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From Coding to Tangible Results: FEMA’s First Open Data Town Hall

Mockups of a Disaster Assistance Assessment Dashboard are shared with participants at FEMA's first-ever Data Town Hall. Developers at Appalicious created the dashboard to utilize publicly available data sets, including some of FEMA's open data.Mockups of a Disaster Assistance Assessment Dashboard are shared with participants at FEMA's first-ever Data Town Hall. Developers at Appalicious created the dashboard to utilize publicly available data sets, including some of FEMA's open data.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a few “hackathons” and “data jams”, both inside and outside of the government space.  These events often have a simple premise: bring together tech experts from different disciplines and organizations so they can create cool, useful solutions or products.  The challenge at these gatherings isn’t coming up with great ideas – the tough task is transforming big ideas into tangible to-do lists and, ultimately, a useful product. 

The approach to FEMA’s first-ever Data Town Hall was refreshing because our OpenFEMA team harked just as much about project management and results as they did about getting creative when using FEMA’s data. The attendees were asked to break into five challenge tracks: GIS, Disaster Assistance Assessment Dashboard, Accessibility, API and Fire Viz; each with a specific project and private sector team lead.  Then experts from the tech sector, government, and non-profits worked to “move the ball forward”. 

The projects were all at different stages of development – some were new ideas gathering requirements, others built upon progress from the White House Safety Datapalooza, last year’s National Civic Day of Hacking, or individual effort by emergency management stakeholders.

One of the challenge tracks at FEMA’s Data Town Hall was for an Interactive Application Programming Interface (API) Explorer.  The explorer would help developers explore FEMA’s API to make the agency’s data easier to use in third party applications or platforms. As you can see, each challenge track had to identify its phase of development, purpose, current state, and what the end result could look like.One of the challenge tracks at FEMA’s Data Town Hall was for an Interactive Application Programming Interface (API) Explorer. The explorer would help developers explore FEMA’s API to make the agency’s data easier to use in third party applications or platforms. As you can see, each challenge track had to identify its phase of development, purpose, current state, and what the end result could look like.

The common thread across all the challenge tracks was a passion for using government data to make the world a better place.  After the event, I asked several attendees about the next steps for their projects and how they plan to use FEMA’s data.  Their responses (below) show the value of bringing a variety of stakeholders together to identify and solve common problems.

Respondents

  • Jon Nystrom – ESRI (Geographic Information System Company)
  • Noah Reiter – Rave Mobile
  • Brian Purchia & Yo Yoshida  – Appallicious
  • Marcus Louie – Socrata

Question: Why did you choose to attend?

Jon, ESRI: I attended the event to learn more about the direction that FEMA is moving with their Open Data initiative.  Having access to data gives a level of government accountability and allows everyone to participate in the mission of saving lives during a large catastrophic event. 

Noah, Rave Mobile: My original reason for attending was to represent the International Association of Emergency Management (IAEM), as a member of its Emerging Technologies Caucus. However, once I learned more about the event, I was equally interested to learn more about FEMA’s OpenGov initiative, particularly as it relates to accessibility.

Marcus, Socrata: I decided to attend because I loved the work done during last year’s National Day of Civic Hacking, and I wanted to continue this great work.  Last June, a fire exploration application was created in less than 24 hours using a sample of the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) data that FEMA released for the event.

Brian & Yo, Appallicious: My reasons for attending we’re a bit more personal. San Francisco is my home and unfortunately it has seen its share of disasters. I really wanted to find a way to help the city I love and others prepare for and recover after a disaster.

I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s Office of Civic Innovation and the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) on a number of open data and resiliency projects. I have learned so much from SFDPH about community resilience efforts I was hopeful that I could be helpful to FEMA’s efforts.

Question: Why are you passionate about this work?

Noah, Rave Mobile: All of us are committed to the development of solutions that enhance individual and group safety and security by connecting the public with public safety and emergency management solutions. The discussions around accessibility relate directly to several of our solutions, which provide timely information to 9-1-1, first responders and emergency managers.

Brian & Yo, Appallicious: I’ve always loved technology and public service. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to help make government more accessible to citizens, but I did not know how I could make a difference.

