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Administrator Fugate Visits FEMA Operations in Alabama

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FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate addresses employees at the Joint Field Office in Birmingham.
Birmingham, AL, June 27, 2011 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate addresses employees at the Joint Field Office in Birmingham.

On Monday, Administrator Craig Fugate visited the Birmingham Joint Field Office, underscoring the agency’s ongoing focus on Alabama’s recovery from the April tornadoes. The Administrator toured the state in the immediate days following the storm, meeting with federal, state and local officials and ensuring they had the resources needed to respond and recover.

In a series of joint state and FEMA meetings, we briefed the Administrator on the progress made thus far and, more importantly, on our commitment going forward.

President Barack Obama recently called him "one of the busiest men in the nation," but the administrator assured everyone that the agency will remain in Alabama until all projects are closed and the communities in this state have what they need to rebuild – safer and more resilient than before.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate addresses employees at the Joint Field Office in Birmingham.
Birmingham, AL, June 27, 2011 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate addresses employees at the Joint Field Office in Birmingham. Alabama was struck by a series of devastating tornadoes in April.

The administrator’s message was simple: “The urgency we put into getting the recovery started is the same urgency we need to get projects completed.” I cannot agree more, nor say it any better.

With last Friday’s announcement of a three-week registration deadline extension to July 18, survivors now have more time to register with FEMA and apply for U.S. Small Business Administration low-interest disaster loans.

More than $100 million in federal disaster assistance has already been approved to help survivors of the Alabama tornadoes, including more than $59 million in FEMA individual assistance program grants and almost $46 million in low-interest SBA disaster loans.

We expect those numbers to grow in the next three weeks as we focus on making certain disaster survivors are returning their SBA disaster loan applications.

Looking ahead, FEMA will be in Alabama long after the deadline, supporting the state and local communities for as long as it takes to rebuild the great state of Alabama.

To use Administrator Fugate’s words again, "We leave here when the work is done."

 

Alabama: Two Months After, Recovery Continues

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Today, June 27, marks two months since severe storms and tornadoes – some with wind speeds of more than 200 mph – struck hard. It was a catastrophe unlike any other. Tragically, 241 Alabamians were killed. Thousands were left homeless.

Our records show that more than 83,200 disaster survivors have applied for financial assistance from state and federal agencies. Think about that. That’s more than the total population of many good-sized Alabama communities.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was in touch with the governor and the state director of emergency management even before the storms hit. After the president declared most of Alabama a major disaster area, we moved quickly to meet immediate and long-term needs. Disaster recovery centers opened. Community relations teams hit the streets to talk to survivors. Inspectors assessed damages to homes and businesses. Rebuilding specialists set up displays in home improvement stores. More than $100 million has been approved in federal grants and low-interest disaster loans.

Phil Campbell, AL, May 14, 2011 -- FEMA Community Relations Specialists Laura Philpot and Tom Violette speak with a storm survivor in front of his former home. FEMA Community Relations canvass each storm stricken area to be sure everyone receives information on how to apply for FEMA assistance to recover from the deadly April tornado.
Phil Campbell, AL, May 14, 2011 -- FEMA Community Relations Specialists Laura Philpot and Tom Violette speak with a storm survivor in front of his former home. FEMA Community Relations canvass each storm stricken area to be sure everyone receives information on how to apply for FEMA assistance to recover from the deadly April tornado.

Significant progress is being made. Not only because of the efforts of FEMA and other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but due to the cooperation of the entire team – the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, state and local responders, nonprofit organizations, private businesses and individuals who were on the ground within hours following the disaster.

And our work continues.

Recovery officials estimate that the tornadoes and storms left behind a total of 10 million cubic yards of debris. That’s enough material to fill the equivalent of 67,000 18-wheelers. And if those trucks were lined up one behind the other they would stretch all the way from Mobile to Nashville and halfway back again.

But no task is too daunting when we work together as a team. As part of the federal response effort 70 percent of all the debris has been removed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, private contractors and force account labor. We’re especially pleased that most of the Corps’ subcontractors are from Alabama.

