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Preparing Communities for Severe Weather


Along with the advantages of witnessing the changing of New England’s beautiful seasons, residents must be ready to face a variety of severe weather conditions.  My name is Rachel Little, a member of the FEMA Youth Preparedness Council, and a resident of Massachusetts. My favorite part of living in New England is the variety of activities to do like skiing and snowboarding in the winter, swimming and visiting the beach in the summer and all within just a couple hours of where I live. 

While I love to enjoy the great outdoors, nor’easters, blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes and flash floods are all dangerous hazards New Englanders have faced within the past two years.  Preparing for severe weather is critically important when living here. Preparedness is imperative when a storm is approaching, though some don’t always know how to prepare for something severe. When I heard about the February blizzard approaching, I knew it was going to be a big one.  One measure that our area took to prepare for the blizzard was putting a driving ban after four o’clock on the evening the storm was set to hit.  All motor vehicles had to evacuate the roads or face large fines.  As far as preparedness goes, I thought this was an extremely brilliant precaution and would keep many people safe.  It would also make the job easier for emergency personnel working through the night.  The type of snow that a storm brings makes all the difference in the world.  If it’s light snow, it’s easier to deal with, less dangerous, and easier for snow removal.  If it’s thick, wet, heavy snow, it makes it more difficult for all residents.  It’s harder to remove, can cause severe damage to personal property and is a nightmare for men and women working for the power company.  Thankfully the snow was light, but there was just a lot of it!      

damaged tree

CAPTION: South Kingstown, R.I., Feb. 19, 2013 -- Damage in South Kingstown following the Northeastern Blizzard.

This situation was very similar to the October snowstorm in 2011.  We knew there was a possibility of snow around Halloween, but it was not forecasted to be as bad as it turned out to be.  A major problem with the October 2011 snowstorm were the remaining leaves on the trees, which gave the heavy snow more of an opportunity to break branches and limbs.  Trees snapped all through the night and took out power lines, leaving so many without power.  My father works for National Grid, and I didn’t see him for several weeks after the storm because the power outages were so widespread. 

utility workers

CAPTION: Narragansett, R.I., Feb. 19, 2013 -- Utility workers repair downed power lines following the Northeast Blizzard.

By far the most disastrous and destructive disaster to hit our community was the 2011 tornado that cut through Massachusetts.  No one ever thought a tornado could possibly make its way to us, as we have large mountains all around us and live in a valley.  I think that it is an important fact to be made known across the country, that any place is vulnerable to the attack of a vicious natural disaster at any time.

These experiences have only made disaster preparedness more important to me and make me want to be ready for anything in the years ahead.  After our last blizzard in February, I have continued to spread three key factors to being prepared: know your risk, take action, and be an example for your family and community. Taking action is not only readying yourself and family members for a disastrous situation, but spreading the word to your neighborhood and throughout the community. By knowing our risk, we can greatly reduce the amount of fatalities and injuries during a disaster because we took steps to prepare beforehand.  I also continue to be a champion of preparedness for all the people I care so much about.  I have encouraged my family, school and community to talk about emergency plans and build a preparedness kit before severe weather hits. If we all take part in spreading the word about disaster preparedness and sharing tips, many people will be much safer if they have to go through a severe storm. 

Editor’s Note: FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Council is a unique opportunity for a nominated group of youth leaders to serve on a highly distinguished national council and to voice their opinions, experiences, ideas and solutions to help strengthen the nation’s resiliency for all types of disasters.

Preparedness Matters: Preparing our Stores and Clubs for Severe Weather


When it comes to severe weather, you never know when a thunderstorm may spawn into a deadly, destructive tornado. Considering Walmart serves more than 140 million customers in more than 4,000 U.S. locations on a weekly basis, it’s safe to say we’ve seen our fair share of bad weather.

Because of our size and scale, we cover a lot of territory and ride out a lot of storms with our fellow Americans. When there’s a weather warning, there’s usually a Walmart or Sam’s Club not too far in the distance. That’s why it’s extremely critical for us to ensure our stores and club associates know what to do when it comes to emergency preparedness and response.