As open data efforts began to heat up with the federal government’s launch of Data.gov and San Francisco’s open data efforts, DataSF.org, a light bulb went off. I began to start thinking about opportunities to transform the way people interact with government. Data.gov, DataSF.org and other open data efforts are making government information easily accessible for developers to make all kinds of civic-minded products that make government work better. 

Vice President Joe Biden has summed up how technology will transform government, quoting Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “All’s changed, changed utterly. Terrible beauty has been born.” It is incredible how much has changed so quickly.

Jon, ESRI: We are increasingly seeing large events affect the world and that appears to be trending upwards with the population growth and potential climate change.  With events like Hurricane Sandy, support was coming in from around the globe due to the access of Open Data. With disasters, there is always going to be the unknown; designing the solutions and apps before the event will allow mission operators to make decisions based on these new data feeds and analytics.  

Question: What was the most interesting thing you learned that day?

Brian & Yo, Appallicious: The information obtained from FEMA staff, including CTO Ted Okada, the Red Cross, and other industry professionals, was priceless. The most important thing we learned from the event was where some of the data sets were sitting and introductions to others in the industry that will help us complete the build of the Disaster Assessment and Assistance Dashboard (DAAD).  Another important part of that day was that we discovered flaws in the third iteration of DAAD. We found this out through feedback from disaster professionals. We will iterate on and integrate this information into the upcoming build of the product. 

Marcus, Socrata: There is so much more about the NFIRS data than I originally thought!  There's a lot that can be done with it that I didn't see was possible in the data that was released for the National Day of Civic Hacking. 

Noah, Rave Mobile: The most interesting thing I learned during the FEMA Data Town Hall was FEMA’s commitment to assisting emergency management practitioners’ and developers’ with creating technological solutions that will enhance preparedness and safety.

Question: What did you or your project gain from having the event in person?

Marcus, Socrata: For starters, none of us knew each other before the event, so simply holding the event allowed us to coalesce around a shared interest.  Setting aside a day to learn more about the data and to discuss its possibilities was helpful for everyone.  The event was a good start to building momentum around this particular effort.

Brian & Yo, Appallicious: There is no better way to get feedback while still in discovery phase then being at an event like this. Bringing professionals together to work through concepts is an extremely efficient and effective way to develop the best possible product. It also gave us many different ideas for inclusion in the product, how best to launch it and who we should be thinking about partnering with for it to be successful.

Question: What phase of the innovation cycle is your project in, and what are the next steps for moving in to the next phase?

Noah, Rave Mobile: Whereas most of the other working groups have considerable data sets to work with, the Accessibility Team will likely need to establish a data set and, specifically, a knowledge base of its own. The technological elements of our team’s solution are perhaps easier to develop than is the sourcing of the information for the knowledge base that our solution will leverage. Therefore, we have tentatively identified two parallel objectives for the next phase of our project. The first is to begin to compile various needs that individuals might have during a disaster (i.e. an interpreter or vehicle capable of accommodating a wheelchair) and then begin to compile the available resources for individuals with various needs. Simultaneously, we will begin designing the public-facing user interface for the sharing and receiving of these preparedness resources.

Jon, ESRI: We are just in the beginning.  We are looking for use cases for developing open data and feeds into useful tools for State and Local responders.

Marcus, Socrata: We have a couple of prototypes that were built last year.  These were built in 24 hours and without access to subject matter experts.  The result is that we developed some really great looking data exploration tools, but we are not sure whether they are actually serving anyone's needs.  Instead of starting from the data and seeing what we can do with it, our next step will is to focus on the stakeholders and their needs and the build tools around that.  

Brian & Yo, Appallicious: We are currently narrowing the scale and scope using the feedback from this last meeting and over the next two weeks we will begin development of DAAD. Stay tuned!

Finally, I’d like to offer a big “thank you” to all those who attended our first-ever FEMA Data Town Hall.  Look for more updates in the coming weeks as the OpenFEMA team continues to check in with project owners and track progress.   For more on FEMA’s open government initiative, visit fema.gov/openfema.  If you’re a developer, I encourage you to check out the API for FEMA data to dig deeper into our open data sets.

