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News of the Day: Volunteers Continue to Help Nashville Recover and Rebuild

Last May, Tennessee was hit with deadly flooding, affecting thousands of residents across 46 counties.  The entire emergency management team responded, providing assistance to disaster survivors in the affected communities. The recovery efforts have been and continue to be an important part of our work here at FEMA, as we keep working with our partners at the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, with local officials, the private sector, faith-based and voluntary groups, and many others to help the impacted communities rebuild.

In short, this recovery has continued to be - and shows the value of - a team effort.

After a disaster happens, it takes many organizations and agencies working together to help individuals and the community get back on their feet quickly.  A critical member of the emergency management team is the volunteer community.  Through the generous giving of their time and energy, volunteer agencies provide many valuable services to disaster survivors.

In that light, we wanted to share this Columbus Dispatch story, highlighting how volunteer agencies are continuing to make an enormous difference in Tennessee’s recovery efforts.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities related to disaster response, visit the National Voluntary Organizations Active During Disasters website.

- Gracia

Other links
Videos of the Tennessee flood response and recovery
Other volunteer opportunities at

Team approach conference helps families in need


Nearly all of the 92,000 Louisiana families living in travel trailers, mobile homes and park models following hurricanes Katrina and Rita have transitioned into longer term housing. This is a real, tangible sign of progress in the ongoing recovery of Louisiana. However, it is clear that the less than 500 remaining families are in need of additional resources before they can move on.

That is why I participated in the Team Approach Conference at the Louisiana Recovery Office (LRO) in New Orleans this week. It was the latest effort, hosted by FEMA in partnership with the State of Louisiana, to discuss and help establish permanent or longer-term housing plans for these remaining families.

In addition to FEMA Region 6 and LRO personnel, the group included representatives of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Louisiana's Office of Community Development, state volunteer organizations and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This round-table discussion focused on identifying and matching unmet needs with available local, state or federal resources to assist the temporary housing unit residents achieve more permanent housing. Everyone in the room had something to offer, whether it was background on what a family may need, knowledge of resources available through an agency, or advice and guidance - all critical components that will help families make a better life for themselves.

We are working with these remaining families every day to ensure we are doing everything within our power to help them down the road to recovery,  and this round-table discussion was another important step in that process.

One thing that we have learned in disaster recovery is that positive outcomes derive only through coordinated and collaborative efforts. All of us - whether from the federal government, the State of Louisiana, a non-profit organization or a local organization - will continue to work together to ensure that the remaining families have access to the resources that can help them move into a more permanent housing solution.

- Tony

Tony Russell, FEMA Region VI Regional Administrator addresses the the Team Approach Conference at the Louisiana Recovery Office.
New Orleans, LA, January 19, 2011 -- Tony Russell (center), FEMA Region VI Regional Administrator, addresses the Team Approach Conference at the Louisiana Recovery Office. The event, hosted by FEMA in partnership with the State of Louisiana, was held to discuss and help establish permanent or longer-term housing plans for these remaining families.

Plaquemines Parish, La., schools are returning

Last week, I had the pleasure of celebrating a momentous event - a ribbon cutting for the first completed, FEMA-funded school in Plaquemines Parish, our Learning Center in Port Sulphur, La. Designed as a safe-haven for students with challenges, the Learning Center fulfills an important, state-mandated need for the residents of our Parish. 

Like much of the Gulf Coast, Plaquemines was hit hard by Katrina, and the hurricane destroyed not one, not two, but five of the schools we have here.  However, with the help of FEMA and the state, I can proudly say that we are building back better than before, creating elevated, storm-resistant buildings that will last us for generations.

Every day, people see the pilings being driven, and I receive phone calls from former residents saying they are returning to Plaquemines - they are bringing their children home. Our children will soon be learning in state-of-the-art schools. I cannot stress enough that this is the result of the greatest working relationship with FEMA I’ve ever known. They have worked unbelievably hard to help us rebuild something so critical to our community.

- Denis

Learn more about FEMA’s ongoing recovery efforts to hurricanes Katrina and Rita and our Louisiana Recovery Office.

Editor’s Note: As Administrator Fugate pointed out in his inaugural blog post, this blog is a way for us to directly communicate with other members of the emergency management team, a team that includes the local leaders.  The post above is from our first guest contributor, Denis Rousselle, the Plaquemines Parish School Board Superintendent. 

FEMA staff recently participated in the dedication of the newly rebuilt Plaquemines Parish School Board Learning Center.

Port Sulphur, LA, January 10, 2011 -- FEMA staff recently participated in the dedication of the newly rebuilt Plaquemines Parish School Board Learning Center. FEMA provided over $6.2 million in public assistance grants to rebuild this unique educational facility that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Ray Perez/FEMA.

Leveraging volunteer groups and technology

In case you missed it, I wanted to share a recent story by the Christian Science Monitor highlighting Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK). A Random Hacks of Kindness is where developers and tech-savvy volunteers come together for a weekend to develop software solutions for challenges facing humanity. Imagine that, hacking for good.

