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Helping People & Pets After Isaac: Non-profit partners at work


We often say that FEMA is one part of the team that helps Americans prepare, respond, and recover from disasters.  Over the past few weeks, this has been very evident in the response and recovery to Hurricane Isaac around the Gulf Coast.  In addition to the tireless work of our federal, state, local, and tribal government partners, the support of countless non-profit and voluntary organizations has been vital in providing assistance to survivors of Isaac. 

Below are three stories that demonstrate the work of a few of our non-profit partners: the Humane Society, the Salvation Army, and the American Red Cross.   To learn more about their work and other organizations like them, visit the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters website.

A quick message from our lawyers: We are providing the following examples for your reference. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, companies or applications. The views expressed below do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Humane Society: Pets Weather the Storm of Hurricane Isaac

Posted September 4

Hurricane Isaac hit the Gulf Coast last week–almost seven years to the day that Katrina struck that same area. Isaac’s heavy rains brought severe flooding in inland areas, and high winds and storm surges overtopped some levees, such as in Plaquemines Parish. Many people were forced to evacuate from their homes, and tens of thousands lost power.

pet rescue
Frank Loftus/The HSUS
One of 200 dogs and cats that The HSUS transported.

The HSUS kept a close eye on Hurricane Isaac before it made landfall--encouraging residents to take their pets with them if evacuating, providing information through social media about pet-friendly shelters, evacuation routes, and other animal-related resources, and staying in touch with emergency management officials about the needs of affected communities. 

In the years since Hurricane Katrina, the enactment of a federal pets and disaster bill (the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Safety Act) and public education campaigns by The HSUS and other groups have brought important progress in preparedness and achieved a broad change in consciousness how about pets and the human-animal bond are accounted for in disasters. Last week, a video news report from WWL-TV in Louisiana commented on the changes since Katrina as they showed rescuers saving a man and his four dogs trapped by severe flooding from Isaac. 

When our Animal Rescue Team received a call from Jefferson Parish, La., we deployed to assist animals at risk. We worked with Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter to help care for pets separated from their families as well as stray animals. PetSmart Charities also assisted by donating pet food and supplies. And over Labor Day weekend, our team transported more than 160 homeless pets from the shelter to our Emergency Placement Partners in several states. The Humane Society of Charlotte, N.C., also generously provided its facility as a central location for other placement partners to pick up Isaac animals from our transport. The HSUS is transporting more than 60 additional pets to Maryland where we're providing emergency care for them until they can be adopted.

In Mississippi, we worked with McComb Animal Control officers and local volunteers to rescue more than 20 horses from flood waters that would have soon overtaken the animals, and we joined with the Okaloosa County Disaster Animal Response Team to transport homeless pets from the McComb Animal Shelter to the Montgomery Humane Society in Alabama. Transports like these ease the burden on local shelters affected by disasters and give these animals a better chance of finding loving homes.


Salvation Army: Mobile Kitchens Deployed to New Orleans & Slidell, LA

Posted by Megan, Salvation Army on Monday, September 3, 2012

salvation army feeding kitchen

Thanks to the generosity and prayers of our supporters – such as BP, AmeriCares, local businesses, and donors from across the country – we are continuing to provide shelter, food, hydration, and emotional and spiritual care to residents in the Gulf Coast following Tropical Storm Isaac’s arrival almost one week ago.

Thus far, volunteers and personnel of The Salvation Army have provided almost 35,000 meals and 42,000 drinks via the 25 mobile feeding units and field kitchen serving in the hardest-hit areas of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

feeding truck

Specifically, mobile kitchens and Salvation Army personnel have been deployed to New Orleans and Slidell, LA; Pass Christian and Hancock County, MS among other locations. For a list of canteens and shelters currently open and serving, please visit our Emergency Disaster Services page by clicking here.

Our relief efforts always involve an element of counseling, with the understanding that natural disasters such as this can be emotionally traumatizing to those impacted, specifically to Gulf Coast residents remembering Hurricane Katrina from 2005.

