storm arrived, which aided communities in accelerating the recovery process. The bottom line – everyone worked together to prepare for this storm and it saved lives.

Isaac was initially a threat to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where FEMA deployed Incident Management Assessment Teams (IMATs) to assist local officials and prepare to distribute federal resources that are staged year-round in the Caribbean.  As the storm passed to the south of the islands, residents experienced some flash flooding, but thankfully avoided a direct hit from the storm.

As the storm proceeded towards Florida, I was on the ground in my home state to ensure that the federal government was in full support of local efforts.  With an unclear path for the storm, officials from the east coast of Florida through the Gulf Coast started preparing for Isaac.  FEMA staged resources in Jacksonville, Florida and Montgomery, Alabama, ready to move them closer to the impacted region as the path became clearer.  While the storm was still in the Gulf of Mexico, I traveled along the I-10 highway, visiting with the governors and/or emergency managers in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana as the storm approached.

Gulfport, Miss., Aug. 28, 2012 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate meeting with MEMA Director Robert Latham (left) and Mississippi Gov. Bryant (center) to discuss Hurricane Isaac preparations.

Gulfport, Miss., Aug. 28, 2012 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate meeting with MEMA Director Robert Latham (left) and Mississippi Gov. Bryant (center) to discuss Hurricane Isaac preparations.

We made sure we were working closely together before the storm made landfall and on Tuesday, President Obama signed emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi in advance of the onset of the storm, making aid available for federal support to save lives and to protect property, public health and safety in designated counties and parishes. First responders could get to work knowing that the federal government had their back.

I’ve waited for a lot of storms to make landfall and the anticipation never gets easier.  The close coordination the federal government had with the states beforehand left me more confident than ever that our team was prepared.

The preparedness measures were in the making longer than two weeks—  they went back years.  Smart investments in mitigation projects protected people and property across the impacted region.  On average, every $1 invested in mitigation saves $4 that would have been expended on a disaster.  After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program provided grants to communities and state agencies for projects designed to save lives and protect property.

Bay St. Louis, Miss., Sep. 4, 2012 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate visits the Bay St. Louis Fire Department in Mississippi following Hurricane Isaac.

Bay St. Louis, Miss., Sep. 4, 2012 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate visits the Bay St. Louis Fire Department in Mississippi following Hurricane Isaac.

In Mississippi, I visited the Bay St. Louis Fire House which was heavily impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  In August, 2010, the community cut the ribbon on a new Fire House that doubles as a safe room for up to 68 first responders, protecting them from winds in excess of 200 miles per hours for a period of 36 hours.  When Hurricane Isaac made landfall, slowly drenching the Gulf Coast in rain, first responders were able to respond and save lives because they had prepared.

In Louisiana, the Plaquemines Parish Faculty Housing project opened just last month, replacing housing destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. This time, the new housing was elevated to protect it from flooding.  With the support of FEMA, the Plaquemines Parish School Board also rebuilt many of its schools over the last few years, following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. Reports from the school board indicate that damage from Hurricane Isaac is minimal and none of the facilities flooded, thanks to smart investments in mitigation. As a result, all Plaquemines Parish schools were open yesterday, helping kids in the community to move beyond the storm.

Plaquemines Parish, La., Aug. 6, 2012 -- Photo of the Plaquemines Parish Faculty Housing project which celebrated its opening on August 6, 2012. FEMA obligated $8 million to this project which replaced housing destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The project was elevated to comply with the new Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map elevation for the area, which is in south Plaquemines Parish. FEMA has obligated a total of $206 million to the Plaquemines Parish School Board to rebuild its schools following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.

Plaquemines Parish, La., Aug. 6, 2012 -- Photo of the Plaquemines Parish Faculty Housing project which celebrated its opening on August 6, 2012. FEMA obligated $8 million to this project which replaced housing destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Inevitably after a disaster, the national spotlight moves on to something else, but FEMA isn’t going anywhere.  This is a team effort and we are on the Gulf Coast to assist the local authorities and support the recovery effort. Also supporting that effort are dozens of voluntary agencies.  Their work is far reaching and has a real impact on Isaac survivors. If you are interested in a way to help, visit the National VOAD website at www.nvoad.org.  An individual’s support goes a long way to aiding affected communities recover.

 

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