Editor's Note: FEMA is providing this information about third-party products as a reference. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.  The views expressed by Data Town Hall participants do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Two Projects Showing Why we Think Portland is Cool

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July 13, 2013, Portland, OR – Participants of the Portland Disaster Relief Trails load supplies on their customized bicycles. The community-based event showcases how bikes can be used to transport food, water and supplies to support their community in an emergency.July 13, 2013, Portland, OR – Participants of the Portland Disaster Relief Trails load supplies on their customized bicycles. The community-based event showcases how bikes can be used to transport food, water and supplies to support their community in an emergency.

Portland Oregon is one of the coolest prepared cities in the Pacific Northwest. They continue to find fun and innovative approaches to make themselves and their community a safer place to live. 

A bicycle friendly city, they are the creators of the Disaster Relief Trials, which is an event designed for cyclists of all levels, where through a series of challenges the participants showcase how bikes can be used to respond to a major disaster (such as an earthquake) to transport food, water and supplies to support their communities.  This event is a homegrown, community driven practice, showcasing how bikes can and will support Portland in emergencies and disasters.  That’s smart, healthy, practical, and cool.

July 13, 2013, Portland, OR - Participants of the Portland Disaster Relief Trails navigate through obstacles with a bike full of disaster supplies. The community-based event showcases how bikes can be used to transport food, water and supplies to support their community in an emergency.July 13, 2013, Portland, OR - Participants of the Portland Disaster Relief Trails navigate through obstacles with a bike full of disaster supplies. The community-based event showcases how bikes can be used to transport food, water and supplies to support their community in an emergency.

But there’s more. Leaders at the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, and Clean Energy Works dreamed up a pilot project for how to use a FEMA grant to seismically retrofit 30 homes throughout Portland.  Through a Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grant of about $100,000, they will be improving the stability and safety of these homes. Leading by example and helping homeowners and neighborhoods be ready for the next big one.

This pilot project shows that community-driven mitigation strategies can have a strong benefit to cost ratio (1:3) and, more importantly, do not require millions of dollars to get done! It’s about the partnerships and finding ways to stretch grant dollars further.

February 20, Portland, OR – Local officials show reporters results of the earthquake retrofit pilot project.  The innovative project was possible thanks to a partnership between the City of Portland, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, Clean Energy Works, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management and FEMA. (Photo by Cory Grogan, Oregon Office of Emergency Management)February 20, Portland, OR – Local officials show reporters results of the earthquake retrofit pilot project. The innovative project was possible thanks to a partnership between the City of Portland, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, Clean Energy Works, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management and FEMA. (Photo by Cory Grogan, Oregon Office of Emergency Management)

This model house shows some aspects of earthquake retrofitting look like. The circle on the right shows a ceiling joist, while the left-hand circle shows another joist that can keep a home from being displaced from its concrete foundation during an earthquake.This model house shows some aspects of earthquake retrofitting look like. The circle on the right shows a ceiling joist, while the left-hand circle shows another joist that can keep a home from being displaced from its concrete foundation during an earthquake.

Portland is setting the example for what it means to have a whole community approach to preparedness and public safety. They are focusing on making neighborhoods, communities, their city and state more resilient, one innovative idea at a time.

And that’s why we think Portland is so cool.

Editor's Note: FEMA is providing this information about third party events as a reference.  FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

College Football Championship + Campus Safety = Social Media Success

 Aurburn, Ala., January 3, 2014 -- Auburn University Mascot, Aubie, holds a sign with the Auburn vs. Florida State campus preparedness social media competition during an Auburn Basketball. Aurburn, Ala., January 3, 2014 -- Auburn University Mascot, Aubie, holds a sign with the Auburn vs. Florida State campus preparedness social media competition during an Auburn Basketball.

When Florida State University (FSU) and Auburn University (AU) met on January 6th for the BCS National Championship Game, it wasn’t just the football teams that went to battle.  For several weeks, the emergency management offices at both universities had been engaged in a fierce competition on another field – social media.

Created in the competitive spirit of the BCS Championship Game, the BCS Social Media in Emergency Management (#SMEM) Challenge between FSU and AU was launched on December 16, 2013.  The competition was designed to engage students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the local community, in the universities’ emergency management programs, with the underlying goal of promoting the culture of preparedness and safety on both campuses.  For three weeks, the programs competed in 11 different categories based on factors such as the overall increase in Twitter followers and Facebook likes, number of engagements on Twitter and Facebook, and submissions and votes in a photo contest, all tracked on a daily leader board.