Throughout this last week, The Salvation Army has been providing emotional and spiritual support with 900 individuals receiving care so far.

salvation army employees at feeding station

supplies coming off a truck

volunteers pray

The Salvation Army is prepared to continue serving families and individuals in the recovery process going forward so long as we are needed. Ranging from shelter and food to material requests or clean-up kits, we strive to meet the unique needs of storm survivors through your support. Because each person’s needs are different, monetary donations are the most efficient and effective way to support our disaster relief efforts.


American Red Cross: Thank You

Posted on September 4, 2012 by Erin Ferris, American Red Cross

For the last week, every single time I turned on the evening news I came face-to-face with stories about and images related to Hurricane Isaac.  In the days leading up to the storm’s arrival, coverage focused on weather predictions and evacuation plans.  After Isaac made landfall, coverage transitioned to updates on rainfall totals, wind speeds, and the status of the levy and pump systems.  As soon as the worst of the weather had passed, newscasters spoke of the rescues, as well as the hundreds of thousands without power and the unknown number without shelter, food, clothing, and medicine.

For the last week, every single time I turned on the evening news I came face-to-face with stories about and images of American Red Cross volunteers.  In the days leading up to the storm’s arrival, volunteers were preparing to transport supplies and travel to the Gulf Coast.  After Isaac made landfall, volunteers were setting up and staffing shelters, providing basic necessities to those who had fled their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs.  As soon as the worst of the weather had passed, volunteers were in the field, assessing storm damage and providing water, food, and comfort kits to those who’d stayed behind.

Every single time I turned on the television, American Red Cross volunteers were there, generously giving their time, sharing their skills, and offering what those who just lived through this traumatic event needed most: shelter, water, food, clothing, medicine…and hope.

So today I simply want to say thank you.  To the American Red Cross volunteers who answer the call, and leave behind their own lives – their families, friends, jobs, and homes – for weeks at a time, to lift up fellow human beings in their time of need.

Thank you.

red cross volunteer helps child

red cross feeding truck

inside red cross shelter

red cross comfort kits being distributed

red cross volunteer hugs disaster survivor


Rapidly Moving Critical Supplies to Isaac Survivors: A Team Effort


Atlanta, Ga., Aug. 24, 2012 -- These forklift operators are loading meals onto a truck at the Atlanta Distribution Center to be shipped closer to areas that may be impacted by Tropical Storm Isaac. FEMA moves commodities and equipment before the storm arrives to ensure quick delivery after the storm has passed.

Atlanta, Ga., Aug. 24, 2012 -- These forklift operators are loading meals onto a truck at the Atlanta Distribution Center to be shipped closer to areas that may be impacted by Tropical Storm Isaac. FEMA moves commodities and equipment before the storm arrives to ensure quick delivery after the storm has passed.

As Isaac evolved into a threat to the U.S., FEMA proactively began to deploy initial response resources and teams of people to areas throughout the Gulf region and inland areas that could be potentially impacted by this storm. Local first responders and local and state governments continue to work tirelessly to prevent loss of life and facilitate efforts to quickly restore critical services and facilities. Currently, the entire disaster response team of federal, state, local, and tribal partners, as well as voluntary agencies and the private sector is supporting the process of getting critical emergency supplies to survivors of this disaster.


Hattiesburg, Miss., Aug. 29, 2012 -- FEMA has diesel generators staged at Camp Shelby, Mississippi ready to support any state and local governments that may need them due to impacts from Hurricane Isaac

Hattiesburg, Miss., Aug. 29, 2012 -- FEMA has diesel generators staged at Camp Shelby, Mississippi ready to support any state and local governments that may need them due to impacts from Hurricane Isaac.

FEMA maintains critical commodities on a daily basis – like water, food, blankets, tarps, plastic sheeting, cots and generators - pre-positioned at our distribution centers, strategically located throughout the United States and territories. Before Isaac arrived, FEMA coordinated with U.S. Northern Command to establish Incident Support Bases, which are temporary sites used for positioning resources to be rapidly transferred to state or local points of distribution. These bases were established in Jacksonville, Fla., and Montgomery, Ala., to proactively stage commodities closer to areas potentially affected by Isaac, allowing the federal government to quickly move supplies throughout nearby affected states, should they be needed and requested. 

