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Preparing Communities for Severe Weather

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Along with the advantages of witnessing the changing of New England’s beautiful seasons, residents must be ready to face a variety of severe weather conditions.  My name is Rachel Little, a member of the FEMA Youth Preparedness Council, and a resident of Massachusetts. My favorite part of living in New England is the variety of activities to do like skiing and snowboarding in the winter, swimming and visiting the beach in the summer and all within just a couple hours of where I live. 

While I love to enjoy the great outdoors, nor’easters, blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes and flash floods are all dangerous hazards New Englanders have faced within the past two years.  Preparing for severe weather is critically important when living here. Preparedness is imperative when a storm is approaching, though some don’t always know how to prepare for something severe. When I heard about the February blizzard approaching, I knew it was going to be a big one.  One measure that our area took to prepare for the blizzard was putting a driving ban after four o’clock on the evening the storm was set to hit.  All motor vehicles had to evacuate the roads or face large fines.  As far as preparedness goes, I thought this was an extremely brilliant precaution and would keep many people safe.  It would also make the job easier for emergency personnel working through the night.  The type of snow that a storm brings makes all the difference in the world.  If it’s light snow, it’s easier to deal with, less dangerous, and easier for snow removal.  If it’s thick, wet, heavy snow, it makes it more difficult for all residents.  It’s harder to remove, can cause severe damage to personal property and is a nightmare for men and women working for the power company.  Thankfully the snow was light, but there was just a lot of it!      

damaged tree

CAPTION: South Kingstown, R.I., Feb. 19, 2013 -- Damage in South Kingstown following the Northeastern Blizzard.

This situation was very similar to the October snowstorm in 2011.  We knew there was a possibility of snow around Halloween, but it was not forecasted to be as bad as it turned out to be.  A major problem with the October 2011 snowstorm were the remaining leaves on the trees, which gave the heavy snow more of an opportunity to break branches and limbs.  Trees snapped all through the night and took out power lines, leaving so many without power.  My father works for National Grid, and I didn’t see him for several weeks after the storm because the power outages were so widespread. 

utility workers

CAPTION: Narragansett, R.I., Feb. 19, 2013 -- Utility workers repair downed power lines following the Northeast Blizzard.

By far the most disastrous and destructive disaster to hit our community was the 2011 tornado that cut through Massachusetts.  No one ever thought a tornado could possibly make its way to us, as we have large mountains all around us and live in a valley.  I think that it is an important fact to be made known across the country, that any place is vulnerable to the attack of a vicious natural disaster at any time.

These experiences have only made disaster preparedness more important to me and make me want to be ready for anything in the years ahead.  After our last blizzard in February, I have continued to spread three key factors to being prepared: know your risk, take action, and be an example for your family and community. Taking action is not only readying yourself and family members for a disastrous situation, but spreading the word to your neighborhood and throughout the community. By knowing our risk, we can greatly reduce the amount of fatalities and injuries during a disaster because we took steps to prepare beforehand.  I also continue to be a champion of preparedness for all the people I care so much about.  I have encouraged my family, school and community to talk about emergency plans and build a preparedness kit before severe weather hits. If we all take part in spreading the word about disaster preparedness and sharing tips, many people will be much safer if they have to go through a severe storm. 

Editor’s Note: FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Council is a unique opportunity for a nominated group of youth leaders to serve on a highly distinguished national council and to voice their opinions, experiences, ideas and solutions to help strengthen the nation’s resiliency for all types of disasters.

What We’re Watching: 2/8/13

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Severe winter weather

As we head into the weekend, we continue to monitor the impacts of the winter storm affecting millions along the northeast and east coast of the U.S.  FEMA’s regional offices in Boston and New York City are working closely with state emergency management counterparts and have staff working alongside the states at each of their emergency operations centers.