 Tallahassee, Fla., December 10, 2013 -- Florida State University students and fans participate in the Florida State University v. Auburn Social Media in Emergency Management Challenge. Tallahassee, Fla., December 10, 2013 -- Florida State University students and fans participate in the Florida State University v. Auburn Social Media in Emergency Management Challenge.

Congratulations Intl Assoc of Emergency Managers Student Chapter at FSU for their winning #KeepFSUSafe fan sign photo pic.twitter.com/W4Hy4aDlBj

— FSU ALERT (@FSUAlert) January 7, 2014

“The concept of a SMEM competition actually began back in October between myself and Scott Burnotes, the Emergency Management Director at the University of Miami,” said Dave Bujak, the Emergency Management Coordinator at FSU.  “We just didn’t have enough time to put it together for our November annual rivalry matchup.  When Auburn popped into the BCS National Championship with us, I contacted Susan McCallister (AU’s Associate Director for Public Safety Information and Education), and we spent a week finalizing the details.”

Social media has become an important tool for both government and private sector organizations to communicate with key stakeholders before, during and after emergencies. Through platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, information about emergencies, and how to prepare for them, can be quickly and effectively communicated to a large audience.   The use of social media also helps create a dialogue between emergency managers and those directly affected by a crisis or disaster, providing greater insight into various aspects of preparing for and responding to emergency situations.

Follow @FSUAlert to help FSU beat out Auburn at the #SMEM challenge! Help #KeepFSUSafe and keep the #BCS spirit high!

— Florida State SGA (@FSUSGA) January 6, 2014

BEFORE 11AM CT!! Submit a photo to help us #BeatFSU. Take your pic with a #KeepAUSafe sign, tweet it with #KeepAUSafe. Simple as that.

— AU Emergency Mgmt (@AUEmergencyMgmt) January 6, 2014

When the SMEM competition began, AU’s emergency management office had just started its social media outreach program.  Through the challenge, the university’s Public Safety and Emergency Management Facebook page experienced a 2,004 percent growth in ‘likes’ in only three weeks, helping the school establish a social media audience that rivals several institutions with long-standing SMEM programs.

“This has been a great way for us to launch our new non-emergency social media sites,” said AU’s Susan McCallister.  “I highly recommend this type of friendly competition to others – it’s a great way to get your campus engaged.”

The challenge also highlighted the universities’ partnerships with local, city, and state emergency management organizations, and emphasized the important role the local community plays in their emergency preparedness efforts.  According to Bujak, “the campaign has given us the opportunity to thank and recognize our community partners who work with us to keep the FSU community safe.”

Although FSU emerged victorious by a very slim margin when the final results were tallied, both institutions agree that the program has gone a long way in promoting the importance of emergency preparedness, and hope that the challenge serves as an inspiration to other campuses. “Our #KeepFSUSafe or #KeepAUSafe social media posts were viewed over 2.7 million times by our respective audiences,” notes Bujak.  “If nothing else, that exposure alone has made all of this worthwhile.”

Other resources:

Kentucky’s New CEOC Is a Positive Result of Federal and State Partnership

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inside large room in kentucky emergency operations centerThe new Kentucky Commonwealth Emergency Operations Center (CEOC) was unveiled on October 21, 2013 during a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Gov. Steve Beshear, FEMA and state personnel. The $11.8 million dollar facility, built in part with FEMA grant funds, is outfitted with the latest technology and constructed to endure natural and man-made disasters (Photo Credit- KY National Guard).

On October 21, I had the pleasure of speaking at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Kentucky Commonwealth Emergency Operations Center (CEOC).  The new CEOC, built with the help of a $10 million grant from FEMA’s Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, is a symbol of the great emergency management partnership we have with the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

At FEMA, we support our partners in disasters and during their preparedness effort on the days between. Grants to states, counties and first responders strengthen communities and prepare them for the challenges of a disaster. This new CEOC will ensure that Kentucky will have the tools they need to respond to any event. It’s rugged, has the latest technology and is a great match for the dedicated and experienced personnel who will staff the facility during a crisis.