When a disaster like Hurricane Isaac is imminent, or after the state’s governor has requested a disaster declaration, the state may make a request for federal assistance if it believes its supplies may become exhausted. If the state’s request is approved, emergency supplies begin making their way to our state partners and disaster survivors by going to staging areas closer to the affected area.  From there, the state takes ownership and full possession of the requested emergency supplies and decides how and where they are distributed to survivors.

There are three standard transfer methods to get critical supplies to survivors:

  • Mobile delivery uses vehicles to drive into an affected area and provide commodities. This type of distribution is common in rural areas and where roads are damaged.
  • Direct deliveries means coordinating with a specific location, such as a shelter, feeding site, or hospital for the delivery of specific items and quantities and are usually larger in size and more specific in commodity type than what is delivered through mobile delivery.
  • Points of Distribution are centralized points where supplies are delivered and the public travels to the site to pick up commodities following a disaster or emergency. The decision to activate, operate, and demobilize a point of distribution is at the discretion of the local government.

As we often point out, FEMA is not the team, but rather part of a team that includes the entire federal family, state, local and tribal officials, the faith-based and non-profit communities, the private sector and most importantly the public. As the details above demonstrate, the effectiveness of getting supplies to disaster survivors depends on all members of the team working closely together.  We will continue to work closely with federal, state, local and tribal partners as we continue to assess survivors’ needs in the areas impacted by Isaac.

Vermont after Irene: Preserving storm-impacted fish habitats


Vermont’s recovery from Tropical Storm Irene, which made landfall a little less than a year ago, has provided unique opportunities for federal, state and local partnerships. One example is how FEMA has been collaborating with state, federal and community partners to support damaged fish habitats in Vermont, a state where fishing annually generates at least $63 million. 

Half of the fish were wiped out by Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont, a state where the culture and history of fishing is as important as their economic benefits.

A submerged GoPro high definition camera captures underwater footage of juvenile brook trout in Rochester, Vt. Footage of the fish, a native Vermont species that was impacted by Tropical Storm Irene, is included in a FEMA video about fish habitat recovery in Vermont.

A submerged GoPro high definition camera captures underwater footage of juvenile brook trout in Rochester, Vt. Footage of the fish, a native Vermont species that was impacted by Tropical Storm Irene, is included in a FEMA video about fish habitat recovery in Vermont. Click here to view the video to learn more about this project.

In the town of Rochester, environmental recovery has brought many players to the table. FEMA is working in concert with the White River Partnership, the town of Rochester, Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Passage Program, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The White River Partnership, a South Royalton, Vt.-based non-profit organization, worked with the town of Rochester to secure enhancement funding. Culverts, which clogged and failed during the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene, will be rebuilt stronger and larger to handle more storm debris.

What’s more, the culverts will be enhanced with sand, rocks and other elements to mimic natural, more eco-friendly passages for fish.

Rochester, Vt., July 29, 2012 -- U.S. Forest Service Civil Engineer Brian Austin sits outside a culvert on a tributary running through the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area in Arlington, Vermont. Tropical Storm Irene-damaged culverts in Rochester, Vermont will be similarly reconstructed, using rocks and sand to simulate a natural fish passage.

Above:  U.S. Forest Service Civil Engineer Brian Austin sits outside a culvert on a tributary running through the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area in Arlington, Vermont. Damaged culverts in Rochester, Vermont will be similarly reconstructed, using rocks and sand to simulate a natural fish passage.

As many as three culvert installations may be completed during the 2012 season; the remaining four will likely be completed in 2013.

One creative approach in the process will be to replace a culvert that was damaged in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Rochester with a discarded bridge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recycled from a salvage yard. Reclaiming and repurposing the discarded bridge will cost just $8,500, saving the city and federal governments thousands of dollars.

Rochester, Vt., July 25, 2012 -- White River Partnership Executive Director Mary Russ explains how a bridge she reclaimed from a salvage yard will be recycled to be used as a replacement for a culvert that was impacted by Tropical Storm Irene. The bridge will replace a culvert in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Rochester, Vermont.