As part of our commitment to emergency preparedness, our stores and clubs are set up to receive a phone call notification as soon as the National Weather Service issues a severe thunderstorm warning or a tornado watch/warning. When this happens, stores are expected to take immediate action to implement their severe weather safety plan.

It’s not only important to implement the plan, but it’s also important to review the plan on a regular basis. Case in point: About a month before the EF-5 tornado hit Joplin in May 2011, our store manager had decided to review his store’s safety plan.  Andy Martin, Store Manager, and his team reviewed the store’s layout and determined the back of the store was the safest place to be in the event of a tornado. Then, he made sure that each and every associate knew how to execute the plan.

Andy was off from work the day the storm hit, but his associates knew what to do.  They ran the plan. They alerted customers to huddle in the back of the store which was pre-determined as the safe zone.  Their quick actions in working the plan ultimately helped to save more than 200 lives.

We take safety into account in everything we do. That includes identifying safe zones for every facility we have.  Because locations vary, what is an appropriate safe zone for one store may not be appropriate for another. For example, we realize that the designated zone for Joplin, MO may not be the designated zone for every store. More importantly, we realize severe weather is unpredictable so we focus our energy on preparing our associates. By providing them with safety protocols and enabling them to develop an emergency plan for work and home, we’re helping them to be ready for the unexpected.

During National Severe Weather Preparedness Week, we encourage you to put together an emergency plan for your family and your business. Whether you are facing severe weather, a fire in your home, a utility outage in your workplace, or any other emergency, developing a preparedness plan will make you, your family and your employees more resilient. Walmart hopes you will take action by pledging to prepare for the unexpected at work and at home.

Weather – a key ingredient to a never-ending “fire season”

With just a flicker of a match, a cigarette butt, or a lightning strike in the high country, fire takes its toll fast and with no regard for those in its path.

These statistics, from last year alone, show how wildfires have a significant impact across the country:

  • 11 firefighters lost their lives
  • 67,774 wildfires burned 9.3 million acres -  that’s the second highest amount of acres burned over the last 10 years
  • 4,244 structures were destroyed, including 2,216 residences - well above the “average” year

As weather becomes more extreme across the nation, so does the threat of fire.

Fire seasons are becoming longer and fires are growing larger. Weather is the lifeblood of wildland fires. A wind driven fire in dry conditions won’t respect roads, fences, or blocks of homes; it will consume anything combustible that lies in its path. The start and spread of fires is created by the fire triangle—the right combination of fuel, weather, and topography. Give it an ignition source and this combination can be deadly and the results catastrophic.

San Diego, Calif., October 25, 2007 -- Helicopters drop water and retardant on the Harris fire, near the Mexican border, to stop the wildfire from advancing. Currently the fires in Southern California have burned nearly 350,000 acres.

CAPTION: San Diego, Calif., October 25, 2007 -- Helicopters drop water and retardant on the Harris fire, near the Mexican border, to stop the wildfire from advancing.  Andrea Booher/FEMA

Fire seasons are forecasted based on general weather patterns, moisture in the vegetation and known topography but the threat can change from moderate to extreme in a couple of days.  It can be a year round problem, depending on the location, vegetation and weather.  Fires can’t always be predicted or forecasted like an approaching hurricane; rather, they can be like a tornado, tsunami or flash flood, leaving those in its path with at times just minutes to make life or death decisions.

And believe it or not, fires can also create their own weather.  During extreme fires, thousands of embers can be fanned miles in front of the main fire, starting new fires that further push the forward spread while also adding to the fire’s intensity.  It only takes one ember caught in dry nook to start your home on fire which can lead to more home ignitions and a fast-moving fire.  If you are trapped between these embers and the main fire, it can be a race to the safety zone or to take escape routes to get out. 

 Malibu, Calif., October 23, 1996 -- A California Department of Forestry (CDF) official watches the wildfire as it burns up a hillside.