We will continue to hold operational briefings with our regional and federal partners as the severe weather advances and as impacts are felt through the overnight hours into Saturday.  While FEMA stands ready to support its federal, state, local, and tribal partners, we want to make sure you, your family, and your business are taking the right steps to stay safe if you’re impacted by this serious winter storm.  A few reminders:

  • Follow the direction of local officials – if they advise against traveling, please stay off the roads unless driving is absolutely necessary.  That way you’re staying safe while keeping the roads clear for snow plows, emergency crews, and first responders.  If you do need to travel, remember to pack some basic emergency supplies in your car, such as extra blankets, gloves, ice scraper, water, and a portable radio.
  • Keep up with local conditions – the National Weather Service is how FEMA gets its information on severe weather conditions, and you can too. From your computer, visit weather.gov, or go to mobile.weather.gov from your phone. If you have a NOAA weather radio, tune in for the latest updates on severe weather in your area.  And finally, local radio and TV are normally good places to find information on what’s happening in your area.
  • Have a plan in case the power goes out – in addition to heavy snowfall, National Weather Service forecasts are calling for high winds over a large area, which may cause power outages.  Make sure you have a plan to stay warm should the power go out.  Have extra blankets on hand, have an alternative place to go, and use the “buddy system” so you and your neighbors check on one another.  
  • Check on friends, family, and neighbors – Even if you’re not in the path of this winter storm, you may know someone who is.  If so, send them a quick text, e-mail, or phone call to make sure they are OK and staying safe.

For more safety tips on staying safe during and after winter storms, visit Ready.gov from your computer or m.fema.gov from your mobile device.  

Photo of the week

assistive technology in disaster recovery center

CAPTION: Breezy Point, N.Y., Feb. 5, 2013 -- Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, Ms. Polly Trottenberg, visits the Disaster Recovery Center at Fort Tilden and gets a demonstration on assistive communications equipment. Several FEMA partners, including the Small Business Administration, Housing & Urban Development, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and the US Post Office are stationed at Fort Tilden to provide one-stop assistance to residents affected by Hurricane Sandy and the fires at Breezy Point.

For more photos, visit our photo library.

Job openings

There are several job vacancies at FEMA, but I’d like to highlight the openings for our Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) pilot program.  IMATs are critical to the FEMA disaster workforce, capable of being on scene within hours of a disaster in support of our local, tribal, territorial, and state partners. The pilot program will create three new IMATs – two national teams in Sacramento, Ca. and Washington, D.C. and one new regional team in Oakland, Ca.  Openings are currently available in a variety of fields, including:  Operations Section Chief, Attorney Advisor, Situation Unit Leader, Documentation Unit Leader, External Affairs Officer, Disability Integration Manager, and Logistics Section Chief. 

Video of the week

A Connecticut homeowner discovers the installation of "engineered openings" or "engineered flood vents" saved his home from severe foundation damage during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.  For more information about protecting your home against flood damage, check out this guide.

Have a safe weekend!

FEMA Works with State and Locals to Prepare Region for the Nor’easter

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FEMA currently has more than 5,100 personnel working alongside our state and local partners. We are supporting disaster response and recovery operations throughout the areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy. We’re also standing ready to deploy additional resources if needed to respond to the Nor’easter that is forecasted to impact the region in the coming days. This new coastal storm is predicted to impact the region beginning after midnight Tuesday with impacts continuing Wednesday and into Thursday.

We have senior-level emergency management experts in operations, logistics, and recovery embedded, side-by-side with state and local emergency managers throughout New York and New Jersey to ensure clear lines of communication and immediately bring to bear the full resources of the federal government, as needed to respond to the Nor’easter or continue to the recovery efforts from Sandy.

FEMA personnel are on the ground (we call them community relations teams), going door to door, letting individuals know how to register with FEMA for financial assistance.  We have already had over 277,000 people apply for financial assistance, and over $250 million in approved.

At the requests of New York and New Jersey, FEMA is delivering commodities such as food, water, blankets, and generators to distribution points across the region impacted by Sandy, and as those commodities are distributed, we are pre-positioning additional resources and supplies to ensure they are in place if needed by our state and local partners to respond to the Nor’easter.   