White River Partnership Executive Director Mary Russ explains how a bridge reclaimed from a salvage yard will be recycled to be used as a replacement for a culvert that was impacted by Tropical Storm Irene. The bridge will replace a culvert over Nason Brook in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Rochester, Vermont. 

The efforts to preserve fish habitats in Vermont is just one way FEMA works to preserve and protect the environment after a disaster. Visit for more on FEMA’s environmental and historical preservation.

FY 2012 Emergency Food and Shelter Grant Award


The Emergency Food and Shelter Program is a unique grant program FEMA has outside of our traditional preparedness and disaster recovery programs. You may remember that we blogged about this program last year. Each year, Congress provides FEMA with the funding to support voluntary and governmental agencies that provide essential services to help hungry and homeless individuals and families across our nation.

This year, FEMA is awarding more than $120 million, through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program grant, to supplement agencies that provide food, shelter, rent, mortgage and utility assistance programs.  You can find a list of qualifying jurisdictions and their allocation amounts on the National Board’s website.


More about the grant program

These funds are distributed in accordance with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which established the program and called for the creation of an Emergency Food and Shelter Program National Board. FEMA distributes the funds to the National Board through its fiscal agent, United Way Worldwide. Based on this annual award, the National Board qualifies jurisdictions for funding by using a formula that takes into account certain factors such as the current population, unemployment, and poverty levels.

The National Board is comprised of representatives from American Red Cross, Catholic Charities USA, The Jewish Federations of North America, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, The Salvation Army, United Way Worldwide, and FEMA, with FEMA serving as chair.  The National Board has selected United Way Worldwide to serve as its Secretariat and Fiscal Agent.

For more information on grants available through FEMA, visit

August Think Tank: Faith-based and Community Organizations


Disasters can strike at anytime, anywhere, and can have a devastating impact.  Often the first on the scene to reach out to survivors and assist first responders are members of local faith-based and community organizations who are friends and neighbors. 

This will be the theme of this month’s Think Tank held in Bennington, VT.  Hosted by FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino, the Think Tank’s discussion will focus on faith-based organizations’ role in advancing the Whole Community approach in working with Emergency Managers.

Callers from around the nation will be able to discuss a variety of related issues with a panel of subject matter experts, including the following topics:

  • Working with faith-based and community organizations during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
    • A discussion of faith-based and community organizations’ best practices resulting from Hurricane Irene.
  • Creating mutual beneficial partnerships between diverse faith-based, community organizations and emergency managers.
    • A discussion of how emergency managers can develop and maintain partnerships with diverse faith-based and community organizations.
  • Discussing steps emergency managers, faith-based and community organizations can take to enhance existing partnerships.
    • A discussion of how faith-based, community organizations and emergency managers can enhance communication and access to information for long term recovery programs.

There’s still time before the call to submit any ideas you may have or comment on existing ideas regarding issues in emergency management. Visit our online collaboration tool, and share your thoughts under the “Think Tank” topic. It’s that easy.

I hope you can join the conversation over the phone and online. Here are the call-in details:

WHAT: FEMA Think Tank
WHEN: Friday, August 17, 2012; 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. (EDT)
WHERE: Bennington, Vermont
Call In: 888-469-1565 Passcode: Think Tank
Captioning: Individuals who would like to access the captioning for this event may do so by following this link.

After you add this to your calendar, please share with your friends and colleagues.

Please visit the Think Tank Online Forum and share your innovative ideas on how the role of faith-based and community organizations can advance the whole of community approach in emergency management.

Updates from the National Preparedness Symposium


Our National Preparedness Symposium is currently going on and includes stakeholders across all areas and levels of emergency management, discussing how to increase emergency preparedness in a way that builds community resiliency.  We will continually update this blog post throughout the Symposium as we get perspectives from those on the forefront of making their communities and America better prepared for emergencies.

