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Engaging Voluntary Agencies Before, During, and After a Disaster

Voluntary agencies are a vital part of a community’s ability to prepare for, respond to and  recovery from disasters.   Before a disaster, voluntary agencies help communities and families get prepared by providing disaster training, raising awareness regarding vital health and safety issues. After a disaster strikes, voluntary and faith-based organizations respond alongside state and local emergency responders, helping to address immediate needs of survivors. 

At FEMA, we engage the vitally important voluntary agency sector through Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VALs).  VALs act as a bridge between the community and the government. 

To better understand the roles of a VAL, here is a quick Q&A on the work that they do before, during and after a disaster.

What is the role of a VAL before a disaster?
Like most jobs in emergency management, one of the most important roles for a VAL is as a preparedness advocate.  VALs support state and local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs), assisting with planning, preparation, training and exercises.

VALs work closely with these organizations to deliver updates on FEMA programs and initiatives, challenge them to be prepared for disasters and encourage non-profits to be a part of VOAD.  A strong VOAD will  promote disaster networking, training, program development, and exercises to help build the necessary disaster resiliency in communities, and speed a community’s recovery.

Once a disaster strikes, what role does a VAL play in the response?
When disaster strikes, VALs become a critical avenue to make sure voluntary agencies and the federal government are sharing information and working together as a team to help disaster survivors.

VALs also give guidance to voluntary agencies on federal assistance programs including eligibility requirements, program deadlines, and emphasize the importance of avoiding duplication of benefits to survivors.  They provide guidance to newer voluntary agencies interested in getting involved in relief operations, and they assist States with the management of volunteers not associated with a specific voluntary agency, and the use of unsolicited donated goods.

How do VALs work with voluntary agencies to assist in the Long Term Recovery?
After the immediate, short term needs of the community have been met, the emphasis of the emergency management team shifts to addressing the long term recovery needs of the community.  Survivors may need extensive help to recover and for some, the assistance that FEMA is able to provide under law, is simply not enough. Through Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRGs), local communities take control in the recovery process and empower volunteers to make a difference in the lives of disaster survivors. Check out this video for more on LTRGs:



VALs work with the LTRGs to identify possible LTRG participants based on previous disasters, help with disaster training, and assist in identifying any unmet needs. VALs also provide resources for LTRG formation and function, as well as information on mitigation measures and connections to mitigation specialists to help the community rebuild using mitigation best practices. These help the community build or repair homes and structures in a way that will reduce vulnerabilities, help prevent future losses and make the community more resilient and sustainable.

- Deb

IMATs: Experts Supporting the Emergency Management Team

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This winter has been an especially active one in the Northeast. While I am accustomed to significant snowfalls being from upstate New York, Region II has been busy responding to this year’s major winter storms with our federal, state, and local partners throughout the region. I would like to share one particularly valuable element of FEMA’s support of first responders, the Incident Management Assistance Team, or IMAT.

IMATs are made up of dedicated and experienced senior-level emergency management professionals that are able to deploy upon a moment’s notice when requested by the state. IMATs are generally consist of 10 members, with expertise in operations, logistics, planning, and recovery. They are a rapidly deployable asset to anywhere in the region or the country, supporting our states and territories in their emergency response efforts.

IMATs provide a forward federal presence to facilitate the management of the national response to catastrophic incidents. The primary mission of an IMAT is three-fold:
 

  • rapidly deploy to an incident or potentially threatened venue,
  • identify ways federal assistance could be used to best support the response and recovery efforts, should it become available, and
  • work with partners across jurisdictions to support the affected State or territory.

One of the most important aspects of the IMAT’s role is to support and take their direction from the state. As our mission states, FEMA’s role is to “support citizens and first responders”. After a disaster, state and local emergency responders, along with voluntary agencies and faith-based groups, are called on to meet the immediate needs of the affected community, and IMATs are FEMA’s team of experts that stand ready to support if they are called upon.

Just last week, I visited the Region II IMAT who spent the week at New Jersey’s Regional Intelligence Operations Center, training with the region II Defense Coordinating Element. This opportunity allowed the team to sit in the actual space that New Jersey would provide them during a real incident and the team was tasked with making that empty room into a fully operational office. Even though it was an exercise, it is impressive to see the team in action as they support our states and territories.

Region II IMAT team leader, Tom Fargione (far left), discusses operational planning with other IMAT team members and Region II's Defense Coordinating Element during an exercise.

Trenton, NJ, February 10, 2011 -- Region II IMAT team leader, Tom Fargione (far left), discusses operational planning with other IMAT team members and Region II's Defense Coordinating Element during an exercise. Region II's IMAT and Defense Coordinating Element frequently train together to ensure seamless operations during actual deployments.

