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Changing laws for the better - recognizing tribal sovereignty

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On January 29, President Obama signed the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013. In addition to providing assistance to individuals, families, and communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy, the act also included a very important amendment that impacts tribal governments.

Here are the basics: the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act provides a legislative change to amend the Stafford Act (which is an act that outlines how the federal government provides assistance to communities impacted by disasters).  This amendment will provide federally recognized tribal governments the option to choose whether to make a request directly to the President for an emergency or major disaster declaration, or to receive assistance, as they do presently, through a declaration for a State.

What does that mean for emergency management, and why is it important for our nation?  Here are the key things to know:

  • The Stafford Act now clearly reflects federally recognized tribal governments’ status as sovereign nations, giving them the same status as states when requesting federal disaster assistance. Prior to being amended, the Stafford Act mandated requests for an emergency or major disaster declaration by the President could only be made by the Governor of the affected state. As a result, federally recognized tribes were statutorily excluded from making a direct request for a Presidential declaration and were required to make a request through the state(s) in which they were geographically located. 

    The change to the Stafford Act is particularly important because some states could not readily work with federally recognized tribes under their state constitutions and laws.  This could create obstacles in the emergency response and recovery process.  Here’s a quick example.  To receive federal disaster assistance, the Governor must activate the state’s emergency plan and demonstrate that state and local capabilities in the affected areas are insufficient.  Depending on the tribe’s status and applicable state law, the Governor may not have independent authority to take such actions with respect to tribal lands.

    Now, federally recognized tribes have the same status as states, removing legal barriers from developing stronger relationships with the federal government, while allowing tribes to directly request federal assistance.
  • The Stafford Act now allows consideration of all of a tribe’s affected land.   Disasters don’t respect borders – their effects can stretch across multiple counties and states, and the impacts can vary widely from community to community.  Prior to the amendment of the Stafford Act, the federal and state governments made it hard to meet the needs of impacted tribes, especially when tribal nations cross over one or more state lines.  Before the Stafford Act amendment, an affected tribal government would have to submit a request to the governor of each state within which the tribe’s lands are located to request an emergency or major disaster declaration.

    For example, both North Dakota and South Dakota experienced flooding during the spring of 2009.  This flooding affected lands under the civil-regulatory authority of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but within the political boundaries of both North Dakota and South Dakota.  North Dakota received a declaration for both the state and for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal lands immediately after the incident, while South Dakota’s major disaster declaration came several months later because the statewide impact differed there.  This put FEMA in the untenable position of only providing assistance to one portion of the affected Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lands, though the incident affected all of the tribe’s lands in both North and South Dakota.

    Now, tribal governments have the option to choose whether to directly request federal disaster assistance for the impacts within their own borders, not the borders of their surrounding states.

I applaud the hard work and tireless support of the Administration, tribes and the organizations representing more than 300 tribes nationwide for this important amendment to the Stafford Act.  Effective emergency management requires a team – and I am proud we have taken an important step in recognizing the vital importance that tribal nations play as part of that team.

For more information on the work being done with our tribal partners and Indian Country, visit www.fema.gov/tribal.

Supporting our partners for 2013 Inauguration

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As you might guess, it takes a high level of coordination and skill to pull off an event where hundreds of thousands of people converge on a small area to watch many of the nation’s political leaders.  Yesterday during President Obama’s public Inauguration ceremony, I jotted down some thoughts about FEMA’s role supporting our emergency management partners:

The President’s Inauguration is on the televisions at the front and along the sides of the room as 25 government employees watch attentively and monitor the situation. We’re here in the FEMA Region III Regional Response Coordination Center (RRCC) in Philadelphia, PA supporting the Inauguration and the surrounding events. The RRCC is where we monitor situations, work with our partners, and coordinate our response efforts.

 Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2013 -- FEMA staff monitor the Presidential Inauguration in the Regional Response Coordination Center.

There were employees here from several government agencies to support the Inauguration.

 Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2013 -- FEMA staff monitor the Presidential Inauguration in the Regional Response Coordination Center.