(Posted 10:40 a.m. Eastern, August 9)


richard flores speaks at fema national preparedness symposium

Arlington, Va., Aug. 9, 2012 -- Richard Flores, FEMA's Special Adviser for National Tribal Affairs, provides an overview of emergency management practices in Indian Country as part of the FEMA National Preparednes Symposium.


Mike Pickerel, a planner with the Missouri Emergency Management Agency, discusses two tips for emergency managers when managing donations and volunteers after a disaster: controlling the message and documentation.


(Posted 5:30 p.m. Eastern, August 8)

jon carson speaks at the national preparedness symposium

Arlington, Va., Aug. 8, 2012 -- To wrap up the second day, John Carson, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, spoke about the importance of local communities connecting and building strong relationships.

elizabeth harman speaks at the national preparedness symposium

Arlington, Va., Aug. 8, 2012 -- Elizabeth Harman, Assistant Administrator, FEMA Grants Program Directorate, addresses the FEMA National Preparedness Symposium. Her remarks emphasized the importance of face-to-face meetings between partners and stakeholders in emergency management.


Herman Schaffer, Director of Community Outreach at the New York City Office of Emergency Management, discusses the efforts of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) in New York City reaching out to their entire community.

Major General Darryll Wong, Hawaii Homeland Security Adviser, talks about the successes of planning for and responding to emergencies in geographically separated communities.

(Posted 10:30 a.m. Eastern, August 8)

Lesleyanne Ezelle, FEMA Disability Integration Specialist, demonstrates several of the technologies used in Disaster Recovery Centers to assist people with access and functional needs. 

(Posted 8:45 a.m. Eastern, August 8)

June Kailes, Associate Director for the Center for Disability and Health Policy at Western University of Health, provides an overview of Functional Assistance Service Teams (FAST). These teams use locally available assistive technologies to reach out to those affected by disasters, especially those staying in shelters. More information about FAST at

Updates from Tuesday, August 7

(Posted at 5:40 p.m. Eastern, August 7)

congressional staff take a question at the national preparedness symposium

A panel of Congressional staff members takes a question from a National Preparedness Symposium attendee. Their discussion at 1 p.m. Eastern centered around Department of Homeland Security and FEMA appropriations, as well as their efforts to support building capacity related to emergency preparedness.

(Posted at 2:50 p.m. Eastern, August 7)

paulette aniskoff speaks at the national preparedness symposium

Paulette Aniskoff, Director of the Individual and Community Preparedness Division, led a breakout session on strategy and here's a recap of our tweets during her session. (Click the links below to go directly to each tweet.)

  • Aniskoff: "What motivates people to get prepared and how can we apply it?" #NatlPrep
  • Aniskoff discusses how we get preparedness into the mainstream media including an earned media plan & using multiple channels. #NatlPrep
  • Aniskoff: "Aligning a relevant campaign & localizing the information so folks know the hazards that are most impactful to them." #NatlPrep
  • Successful preparedness campaigns include 1-be affordable 2-unify a message 3-target schools & workplace 4-target social networks #NatlPrep
  • Sept. is Natl Preparedness Month-empower the leaders & help reach more people w/ discussion boards, hub of resources & events. #NatlPrep
  • Aniskoff discusses using IDEA SCALE. Visit  and join the conversation. #NatlPrep
  • FEMA working to align to share information & make decisions about community preparedness together w/ state & local partners. #NatlPrep
  • Demonstration is key to teaching emergency preparedness. Get hands-on training into the hands of community leaders. #NatlPrep

(Posted at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, August 7)

panelists speak at the national preparedness symposium

John Madden, Director, Alaska Division of Homeland Security (L) and Richard Reed, Vice President, Preparedness and Resilience Strategy, American Red Cross (R), participate on a discussion panel about national preparedness.

fema administrator craig fugate speaking

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate gives the keynote speech as he kicks off the Symposium.  In his remarks, Administrator Fugate talked about the need to clearly define what emergency preparedness is, who should be involved, and what the end goal of our preparedness efforts are.  A few themes from his speech:

  • "A jurisdictional approach to preparedness isn't the most effective - disasters don't know borders or boundaries - we need a national level view to build capacity."
  • "Reporting on preparedness is more than saying 'This is what we spent, this is what we bought.  If you can't quantify an outcome that you are changing with your preparedness efforts, you're just adding stuff."