With an eye toward planning for future natural disasters, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and FEMA hosted a Safer Alabama Summit at the University of Alabama. Participants included state and local officials, financial organizations, contractors, builders, engineers, academic and scientific departments and organizations, insurance companies and trade associations. It was estimated that nearly 300 attended and there is great interest in safe rooms and community shelters.

Governor Robert Bentley also has established a Long-Term Community Recovery Partnership to work on issues of housing, economic development, natural resources, health and social services and community planning. Local elected officials, nonprofit leaders and educators are among those who are participating.

Meanwhile, FEMA’s voluntary agency liaison specialists are working to ensure the smooth creation and operation of Long Term Recovery Committees at the county level. The committees coordinate help provided by voluntary agencies and generous donors for filling the gaps between needs and government assistance. Priorities include financial assistance, storage and distribution of donations, emotional and spiritual support, mud and debris cleanup, minor home repairs, and rebuilding.

On behalf of the state and federal recovery specialists who have mobilized here, we offer our deepest condolences to the families who suffered the loss of a loved one, as well as our thoughts and prayers for those who sustained catastrophic damage to their homes. By working together to face the tremendous challenges currently facing the state, and doing our jobs with commitment, courage and compassion, Alabama’s recovery will continue. We’re in it for the long haul.

For the latest on Alabama recovery efforts, visit the disaster page.

Continuing to Reach Out to Disaster Survivors



Providing disaster assistance doesn’t mean much if survivors don’t get the help they need. We’ve talked about community relations teams before; the FEMA employees who go door to door to share information on how individuals and businesses owners can apply for assistance, and what assistance may be available.

With this spring’s tornadoes, severe storms and flooding, our community relations teams have been busy reaching thousands of disaster survivors. We wanted to share the latest video and photos showing the teams in action.

And if you’ve been affected by the recent storms, tornadoes and flooding and live in an eligible county, you can apply for assistance by visiting http://www.disasterassistance.gov/ or m.fema.gov on your smartphone, calling (800) 621-3362 / TTY (800) 462-7585, or visiting a disaster recovery center.



 


 

Chattanooga, TN, June 18, 2011 -- Teisha Jeter (right), a community relations field worker, discusses special needs assistance with Delores Smith, who is visually impaired, as Joyce Morgan, her community relations team mate, looks on. Community relations field workers help special needs survivors find the help they may be eligible for.
Chattanooga, TN, June 18, 2011 -- Teisha Jeter (right), a community relations field worker, discusses special needs assistance with Delores Smith, who is visually impaired, as Joyce Morgan, her community relations team mate, looks on. Community relations field workers help special needs survivors find the help they may be eligible for.

Big Rock, TN, June 15, 2011 -- Foudiya Henri (left), a community relations field worker, talks with Tom Whitehawk as Shavonne Westerfield, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and Kristen McEnroe (background), Federal Coordinating Officer Cadre listen in. Community relations field workers are often the first face-to-face contact many survivors have with the agency.
Big Rock, TN, June 15, 2011 -- Foudiya Henri (left), a community relations field worker, talks with Tom Whitehawk as Shavonne Westerfield, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and Kristen McEnroe (background), Federal Coordinating Officer Cadre listen in. Community relations field workers are often the first face-to-face contact many survivors have with the agency.

Rogers, AR, June 4, 2011 --Gina Cortez, a FEMA Public Information officer, talks to a resident about registering with FEMA after her home was affected by recent flooding. Members of FEMA's Community Relations team attended a local fair to make sure visitors were given the opportunity to talk to FEMA representatives about disaster assistance.
Rogers, AR, June 4, 2011 --Gina Cortez, a FEMA Public Information officer, talks to a resident about registering with FEMA after her home was affected by recent flooding. Members of FEMA's Community Relations team attended a local fair to make sure visitors were given the opportunity to talk to FEMA representatives about disaster assistance.