The $11.8 million CEOC will act as the hub of operations for future emergencies. The building itself is designed to be durable, able to withstand winds up to 250 miles per hour.  In the event of an electrical grid failure, the entire CEOC can continue running on power from an 800 KW back-up generator.

large generatorThe $11.8 million CEOC will act as the hub of operations for future emergencies. The building itself is designed to be durable, able to withstand winds up to 250 miles per hour. In the event of an electrical grid failure, the entire CEOC can continue running on power from an 800 KW back-up generator. (Photo Credit- KY National Guard)

The two-story, 26,150 square-foot facility replaces the former CEOC built in the 1970s and has space for more than 220 emergency personnel during a disaster response. It is outfitted with state-of-the-art communications technology to ensure the effective coordination of responders during natural disasters and emergencies. At the ribbon cutting, the Governor spoke of stepping over staff working in hallways during the response to ice storms and tornados.  In the new CEOC, there will be space for all to work together to serve the Commonwealths citizens.

In addition to the grant for the construction of the CEOC, we are also funding the construction of Emergency Operations Centers for Clark, Fayette, Garrard, Jackson, Madison, Powell and Rockcastle counties in Kentucky. In total, FEMA will spend about $35 million in support of our partner, the great Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The ribbon cutting ceremony was a great day to see what we can accomplish by working together, but our job isn’t done. We’re always preparing for the next emergency to see what we can do better. But with a strong partnership in place and a new home for Kentucky responders, we’re making great progress toward a safer, disaster-resilient commonwealth.

kentucky governor given tour of kentucky operations centerKentucky’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini explains to Governor Steve Beshear, features of the new Commonwealth Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort, Ky., Oct. 21, 2013. The tour followed the official ribbon cutting of the $11.8 million facility which took less than two years to complete. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

Best Practices in Higher Ed Preparedness - in 140 Characters or Less

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woman looking at computer screen

Wondering how colleges and universities tackle emergency preparedness? It’s a job for the experts, many of whom joined with FEMA last week to discuss the topic.  But it wasn't an in-person meeting - we used Twitter to host a virtual "panel" of universities while taking questions from others.

Emergency management professionals from Boston College, DePaul University in Chicago, Florida State University, and Virginia Tech took to Twitter for an hour on September 18 to answer questions about their preparedness methods and the unique threats their schools face.

The most exciting portions of the chat were when schools and individuals from around the country chimed in on the topics and shared their experiences along with our panelists. In total, over 180 Twitter users joined in Wednesday's chat!

Thanks to an active conversation, the discussion covered a range of topics, from alert systems, to recent emergencies, to the challenges of preparing urban campuses, and more.  Here are some of my favorite exchanges from the chat (see the @FEMAlive account for a full recap):








If you're a higher education professional, emergency manager, college student, or parent, check out Ready.gov/campus for a full list of emergency preparedness resources.  A special thanks to all those who joined last week's chat!

"Social Media? We Can Play That Game Too."

Tweeting, tagging, poking, and pinning.  This may sound like a foreign language to some, but to the FSU Alert team at Florida State University, this is everyday language.  The presence, purpose, and promise of social media can no longer be ignored, and our team has been working hard to combine the worlds of social media and emergency preparedness to help keep our campus community updated and informed.

florida state alert flyer

For the tenth annual National Preparedness Month this September, Florida State University has created FSU Emergency Preparedness Week (#FSUPrep) during the week of Sept. 9 to highlight the many preparedness resources we have on campus, including social media.

To jumpstart the event, FSU Alert’s emergency notification and warning system, including the 30-plus delivery methods utilized to warn and inform the school, are showcased.  Sharing the spotlight is our state-of-the-art "EZ Button" rapid activation system, developed with Siemens. The rest of the week will cover severe weather, crime prevention and security, fire safety, and health and wellness -- all chosen to emphasize the importance of student health, safety, and well-being. 

Most of these areas feature separate promotion weeks throughout the school year, but, through partnering with different student organizations and departments on campus, FSU Alert has combined the much needed information into one organized week of education to remind new students and upperclassmen how Florida State University, via FSU Alert, is serving them day in and day out.

Social media not only plays a large role in the production of FSU's Emergency Preparedness Week but also in the daily operations of the FSU Alert team. It’s our view that social media is more than just a means of sending out alerts and hoping students, faculty and staff pay attention. We believe in the potential for it to provide a strong platform for education, outreach, and preparedness.

