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Innovating Smarter, Nimbler Government at FEMA

This week, President Barack Obama laid out the Administration’s New Management Agenda.  As part of a new approach to deliver a smarter, more innovative, and more accountable government, President Obama put forth a plan to more effectively use technology and innovation to better serve and meet the needs of the public.  During a press conference, President Obama highlighted some of the innovative and survivor centric solutions that FEMA is implementing:

Today, our Chief Technology Officer, Todd Park, and our Chief Information Officer, Steve VanRoekel, are working with their teams to innovate and apply the best technology to help solve some of our biggest challenges -- from creating jobs to reducing health care costs to keeping our nation secure. 


First, we found ways to deliver the services that citizens expect in smarter, faster, and better ways.  So, for example, until recently, when a natural disaster struck, teams from FEMA had to rely exclusively on in-person inspections to figure out which families needed help.  Now they analyze satellite and aerial imagery and get housing assistance to areas that need it most, more quickly.  After Hurricane Sandy, most folks were able to sign up for assistance using FEMA’s mobile and web apps -- updating and checking the status of their applications.  And FEMA agents went door-to-door in some areas with iPads, helping residents who had lost power and Internet access sign up for disaster relief without leaving their homes.  So making sure that we’re delivering services better, faster, more efficiently. 

Here at FEMA, we understand the value of innovation and recognize that through innovation we can develop new and creative solutions and deliver these solutions to those that need them the most—survivors.  During the initial response to Hurricane Sandy, the FEMA Innovation Team deployed to identify solutions to some of the challenges faced in New York.  As the President highlighted, one innovative solution was providing our FEMA Corps teams with the equipment necessary to go door-to-door to register survivors who may have lost power.  This solution was so warmly received that we have made it common practice.

After the tornadoes struck Oklahoma, FEMA deployed the newly formed Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams to go door-to-door to register survivors at their homes.

The role of technology has certainly changed the way we operate and serve survivors during their time of need.  Our Geospatial Team used geospatial mapping and imagery to provide information to first responders and emergency managers about damaged areas moments after the deadly tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma.  We also launched our FEMALab in response to the tornadoes in the National Response Coordination Center, which allowed some of our innovation team members to work virtually.

We continue to look for ways to improve- to find creative solutions to the many challenges we face in emergency management. You can help us to innovate too! Join us for the next FEMA Think Tank on Thursday, July 18th for our latest edition, “Innovation Every Emergency Manager Should Know About” which will cover innovators from around the country.  We hope you join us and tell us what you are doing to innovate!

Faith-based, Community Organizations & Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management

think tank table

Bennington, Vt., Aug. 17, 2012 -- FEMA Deputy Director, Richard Serino, (head of table) leads the FEMA Think Tank on the role of faith-based and community organizations in advancing the whole community approach to emergency management.

On August 17, we had a productive conversation about the role of faith-based and community organizations in emergency management. We heard a local story that involved Vermont organizations working together during Hurricane Irene. We heard about the creation of mutually-beneficial partnerships between faith-based, community organizations and emergency managers. And we heard about steps to enhance these existing partnerships.

More than 450 people participated by phone, and a number of participants traveled to Bennington College to join us in Vermont. We all benefitted from an engaging discussion on the whole community approach of faith-based and community organizations as a critical role in emergency management.

We were fortunate to have Max Finberg, senior policy advisor for the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who offered greetings from the President and the WHOFBNP office.  He stressed the importance of faith-based and community organizations in the response phase that came together during Hurricane Irene in his upstate New York hometown of Margaretville, located in the Catskill Mountains.

Working with Faith-based and Community Organizations across Vermont

Our first topic discussed a Vermont story on faith-based and community organizations working together during and following Hurricane Irene. This discussion highlighted the importance of building relationships with different organizations and denominations, including the American Red Cross, AmeriCorps, National Civilian Community Corps, and others. These relationships proved to be important in creating the post-Hurricane Irene Vermont Disaster Relief Fund to assist with long-term recovery assistance as well as a handful of Vermonters to put policies in place to meet unmet needs.

Community businesses also came to the table, including a bakery in Bennington that used social media to articulate community needs. The bakery partnered with the interfaith council to continue to assist the needs of the community. Ultimately, through the long-term recovery, these relationships were critical in focusing on the needs of survivors.