Within hours the IMAT and the Defense Coordinating Element were working together to support the state and had access to key communications channels and capabilities, such as video-teleconferencing. As part of the exercise, the participants also discussed operational planning to continue to improve procedures during an actual IMAT deployment.

As we continue to strengthen relationships with other members of the emergency management team, IMAT’s are a critical part of making sure all members are collaborating with one another, providing the most coordinated response effort possible.

- Lynn

African American History Month: A Celebration of Pioneers in the American Fire Service

Author: 

Editor's Note: This post is from the U.S. Fire Administration's “Chief's Corner."

In celebration of African American History Month this February, I thought it would be most appropriate to look back and remember African Americans who have lead the way in making American fire service history:
 

  • The oldest documents identifying government sanctioned African American firefighters were found in New Orleans, Louisiana. A devastating fire in July 1817 led the governing body to organize its people to avoid another conflagration. All draymen and their equipment as well as individual free men of color and slaves were recruited.
  • The first woman firefighter was an African American. Molly Williams worked alongside the men of the Oceanus Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 of New York City in 1818.
  • Patrick H. Raymond was appointed on January 5, 1871 as the first African American Fire Chief in the United States (Cambridge, MA).
  • The International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters was organized in Hartford, CT in 1970.
  • Robert O. Lowery was the first African American Fire Commissioner of a major U.S. city. He was the Fire Department of New York's 21st Fire Commissioner, serving from January 1, 1966 until September 29, 1973.
  • Toni McIntosh of the Pittsburgh (PA) Bureau of Fire was the first African-American woman to become a career firefighter in June of 1976.
  • Cecelia O. Salters (now Cecelia Owens-Cox) was the first woman to be assigned to a New York City truck company in 1984.
  • Black Women in the Fire Service was established as a subcommittee of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters in 1988 to address rising issues related to African American firefighters. The organization became a stand-alone committee in 1996.
  • The first African American United States Fire Administrator, Carrye B. Brown, was appointed in 1994.
  • The first African American woman appointed as Fire Chief for a career fire department was Chief Rosemary Cloud with the East Point (GA) Fire Department in 2002.
  • The second African American United States Fire Administrator, Kelvin J. Cochran, was appointed in 2009.

It is important for the American Fire Service to recognize the accomplishments of these pioneering individuals. I encourage you to visit the African American Fire Fighting Museum's website for more information on the struggles and accomplishments of African American firefighters, and the links below for multicultural and diversity strategies for the Fire Service.

- Glenn

News of the Day: Private Sector Execs Working at FEMA

Author: 

As Administrator Fugate often says, "FEMA is not the team, we're part of the team". We've been working to put that philosophy into practice, engaging all members of the emergency management team - state, local and tribal governments, volunteer and faith-based groups, the public, and the private sector.

A recent story from the Washington Post highlights one area of outreach we've had with the private sector: bringing in executives to work at FEMA, building collaboration points between the federal government and businesses. Here's a quote from the story that captures the initiative in a nutshell:
 

"Under the program, a key initiative of FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, corporate executives in industries ranging from retail to energy spend three months at the agency's response coordination center and serve as a liaison to the business world, particularly during a disaster. The executives also get a seat at the table for key meetings to provide a private-sector perspective.

"'You can't be successful if you only look at what government can do,' said Fugate, calling such an approach "myopic." 'This is kind of like everybody figuring out what you're really good at.'"

Read the full story on the Washington Post website, and give us your thoughts on ways we can continue to engage the private sector to support our citizens and first responders as we prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.

- Dan

Highlighting a Community Emergency Response Team Success Story

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This blog often highlights the “emergency management team”, the collective group of first responders, local/state/federal government agencies, volunteer and faith-based groups, and citizens that play a role in making the nation more resilient to the impacts of emergencies. I wanted to call attention to a group of particularly committed citizens on this team, members of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT).

Local CERT programs are a great resource for community members to get trained in basic disaster response skills and preparedness. They play vital role in preparing communities before a disaster strikes, which sets them up to be very effective in case an emergency happens.

Check out this video of a CERT in Bridgewater, Massachusetts – they helped residents stay safe by setting up a shelter during a blizzard last month:



To become a CERT member, training is offered from a sponsoring agency like the local fire department, or law enforcement or emergency management agency in the area where you live or work. CERT members learn about the potential threats to their home, workplace and community, and how to take action to safely assist family members, neighbors, coworkers and others who may need help before professionals responders can arrive.