CAPTION: Malibu, Calif., October 23, 1996 -- A California Department of Forestry official watches a wildfire as it burns up a hillside. FEMA News Photo

This year’s threat of wildfires

The omens for this year’s fire season point to another year of drought and flame in the Southwest, Central Plains, and Rocky Mountains. From the high amount of fire activity in the past several years alone, it is clear wildfire is almost a nationwide threat.   The season begins in Hawaii with continued drought and in Florida, where the Florida Forest Service is predicting a near-normal fire season after a see-saw pattern of warm and cool, wet and dry weather - unless “an unforeseen wet or dry spell emerge.”

In the Southwest, numerous Red Flag Warnings for incendiary conditions were issued as early as February, in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The National Weather Service publishes Red Flag Warnings when there are dangerously low levels of humidity, high winds, and dry or drought conditions. A long-term drought continues to extend from the southern Dakotas down through the central plains to the Southwestern states, which were hit hard by fire last year.

This year, the Front Range in Colorado, where the North Fork Fire burned last year, is again a national hotspot. Snowpack in the Front Range basins this year are only ninety percent of last year, according to Chris Cuoco, a senior forecaster for the National Weather Service based in Grand Junction, CO.

The height of the “fire season” in California occurs in September and October, after the chaparral has experienced months of drying and the Santa Ana winds begin. Last year, northern California had many large fires but southern California was spared a bad season, because the Santa Ana winds did not develop in the fall. This year, moderate to severe drought conditions exist in much of southern California and in portions of northern California.  Even with predictive models for fire threat progression through the United States, a catastrophic fire can still occur in other areas at different times of the year.

West Glenwood, Colo., June 11, 2002 -- The Flathead Hotshot crew set a burn on Horse mountain in the South Canyon drainage to stop fire from consuming more forest land.

CAPTION: West Glenwood, Colo., June 11, 2002 – Smoke rolls up from a fire in the South Canyon. Photo by Andrea Booher/FEMA News Photo

While we can monitor areas with greater fire threat due to drought, the buildup of fuel, and moistures in the different vegetation (trees, shrubs and grasses), it is important to remember that weather is a key ingredient to wildfires.  So if you live in an area prone to fires, remember:

  • Stay alert of local conditions – follow the weather conditions in your community and pay special attention to indicators like low humidity, drought, and high winds, three things that contribute to the risk of fire.
  • Listen to direction of local officials – if the local officials in your area mention a heightened threat of wildfire; listen and take action. 
  • Have a plan in case a wildfire should threaten your home or business – simple things like creating defensible space around your home and making sure you have an evacuation plan can save your home and your life.

We hope everyone stays safe during the fire season this year.  Remember, weather is a key ingredient to fires, but the individuals, families and communities that prepare are better able to survive and recover from fires.  Visit for information on staying safe before, during, and after wildfires.

About the authors

Justin Dombrowski, Response Director, FEMA Region IX was a former firefighter who traveled around the country managing wildfires and saw firsthand the loss to homes, property and lives including to firefighters. He wants to ensure people know what to do when a fire strikes and do what they can to reduce the threat at home, in their neighborhood, and for the responders.

John N. Maclean, author and journalist, has written four books and numerous articles about wildland fire over the past two decades. He is a FEMA reservist and a member of the Seeley Lake Volunteer Fire Department.

It’s Here! National Severe Weather Preparedness Week Starts Today


Today marks the official start of National Severe Weather Preparedness Week. Partnering with NOAA, the campaign started in pursuit of a Weather-Ready Nation, and in hopes that people would take the action and the steps necessary to prepare for severe weather. We never know when severe weather may strike, that’s why it’s so important to prepare in advance.

Every year, thousands of people are impacted by severe weather threats like tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. Last year saw 250 weather-related fatalities and more than 2,600 injuries. Every state in the U.S. has experienced tornadoes and severe weather -- some more than others.  Six states experienced tornadoes in 2012, which caused $1.6 billion in damage.  Everyone is at risk for severe weather and should take steps now to prepare for such events in your area. Being prepared to act quickly during severe weather can be a matter of life and death.

All week long, we’re calling for people across the country to pledge to prepare and to be a force of nature in your community by telling your family, friends and neighbors how you’ve prepared for severe weather. Pledging is the first step toward ensuring you and your loved ones are prepared for severe weather. The next step includes being informed - knowing the most common weather hazards in your area and what actions you should take can save your life and others. Once you know your vulnerability to common severe weather threats, develop a family communication plan, put together an emergency kit and get involved to help other prepare.