Staff members have been communicating with their federal and state partners and other FEMA employees throughout the day so they know what’s happening in DC and if there are any unmet needs.  They’re talking to coworkers who are in the Washington, DC Emergency Operations Center, with the Secret Service, and with the FBI.  They’ve spent months planning for this, for any scenario that could pop up, whether it includes consequence management, food, water, transportation, security or a myriad of other factors and scenarios. Team members include logisticians, planners, response, finance, media monitors and more. Because we train and plan together, serving together is easier.

Now that the preparations have all been made, everyone is able to pay attention to the televisions and listen in as the President is inaugurated and begins his address.  One thing that seems to really hit home for everyone here is the President’s quote, “Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune.”

It’s a statement that resonates throughout this room because that, too, is why we’re all here; to care for the vulnerable and protect the population from life’s worst hazards. A lot of people here have only recently returned home, many were deployed to help respond to Hurricane Sandy. These are staff members that have just returned from assisting the people of the affected states.

 Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2013 -- FEMA staff monitor the Presidential Inauguration in the Regional Response Coordination Center.

Upon hearing the President’s statement, we’re reminded that the sacrifices we make, the long hours we work, and the time away from home is worth it; we are here for the disaster survivors, not for ourselves, and we do it together. We have so many of our partners working with us today:  federal agencies, state and local emergency management agencies, and all of our citizens.  We truly are working to protect our citizens together.

Lessons from Sandy: A Word on Innovation

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When people think of innovation, they usually think that it is something for the tech or design world—they don’t associate it with government or bureaucracy.  But, FEMA sees the role of innovation differently.  We recognize the value of innovation—that through innovation we can develop new and creative solutions—and deliver these solutions to those that need them the most- survivors.    We have been working on a number of fronts to incorporate innovation into our program and process.  And during our ongoing response and recovery efforts in Hurricane Sandy, we have been taking our approach to innovation one step further.

Soon after Sandy made landfall, FEMA deployed an Innovation Team-- a multi-sector, cross functional group made up of people in government, non-profit and international organizations, volunteer groups, businesses, and concerned citizens: the whole community.  At the most basic level, this team is all about creatively solving problems by receiving individual input from a diverse spectrum of stakeholders. They are about obtaining a perspective that is broader than just one sector, yet are agile and nimble enough to be a catalyst for real, impactful change to real world challenges.   The team collides networks of people together and leverages the amazing resourcefulness of the many organizations that have an interest in serving individuals and communities impacted by disasters.

The Innovation Team is by no means FEMA’s first experience with innovation.  We innovate on a regular basis, throughout our programs by valuing a forward leaning survivor centric approach to problem solving.  However, it is the first time that an entire team was dedicated to developing solutions to real time problems.

In order to identify the real time challenges, the team co-located alongside FEMA employees in one of our disaster field offices in New York City.  In doing so, they were able to work within FEMA and outside FEMA to identify challenges and fill gaps where necessary.  There, they could tap into their networks, be a “fresh set of eyes”, and question underlying assumptions.  The team is able to accomplish innovation in a number of ways: First and foremost, through always keeping the disaster survivor in mind when working towards and delivering solutions.  Second, is by looking for ways to connect government with external groups. And third, is making time to talk regularly and brainstorming without restraint.

Providing internet connectivity in Red Hook

Hurricane Sandy affected hundreds of thousands of people in varying degrees- from leaving them with no electricity or running water, to damaging or even destroying their homes, to causing injuries.  And with all of this devastation, there are many forms of assistance potentially available to help.  It is our job to make sure that everyone affected by the storm knows about what assistance is available and how they can apply for that assistance.  One way that we provide that information and assistance to survivors is by setting up disaster recovery centers in impacted locations—places where disaster survivors can talk face-to-face with staff from the state and FEMA about what assistance options are available.  Soon after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, FEMA needed to set up over 40 of these disaster recovery centers in New York alone.