Smithville, MS, May 28, 2011 -- FEMA Community Relations Specialist Toby Rice shares information with other FEMA Community Relations Specialists as they prepare to disseminate information to residents of Smithville Mississippi following a devastating tornado. FEMA works to insure that all affected by disaster are aware of available benefits.
Smithville, MS, May 28, 2011 -- FEMA Community Relations Specialist Toby Rice shares information with other FEMA Community Relations Specialists as they prepare to disseminate information to residents of Smithville Mississippi following a devastating tornado. FEMA works to insure that all affected by disaster are aware of available benefits.

For the latest information on a specific disaster, visit its disaster page.

Alabama: Safe rooms, havens of hope

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Last week, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and FEMA hosted the Safer Alabama Summit conference in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The aim of this conference was to get the word out about the important role that safe rooms can play in protecting families and communities, and federal funding that is available to build them. I wanted to share a conversation that was the perfect conclusion to the event.

Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 13, 2011 -- Federal Coordinating Officer, Michael Byrne, presents at the Safer Alabama Summit.
Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 13, 2011 -- Federal Coordinating Officer, Michael Byrne, presents at the Safer Alabama Summit.

Following the conference, a woman wanted to know how to apply for a grant to finance the construction of a safe room in a school in her community. She was a local councilwoman and she had heard about schools that had been destroyed during the devastating tornadoes of April 27. An elementary school principal in the town of Moulton sent his students home rather than have them shelter in the designated area in the hallway. It was a good thing he did, because many of the children would have been severely injured, or killed, since the roof and walls of the school caved in.

I told the councilwoman what many of the speakers at the summit had emphasized: it all starts with the community. Residents notify their local emergency manager or other appropriate local official about their interest in building a safe room or shelter. The local official then writes a letter to notify the state that the community will be applying for a hazard mitigation grant from FEMA. If the funding is granted, the state manages the program to make sure the final product meets specifications.

“We have a city council meeting at the end of the week, and I’m bringing a letter to notify the state that we will be applying for a grant from FEMA,” she said.

That is exactly what I hoped people would take away from the conference. Safe rooms and shelters come in all shapes and sizes. You can get a small one to stash in your garage, which fits three people. Or you can get a larger one built to serve as a safe haven for members of a school or office. They start at about $3,000 and run upwards depending on how big you make it. And just as a note, communities will only receive a grant to reimburse them if the safe rooms are built to FEMA specifications, which can withstand winds up to 250 mph (an EF-5 tornado).

I hope that the local officials who attended the summit will go back to their communities and look for opportunities and locations for safe rooms, and then, in conjunction with state, federal and other agencies, work on ways to fund and install them. I’m hoping to hear more stories from those writing letters of intent, not only from those in Alabama but also from others across the country.

Summer's Here, So Are More Thunderstorms


Summer begins today - a time for backyard barbeques, trips to the beach and lots of outdoor fun, but it’s also a time when dangerous thunderstorms become more frequent. As a series of thunderstorms move across the U.S. this week (and since it’s also Lightning Safety Awareness Week), we wanted to share a few tips on how to stay safe if a thunderstorm rolls into your area.

According to the National Weather Service, hundreds of people are struck by lightning each year, causing countless debilitating injuries and 55 deaths on average. If you hear thunder - even a distant rumble or a crackling aloft - you are already in danger of lightning striking in your area. To avoid being struck by lightning, the National Weather Service recommends:



  • Get into a fully enclosed building or hardtop vehicle at the first rumble of thunder;
  • Stay indoors for 30 minutes after the last thunder clap;
  • Monitor the weather forecast when you’re planning to be outdoors;
  • Have a plan for getting to safety in case a thunderstorm moves in;
  • Do not use a corded phone during a thunderstorm unless it’s an emergency; unplugged cell phones are safe to use indoors;
  • Keep away from plumbing, electrical equipment and wiring during a thunderstorm.

Visit Ready.gov for more tips on getting prepared for thunderstorms and lightning, and share the tips above with your family and friends. And be sure to bookmark www.weather.gov on your computer (or http://mobile.weather.gov on your phone) to stay up to date with your local weather forecast all summer long.