Learn more about the Presidential Policy Directive 8, which sets a strategic, national-level vision for emergency preparedness.

(Posted at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, August 7)

We grabbed Administrator Craig Fugate right after he stepped off the stage at 9:45 a.m. ET:

Tribal Governments and Organizations are asking Congress to Amend the Stafford Act


Last month I re-emphasized my support for amending the Stafford Act to allow federally recognized tribal governments to make a request directly to the President for a federal emergency or major disaster declaration.  I specifically recommended to Congress that they take swift action to pass this legislation.  If Congress passes and the President signs such legislation into law, my office will act promptly in the development of appropriate regulations and policies for implementation.

Today, I note the efforts Tribal leadership and organizations representing more than 300 tribes have made to actively engage with Congress.  At this time, the following tribal organizations have written letters to Congress asking them to consider and pass the legislation that acknowledges the sovereignty of federally recognized tribes, the trust responsibility of the United States, enhances FEMA’s working relationship with tribal governments and improves emergency and disaster responsiveness throughout Indian Country. 

  • Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation
  • Hopland Band of Pomo Indians
  • Inter Tribal Emergency Response Commission
  • Inter Tribal Council of Arizona
  • Inter Tribal Council of Nevada
  • Inter Tribal Long Term Recovery Foundation
  • Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes
  • National Congress for Indian Americans
  • Northwest Tribal Emergency Management Council
  • Pueblo of Acoma
  • Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of The Duck Valley Indians Reservation
  • Snoqualmie Indian Tribe
  • Southern California Tribal Chairmen Association
  • Sovereign Nation of Chitimacha
  • Susanville Indian Rancheria
  • The Navajo Nation
  • Tuolumne Me-Wuk Tribal Council
  • United South and Eastern Tribes

Meanwhile at FEMA, we will continue to reach out to stakeholders, both on and off Capitol Hill.  We will continue with the purpose of educating decision makers on the importance passing this bill has to tribal communities, leaders, our government-to-government relationship and the emergency management team.  More information is available at

Keep coming back to FEMA’s blog and I will keep you posted on the progress we make in these efforts.


Marlene Phillips: How being deployed changed my perception of my job


On July 3, 2012, President Obama declared a major disaster in the state of Florida, making federal disaster assistance available in many counties for those affected by Tropical Storm Debby.  Among the many FEMA staff who deployed to support our state and local partners’ response and recovery efforts was Marlene Phillips. Marlene’s day-to-day job is serving at FEMA headquarters as a Public Affairs Specialist, whose primary responsibility does not include regular deployments to the field.

The account below is from Marlene’s experience working as a Community Relations Specialist in the areas affected by Tropical Storm Debby.  If her story inspires you to help people before, during, or after disasters, I encourage you to visit for ways you can make a difference.  And if you’re interested in becoming a FEMA employee and serving on a similar team, visit

Last month, I volunteered to go to Tallahassee on my first FEMA deployment after Tropical Storm Debby dumped more than 27 inches of rain on Florida leaving a path of destruction.  I left my office cubicle, stepped out of my comfort zone and was instantly reminded of the challenges FEMA faces in a disaster.  It was a hectic, fast-paced, eye-opening and humbling experience. 

I packed some basic preparedness tools for field work such as comfortable clothing, sturdy walking boots, a hat, bug spray, and my blue FEMA shirts that provided instant identity.  But to help people in the disaster, other tools were necessary to accomplish the mission including boatloads of compassion and tons of understanding.  I learned this practice in my lifetime as the Golden Rule: “treating others as you would want to be treated.”  Remember, this could be you standing in your front yard helplessly watching your home fill with flood waters.    

flooded road

Live Oaks, Fla., July 3, 2012 -- Several weeks after Tropical Storm Debby, sections of Rt. 90 outside of Live Oak, Fla., remain closed from flood waters that resulted from the 25 inches of rain in the area. FEMA conducted Preliminary Damage Assessments of the area to help determine if federal disaster assistance can be available to help residents in the area. Marlene Phillips/FEMA

Sound impossible that you could be a disaster survivor?  Not really.  I talked with several FEMA co-workers in Florida and learned that some of them had been disaster victims years ago.  Their own past experiences drive these FEMA employees to passionately help those people whose lives have been changed forever. 