As is often the case, these disaster recovery centers are set up in neighborhoods hit hard by a disaster – and in Red Hook, New York, this was no exception.  After the Innovation Team arrived at the center in Red Hook and spoke with the staff and disaster survivors, they realized there was a great need for internet connectivity.  There were “hard lines” set up and a very weak Wi-Fi network—but this not enough.  In this world of smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers—only having the options to sit at a hard lined computer is not going to fit the bill.

So the Innovation team sprang into action – they tapped into their network and linked up with IT volunteer organizations and highly skilled community volunteers.  Within two days, not only had the Wi-Fi network area doubled, but it had also become accessible in a popular neighborhood courtyard and several of the surrounding buildings, providing hundreds of residents the ability to use the internet-- access information, check in with family and friends, and apply for disaster assistance online. 

But we didn’t just make people come to us in Red Hook. We sent the internet to them.  Teams from our Community Relations group were already going door-to-door in damaged neighborhoods, ensuring that word got out about the assistance that was available.  We gave these teams iPads with internet connectivity—internet connectivity that came from a new satellite link up that the Innovation Team established.  As a result, the internet was traveling door-to-door in neighborhoods throughout the city, allowing survivors to register for assistance from their own homes that were still without power, and allowing our teams to stay better informed of the changing needs on the ground. 

This example of the Innovation Team’s work in Red Hook is just one story, one way we are trying to assist disaster survivors through the approach of connecting government with businesses and non-profit organizations.  Why are we doing this?  Because no one group has all the answers and FEMA is just one part of a large team.  Government agencies need to tap into the vast amounts of knowledge and expertise that thrive outside our walls.  And the same holds true for companies and volunteer-led groups. Government can be an invaluable partner; we have resources, networks, and experience that can contribute to solutions.  The innovation team is one way for us to continue to partner with the whole community.

What we’ve learned so far

  • The most valuable innovations often produce both tangible and intangible benefits:

While the Innovation Team was at Miller Park in Staten Island, NY they realized that there weren’t enough generators to provide service to the tents set up to provide assistance to disaster survivors.  The dropping temperatures created a challenge in keeping the area heated.  To solve this problem- the innovation team worked with local officials to move a spare generator onto the hitch of a FEMA truck and bring it to the site.  With the additional generator, both tents warmed up and the survivors were served that evening in comfort and security.

             New York, N.Y., Nov. 17, 2012 -- FEMA Innovation Team assists with connectivity enhancements at FEMA Disaster Recovery Center.

            New York, N.Y., Nov. 15, 2012 -- Innovation Team meets with partners to assist in Hurricane Sandy recovery.

            New York, N.Y., Nov. 12, 2012 -- Members of the Innovation team meet with partners to assist Hurricane Sandy operations.

Much of the way the Innovation Team adds value is through localized solutions like these– where they look at a situation objectively, identify a problem, suggest a solution, and contribute to its success.  In this case, the team worked across organizational boundaries for electrical power, light, tents, communications, transportation, and different levels of government.  Ultimately, their work helped keep disaster survivors warm – people who were already under a great deal of stress.

  • Innovations that come with cost savings can be doubly sweet.

Setting up a disaster recovery center or an office in the field requires a basic level of telecommunications. At the very least, the site should have telephone, power, and, ideally, internet.  This can be a tall order in areas with little to no infrastructure remaining after an emergency.  In some cases, FEMA will bring vehicles or equipment, such as a Mobile Communications Operations Vehicle or MCOV, to establish the basic level of communications needed to provide assistance.

             Milford, Conn., Nov. 8, 2012 -- A Nor'easter dumped a foot of snow in the hard-hit town of Milford. A Mobile Communications Office Vehicle (MCOV ) is supporting a Disaster Recovery Center operation in this hard-hit coastal town

These vehicles help FEMA and our partners operate in areas with telecommunications in areas we otherwise may not be able to, which is a great thing.  But these vehicles are a scarce resource, and after an event like Hurricane Sandy, they are in high demand in many locations that need help to get up and running.  And one of these locations was the Rockaways. 