As the Christian Science Monitor article notes, last year, Administrator Fugate challenged the group to create a mobile phone application where disaster survivors could tell friends and relatives that they are OK – without overwhelming the cell phone service capacity needed for emergency responders. Earlier this winter, FEMA again challenged Random Hacks of Kindness to build off the Administrator’s idea and create a comprehensive mobile application that could update friends and family on a variety of channels simultaneously.

At FEMA, we often refer to the importance of engaging the entire "emergency management team" in building America’s ability to prepare, respond, and recover from disasters. Crisis Commons and Crisis Mappers are volunteer technology groups that come together to support crises and provide technology solutions. As volunteers focused on solving problems related to emergency management, they are a critical member of this team – and a great example of how we can leverage technology, collaboration, and creativity to strengthen our resiliency.

An encouraging trend in emergency management is the formation of volunteer technology communities where tech folks come together in their community before a disaster and discuss their skill sets, needs, and possible projects. This way if a disaster occurs in their community, they can get to work right away because the relationships and networks have already been established ahead of time.

If you're part of your local volunteer tech community or you’re thinking of starting a group near you, what challenges and successes have you experienced?

- Shayne

Expertise on loan: A Virgin Islands success story


As several blog posts have pointed out, strengthening the emergency management team is vital to how well communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from, disasters.  After two and a half years as the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) Director, I would like to welcome back Mark Walters to our regional office in New York, NY.

Mark's career with FEMA can be directly attributed to his personal experience with Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  Born and raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), he was working in St. Thomas when his employer's entire fleet of seaplanes were lost due to Hurricane Hugo's devastation.  Out of work, Mark became a FEMA local hire, and he's never looked back. 

In 2008, when he was asked by USVI Governor John de Jongh Jr. to consider coming back and taking over VITEMA, Mark seized the opportunity.  Through an Interagency Personnel Agreement, FEMA Region II loaned Mark to the USVI in June 2008.  During his tenure, Mark has tackled extensive personnel and fund management issues, reorganized VITEMA, and overhauled the territory's 911 system.  He was also instrumental in acquiring 42 generators for the territory's critical facilities. 

Mark's hard work and leadership has strengthened the emergency management team.  Read more about Mark’s story in the Virgin Island Daily News.

- Lynn

FEMA and U.S. Virgin Island representatives meet in Puerto Rico.
February 9, 2010 -- FEMA and U.S. Virgin Island representatives meet in Puerto Rico. Pictured from left to right: Alejandro DeLaCampa (Director, Caribbean Area Division, Region II), Mark Walters (former Director, VITEMA), USVI Governor John de Jongh, Jr, Lynn Canton (FEMA Region II Administrator), and Michael Moriarty (FEMA Region II Deputy Administrator).

From Japan: Sharing international lessons learned to strengthen pre-disaster recovery planning

Beth Zimmerman and counterparts from Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam share information on pre-recovery disaster planning.

Kobe, Japan, January 12, 2011 -- Beth Zimmerman (second from left), Deputy Associate Administrator, Response and Recovery, and counterparts from Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam share information on pre-recovery disaster planning. The International Recovery Platform 2011 Forum hosted 26 countries, 150 participants and 10 international organizations to share best practices and lessons learned on pre- and post- disaster planning. 

Today representatives from Japan, the Republic of Haiti, the Union of Myanmar, the Philippines and the Asian Development Bank will share their recent experiences on the importance of pre-disaster planning for better post disaster recovery and rehabilitation at the International Recovery Forum 2011 being held this week in Kobe, Japan. 

I will be speaking about FEMA's ongoing efforts regarding the coordination and development of the Disaster Recovery Framework. The Forum’s host, the International Recovery Platform (IRP), works to determine the gaps in the recovery process and develops solutions to address those gaps. Today I will hear from many international experts about the benefits and options of pre-disaster recovery planning; key lessons from recent recovery operations and the application of those lessons for the next disaster; other nations' plans for recovery and an update from Yves Robert Jean, Director General in the Republic of Haiti's Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation.

This meeting emphasizes the fact that there is a wealth of experience and expertise that governments and organizations can share to improve how we prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. The IRP is working to document, compile and share deliverables from the forum on its website: Check it out.

- Beth

Emergency Management Institute Training: 30 years strong and counting…


Training is a key component in emergency preparedness, whether it's on a national or individual level.  Today marks an important milestone in preparedness training at FEMA: the Emergency Management Institute (EMI), the agency’s largest training facility, is celebrating its 30th year in operation.  EMI has established a legacy of developing and delivering the necessary all-hazards training that strengthens our nation’s capability to meet emergency management challenges. 

To get a sense of EMI's scope, consider that over the past 30 years, nearly 15 million independent study courses have been completed online, including almost 2 million during fiscal year 2010 alone. And since 1981, nearly 73,000 on-campus and offsite classroom-based trainings have been conducted.