Visit to take the pledge, then be a force of nature and share how you and your family have prepared on your social media accounts and encourage others to pledge to prepare.  If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtags #ImPrepared and #ImAForce to show you’ve pledged to prepare and are taking the first step in preparing your family and friends for severe weather.

This week, be sure to come back and check our blog for guest posts from partners across the emergency management team sharing their personal stories about experiencing and being prepared for severe weather.

I hope you join us in becoming prepared for severe weather, if you haven’t already, and then help spread the message to your family, friends and community. 

Here is the President’s message encouraging the nation to be prepared:

Last year, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes devastated communities nationwide. Hundreds of men and women lost their lives when disaster struck; still moe could only watch as a home or a business was destroyed in a storm.  During National Severe Weather Preparedness Week, as Americans everywhere continue to help these families get back on their feet, we reaffirm that all of us can take action to make our communities safer, stronger, and more prepared for severe weather.

Building a more resilient Nation starts at home.  Before storms strike, families should have an emergency supply kit on hand and an emergency plan in place.  Homes and businesses should be properly secured.  And if severe weather is on the horizon, those in its path should take shelter immediately and wait for instructions from local emergency management officials.

Because effective disaster preparedness depends on engaged citizens, my Administration remains committed to giving them the tools they need to keep their neighborhoods safe.  We have joined with every level of government and partners in every sector to improve emergency management on the ground and issue timely alerts when severe weather is near.  And to ensure people have accurate information when they need it most, we have enhanced and once-stop shop for preparedness before, during, and after the storm.

Protecting ourselves and our loved ones from severe weather takes a whole community, and each of us can play an important part.  This week, I encourage all Americans to help meet tomorrow's challenges by making safety today's priority.

            -Barack Obama

Al Roker & Natalie Morales' family show preparing for disasters is easy

I recently got a chance to meet with Al Roker of the Today Show to talk about preparedness. Al reports on weather and disasters, so being prepared is something he often talks about.  He was getting ready to shoot a preparedness video for, and in case you haven’t seen it yet, take 30 seconds to check it out:

Before Al filmed that great video, we had a chance to walk through some of the communities damaged by Hurricane Sandy and talk about why most American’s aren’t prepared for the disasters that can happen in their community, and a few simple things folks can do to be better prepared.

Natalie Morales wanted her family to be better prepared for disasters, so the FEMA team met with the Morales family in Hoboken, New Jersey as they put together their emergency supply kit and practiced their emergency plan.  The TODAY Show crew followed us along, too, catching some of our conversation and Al helping the Morales family get prepared. 

As you can see in this video, Al is as funny and friendly as he seems on TV!  I’m also glad the video shows just how easy it is to get yourself and your family prepared for emergencies.  Really, preparedness is something we all do every day. At work and at home, we plan for ourselves and our families. We make lists, we gather supplies and we talk to each other.

As we were shooting the video with the Morales family, I got the sense that they were surprised how easy (and fun!) preparing for emergencies can be.  A few of the key points:

  • In the video, you’ll see Natalie Morales’ family doing a quick practice drill.  It took just a few minutes to teach her children how to get out of their house in case of emergency.  They also practiced what to do during an earthquake, which only took a few minutes to explain and only seconds to practice.
  • A kit may seem expensive, but it doesn’t have to be because most items you need for a basic emergency are already in your house – like flashlights and batteries!  Natalie and Al did a scavenger hunt with the kids and what were some of the things they grabbed?  Marshmallows. Their gaming system. Batteries. And a few more items.  You’ll have to watch the video to see their full list and what the kids learned.  
  • Making a plan takes less than 5 minutes: pick a meeting spot so you and your loved ones can meet up. Find a place in your neighborhood and some place further away in case you can't get home.
  • Just talking about preparedness can be a great and totally free way to start. You can discuss how you would get a hold of each other if phone lines are down. You can ask kids what they know about safety and being prepared.