Having students as our primary audience is a unique challenge, but social media allows us to talk with students rather than talk at them. Q&A-style conversations help us successfully maintain communication with students online and on campus by providing a forum for questions about emergency preparedness. Through our FSU Alert accounts, we’re also able to address specific incidents on campus (for example, a fire alarm going off in a library) in an informal, peer-to-peer fashion, like this recent exchange:

We’ve worked hard to establish our credibility on campus as a trusted source of information. We’ve made great strides in combating social media’s greatest challenge - rumor control. Regardless of a rumor’s subject – class being cancelled due to weather, a faculty member receiving a threat, etc. – FSU Alert is the center point in crisis communications on campus.

Florida state alert signageOne example of a graphic we use on our social media channels to further educate the university community about FSU Alerts

We continue to collaborate with University Communications to determine the best timing and messaging possible during in an emergency setting, and to share accurate, timely information.

We’re proud to say that the time and energy that we’ve put into growing our presence on social media has paid off, evidenced by our  5,400 Facebook likes and over 7,000 Twitter followers. We’ve also branched out to include platforms like Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Youtube to create a broad presence in the social media realm. 

Regardless of numbers and figures, possibly our greatest point of pride is the relationship we’ve built with our students. When reaching out to a generation that thrives online, the overwhelming possibilities social media platforms provide should not be overlooked.  By embracing social media and incorporating it into our communications outreach, FSU Alert is better positioned to establish a culture of safety and preparedness with our students.

Social media has become increasingly important to crisis communications both at Florida State University and elsewhere.  Social media isn’t the whole solution to creating a campus that is well prepared for emergencies. There’s no singular way to accomplish this goal.  Through our timeliness, reliability and wit, FSU Alert has garnered the attention and trust of our audience and we couldn’t be more pleased.  

FSU Alert can be found on…

Facebook: www.facebook.com/FSUAlert

Twitter: www.twitter.com/FSUAlert

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/FSUAlert

Tumblr: www.fsualert.tumblr.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/FSUAlert

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/fsu-alert/53/456/824

YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/MyFSUAlert

Florida state alert logo

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent the official views of FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, or the United States Government. We are providing links to third party sites and organizations for your reference. FEMA does not endorse any non-government entities, ogranziations or services.

Innovating to Improve Disaster Response and Recovery

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Editor's Note: This was originally posted on the White House blog, September 3, 2013. Todd Park is Assistant to the President and US Chief Technology Officer. Rich Serino is the Deputy Administrator of FEMA.

Last week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) jointly challenged a group of over 80 top innovators from around the country to come up with ways to improve disaster response and recovery efforts.  This diverse group of stakeholders, consisting of representatives from Zappos, Airbnb, Marriott International, the Parsons School of Design, AOL/Huffington Post’s Social Impact, The Weather Channel, Twitter, Topix.com, Twilio, New York City, Google and the Red Cross, to name a few, spent an entire day at the White House collaborating on ideas for tools, products, services, programs, and apps that can assist disaster survivors and communities.
 
This collaboration is a great example of this Administration’s commitment to convening private-sector talent and innovators to work with public servants in order to deliver better results for the American people. The event mobilized innovators from the private sector, nonprofits, artistic organizations, and Federal as well as local government agencies to develop solutions that support and integrate both public and private efforts for disaster relief.  It also comes as our Nation prepares for what is usually the peak of Hurricane Season.  In fact, the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Irene fell last week, and the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy is approaching.
 
During the “Data Jam/Think Tank,” we discussed response and recovery challenges with the participants and other Federal leaders, including Patricia Hoffman, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Energy and Dr. Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services.  The participants then broke into subgroups to brainstorm innovative ideas for addressing those challenges, vote on the best ideas, and commit to implementing them.

Below are some of the ideas that were developed throughout the day. In the case of the first two ideas, participants wrote code and created actual working prototypes. 