Creating Mutual Beneficial Partnerships between Diverse Faith-based Community Organizations and Emergency Managers

Miami-Dade County’s “Communities Organized to Respond in Emergencies” (CORE) highlighted creating mutually-beneficial partnerships between faith-based organizations and emergency managers.  CORE is part of the Department of Homeland Security effort to build resilience within diverse communities. The CORE program includes plans to assist 8,000 survivors after a disaster and expands this partnership to encourage others to reach out to additional partners.

Enhancing Partnerships with Emergency Managers, Faith-based and Community Organizations

Communication is key to enhancing existing partnerships during long-term recovery efforts after a disaster and is necessary to continue to know what organizations are doing to ensure coordinated efforts. Lessons learned included how to enhance existing partnerships, guidelines prior to disasters, and knowing contacts for government and other disaster resources.

The next Think Tank conference call will take place in September during National Preparedness Month. The theme for discussion will be engaging the next generation in public service.

I encourage participants to continue the conversation on the Think Tank Online Forum by sharing and discussing ideas.  A full audio and transcript of the August 17 conference call is available at

August Think Tank: Faith-based and Community Organizations


Disasters can strike at anytime, anywhere, and can have a devastating impact.  Often the first on the scene to reach out to survivors and assist first responders are members of local faith-based and community organizations who are friends and neighbors. 

This will be the theme of this month’s Think Tank held in Bennington, VT.  Hosted by FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino, the Think Tank’s discussion will focus on faith-based organizations’ role in advancing the Whole Community approach in working with Emergency Managers.

Callers from around the nation will be able to discuss a variety of related issues with a panel of subject matter experts, including the following topics:

  • Working with faith-based and community organizations during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
    • A discussion of faith-based and community organizations’ best practices resulting from Hurricane Irene.
  • Creating mutual beneficial partnerships between diverse faith-based, community organizations and emergency managers.
    • A discussion of how emergency managers can develop and maintain partnerships with diverse faith-based and community organizations.
  • Discussing steps emergency managers, faith-based and community organizations can take to enhance existing partnerships.
    • A discussion of how faith-based, community organizations and emergency managers can enhance communication and access to information for long term recovery programs.

There’s still time before the call to submit any ideas you may have or comment on existing ideas regarding issues in emergency management. Visit our online collaboration tool, and share your thoughts under the “Think Tank” topic. It’s that easy.

I hope you can join the conversation over the phone and online. Here are the call-in details:

WHAT: FEMA Think Tank
WHEN: Friday, August 17, 2012; 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. (EDT)
WHERE: Bennington, Vermont
Call In: 888-469-1565 Passcode: Think Tank
Captioning: Individuals who would like to access the captioning for this event may do so by following this link.

After you add this to your calendar, please share with your friends and colleagues.

Please visit the Think Tank Online Forum and share your innovative ideas on how the role of faith-based and community organizations can advance the whole of community approach in emergency management.

Building Resilience through Public Private Partnerships


On July 23 and 24, U.S. Northern Command hosted the 2012 Building Resilience through Public Private Partnerships Conference.  More than 300 attendees participated in a variety of topics to include defense, international, youth preparedness, faith-based, as well as access and functional needs as they relate to the private sector.  And the audience was as diverse as the content.  Attendees include 156 from the public sector and 145 from the private sector (81 for-profit companies, 48 non-profit and 16 academia).  U.S. Northern Command should be commended for the outstanding agenda and collaboration.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino addresses attendees at the Private-Public Partnership Conference.

Deputy Administrator Rich Serino opened the conference with praise for how far public-private partnerships have come, and called for even stronger coordination into the future.  In just these two days, we saw this partnership grow.  Our latest FEMA Think Tank, led by the Deputy Administrator, took place as part of the conference.  Check out the great discussion we had.

Throughout the conference, we were able to hear from seasoned professionals on lessons learned and best practices.  We met newcomers to the public-private partnership arena who were eager to learn and offer fresh perspectives.  And we heard stories.  We heard from a young teenager who when faced with the loss of a close friend in a car accident found strength from lessons she learned in preparedness training.  We were inspired by a Colorado family who lost their home in the recent wildfires. Having recovered a family heirloom, they shared how “beauty can come from ashes.”  And we heard from a panelist who challenged us with the oft quoted advice attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

I was inspired to see the courage and resilience of the speakers and attendees.  I was inspired by the many private sector leadership who helped guide us in the right direction.  And yes, I was inspired by U.S. Northern Command and their team, who are always humble and reliable in their role in support of FEMA, state, tribal and local governments. But on these two days, their leadership was clear and all of us benefited.