I want to thank Al and Natalie for taking the time to talk about preparedness and I hope you will share Al’s video and Natalie’s video with your friends and family; but more importantly, I hope the key point gets across – preparing for emergencies can be as easy as getting started.  For ideas on starting the conversation with your family, visit

Does a Pink Wig Belong In a Disaster Supply Kit?

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

“Does a flashlight and extra batteries belong in an emergency kit?”

“Yes!” the room full of students, between the ages of 6 and 11, shout!

Suffern, N.Y., Jan. 10, 2013 -- FEMA For Kids promotes emergency preparedness at Lime Kiln Elementary in Suffern, NY by teaching students how to create an emergency supply kit. In addition, emergency safety related books, pamphlets websites are provided to students and staff during the safety preparedness question and answer session.

Suffern, N.Y., Jan. 10, 2013 -- FEMA For Kids promotes emergency preparedness at Lime Kiln Elementary in Suffern, NY by teaching students how to create an emergency supply kit. In addition, emergency safety related books, pamphlets websites are provided to students and staff during the safety preparedness question and answer session.

“How about a pink wig?”

“No!” they shout.

On a recent morning, Nina Coleman took various items out of a disaster supply kit, held them up and asked students at Public School 215 in Far Rockaway, NY what supplies do and don’t belong. Weather Radio elicited a resounding “Yes!”

“First Aid Kit?”

“You bet.”

“A high-heeled boot?”

Giggles. “I don’t think so.” 

These kids are residents of a neighborhood battered by Hurricane Sandy and they listen carefully to the FEMA for Kids (Ready Kids) presentation, an interactive program designed to teach children about emergency preparedness through hands-on activities, lively question and answer sessions and storytelling.

Coleman is a natural with kids. She ought to be. She’s the mother of three daughters, ages 2, 3 and 6.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Coleman, Assistant Manager of FEMA for Kids Community Relations Strike Team, has been conducting outreach to schools, after-school programs and youth organizations throughout New York City to inform students and teachers about disaster preparedness. With a background as an instructor of mortgage loan software, she is comfortable in front of a classroom.  She has also come equipped with a banner she has hung in front of the room showcasing the children’s book characters Flat Stanley and Stella, FEMA’s new ambassadors for FEMA for Kids.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 4, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley visit the FEMA Joint Field Office (JFO) in Queens, NY to attend meetings with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, FEMA partners and associates.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 4, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley visit the FEMA Joint Field Office (JFO) in Queens, NY to attend meetings with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, FEMA partners and associates.

At Far Rockaway’s P.S. 215, approximately 70 percent of the students (and a majority of the teachers) had been affected by the hurricane. At times, children may be left out when it comes to the recovery process of a disaster and often they have several questions regarding storms. Informing children how to prepare for a disaster helps to alleviate their fears and increases the chance that they will stay safe during a disaster. 

Their questions can range from the serious, “What do you do if your car goes into floodwater?” to the head-scratchers: “What happens to the fish when there’s a hurricane?”

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

While our FEMA for Kids instructors cannot determine the fate of the fish, the answer to the first questions is: you never try to drive through floodwater, especially because the depth may be deceiving. The mantra is: “turn around, don’t drown.”

Our instructors use every opportunity to reinforce how important it is to be prepared.

She tells the children to learn about the different types of disasters, to make a communication plan (knowing your family’s contact information) and to know their evacuation route. 

The students are reminded that they should practice their evacuation route just like fire drills at school. And when a storm is predicted, Coleman tells the children to be sure to listen to the news or weather radio to find out if an evacuation is being ordered. The children are encouraged to visit where they can download the Flats and take them on their journey to learning and teaching the family about disaster preparedness.

Much of this advice is something the children will speak to their parents about, which is another plus of the program. “It helps us spread the preparedness message,” says Coleman. 

Coleman does whatever it takes to make sure this message gets across, even if it means putting on a silly fluorescent pink wig and doing a little dance. It really gets their attention, but that’s the idea. 

Judging by the positive response from the children – most of them said they were going to go home and put together a disaster supplies kit (minus the pink wig and high heel boot) -- readiness has come to Rockaway.