It didn’t take me long to realize that the disaster mission is the heart and soul of FEMA.  I saw houses damaged by a tornado.  There was one bare lot where a house once stood where a young mother had been blown out of her house into the woods.  Tragically, she died clutching her three year-old baby in her arms.  Her love was not in vain as the mother’s embrace saved her baby’s life.  

Reaching out to survivors

As a part of FEMA’s Community Relations teams, I helped to provide information to survivors about federal disaster assistance.  But I learned FEMA Community Relations is certainly more than just handing out flyers door-to-door as if one were advertising the weekly supermarket specials.  Community Relations in Florida was an important mission that had a huge impact on the public. Sometimes, we were the first “boots on the ground” to help in some neighborhoods. 

I heard people say, “Thank God, FEMA is here!”  For some, our presence showed we cared.  Listening to their frustrations and understanding their loss and tears was like throwing them a lifeline; it was a ray of hope to help them turn around their nightmare.  By treating others as I would want to be treated, it wasn’t hard to dig down into my own human nature to reach out to those who were hurting.  It’s the human thing to do.  By mixing a ton of compassion with pounds of concern, our teams showed we cared.  All I had to do was to look directly into the eyes of someone whose life had been turned upside down, and I could feel the impact of our mission. 

Assistance from the federal government won’t make people whole again or completely restore their lives back the way they were before; however, having someone there who cares and can explain any assistance that may be available certainly helps.

It was clear to me.  We have inherited a massive responsibility.  How we approach these storm-weary folks—how we act and what we say while wearing our FEMA shirts has a lasting impact.  It’s how FEMA will be remembered by people in all walks of life.  I experienced this first-hand.  One official thanked a FEMA team who spent three hours with an elderly resident to help them navigate through the disaster registration process.  Whether we talked with hotel employees impacted by the storm or walked through a public parking, FEMA employees were stopped by people with anxious eyes and broken hearts seeking information.

To my FEMA colleagues who normally work supporting the field operations, I challenge you to volunteer to serve on a FEMA disaster response team.  It’s an experience that will change your thinking, it will change your priorities, and it just may change your life.  I know it has changed mine.

FEMA Mitigation Assessment Team Report on Spring 2011 Tornadoes


A little over a year ago, hundreds of tornadoes touched down in the Southeastern and Midwestern portions of the United States between April 25 and April 28, 2011.  On May 22, only a few weeks later, a powerful 0.75-mile-wide tornado cut a 6-mile path through Joplin, MO.  These tornado events resulted in the tragic loss of life, destruction of thousands of homes and billions of dollars in building and infrastructure damage.  FEMA’s Building Science Branch responded by deploying a Mitigation Assessment Team of specialists to assess building damage across a five-state area comprised of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Missouri.

Because every individual loss is a community loss, our primary goal was to assist recovery efforts by distributing timely and applicable guidance for recovery and reconstruction. We assessed the performance of the buildings and various infrastructure affected by the tornadoes, document selected safe room and storm shelter performance in the affected areas, and describe the lessons learned that could reduce future loss of life and damage to buildings and infrastructure from tornado events.  A report with the results of our observations, conclusions and strategic actionable recommendations to help reduce future building damage and loss of life from tornadoes was recently published.

In the first months following the tornadoes, the MAT published eight Recovery Advisories, participated in the Safer Alabama Summit in June 2011, and held numerous public training sessions in affected areas in the summer of 2011 and spring of 2012. The report with the details of the MAT field observations, conclusions, and recommendations is now published and available to be downloaded as FEMA P-908, Mitigation Assessment Team Report – Spring 2011 Tornadoes: April 25-28 and May 22; Building Performance Observations, Recommendations, and Technical Guidance (May 2012). FEMA P-908 was released to the public on May 22, 2012, the one-year anniversary of the tornado event in Joplin.