At every step of emergency management, from preparedness and mitigation, to response and recovery, we do our best when we work together as a team. Today our team is stronger than ever. Through public-private partnerships, we can build resilience and be that change we want to see in the world.

FEMA Think Tank: Building, Sustaining & Envisioning Public-Private Partnerships


This week, U.S. Northern Command hosted the Building Resilience through Public Private Partnerships Conference.  We held our latest FEMA Think Tank call on the second day of the conference and had a great conversation on how the emergency management community can develop and sustain relationships with the private sector and build these partnerships for the future.  There were about 150 participants in the room and over 220 participants on the phone. 

Building and Sustaining Public-Private Relationships through Best Practices

Kicking off the call, we discussed best practices and highlighted the importance of engaging the private sector, including information sharing, engaging trusted partners and building resiliency. Ira Tannenbaum, the Director of Public/Private Initiatives at New York City’s Emergency Management Office, Bryan Strawser, Target’s Senior Group Manager of Global Crisis Management, Jami Haberl, Executive Director of Safeguard Iowa Partnerships, and FEMA’s current Private Sector Representative, Hilary Ward, Global Managed Services of Citi Group all led the panel style discussion.   Each provided a unique perspective, from the insight of a large corporation to that of a nonprofit organization.  The insight each speaker shared truly demonstrated the importance of whole community.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 24, 2012 -- Dep. Administrator Richard Serino speaks at FEMA's Think Tank held in Colorado Springs on Tues., July 24. Serino was also in Colorado to visit burn areas in the aftermath of the Waldo Fire which was declared a major disaster on June 29, 2012.

Our discussion focused on the coordination of private sector and emergency management resources prior, during and following a disaster. From these discussions, we were able to view real-life examples, which included working with the private sector to create a force multiplier in delivering messages, connecting businesses with regional private sector FEMA liaisons, and leveraging nonprofits to assist in building public/private partnerships. Additionally, we discussed how important it is to build a financial services toolkit to ensure disaster resiliency for businesses and the community at large. These are a only few examples of the critical need to work together before, during and after emergencies.

Envisioning the Future of Public-Private Partnerships

During the second part of the call, we challenged the participants to discuss the future of public-private partnerships.  Joe Donovan, Senior Vice President of Beacon Capital Partners and Preparedness Chair discussed collaborating on a future vision of public private partnerships.  In particular, we talked about developing sustainable private/public partnerships and discovering creative ways to leverage these partnerships, such as educating the community on trusted business sources to utilize after a disaster strikes.  I challenge you all to continue this discussion and discuss the future of public-private partnerships.  Where do we go from here, and how do we get there together?  Post your comments and ideas to the Think Tank Online Forum.

The next Think Tank call will take place on August 17 in Vermont. The theme for that discussion will be the role of faith-based and community organizations in advancing the whole community approach to emergency management. I encourage you to participate in the conversation on the Think Tank Online Forum by sharing and discussing ideas.  A full transcript of the July 24 conference call is available at

Joplin and Recovery: A Thought Provoking Discussion during the May Think Tank Call


A little over one year ago, on May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado tore through the city of Joplin, MO and surrounding areas. This tornado caused significant damage and tragic loss of 161 lives. I was on the ground less than 15 hours after the event and saw firsthand the inspiration leadership displayed by community leaders. I drew inspiration from the people of Joplin-how the leaders gave hope to the residents of Joplin and hope to the country. And that is why I chose Joplin as the location for the May Think Tank Conference Call. It was an opportunity to return almost a year later and listen to community leaders while they shared their experiences and lessons learned with over 30 community members at Missouri Southern State University and more than 500 people on the phone nationwide.

The resilience of the community has been nothing short of amazing, which is both a testament to the city’s inspirational leadership and to some of the pre-planning that took place. In case you missed the call, here’s a quick recap.