For more information and games for kids on disaster preparedness, visit

FEMA Corps, Expanding Opportunities for Young Adults

Last August FEMA rolled out a program with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) called FEMA Corps.  It’s made up of young people between the ages of 18-24, many of whom are interested in a career in emergency management. As part of our response to Hurricane Sandy, we deployed members of FEMA Corps to assist with our operation.  In the story below, 22-year-old Elizabeth McSherry shares her experience working in New York.

New York, N.Y., Dec. 1, 2012 -- Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, right, talks to FEMA Corps members aboard the Training Ship Empire State VI, docked on the East River at the foot of the Throgs Neck Bridge. The ship has provided accommodations for volunteers from FEMA Corps and Federal Surge groups who have come to assist in the recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy.

New York, N.Y., Dec. 1, 2012 -- Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, right, talks to FEMA Corps members aboard the Training Ship Empire State VI, docked on the East River at the foot of the Throgs Neck Bridge. The ship has provided accommodations for volunteers from FEMA Corps and Federal Surge groups who have come to assist in the recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy.

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to live a different experience than most. My parents were treasure hunters and I spent a majority of my childhood on their boat traveling in the Bahamas. Looking back, I almost feel as if I took those years a bit for granted; I never would have thought that the very boat I grew up on would be lifted and dropped in someone else’s yard. But when Hurricane George came through in 1998, that’s what happened. Little did I know, 14 years later, I would be on the other side of disaster recovery.

My FEMA Corps journey began in Vicksburg, Mississippi and Anniston, Alabama, where I completed my training for Americorps and FEMA, respectively. From there, my team and I were deployed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to support the Hurricane Isaac response.

In Baton Rouge, my assignment was to make a series of courtesy calls to let survivors know we were actively working to find resources for them. After dialing page after page of phone numbers, I ended up speaking with an older lady who suffered extensive damages as a result the storm. I was incredibly nervous that she would be frustrated, but rather than an angry tone on the other end of the line, a voice came through that was so appreciative to even hear someone was still working to help her. A simple phone call can make a difference.

Lincroft, N.J., Nov. 29, 2012 -- FEMA Corps members have been deployed in every department to support the recovery effort during Hurricane Sandy.

Lincroft, N.J., Nov. 29, 2012 -- FEMA Corps members have been deployed in every department to support the recovery effort during Hurricane Sandy.

In New York, on the Hurricane Sandy response, I continue to come across inspiring people. As an anthropology major, I love culture and I'm particularly enthralled with the diversity you find in New York. In the Rockaways, where I’ve spent most of my time, I’ve met people from all different geographic, economic, professional and religious backgrounds. Just by walking through the streets and knocking on their doors, I’ve become so much more aware of the incredible culture here in New York. And the way the different communities unite together as a city is unbelievable.

During my first few days, we were assigned to canvass neighborhoods in Broad Channel in Rockaway. We ran into a few survivors that told us about a man who lived nearby in a wheelchair. Upon reaching his house, we were shocked to find that not only was he safe and in good health, he had in fact been providing food, water and beds to his neighbors who had lost everything. Despite his own home being severely flooded and damaged, the fact that this man, clearly undeterred by his limited mobility, opened his own home so unselfishly and without any hesitation rendered us all completely speechless.

In Breezy Point, again, I felt a strong sense of community. Many were appreciative to see us and relieved to have someone just to talk to. One man I came across was this big, tough guy who was venting about what he and others in the community had been through, but when asked if he had applied for assistance, he insisted he wasn’t interested. I think a sense of pride was what may have discouraged him. But later that day, when we went to work at one of the Disaster Recovery Centers, I saw that same gentleman waiting. Not only was he there to get information for himself, but he had a list names of people in the community he was looking into potential assistance for as well.

In the month and a half my team was in New York, the progress I witnessed was absolutely incredible. Although we all were frequently exhausted by the various assignments we had been given each day, it truly makes it all worth it when you can step back and realize that you’ve played even a small part in such a huge recovery effort.