Individuals play a key role in the overall team effort of helping our nation prepare for, protect, mitigate, respond to and recovering from disasters.  EMI offers a number of online training opportunities to individuals and members of the public who wish to learn more about preparedness and emergency management. And if you’re an emergency management professional or an expert in the field, EMI and FEMA's Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) host a number of advanced courses.

Thirty years ago, in its first year of operation, EMI offered 40 courses.  The need for training and importance of preparedness has grown over the years, so much so that EMI offered 270 courses in 2010.  And while EMI has hosted FEMA training courses for the last 30 years in Emmitsburg, Maryland, its legacy spans back much farther - beginning with courses at the National Civil Defense Training Center in 1951.

I hope you will take this opportunity to participate in one of the courses this year. Whether you are a private citizen or a seasoned emergency manager, we are sure to offer a course that will keep you engaged as a member of the emergency management team. 

- Tim

Other links
FEMA's Center for Domestic Preparedness offers 55 advanced training courses for emergency response providers, emergency managers, and other government officials. The center is the nation’s only Congressionally-charted federal training facility that features training for civilian responders in a toxic environment using chemical agents. For more information on the CDP's specialized programs and courses, please visit their web site at:

Training and building relationships in Texas


I started my year by addressing participants at a tabletop exercise last week at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.  The exercise brought together federal agencies, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to focus on two main areas:

  • Managing the capabilities of the Emergency Operations Center management
  • The transition from crisis management to consequence management

This exercise helped us refine our procedures and allowed all the players to strengthen our working relationships before an emergency. We were also able to take a look at “best practices” revealed during the exercise and to network with our federal and state partners. Pre-disaster exercises like this are ongoing events across the FEMA Regions.

In emergency management, there is a constant focus on improving preparedness so we can respond better during an emergency.  Tabletop exercises, like the one hosted last week, are a great way to form relationships with other members of the emergency management team as we work to identify and solve issues before a disaster strikes.

It was an honor to address the participants of the training and meet newly elected officials across all levels of government.  What training experiences have made an impression on you?  Table top exercises are only “a piece of the whole pie” of emergency management training.  Leave a comment and share some of your memorable preparedness training moments.

- Tony

Strengthening emergency management through public-private partnerships


Our team has the great fortune to work with many private sector partners in the field of emergency management. It has been an enriching experience to listen to and learn from those partners as they have helped us to promote public-private partnerships and open new doors that will help all of us – at all levels of government and in the private sector – better serve disaster survivors and communities.  Most recently, we created a private sector seat in FEMA's National Response Coordination Center (NRCC), the monitoring and operations center we use to coordinate all of our emergency response efforts, with all of our partners, during a disaster.

This new position is a big deal for several reasons – it’s the first time we have had a member of the private sector embedded directly with our staff and it is another critical step that will help improve communication and coordination with the private sector before, during, and after emergencies. This position will be staffed with different representatives from the private sector, on a rotating basis. Katie Dempsey from Target Corporation is serving as our inaugural representative. Thank you Katie and Target for leading the way.

Katie has achieved much in her short time here. She has a "seat at the table" working with governmental officials to enhance information sharing and collaboration with the private sector.  She has worked with FEMA on numerous major initiatives to include the "National Level Exercise 2011".  In addition, Katie has received valuable emergency management training which will benefit her, her team members and Target.

We hope that Katie's experience as a private sector representative here at FEMA is the first of many to come in 2011. We already have candidates lined up for the next few rotations and are working to get more representatives in place for the rest of this calendar year. Like much of our work at FEMA, this new NRCC seat will continue to be successful if we work together as a team, leveraging the resources of our many private sector partners and bringing more to the table.  Let’s make it work and do amazing things!

If you or someone you know is interested in being a candidate, please click here. Our private sector team is available 24/7 and ready to work with you.

We understand not all private sector entities have the latitude to dedicate an employee for 90 days. For those who cannot, there are other ways to take action. Let’s all work together to be part of the emergency management team.

- Dan

If you are a member of the private sector, and want more information on how we can partner together, please visit

"Ready"-made content for public officials


The start of 2011 means newly-elected lawmakers, appointed officials and staff are beginning their terms, both in Washington D.C., in our state capitals and communities across the country. These new officials are another important member of our nation’s emergency management team.

A great way elected officials can help their constituents is to make sure individuals and communities have the resources they need to be prepared for the hazards in their communities. Back when newly-elected members of Congress went through orientation in November, we encouraged them to share emergency preparedness tips back home.

At FEMA, we look forward to working with these newly elected and appointed officials. Below are some resources they can use and easily share to encourage emergency preparedness:

  • – Getting prepared is broken down into three simple steps: get a kit, make a plan and be informed.
  • FEMA Widgets – Web tools that can be added to your website that explain how constituents can apply for disaster assistance.
  • FEMA Mobile site – Encourage constituents to bookmark FEMA’s mobile site, packed with preparedness and disaster information. Those eligible for assistance after a disaster strikes can also apply via the mobile site.

- Brent



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