Recovery Efforts in Joplin

Dr. Bruce Speck, President of MSSU, spoke about the integral role that the University played in helping the community recover. “Only three weeks before the tornado hit we finalized an agreement with the American Red Cross to serve as an emergency shelter. At the time, some may have wondered when we would ever be called to serve such a need. Little did we know that need was lying just ahead of us and would test our strength and resilience in a way we'd never imagined.” Soon after the tornado, MSSU stepped in and offered its campus as a shelter, surge medical clinic, and volunteer coordination point, among a number of other things.

Other speakers from Joplin included those first on the scene, like Mark Rohr, the City Manager of Joplin, and Keith Stammer, Director of the Jasper County Emergency Management Agency. Both have been integral to the response and ongoing recovery efforts of the communities affected by the tornado. Callers asked many questions about their experiences and lessons learned throughout the recovery efforts. Rohr stressed the need for strong local leadership and continued communication with the people affected by the disaster, while Stammer focused on the value of preexisting relationships and agreements such as the one between MSSU and the American Red Cross.

Jane Cage, Chair of Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, and Stephanie Brady, Director of Programs at the Independent Living Center, also spoke about their efforts. Cage and Brady’s comments supported the lessons learned that were shared by Rohr and Stammer. Brady discussed her role in representing the disability community in Joplin. Cage spoke about the impact that volunteers can have on a community’s recovery. Rohr pointed out that there were 130,000 volunteers for 755,000 hours of community service, valued at over $17 million and more than 82 years' worth of community service. Each story and lesson learned provided all the participants, myself included, with valuable lessons and insight into the recovery process. For more insight into the inspiration efforts of these community leaders, I encourage you to read this article from the Boston Globe.

Integrating Planning for Recovery

The second topic of the call focused on how to integrate recovery into all planning, stakeholder engagement, community participation, and Tribal and Federal partnerships. Deb Ingram, Assistant Administrator for FEMA’s Recovery Directorate, provided information about the National Disaster Recovery Framework and stressed the importance of the whole community coming together in pre-disaster recovery planning including economic, health and social services, infrastructure, schools and housing partners.

Amanda Phan from the Fairfax County, Virginia Office of Emergency Management, spoke about the comprehensive pre-disaster recovery plan recently completed by her office, highlighting the number the stakeholders involved in its creation. Phan explained some of the successful pieces of their planning process, such as how to get stakeholders engaged in the project.

I commend the people of Joplin for their resilience and the extraordinary progress that the city has made in less than a year. I would also like to thank everyone that worked, and continue to work, to help Joplin recovery. The team of citizens, volunteers, local, state, and federal government partners is essential; and has been an amazing source of hope to the survivors and country as a whole.

For the next Think Tank conference call, FEMA is partnering with Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the Department of Health and Human Services. The theme for the June call is Emergency Management, Healthcare and Public Health: Increasing Coordination and Collaboration and will take place on June 28.

Please submit your ideas and comments on this theme, or on any topic related to emergency management, to the Think Tank Online Forum. A full transcript of the May 15 conference call is available on the FEMA Think Tank page

May Think Tank Call

The next FEMA Think Tank call will take place on Tuesday, May 15 from Joplin, Mo. The call will focus on recovery and how we can better prepare for a more rapid, cost effective, sustainable and resilient recovery in our communities.

Between December 2011 and March 2012, 10 stakeholder forums were held to discuss the National Disaster Recovery Framework. During these forums federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments, voluntary and non-governmental organizations, and the private sector discussed challenges and opportunities regarding preparing for, and recovering from, a disaster.

The call will provide an opportunity for the community to discuss what they think is important to consider when planning for recovery and how to rebuild in a cost effective, sustainable way so that the community can be more resilient in future disasters both physically and financially. Other topics may include steps communities can take before a disaster to be more resilient in the future. If you have been involved in the recovery process, what is one piece of advice you would give community leaders to better plan for recovery from a disaster?

I hope you can join us for the May call and encourage you to submit comments or ideas on our online collaboration forum regarding pre-disaster planning that allows for a more rapid, cost effective, sustainable and resilient recovery in our communities.

We will provide the time of the call and the phone number to participate in the Think Tank conference call in the coming days.

FEMA Think Tank for March 2012 Focuses on Disability Topics


Disasters can strike anywhere, anytime and can impact anyone, so Wireless Emergency Communications project at Georgia Institute of Technology, to discuss the next Think Tank topic. Serino reminded participants that “FEMA needs to use the best technology available to communicate with disaster survivors and those with disabilities and access and functional needs.”