As FEMA staff and the Innovation Team worked to set up a disaster recovery center in a Rockaways neighborhood, they needed an MCOV in the area to support the limited telecommunications infrastructure.  However, instead of increasing demand on the limited supply—they developed an alternate solution.  The team, through a combination of government, industry, academia and volunteer sources, set up equipment and services to create a communication network capable of supporting FEMA’s mission.  Ultimately, they used an existing internet connection to enhance connectivity, allowing an MCOV to be used elsewhere.

The model of connecting government with outside networks has been around for a long time, but FEMA is putting a new spin on it through the Innovation Team.  The work done before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy has inspired several new partnerships.  FEMA is now assessing the lessons from Hurricane Sandy and evaluating new potential projects.

These past success stories and ongoing projects will only continue to be successful if we take the lessons learned from the Innovation Team and Hurricane Sandy and continue to focus on delivering solutions to disaster survivors.  We need to keep collaborating—bringing groups together, challenging our commonly held perceptions, and relentlessly pursuing solutions that can offer a much needed ray of hope to those in need.

FEMA will continue this conversation during our next FEMA Think Tank Conference Call being held at the White House on February 6, 2013.  This call is open to the public – it is a forum to bring the whole community into this conversation about incorporating innovation into emergency management.  To learn more about the FEMA Think Tank and get information on the call, please visit www.fema.gov/thinktank.

Saving $1 Million on the Waterfront

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Brian Robbins grandfather, Harry, started making paper bags with a folding machine in his garage in 1935. As a child, Robbins’ father would ride his bicycle to hand out flyers to promote business. In 1940, Harry had the good fortune to meet a wooden pail maker – someone who made wooden shipping crates – who introduced him to corrugated boxes.

Many years later, the family operation went on to become Cornell Paper & Box Company, a $14 million-a-year business located on Brooklyn’s historic waterfront in Red Hook. Even on a cloudy day, one can see the Statue of Liberty in the distance, raising her torch in the mist.

The company no longer manufactures paper products, but buys and distributes corrugated boxes throughout the U.S. Brian has been running the business for the last 15 years with his father and for much of that time has watched nervously as the water, which in some areas is about 15 feet from his 150-year-old brick warehouse, eroded the shoreline. In early 2000, the pier outside the warehouse finally collapsed.

Brian said he knew it was a matter of time before the erosion would make the building vulnerable to a huge storm, like a Nor’easter. He was concerned that one of the walls would easily be knocked right out with the force of a surge.

When Hurricane Sandy inundated Red Hook with floodwaters in October, Robbin’s warehouse took a huge hit – but not as bad as it might have been had he not initiated a major mitigation project. Four years earlier, trucking in 1,500 cubic yards of armored stone, Robbins spent half a million dollars to build riprap, an embankment of large stones to prevent erosion, and a retaining wall to protect his property. Even though the low-lying land was covered in about five feet of water after Sandy, flooding the warehouse, Robbins says things would have been a lot worse. He had no doubt the outer wall would have been knocked out had he not prevented the erosion from continuing.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a bulk head wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a bulk head wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a stone wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a stone wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Robbins started the project in early 2008 and finished by September of 2010. Robbins joked that he had to get approvals from every government agency in existence. In the middle of it, the financial markets crashed and he spoke with his father about whether it was the best time to go forward. But he decided it HAD to be done or he’d be in worse shape, if a major storm hit. 

Even with the mitigation effort, one wall of the warehouse sustained a huge crack that will cost about $270,000 to repair. Cleanup will run another $400,000. In addition, the flooding inundated about $900,000 worth of soggy boxes. His flood insurance will cover $500,000 to repair the building and another $500,000 for damaged inventory. (Flood insurance coverage for business is different than coverage for individual homeowners, which tops out at $250,000 for structures and $100,000 for contents).


Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Workers at local Red Hook business Cornell Paper and Box Company, continue cleanup of boxes inside the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Workers at local Red Hook business Cornell Paper and Box Company, continue cleanup of boxes inside the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Local Red Hook business, Cornell Paper and Box Company, continues cleanup of boxes at the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Local Red Hook business, Cornell Paper and Box Company, continues cleanup of boxes at the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

To make up the difference, he will have to take out a half a million dollar low-interest disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (which also provides low-interest loans to homeowners to repair disaster damage). It will take a few months for Cornell to be able to house the paper inventory needed to bring business back to the way it was. In the meantime, Robbins is trying to make up the loss by renting out emptied areas of his warehouse for storage space, (one client is storing his motorcycles where stacks of cardboard usually sit). 

Even so, Robbins estimates that if he had not taken the mitigation measures, it would have cost him another million dollars out of pocket. Now the plan is to bring in another 400 tons of armored stone to replace what Sandy took away.

Robbins says that after making the repairs he’ll be even better protected for another storm. And save another million dollars – or more.

After a presidentially declared disaster, FEMA provides funding to the state for mitigation grants. For more information on applying for one, here is a link to HMGP FAQs.

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.

This Thanksgiving, a Time of Reflection

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This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the partnership of everyone who makes up the emergency management team – individuals and communities, organizations and companies, and all levels of government – because no one can do it alone when it comes to planning for a disaster, responding to one, or recovering after one.  This year we have definitely had our work cut out for us – from wildfires, to the derecho, to Hurricane Isaac, and Hurricane Sandy, we’ve tackled each disaster by working together as a team.

As a result of Hurricane Sandy, this Thanksgiving may be different for many compared to years past.  Survivors of Sandy who are going through the recovery process, like all survivors of disasters, will feel stress and uncertainty.  But there is one thing I am certain of, and that is that we as a nation will always support those in need.  We’ve weathered storms in the past, and the Whole Community effort endures.  I’m confident that the communities impacted by Sandy will be strong and enduring in the end.

To the many emergency management partners assisting the survivors: you find yourselves away from home because duty calls, so know that I’m thankful for your service and sacrifice and I’m humbled by your actions, as this is the ultimate example of neighbors helping neighbors.

As we always do at this time of the year, but especially after this year, I ask everyone to take a moment to reflect on their blessings and what they’re thankful for this year, and on behalf of everyone at FEMA, I wish you a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving.

Honoring Our Veterans

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Today, our Nation pays tribute to the millions of military veterans who have served the United States as members of our Armed Forces.  We honor the courage, sacrifice, and dedication you exhibited in protecting our country.

To veterans here at FEMA, although many of you are no longer wearing a military uniform, you have elected to continue to serve your country by joining the FEMA team – and we thank you for bringing your skills, talents, and experiences to contribute to the success of our mission year round, and especially during our current response to Hurricane Sandy. 

And as part of that response, veterans from across DHS have also played an integral role as part of our larger FEMA team, making up the DHS Surge Capacity Force, who have been trained and deployed to New York and New Jersey serving in community relations and individual assistance roles.

I also want to thank all veterans and the many members of the FEMA family who continue to serve in the National Guard and Reserves and salute the many active duty service members and veterans in our partner agencies in federal, state, local and tribal organizations that share our emergency management goals.

On this day, please join me in thanking our veterans for all that they have done — and all they continue to do — to protect our country and to help keep America safe.

Posted on Sun, 11/11/2012 - 18:49

New York Stories in the Wake of Sandy

Editor's note: This was originally posted on the U.S. Dept. of Labor Blog.

No television image or news report can prepare you for this.

Families without power—unable to shower or wash their clothes for days—huddled together in churches serving as “warming centers” to provide refuge from the stinging cold outside…

Secretary Solis toured a hard hit area of Queens where flood waters and sand took their toll on the neighborhood.

Secretary Solis toured a hard hit area of Queens where flood waters and sand took their toll on the neighborhood.