Once you become a CERT member, there are a number of ways to build resiliency in your community:

  • Local CERT teams across the nation also conduct training courses including response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations.
  • CERT members can also participate in drills and exercises, as well as projects to help keep their communities safer and more disaster resilient

Contact your local emergency manager and ask about the opportunities available to you. Even if you don’t become a member of your local CERT Program, you can still take CERT training that will help you be better prepared for emergencies.

Are you a CERT member, or do you have a CERT success story? Leave a comment and share!

- Rachel

News of the Day: Girl Scouts Preparedness Patch

Teaching America's youth the value of preparing before an emergency is a priority at FEMA.  A recent story in Emergency Management Magazine highlighted an exciting partnership between the Department of Homeland Security (FEMA is a component agency of DHS) and the Girl Scouts of the USA

The Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital worked with FEMA's Citizen Corps program to develop the Emergency Preparedness Patch Program, enabling Girl Scouts to earn the patch as they learn the value of emergency preparedness in their local community.  And since the program can be customized to discuss your local community’s potential hazards, it is our hope that the patch program will be adopted across the more than 100 Girl Scout Councils across the country.

I encourage you check out the story and leave a comment on the blog, sharing your thoughts on how partnerships like this can help individuals and communities build resiliency across America.

- Paulette

Chicago increases safety through partnerships, federal grants

FEMA officials tour the Chicago Office of Emergency Communications.


Chicago, IL, January 25, 2011 -- Assistant Administrator William Carwile (left), Region IX Administrator, Nancy Ward (center), Region V Administrator, Andrew Velasquez III (back), FEMA Deputy Administrator, Richard Serino, and FEMA Director of Regional Operations, Patty Kalla (right), tour Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

Last week, before the snow started to fall, I had the opportunity to tour Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) with FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino, Assistant Administrator William Carwile, FEMA Region IV Administrator Major Phillip May, and Region IX Administrator Nancy Ward.

Our tour gave us a first-hand look at Homeland Security grant dollars in action. To date, the city has received over $281 million in grants, investing in state of the art technologies to better prepare the city and those that live here. Chicago has been working with federal, state, and local partners to leverage the grant awards for maximum impact in the community.

During the visit, we had a chance to see the city’s integrated camera network, one of the largest of its kind in the nation. The city has not only installed thousands of cameras, but they have also integrated existing surveillance cameras from several city departments, as well as those from the private sector. This collaboration between the public and private sectors provides first responders, as well as state and federal emergency management officials, with critical situational awareness during emergency situations.

The city also showed us their investments in geospatial information systems (GIS) technologies. They’ve incorporated critical infrastructure information and other data layers into their GIS systems, which provides the city and its partners with a platform for more efficient and effective emergency planning.

Overall, our group of FEMA officials were impressed with the OEMC’s emphasis on bringing together multiple public safety disciplines and partner agencies to achieve the common goal of better protecting the city. Chicago is a great example of leveraging grant dollars and partnerships to strengthen its emergency response capabilities.

Chicago's OEMC is one example of federal grant dollars making a difference at the local level. Leave a comment and let us know your ideas on using federal grants to make an impact on our nation’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.

- Andrew

A Week of Team Building

Author: 


Motivating residents of Dallas County, Texas
This week I had the opportunity to work with our state, tribal and local partners and reinforce the need for cooperation. I began the week by participating in a joint press conference with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia, Dallas County Director of Health and Human Services, Zachary S. Thompson, Texas Department of Emergency Management Director Nim Kidd and other local officials. We reminded residents of Dallas County and the surrounding counties of disaster preparation, creating a plan, having a disaster kit ready and available for use and accessing available resources when needed.

Interagency and intergovernmental planning
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Region VI hosted a Regional Interagency Steering Committee (RISC) meeting. RISC meetings are venues for strengthening partnerships, coordinating interagency and intergovernmental planning, exchange ideas, identifying potential problems before a disaster strikes and focusing on what should be our emergency management priorities in the coming year. I was very pleased that emergency managers for all five states and tribal emergency managers in Region VI were able to attend this one.  I hosted an executive session with the state and tribal emergency managers; I find this type of collective partnership invaluable as we respond to disasters.

The RISC meeting allowed not only FEMA employees, but state, federal and tribal partners to receive updates, share best practices and reinforce the need for cooperation before a disaster or major event. 

Recognizing volunteers
Tuesday evening I was honored to deliver the address for the American Red Cross, Dallas Area Chapter President’s Volunteer Service Awards and pinning ceremony. It was held to recognize over 250 volunteers, adults who have contributed more than 100 hours or youth who have contributed more than 50 hours in the past 12 months. Each of the award recipients  received a pin, certificate, personalized press release and a letter from President Obama recognizing their commitment. It was a great privilege to participate in this awards ceremony especially since American Red Cross is a valuable partner agencies that FEMA works with.