The report was developed and reviewed by a team of over 200 design and construction experts from various industry groups, academic institutions, nonprofit associations, government agencies, and small and large businesses. FEMA P-908 presents the MAT’s observations, 47 conclusions, and 49 actionable recommendations directed at strategically improving public safety and building performance during tornado events through defining research needs, proposing national code and standard changes, and providing  local governments, individuals, design professionals, building owners and key federal agencies with actions they can take. FEMA P-908 also describes in detail the historic storms and building codes in the affected areas and includes an appendix with prescriptive guidance for enhanced construction techniques to improve the performance of wood-frame residential structures when impacted by tornadoes rated EF2 or less.

The MAT’s recommendations addressed a range of building and life-safety issues. Several of the recommendations are already being implemented: 

  • FEMA submitted a proposal in January 2012 to the International Code Council for the 2015 update of the International Building Code to require that a safe room or storm shelter be included when new schools and critical facilities meeting certain criteria are built; this proposal passed in the April 2012 committee hearings. 
  • A change to the risk category and addition of extensive commentary on tornado loads is being planned for submission to the American Society of Civil Engineer’s Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures (ASCE 7).
  • This publication combined with FEMA's technical guidance for the construction of Individual and Community Safe Rooms, provides individual residents, community planners and emergency managers with the information necessary to get started on projects and plans that will better prepare them for next year.
  • FEMA is planning additional outreach activities to highlight the MAT’s observations, conclusions, recommendations, and reporting efforts.


What MAT means for the future

The MAT serves several purposes for future disasters and future mitigation activities. Future disasters with similar impacts will have the published MAT Reports and Recovery Advisories available to them immediately as an expert source of how buildings fail or resist extreme winds. As soon as the recovery starts, organizations involved in the recovery could use this existing pool of standards, best practices, and guidance to build back safer, stronger and more resilient.

The MATs work also helps FEMA continually validate the design and construction guidance it produces for the public, the success of FEMA funded Mitigation projects and the documentation needed to strengthen and update the voluntary, private sector, consensus building codes and standards in this county that the public relies on.

Visit for more information on the FEMA Building Science Branch.

Building Resilience through Public Private Partnerships


On July 23 and 24, U.S. Northern Command hosted the 2012 Building Resilience through Public Private Partnerships Conference.  More than 300 attendees participated in a variety of topics to include defense, international, youth preparedness, faith-based, as well as access and functional needs as they relate to the private sector.  And the audience was as diverse as the content.  Attendees include 156 from the public sector and 145 from the private sector (81 for-profit companies, 48 non-profit and 16 academia).  U.S. Northern Command should be commended for the outstanding agenda and collaboration.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino addresses attendees at the Private-Public Partnership Conference.

Deputy Administrator Rich Serino opened the conference with praise for how far public-private partnerships have come, and called for even stronger coordination into the future.  In just these two days, we saw this partnership grow.  Our latest FEMA Think Tank, led by the Deputy Administrator, took place as part of the conference.  Check out the great discussion we had.

Throughout the conference, we were able to hear from seasoned professionals on lessons learned and best practices.  We met newcomers to the public-private partnership arena who were eager to learn and offer fresh perspectives.  And we heard stories.  We heard from a young teenager who when faced with the loss of a close friend in a car accident found strength from lessons she learned in preparedness training.  We were inspired by a Colorado family who lost their home in the recent wildfires. Having recovered a family heirloom, they shared how “beauty can come from ashes.”  And we heard from a panelist who challenged us with the oft quoted advice attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

I was inspired to see the courage and resilience of the speakers and attendees.  I was inspired by the many private sector leadership who helped guide us in the right direction.  And yes, I was inspired by U.S. Northern Command and their team, who are always humble and reliable in their role in support of FEMA, state, tribal and local governments. But on these two days, their leadership was clear and all of us benefited.

At every step of emergency management, from preparedness and mitigation, to response and recovery, we do our best when we work together as a team. Today our team is stronger than ever. Through public-private partnerships, we can build resilience and be that change we want to see in the world.


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