Mounds of displaced sand plowed two stories high in residential neighborhoods, so homeowners could finally get through their front door to survey the damage inside…

Mothers with shopping baskets, and dads holding plastic bags, sifting through donation boxes at makeshift relief centers to find food and clothing to keep their children nourished and warm….

Wine sellers, florists, glass etchers, caterers, printers and other merchants surveying the wreckage of their small businesses, navigating knee-high dirty water to strip off drywall before dangerous mold forms, spreads and creates a health risk….

I spent yesterday in Brooklyn and Queens because the federal government has a responsibility here. It’s not enough to just send our thoughts and prayers.

Secretary Solis chats with a small child while his family collects needed food and clothing supplies.

Secretary Solis chats with a small child while his family collects needed food and clothing supplies.

President Obama told every member of his cabinet to work quickly to deliver critical aid wherever it’s needed. That’s why I exercised my discretion and approved $27.8 million under our National Emergency Grant program to fund 1,400 temporary jobs for New Yorkers to assist with clean-up efforts in the five boroughs. We cut the red tape and approved the funding less than 24 hours after it was requested.

I also approved $15.6 million for cleanup crews in New Jersey and $1.5 million for Rhode Island. As additional requests for assistance come in to the Department of Labor, they will be handled immediately. We also are providing emergency disaster unemployment insurance to affected workers who may not normally qualify, such as part-time and new workers.

During a visit at the Queens Workforce 1 Career Center (One Stop), Secretary Solis met with community leaders and Congressman Gregory W. Meeks to discuss grants to hire workers for clean up efforts.

During a visit at the Queens Workforce 1 Career Center (One Stop), Secretary Solis met with community leaders and Congressman Gregory W. Meeks to discuss grants to hire workers for clean up efforts.

There has been enough suffering, so we’re communicating the safety precautions for clean-up workers to take as they rebuild. They should assume all power lines are live, and act with appropriate caution. And they should wear hard hats, shoes and reflective vests, and follow proper safety procedures when using ladders, cutting down trees and working near other hazards. The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials are on the ground in all of the affected areas, providing training and educational materials so crews stay safe as they restore electricity, demolish structures, clear debris and repair infrastructure.

Even in the face of so much adversity, I also saw many scenes yesterday that left me inspired. I saw that rough-and-tumble New Yorker stereotype give way to countless demonstrations of kindness and sacrifice. I saw people more concerned about their neighbors than themselves.  They were standing elbow to elbow in food lines. They knew there was a finite amount of food, but they waited patiently. No one pushed or jostled. In fact, I saw people at the front of the line passing sandwiches back to the people behind them.

Make the Road New York, one of the groups visited by Secretary Solis has been collecting and distributing donations.

Make the Road New York, one of the groups visited by Secretary Solis has been collecting and distributing donations.

As always, the faith community sprang into action: At Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Brooklyn, a priest who looked like he hadn’t slept in days delivered comfort to people of every race, religion and background. “I’m going to pray for your strength,” I heard him say. St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Queens welcomed Jewish congregants so they could hold Sabbath services Friday night after their temple had been damaged in the storm.

I saw FEMA crews working side by side with state and local officials. Instead of turf wars or acrimony, there was a clear sense of shared purpose. I saw businesses like Lowe’s on sight with hundreds of buckets to help with debris removal. Relief workers brought canned goods. Local grocers supplied fresh fruit and sandwiches. As I was leaving, I saw the Army Corps of Engineers bringing in generators to provide power and warmth.

I will never forget the people I met or the unlikely scenes of hope that transpired in the midst of so much hardship and loss.  Long after the camera crews are gone, the rebuilding will continue. This government—and this department—will be there until the work is complete. In times like this, we are one.

Seeing teamwork before Hurricane Sandy

Washington, D.C., June 27, 2012 -- Flat Stanley and Flat Stella tour the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. FEMA Photo

A lot of activity has been happening around FEMA lately as we get ready for Hurricane Sandy to come into land.  Today, we visited a very busy place called the National Response Coordination Center, or NRCC, where lots of people come together to work on helping those who may get rain, wind, or lose power from Hurricane Sandy.