  • A real-time communications platform that allows survivors dependent on electricity-powered medical devices to text or call in their needs—such as batteries, medication, or a power generator—and connect those needs with a collaborative transportation network to make real-time deliveries. 
  • A technical schema that tags all disaster-related information from social media and news sites – enabling municipalities and first responders to better understand all of the invaluable information generated during a disaster and help identify where they can help.
  • A Disaster Relief Innovation Vendor Engine (DRIVE) which aggregates pre-approved vendors for disaster-related needs, including transportation, power, housing, and medical supplies, to make it as easy as possible to find scarce local resources.
  • A crowdfunding platform for small businesses and others to receive access to capital to help rebuild after a disaster, including a rating system that encourages rebuilding efforts that improve the community.
  • Promoting preparedness through talk shows, working closely with celebrities, musicians, and children to raise awareness.
  • A “community power-go-round” that, like a merry-go-round, can be pushed to generate electricity and additional power for battery-charged devices including cell phones or a Wi-Fi network to provide community internet access.
  • Aggregating crowdsourced imagery taken and shared through social media sites to help identify where trees have fallen, electrical lines have been toppled, and streets have been obstructed.
  • A kid-run local radio station used to educate youth about preparedness for a disaster and activated to support relief efforts during a disaster that allows youth to share their experiences.

Before ending the brainstorm, participants committed to taking responsibility for turning these ideas into tangible actions. We will be excited to see how these materialize into impactful projects that will support disaster response and recovery efforts. Our sincere thanks to all of the participants!

National Night Out Shows How Community Preparedness is a Team Effort

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After I left the office on August 6, 2013, I went to the annual “Crime Prevention and National Night Out” celebration sponsored by the Springfield Police Department, Delaware County, PA, the Target Corporation, along with local businesses. National Night Out's goal is to “heighten crime and drug prevention, gain support for local anti-crime efforts, strengthen neighborhood spirit, and let criminals know that Springfield residents are committed to keeps Springfield Township safe.”

National Night Out was successful in Delaware County because it represented the diversity of the community.  It also demonstrated that while communities are made up of many organizations, businesses, and individuals – we can all come together to support a common goal.  I’m both a Springfield resident and a volunteer firefighter with the Springfield Fire Department; and I represented FEMA Region III at the event by hosting a table. At my table I encouraged, educated, and talked to people about individual and family preparedness.

kids at national night out

It gave me a unique opportunity to educate my neighbors and fellow Springfield residents about being prepared as an individual and about why it’s important to make a plan, have a kit, and be informed. It was a lot of fun for me because I brought my family with me (see the photo above); plus I was able to meet with friends, Springfield residents, and fellow firemen; while promoting FEMA’s ”Whole Community” approach to emergency management. If you haven’t heard “Whole Community” before, it’s the idea that it takes everyone in the community (elected officials, residents, businesses, etc.) to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a disaster. 

national night out booth

Next to my table was the Delaware County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Ed Kline is the Delaware County Volunteer Management Coordinator and was there with his local Delaware County CERT members in support of Ready Pennsylvania.  Ed and his team were there handing out Pennsylvania Emergency Preparedness Guides, Family and Pet Emergency Planning Guides and Ready Pennsylvania bags that had suggested items for a basic disaster supply kit. It was also a great chance to network with some of the local vendors that supported the event.

As I mentioned before, the event was successful because so many partners in the community were there.  In addition to FEMA and the Delaware County CERT team, other groups were there, like:

Events like National Night Out demonstrate the diversity of every community - and that it takes everyone working together to make our neighborhoods and cities more resilient.  Looking back at the event now, I’m amazed at how well my town came together, shared ideas, and got involved.

Sharing preparedness in your community doesn’t mean you need to wait for a formal event like National Night Out.  There are lots of events happening across the country and community.fema.gov is a great place to see the list.  And with National Preparedness Month coming up in September, now’s a great time to get inspired and host an event of your own!

I encourage all of you to get involved in your community to help everyone become better prepared for a disaster.

Editor’s Note: We are providing the following links to third party sites and organizations for your reference. FEMA does not endorse any non-government entities, ogranziations or services.

AARP & FEMA: Building resilience through partnerships

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signing ceremony

Effectively responding to disasters requires a team, but not just any team.  This team needs to be as diverse, multi-faceted, and as talented as the fabric of America itself.  Because of this, FEMA is always looking for opportunities to strengthen the team that prepares for, responds to, and recovers from emergencies.   