Given that power outages continue in some areas, in anticipation of the approaching Nor’easter, state and local governments are opening warming stations.  You can find out more about those state and local preparations by visiting publically available links maintained by state and local governments that list resources such as open shelters and warming stations, including:

New York State

www.dhses.ny.gov/oem/

www.nyc.gov/html/misc/html/2012/warming_ctr.html

New Jersey

www.nj.gov/nj/home/features/spotlight/hurricane_sandy.shtml

www.nj211.org/hurricane.cfm

Connecticut

www.ct.gov/sandy

If you are in the potentially impacted area for the Nor’easter, there are some simple steps you should take to prepare, including listening to the directions of your local officials – if told to evacuate, you need to evacuate.  In addition, know the forecast for your area: you can listen to your NOAA weather radio and local news reports, or visit weather.gov for conditions in your area.  And finally, check on your neighbor to make sure that are also prepared for the weather.

For additional safety tips, visit Ready.gov

By working together, we can recover, we can rebuild, and we will respond to this Nor’easter as needed.

Monitoring Severe Winter Weather

We continue to closely monitor the severe winter weather in the Rocky Mountain and Central Plains as winter weather advisories, watches and warnings continue for the next few days. The National Weather Service has issued winter storm and winter weather advisories for parts of Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, and New Mexico. Through our regional offices in Denver, Kansas City and Denton, Texas, we are continuing to stay in close touch with our federal, state and local partners in all the of potentially affected areas. While there have not yet been any requests for federal assistance, we stand ready to support our state and local partners, if needed.

Yesterday, blizzard conditions forced interstate traffic to a standstill in several states, and caused tragic accidents in some places as well. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones, and the effects of this severe storm serve as a reminder of the dangers of winter weather.

While we can’t control if winter weather will affect our city or town, we all can take steps to be better prepared if it does. If your area is likely to be affected by snow, ice, or blizzard-like conditions this winter season, remember to:

  • Limit travel during a storm – only venture out on the roads if it’s absolutely necessary
  • Have an emergency kit in your vehicle – if a winter storm develops suddenly, have supplies on hand in case you’re stranded in your vehicle. (Ready.gov/build-a-kit has tips to get you started)
  • Take precautions for power outages – winter storms often cause power outages, so be sure your family and home take steps to sustain yourselves for at least 72 hours

For more winter safety tips, visit Ready.gov/winter, or http://m.fema.gov on your mobile device.

Monitoring Severe Weather across the Country

As we blogged about in the “What We’re Watching” Friday, the National Weather Service expects significant snowfall in the Central Rockies throughout the Plains states. The National Weather Service forecasts up to 12 inches of snow in parts of Colorado and New Mexico and 4 to 7 inches of snow forecasted farther north and east.

We are closely monitoring the storm system and will continue to monitor as it develops. We encourage residents in those states to closely monitor the storm and encourage all residents to prepare for the winter by visiting Ready.gov/winter for steps on preparing your home and family for the winter months.

To get you started here are a few steps you can take to ensure you’re prepared:

  • Be sure to update your family's emergency supply kit and add items such as snow shovels, extra blankets, rock salt (or more environmentally safe products) to melt ice on walkways, and appropriate clothing (i.e., hat, gloves, and scarf).
  • Have an emergency kit in your car in the event you are stranded by a blizzard or traffic jam. Be sure to include items you would need to stay warm and comfortable.
  • Make a family communication plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.

Alaska Storm Update 4: Wind Speeds Diminish Significantly

Posted by: Public Affairs

As of this morning, the National Weather Service reports that Bering Sea water levels and winds speeds affecting the West Coast have diminished significantly. In scattered areas along the West Coast, severe winter storm, blizzard and coastal flood warnings remain in effect, as a result of a smaller storm system that is passing through. We urge Alaskans in affected areas to monitor local news for severe weather updates and warnings.

We continue to be in close communication with our state, local, tribal and federal partners including Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, National Weather Service, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Department of Defense. Over the past two days, the U.S. Coast Guard has been conducting flyovers along the Bering Sea coast to gain an aerial and photographic assessment of damaged areas.

The state has been receiving reports of coastal property loss and wind damage. As access to coastal areas increase, the state will work with Boroughs and local government to plan for damage assessments. As we mentioned yesterday, we placed liaison officers and a regional Incident Management Assistance Team in Alaska in advance of the storm to coordinate with the state if federal support is needed and we have preliminary damage assessment teams standing by should their assistance be required.