Holiday safety in my house

Each year Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season in my home.  As soon as the meal is over and we settle in for the football game, we begin to create our holiday to-do lists.  Because of my two grandsons, decorating our home has become a very special tradition. 

Whether sorting through yards of twinkling bulbs, hanging ornaments on the tree, lighting the menorah, or displaying the seven symbols of Kwanzaa, many citizens across the United States cherish this time of year.  Unfortunately, these traditions may also increase the chance of a fire in our homes.  Approximately 240 home fires occur each year because of Christmas trees and another 150 home fires occur due to holiday and other decorative lighting. There are a few things we do in my home to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a fire.

First, we make sure our real Christmas tree is fresh.  A fresh tree’s needles will bounce back when you touch the limb.  If they fall off, chances are the tree is already too dry.  The stump of the tree should be sticky with sap. We also make sure all other live greens are very fresh.

When you bring your tree home, make sure you water it regularly.  Check the water each day.  Then, make sure you don’t dry the tree out prematurely by placing it too close to a heat source like a vent or fireplace. 

As you unwind those yards of lights, make sure there aren’t any frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation or broken/cracked sockets.  In my family, we check the lights each year as we take them off the tree and discard the faulty ones.  If we have a doubt—out it goes.  We are careful not to link more than three light strands as is recommended by national testing organizations, and plug the end directly into a wall outlet or high quality power strip. 

Over the years I’m sure you accumulate those old decorations with sentimental value and special memories.  Unfortunately, they could be very dangerous and flammable.   The rule in my home is: use only nonflammable or flame retardant decorations or don’t use them at all.  And no matter how wonderful the tree looks in that special place in the room, we never block exits or the furniture with the tree —that has sparked some interesting home décor discussions over the years!

Candles are beautiful and make the house feel warm and inviting.  But, candles can definitely be dangerous.  Consider using battery-operated flameless candles in your decorations.  If you must use real candles, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be knocked over easily.  Never leave a room or go to bed with candles burning. The flameless candles coming out this year are really life-like.  And some operate on remote control—very convenient and safe!

As an example, here are some battery operated candles:

Photos of battery operated candles

Holiday fire safety does not have to be another big to-do on your growing holiday list.  Just follow a few safety tips while decorating and you will be giving your family one of the greatest gifts this year—safety!

For more information on ways to make your holidays safer, go to Holiday Fire Safety at the U.S. Fire Administration’s web site.  From everyone at the United States Fire Administration, let me wish you a happy and safe holiday season.

FEMA Works with State and Locals to Prepare Region for the Nor’easter


FEMA currently has more than 5,100 personnel working alongside our state and local partners. We are supporting disaster response and recovery operations throughout the areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy. We’re also standing ready to deploy additional resources if needed to respond to the Nor’easter that is forecasted to impact the region in the coming days. This new coastal storm is predicted to impact the region beginning after midnight Tuesday with impacts continuing Wednesday and into Thursday.

We have senior-level emergency management experts in operations, logistics, and recovery embedded, side-by-side with state and local emergency managers throughout New York and New Jersey to ensure clear lines of communication and immediately bring to bear the full resources of the federal government, as needed to respond to the Nor’easter or continue to the recovery efforts from Sandy.

FEMA personnel are on the ground (we call them community relations teams), going door to door, letting individuals know how to register with FEMA for financial assistance.  We have already had over 277,000 people apply for financial assistance, and over $250 million in approved.

At the requests of New York and New Jersey, FEMA is delivering commodities such as food, water, blankets, and generators to distribution points across the region impacted by Sandy, and as those commodities are distributed, we are pre-positioning additional resources and supplies to ensure they are in place if needed by our state and local partners to respond to the Nor’easter.   

Given that power outages continue in some areas, in anticipation of the approaching Nor’easter, state and local governments are opening warming stations.  You can find out more about those state and local preparations by visiting publically available links maintained by state and local governments that list resources such as open shelters and warming stations, including:

New York State

New Jersey


If you are in the potentially impacted area for the Nor’easter, there are some simple steps you should take to prepare, including listening to the directions of your local officials – if told to evacuate, you need to evacuate.  In addition, know the forecast for your area: you can listen to your NOAA weather radio and local news reports, or visit for conditions in your area.  And finally, check on your neighbor to make sure that are also prepared for the weather.