I’m proud that last week FEMA took a step in bolstering this collection of partners by signing a partnership agreement with the AARP.  Here’s Administrator Fugate and AARP CEO Barry Rand at the signing ceremony:

As Administrator Fugate and Mr. Rand said, the partnership between FEMA and AARP is all about building resilience in homes, neighborhoods, and communities around the U.S.  That could mean providing information so people understand the disaster risks in their area, ensuring Americans are aware of assistance and services that are available after a disaster, or sharing best practices so people rebuild their homes and communities to make more resilient after a disaster strikes.

I hope the partnership inspires you to take action to make your family, home, business, or neighborhood better prepared for a disaster.  Since we’re in the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, now is a great time to review your family’s emergency plan and ensure your emergency supply kit is stocked and ready, just in case.   In addition to FEMA’s Ready.gov/hurricanes page, another great place for information on preparing for hurricanes or tropical storms is the AARP “Operation Hurricane Prepare”. It has a handy checklist and videos that put preparedness actions at the forefront.

Finally, check out the the AARP blog for their take on the partnership and details on how AARP members are already lending a helping hand in disaster response. One way is through Createthegood.org, which pulls together volunteering opportunities and stories on how volunteering is making a positive impact in communities around the country.

Partnerships are so critical to emergency management – I’m glad to welcome AARP as FEMA’s newest formal partner!

Law Enforcement’s Role in Responding to Disasters

If you have ever had the chance to speak with Administrator Fugate or listen to him discuss the role of first responders in disasters… you will know he views their work with a revered appreciation.  They are an intricate part of the emergency/disaster response team.  As a former Police Chief, I can attest to their hard work and dedication and agree whole heartedly with Administrator Fugate.

In my 30 year career I have witnessed heroic efforts by my officers and colleagues, including during times of disasters.  While serving Prince George’s County, we responded to 9/11, Hurricane Isabel, snowstorms, and multiple tornadoes.  Specifically, I recall one of the tornadoes that impacted my county.  An EF-3 tornado impacted the nearby college campus and devastated neighborhoods and infrastructure.  Emergency services were stretched to the max.  Our officers worked relentless hours, 48 hours straight in some cases, setting up and supporting emergency response and rescue operations.  The scene was chaotic with debris and terrified college students, but the right training helped officers maintain public safety and conduct lifesaving missions. 

Over the last two years I have had the distinct privilege of sharing the Administrator’s views with the law enforcement community and recently, he reflected on Law Enforcement’s Role in Responding to Disasters in an article in Police Chief Magazine

We ask a tremendous amount of our first responders during disasters and emergencies. They are the first line of defense; they are the first helping hand extended to survivors. Every police officer knows emergencies can happen without notice. Our ability to respond to and recover from disasters is directly influenced by how well prepared our first responders are and how well we all work together as a team before, during, and after a crisis. 

The role of law enforcement in responding to a disaster is very similar to the day-to-day role of public safety and supporting the community. In preparing for a disaster, police officers trust in their training and capitalize on their knowledge of a community. Exercises portraying the situations (large- and small-scale events) help better prepare officers and allow them to fully understand the resources needed for each event and apply that information to each community’s needs. Law enforcement officials know their communities best and interact with residents on a daily basis. This knowledge gives them the ability to provide valuable situational awareness to response and recovery groups coming in to help. For example, where will there be language barriers? Does the community have unique challenges? Law enforcement can help communicate this information to the emergency management team and can offer support to other members of the team by simply being a presence in the neighborhoods.

During a disaster, police officers play a key role in many operations including: search and rescue, evacuations, door-to-door checks, and maintaining overall public safety within the community. These are critical actions that support not only their own communities but neighboring towns as well. 

As the Administrator explained in the article, the law enforcement community has two vital roles in responding to disasters:

  • As first responders during times of crisis, and
  • Providing for the safety and security of the community. 

Responding to disasters is a shared responsibility, and those in law enforcement are aware that emergency management planning is for all hazards and that it takes a team effort to keep our communities safe.  I’m proud to represent the law enforcement community at FEMA as we continue to strengthen the coordination among the entire emergency management team.

Editor’s Note: Police Chief Magazine is a publication from the International Association of Chiefs of Police and serves as the professional voice of law enforcement and supports programs and research, as well as training and other professional services for the law enforcement community.

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