Other links
Emergency managers, business continuity experts or human resource professionals can view a toolkit on lightning safety from the National Weather Service.

Video: Tuscaloosa Mayor Discusses Coordinated Local Response

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A few weeks back, I wrote about Walter Maddox, Mayor of Tuscaloosa, Ala., when he was featured in a New York Times story talking about his thoughts just after the devastating tornado struck his town.  In this video, the Mayor spends a few minutes with us discussing how training contributed to a more coordinated response at the local level by following Incident Command (IC) principles.



Here’s one particular quote from the Mayor that shows the value of training:

If we wouldn’t have gone through this training, it would have been a disjointed effort…we would have had [the police department] doing their own thing, fire and rescue doing their own thing, and environmental services doing their own thing.

As this story shows, emergency management training isn’t just for police and firefighters.  FEMA provides many training resources that can benefit state, tribal and local leaders, members of a volunteer organizations, faith-based and private sector leaders, and even the public at large.  More information on these training programs and courses can be found at www.training.fema.gov.

Alabama: When the going gets tough, even the tough seek help

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As a former New York City firefighter, I’m no stranger to trauma. First responders who have witnessed devastation sometimes can’t get the upsetting images out of their mind. Or sometimes they hear cries for help weeks later. One fire response at a social club in the Bronx more than 20 years ago still stays with me. The fire wasn’t huge, and was contained quickly, but when firefighters went up to the second floor, they found several people had died from smoke inhalation. We were just sick – here they had done everything right and still couldn’t save their lives.

A lot of us were shaken up after that. But back then, most of us at the fire house would have rather had a root canal than talk to a counselor about our feelings.

Unfortunately, firefighters are not the only ones who think that way, and no one is immune to trauma and stress. Studies show that after a disaster, survivors and emergency responders are at risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (from epidemiologic reviews). Symptoms can include flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, survival guilt, extreme exhaustion and anxiety.

Five weeks after the devastating tornadoes in Alabama, the Alabama Department of Mental Health and FEMA have partnered to activate Project Rebound, a program that provides crisis counselors to community outreach and education services groups. Teams of these counselors are on the ground to help residents and emergency responders, free of charge, in areas affected by the April tornadoes.

So far, the department has hired 77 Project Rebound crisis counselors for 36 counties participating in the program. Project Rebound crisis counselors will be working with all social services agencies in their community as they reach out to both disaster survivors and emergency responders dealing with the stresses that come with recovering after a disaster.

And because mental health experts say elderly and children are also among those at risk for traumatic stress, Project Rebound is making a special effort to reach out to these survivors as well.

Needing mental health resources after a disaster is something I don’t have to be reminded of, but don’t want others to forget. For more information on Project Rebound, or if you’re a disaster survivor or emergency responder in Alabama, visit http://www.mh.alabama.gov/.

Missouri: Military Veterans Helping Survivors Through Volunteering


As our bloggers frequently mention, recovering after a disaster is a team effort, where the public, private sector, voluntary and faith-based groups, and government agencies work together to address the short and long term needs of individuals and the affected community. There have been countless examples of this team effort in action since this spring’s devastating tornadoes, storms and flooding.

We wanted to showcase one of the many dedicated voluntary groups assisting in the recovery efforts in Joplin, Mo. since a deadly tornado struck on May 22. A group of military veterans, named Team Rubicon, has been helping survivors rebuild after the tornado, and are using the volunteer experience to forge new friendships. Here’s an excerpt from the USA Today story:


When Kasey Sands and her family returned home last month a few days after a tornado flattened much of Joplin, Mo., a dozen strangers were removing trees toppled in their yard.
"I asked them who they were, and they said they were veterans," says Sands, 27. "They said they like to help with peace and not just with war."