He also noted that the Emergency Alert System test held in November of 2011 revealed several areas of improvement necessary for modernizing our national alerting systems, including problems with speed of the content and message accessibility. As FEMA develops the next-generation system, lessons from the test will be applied to ensure a more accessible experience for everyone.

In her remarks, Dr. Mitchell noted that the explosion of devices and software platforms in the market gives wireless manufacturers and developers “a perfect opportunity for [them] to involve end users in creating new devices that will have accessible features at the front end.”

Dr. Mitchell also noted with the explosion of social media, 65% of all Americans and 63% of those with disabilities use platforms like Facebook and Twitter, emergency managers have begun looking at those systems for enhancing the delivery of emergency alerts.

As I mentioned during the conversation, when people have access to emergency alerts, they can actively participate in preparedness efforts. This, in turn, optimizes emergency response resources for individuals who truly need assistance.

During the event, folks on Twitter joined the conversation with over 100 tweets using the hashtag #FEMAThinkTank:

  • Everyone should have access to emergency alerts – @mkelly007
  • Incorporating social media into emergency communications systems – @CACPGT

Serino closed the session by saying, “Community is a crucial part of all preparedness plans. It requires effort from the whole community to get through a disaster.”

He also encouraged people to continue participating in the Think Tank, sharing and discussing the ideas posted. A full transcript of the event will be posted at shortly.

March Think Tank: Atlanta, Ga.


As we start to get ready for this month’s conference call in Atlanta, I wanted to take a couple of minutes to thank everyone for your participation in the FEMA Think Tank. All of the ideas that you are sharing online and during the calls has been an example of creativity and collaboration at its best. Please keep the ideas coming!

I look forward to hosting these calls at different locations around the country so I can meet with those of you who are serving on the front lines of emergency management. Talking with practitioners, teachers, leaders in the access and functional needs community , non-profit and community organizers, business owners and entrepreneurs, tribal government officials, and others – all of which are the epitome of whole community – gives me, and everyone, a better understanding of the reality “on the ground.”

This month’s Think Tank discussion will be around strategies and approaches for incorporating and integrating access and functional needs issues and concerns into emergency management planning. Our philosophy at FEMA is that we shouldn’t be creating annexes for any stakeholder group. Instead, we should be planning with all stakeholders from the beginning. As Administrator Fugate has repeatedly said, we shouldn’t plan for easy – and I couldn’t agree more. That is why I’m excited about continuing this conversation, which will take place from Atlanta, Ga., on Thursday, March 22 at 3:00 p.m. and on Twitter #femathinktank.

I also want to extend an invitation for people to participate in person. That’s right, we have three additional seats available for those who are interested. In order to be considered, all you have to do is email us at fema-new-media [at] dhs [dot] gov (with March Think Tank in the subject line) by Tuesday, March 20 at noon EDT and we’ll randomly pick three people.

And just a quick word from our legal team: FEMA will not pay for any costs or expenses related to attendance at this event, including travel to or from the event, and any member of the public can participate.

There’s still time before the call to submit any ideas you may have or comment on existing ideas regarding access and functional needs issues in emergency management. Just click the link, visit our online collaboration tool, and share your thoughts under the “Think Tank” topic. It’s that easy.

I hope you can join the conversation over the phone and online. Here are the call-in details:

Date: Thursday, March 22

Time: 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. EDT

Call-In Number: 800-593-0692

Pass Code: Think Tank March

Captioning for the event

Twitter: #femathinktank

After you add this information to your calendar, please share this information with your friends and colleagues.


Reminder: Think Tank Call Tomorrow

Deputy Administrator Serino will host the second Think Tank conference call tomorrow, Feb. 17 from 1:00 p.m. EST (10:00 a.m. PDT) from San Francisco, CA. This month’s call will focus on technology in emergency management including smartphone apps and amateur radio.

Here are the three ideas that we will discuss:

Smartphone Apps

Amateur Radio

The call is open to the public, so anyone interested can join the call. Here’s the call-in information:

  • Time: 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. EST (10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. PDT)
  • Call in number: 800-369-1986
  • Password: Think Tank February
  • Twitter hashtag: #femathinktank

If you’re on twitter, you can follow the discussion and ask questions by searching and using #femathinktank. There were over 650 participants on last month’s call and we look forward to even more on this call.