I mention some of the partner specific activities I have participated in this week because it reinforces the team concept. FEMA supports and responds to local and state disasters and is part of the emergency management team. Our ability to prepare fore, respond to, and recover from disasters is strongly influenced by the strength of our relationships with our partners. I’m proud that FEMA is part of the team that includes county and parish officials, tribal officials, state emergency managers, various stakeholders across a myriad of disciplines, and individuals citizens. 

- Tony

Posted on Mon, 01/31/2011 - 17:01

Seeing Fire Grants in Action: A Visit to Phoenix


Elizabeth Harman greets members of Phoenix Fire Department recruit class 11-1 during a break from live fire training on January 19, 2011. The class of 28 firefighters is funded by a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant.
Phoenix, AZ, January 19, 2011 -- Elizabeth Harman greets members of Phoenix Fire Department recruit class 11-1 during a break from live fire training on January 19, 2011. The class of 28 firefighters is funded by a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant.

Last week, I visited Phoenix, Arizona to speak at the Labor Management Initiative Conference co-sponsored by the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. This conference encourages cooperation between labor and management to improve the level of service provided to the public. I was there to share the many types of grants that are available to fire departments and local governments through federal grant programs.

While visiting, I also spent time at the Phoenix Fire Department’s training facility to talk with the current firefighter recruit class. It was their first day of live fire training, and they were all pretty excited. These 28 young men and women are now able to provide critical services to their community because of funding through our Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grants program. Since 2008 budget constraints have prevented Phoenix from hiring firefighters, but the assistance made available through the SAFER Grants, has enabled the city to begin to train a new class of recruits.

It is encouraging to see the level of energy and appreciation in these young firefighters and to see the SAFER grant program at work. How have federal grant programs, like SAFER, made an impact on the emergency response capacity in your town? Leave a comment and let us know.

- Elizabeth

In Photos: Training for a Mass Casualty Event

As several FEMA bloggers have mentioned before, training is vital to being prepared before a disaster strikes.  For those in the emergency response community (first responders, emergency managers, government officials), training is even more important.

At FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), we provide responders with knowledge to prevent, protect, respond to, and recover from chemical, biological, explosive, radiological, or other hazardous materials incidents.  I wanted to highlight one such course from last week – the Hospital Emergency Response Training for Mass Casualty Incidents. 

This training places emergency response providers in a realistic mass-casualty training scenario after a week of classes.  The training takes place at the CDP’s Noble Training Facility, which is a converted Army hospital now dedicated solely to training hospital and healthcare workers in all-hazards response, including terrorism and manmade disasters.  Below are some photos of the students in action, as they put their knowledge to the test in a simulated disaster scenario. 

As you take a look at the photos, think about the most relevant preparedness training experiences you’ve had.  Then, leave a comment and share what made the training so applicable to real world situations.

- Denis



Michelle Hollingsworth, a registered nurse, listens for breathing following simulated life-saving measures during the Hospital Emergency Response Training (HERT) for Mass Casualty Incidents course.
Anniston, AL, January 21, 2011 -- Michelle Hollingsworth, a registered nurse, listens for breathing following simulated life-saving measures during the Hospital Emergency Response Training (HERT) for Mass Casualty Incidents course. HERT places emergency response providers in a realistic mass-casualty training scenario.

Healthcare workers rush to decontaminate a simulated victim during an exercise at the Center for Domestic Preparedness, located in Anniston, Ala.
Anniston, AL, January 21, 2011 -- Healthcare workers rush to decontaminate a simulated victim during an exercise at the Center for Domestic Preparedness, located in Anniston, Ala. These students were attending the Hospital Emergency Response Training (HERT) for Mass Casualty Incidents course that places emergency response providers in a realistic mass-casualty training scenario.

Healthcare workers triage a simulated victim during an exercise at the Center for Domestic Preparedness, located in Anniston, Ala.
Anniston, AL, January 21, 2011 -- Healthcare workers triage a simulated victim during an exercise at the Center for Domestic Preparedness, located in Anniston, Ala. These students were attending the Hospital Emergency Response Training (HERT) for Mass Casualty Incidents course that places emergency response providers in a realistic mass-casualty training scenario.

Note
Training at the CDP campus is federally funded at no cost to state, local, and tribal emergency response professionals or their agency.  For more information on the CDP's specialized programs and courses, please visit their web site at:  http://cdp.dhs.gov.

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