They were Team Rubicon, a non-profit group of veterans formed after the 2010 Haiti earthquake to help in the immediate aftermaths of disasters. They also raced in after tornadoes struck Alabama in April and following earlier crises in Chile, Burma, Pakistan and Sudan. More than 500 people have volunteered; 25 were in Joplin for a week…

Jake Wood, Team Rubicon's president and co-founder, says responding to tragedies "is the most obvious fit for veterans who have so much to offer." Many members are doctors, paramedics and nurses. Besides aiding survivors and searching for victims, members help one another adjust to life after war, he says.

For the latest on the ongoing recovery efforts in Joplin, visit the disaster page.

Arkansas: One Month Later – Continuing Down the Road to Recovery

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A FEMA Community Relations specialist speaks with a resident during an community event in Rogers, AR.
Rogers, AR, June 4, 2011 --A FEMA Community Relations specialist speaks with a resident during an community event in Rogers, AR. FEMA Community Relations specialists were at the fair to provide residents about FEMA's disaster relief programs and to encourage residents affected by recent flooding or tornadoes to register for assistance.

Over a month after FEMA’s arrival in Arkansas following the devastating spring storms and tornadoes, state and federal agencies have rushed over $22 million in assistance to families and communities. While much assistance has come quickly, we still have so much more to do as the emergency management team - a team includes Arkansas residents – continues to meet the needs of survivors and the affected communities.

Our operation depends on the more than 300 state and federal workers who are helping survivors get back on their feet. These professionals bring plenty of experience, skills and talents to work for Arkansas disaster survivors. Specialists have visited with more than 2,067 survivors in our 20 disaster recovery centers and disaster assistance centers across the state. Housing inspectors have looked at more than 7,032 damaged homes in the 30 counties eligible for individual assistance. And many folks, such as our call center professionals, continue to work behind the scenes to support our mission.

Each state and federal worker has a role to play in the disaster assistance process, and we encourage survivors to take advantage of this assistance by registering for assistance. Survivors can register in several ways, by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585, visiting http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov/, or via web-enabled phone http://m.fema.gov/. So far, more than 8,900 Arkansans have registered for assistance in one of these ways.

Those with questions about registration, housing inspections, assistance and the recovery process can visit a disaster recovery center or its streamlined cousin, the more mobile disaster assistance center. Of course, many have had an opportunity to visit with one of more than two dozen specialists who have visited all 30 counties designated for individual assistance. They have walked hundreds of miles through damaged neighborhoods handing out fliers and answering survivors’ questions.

A FEMA Mitigation specialist talks to a residents about what needs to be done to protect his home against flooding or potential high winds and tornadoes.
Conway, AR, June 3, 2011 --A FEMA Mitigation specialist talks to a residents about what needs to be done to protect his home against flooding or potential high winds and tornadoes. FEMA specialist are setting up information booths in local hardware stores throughout Arkansas to provide residents with information that may help them protect their property if the area is affected by damaging winds and/or flood waters.

Those survivors who have completed the registration process are among the ones who have qualified for nearly $14.6 million in housing assistance, more than $2.6 million in other needs assistance and over $5.4 million in loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Even as millions in assistance have gone to individuals, families and businesses, our public assistance effort has swung into gear. Public assistance grants are obligated to the state to help make damaged communities whole again. These dollars go to local governments, state agencies, and certain nonprofits to help clean up communities overwhelmed by disaster-related debris, repair roads and bridges, put utilities and water systems back in order, repair hospitals and emergency services, rebuild schools and universities, and put playground equipment back in public parks.

Fifty-two counties across the state have been designated for public assistance. After the devastating flooding in the eastern part of the state, FEMA expedited $360,000 to the state to pay members of the National Guard who placed sandbags in communities to ward off approaching flood waters. Another $278,000 has gone to Garland County for expedited debris removal. The state and communities are now completing their applications for reimbursement of other expenses and repairs incurred as a result of the April and May storms and flooding.

We have had a busy month as our partnerships with local and state governments have shifted into high gear. We feel very proud of what we and our Arkansas partners have accomplished so far – and we will continue to work just as hard in meeting the needs of those individuals and communities affected by the storms.