For additional safety tips, visit

By working together, we can recover, we can rebuild, and we will respond to this Nor’easter as needed.

Keeping Children Safe in Sandy’s Wake


(The views expressed by Ms. Chung 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.)

Although Sandy has passed, for millions in states along the east coast there are still many hazards. It is important to take steps to protect children, as they are especially vulnerable to the environmental hazards that may be present. Here are some tips parents should keep in mind:

Flood Water Safety

  • Parents or other caregivers should directly supervise children - this prevents them from playing in or around floodwaters. It doesn't take long and it doesn't take much water for children to drown.
  • Watch for live wires or power sources - electricity from streetlights and downed power lines may be active and may cause a deadly shock through contact with standing water or direct contact with live lines.
  • Keep children from playing around drainage ditches, storm drains, river channels, or any place with moving/standing water - children can fall in, get stuck, or drown.
  • Be aware of what’s in the water - standing or flood waters can be contaminated and cause children to become sick. Playing in water could also result in being bitten by snakes, rodents or other wildlife.

Home Safety

  • Lock the door - In preparation for the storm, many people filled bathtubs and buckets with water to use for drinking or washing. If this is the case, keep everything in one room and lock it away from young children, as they can drown quickly in very small amounts of water.
  • Be mindful when using candles or heat sources - Make sure to watch small children around lit candles, and don’t forget to blow them out when leaving the room. Supervise children directly when there are portable grills or sources of heat or fire.
  • Turn off vehicles - In order to recharge cell phones and other electronics, people may leave their cars running. Be sure children don’t climb or play in the car. Don’t leave vehicles running inside garages or in any closed area where carbon monoxide can collect.
  • Leave it out in the open - Portable generators are useful when temporary or remote electric power is needed, but they can be hazardous. The primary hazards to avoid when using them are carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock or electrocution, and fire. For tips on using generators safely, visit the U.S. Fire Administration website.

Addressing the Emotional Impacts from Sandy

Sandy was very frightening for many adults, so imagine how scary the storm was for children who experienced it firsthand, or even those who simply watched it on television. For kids, no amount of time or statistics really explains the weather event that just occurred or provides comfort in its wake. They may have lost pets, favorite toys, or other cherished treasures, and they may not understand why parents must dispose of their contaminated belongings during the clean-up process.

Here are some helpful tips to support children in recovering and coping with the situation:

  • Limit TV and other media coverage of the storm and its impact (such as Internet, social media, and radio interviews of victims) - Listening to stories about the impact of disasters can cause further distress to children and adults. Realize that children should not be exposed to the same amount and level of media coverage being viewed by adults.
  • Keep to a routine - Help your children feel they still have a sense of structure, making them feel more at ease or provide a sense of familiarity. When schools open again, help them return to normal activities including going back to class and participating in sports and play groups.
  • Make time for them - Help kids understand they are safe and secure by talking, playing and doing other family activities with them. To help younger children feel safe and calm, read them their favorite book, play a relaxing family game or activity. For other ideas, visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website.
  • Encourage and answer questions - Talk with your children about the event and what is being done to keep them safe and help with the recovery process. Realize that children’s concerns may be very different that those of adults, so be sure to ask them what they are concerned about. When children ask about whether another storm may occur, realize that their underlying question is likely whether or not they need to worry that a storm as bad as Sandy is likely to occur. Help them understand that while storms are common, Sandy was a particularly devastating storm and that other bad weather that may occur in the near future is unlikely to cause as many problems. Help them understand what is being done to protect them and their families from future harm and why other storms are unlikely to be as destructive.
  • Provide realistic reassurance - Children’s worries may be based on misunderstanding or misinformation. When possible, provide realistic reassurance. But if their concerns are real, acknowledge their concerns and help them think through strategies to deal with their distress. Remember, if children feel they are worried – they are worried.

Here are some other useful resources to help children cope with a disaster:

American Academy of Pediatrics

Other Resources

Promoting Youth Preparedness


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