The workers get help to states and people that may be affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Right now, everyone is focused on getting prepared before the storm may hit.  Here is a picture from inside the big room showing all the workers.

Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2012 -- FEMA's National Response Coordination Center is activated in preparation for Hurricane Sandy's landfall.

During times of emergency, people from FEMA and many other government agencies work in the NRCC to make sure people and supplies are being used in the best way.  These people work on many different things, but they all come together as a team to ensure everything is covered. They help set up safe places for people to go during and after a storm and make sure things like water & food are moved into the right areas so people can get them after an emergency.  Some of the voluntary organizations we’re working with are the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army USA, the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  These organizations and many more are working together to make sure everyone is prepared for Hurricane Sandy.

This shows some of the agencies that work with FEMA in the NRCC – We are standing next to a few of their “seals” or symbols:

Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2012 -- FEMA Flat Stanley and Flat Stella visited FEMA's National Response Coordination Center and learned about the teamwork that happens there.

And we even got to sit in the NRCC for a few minutes and wear the same vests worn by the people who work there.  The vests help to show who everyone is and what they’re working on!

Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2012 -- FEMA Flat Stanley and Flat Stella visited FEMA's National Response Coordination Center and learned about the teamwork that happens there during times of emergency.

Finally, workers in the NRCC told us the simple things people can do now to get prepared for Hurricane Sandy. They can be sure to have an emergency kit with a flashlight, batteries, food, water, and more!  Here’s a picture with us and an emergency kit – ask your parents if your family has one!

Washington, D.C., Aug. 24, 2012 -- FEMA Flat Stanley and Flat Stella learn about items to go into a family emergency kit.

We had fun learning about the teamwork that happens in the NRCC and we hope everyone who may be affected by Hurricane Sandy is getting prepared like we are!

“Go One Step Further” and the Great ShakeOut

Author: 

Editor's Note: The views expressed by Bob Boyd 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.

Agility, while obviously an organization focused on disaster preparedness and recovery, is also a collection of individuals who share a common desire to help.

We earn a living providing critical post disaster assistance to our members across the continent, but in addition, our leadership has answered a calling to offer assistance to people and organizations who are working to increase their own resilience through whatever means possible.  The Great Southeastern ShakeOut is an event we have adopted as not only a reason to practice a critical emergency plan, but we also hope to use this event as a reminder to “go one step further.”  Practicing the “Drop, Cover & Hold On” action is the first step, but then what happens after?  Surely communications, safe evacuation and treating the injured are all immediate concerns following an emergency like this.

Agility and the Small Business Administration have partnered to provide a free Earthquake Preparedness Checklist, available at www.PrepareMyBusiness.org.  We encourage everyone to take some of the steps on this checklist and practice them as part of the ShakeOut event.  For example,

  • Updating phone lists and contact information for employees,
  • Testing an alert notification system,
  • Restocking supplies in the office first aid kit, and
  • Checking the status of fire extinguishers and ensuring employees know where they are located.

How Agility is “Shaking Out”

Agility sent emails to its customers in the Southeast inviting them to register for the Southeast ShakeOut, and offered the Earthquake Preparedness Checklists as a useful way to “go one step further.”

Additionally, Agility’s own offices and staff will be participating at 10:18 a.m., Oct. 18 by practicing the “Drop, Cover, Hold On” action, followed by a building evacuation drill.  Afterwards, Agility leadership will test our alert notification system and provide instructions to employees and stakeholders for what to do after the event.  Prior to the Oct. 18 event, our HR department will perform a full evaluation of the accuracy of critical contact information on file for employees.  They will send emails to all employees reminding them to involve their own families in the drill by reviewing family plans at home and checking emergency kit supplies or building a kit.

The ShakeOut events provide an excellent opportunity to build a culture of preparedness within any group or organization.  It only takes a few minutes to register and participate in the ShakeOut.  But we encourage everyone to take it one step further and incorporate other steps into your drill that can enhance your preparedness.

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