For the latest updates on the Arkansas recovery efforts, visit the disaster page.

Photos 6: Supporting Efforts for Southern U.S. Tornadoes and Flooding

Even though the national media attention has faded in recent weeks, we continue to fully support the state and local efforts across the southeast and central U.S. due to the tornadoes, flooding and severe storms. The response and recovery efforts are truly a team effort, with federal, state, tribal and local government, faith-based and non-profit groups, the private sector, and the public working together to meet the needs of disaster survivors and the affected community.

Here are some of the latest images from our photo library, showing our disaster recovery efforts in action.

And if you are a disaster survivor or know someone who sustained losses in a county designated for federal assistance, please share that you can apply for assistance at http://www.disasterassistance.gov/, on your phone at m.fema.gov or by calling 800-621-3362 / TTY 800-462-7585.

A FEMA mitigation specialist and Lowe's Store Manager review the plans for a ' DAWG HAUS' demonstration, which is a building method that helps structures withstand high winds.
Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 10, 2011 -- A FEMA mitigation specialist and Lowe's Store Manager review the plans for a ' DAWG HAUS' demonstration, which is a building method that helps structures withstand high winds. FEMA works with the private sector to get resources out to disaster survivors as they continue to rebuild their homes and businesses.



Mary Kay Leford, FEMA hazard mitigation specialist, discusses building safe rooms with Lowe's customer, Jack Kelley. Hazard mitigation specialists are providing information on how homeowners and business can rebuild at building supply stores in the declared counties.

Germantown, Tenn., June 8, 2011 -- Mary Kay Leford, FEMA hazard mitigation specialist, discusses building safe rooms with Lowe's customer, Jack Kelley. Hazard mitigation specialists are providing information on how homeowners and business can rebuild at building supply stores in the declared counties.

Applicant assistant Marie Hanzel reviews a disaster survivor’s case at the Carroll Country disaster recovery center.
Huntingdon, Tenn., June 8, 2011 -- Applicant assistant Marie Hanzel reviews a disaster survivor’s case at the Carroll Country disaster recovery center. FEMA disaster recovery centers are providing support as FEMA moves from county to county to be available in the areas that were recently declared.

A FEMA housing specialist inspects the kitchen in a small temporary housing unit that will be provided to an Arkansas resident whose home was damaged during the recent storms that swept across Arkansas.
Little Rock, Ark., June 8, 2011 --A FEMA housing specialist inspects the kitchen in a small temporary housing unit that will be provided to an Arkansas resident whose home was damaged during the recent storms that swept across Arkansas. FEMA is working with local, state, federal and private agencies to provide assistance to survivors of the recent storms which has impacted Arkansas.

Crews work to remove debris around Joplin, caused by the May 22 tornado.
Joplin, Mo., June 7, 2011 -- Crews work to remove debris around Joplin, caused by the May 22 tornado. FEMA has commissioned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to oversee private contractors during the controlled debris removal.


Michael Padilla is one of 11,000 registered volunteers helping out in Joplin.
Joplin, Mo., June 4, 2011 -- Michael Padilla is one of 11,000 registered volunteers helping out in Joplin. Volunteers can register at Joplin's Volunteer Reception Center on the Missouri Southern State University campus. FEMA continues to work with volunteer-, community-, and faith-based groups as recovery efforts continue.

This mobile communications office vehicle is providing support to the disaster recovery center in Lauderdale County.
Ripley, Tenn., June 4, 2011 -- This mobile communications office vehicle is providing support to the disaster recovery center in Lauderdale County. The vehicles can set up and provide communications in areas where there is no communications support available.

A FEMA community relations specialist speaks with a resident during an community event in Rogers, Ark.
Rogers, Ark., June 4, 2011 -- A FEMA community relations specialist speaks with a resident during an community event in Rogers, Ark. FEMA community relations specialists were at the fair to provide residents about FEMA's disaster relief programs and to encourage residents affected by recent flooding or tornadoes to register for assistance.

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