And whether you live in Alaska or another part of the country, you can access preparedness information four different ways:


  1. Visit our full preparedness website: www.ready.gov
  2. Visit our mobile website: m.fema.gov
  3. Download our smartphone app for Android & iPhones
  4. Text PREPARE to 43362 (4FEMA) for monthly preparedness messages (standard message and data rates apply)

Alaska Storm Update 3: Storm Continues for West Coast

Posted by: Public Affairs

As a dangerous storm continues to make landfall along the west coast of Alaska, we continue to be in close contact with our federal, state and local partners in monitoring the storm. As of 9 a.m. Alaska standard time (1 p.m. EST) the National Weather Service has issued winter storm, blizzard and coastal flood warnings along the Bering Sea and West Coast of Alaska and predicts that sustained winds and elevated water levels will continue to affect a large portion of the western Alaska coast today, before beginning to subside, from south to north, this evening.

Local officials in several small, tribal villages located along the coast of the Bering Sea have initiated evacuations for coastal and low-lying sections of their communities. We encourage Alaskans to monitor weather conditions closely and to follow the direction provided by their local officials.

And if you’re in the potentially affected area, familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a winter storm hazard and discuss with your family what to do if a winter storm watch or warning is issued.

Terms used to describe a winter storm hazard include the following:



  • Freezing Rain creates a coating of ice on roads and walkways.
  • Sleet is rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Winter Weather Advisory means cold, ice and snow are expected.
  • Winter Storm Watch means severe weather such as heavy snow or ice is possible in the next day or two.
  • Winter Storm Warning means severe winter conditions have begun or will begin very soon.

What We’re Doing
As we mentioned in yesterday’s update, we placed liaison officers and a regional Incident Management Assistance Team in Alaska in advance of the storm to coordinate with the state if federal support is needed. Through these teams, we continue to coordinate closely with the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, National Weather Service, U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Defense as the situation develops.

In addition to the Incident Management Assistance Team, other federal activities include:



  • The Department of Defense has regional liaisons at the Alaska Area Office in Anchorage that are also providing support to the state for any coordination of federal resources that may be needed.
  • Yesterday, the U.S. Coast Guard conducted a flyover along the Bering Sea coast to gain an aerial and photographic assessment of the area, with additional flyovers planned today.

Since Monday, the National Response Coordination Center in Washington, D.C. and the Regional Response Coordination Center in Bothell, Washington have been monitoring the storm and supporting on a 24-hour basis. Finally, we have additional teams standing by, including preliminary damage assessment teams, should their assistance be required.

For those not in Alaska, the severe winter storm serves as a reminder to get prepared for the cold weather months. Ready.gov/winter has tips on getting your family, home or workplace prepared for severe winter weather, or visit http://m.fema.gov for tips on your phone. (And in case you haven’t heard, you can download the FEMA app in the Android market and Apple store – packed full of safety tips and a place to record the items in your family’s emergency kit.)

Alaska Storm Update 2: Continuing to Work With the State

Posted by: Public Affairs

We continue to closely monitor a dangerous winter storm system forecasted to affect the west coast of Alaska today and tomorrow. According to the National Weather Service, the storm may bring extremely strong winds to all of the Alaska west coast, accompanied by widespread major coastal flooding and severe beach erosion over the coastline.

To date, the National Weather Service has issued winter storm, blizzard, coastal and inland flood warnings along the Bering Sea and West Coast of Alaska and predicts that conditions will worsen and may become life-threatening for a portion of the western Alaska coast. (For your local weather forecast, visit weather.gov or http://mobile.weather.gov on your smartphone.)

Our Role
Through our regional office in Bothell, Washington, our area office in Anchorage, Alaska and the National Response Coordination Center in Washington, D.C. we remain in constant contact with our state, local, tribal and federal partners including Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, National Weather Service, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Department of Defense.

In advance of the storm, we placed liaisons in the Alaska State Emergency Operations Center in Anchorage, Alaska to support and assist to coordinate federal support as needed. We have also deployed a regional Incident Management Assistance Team to Alaska to also support the state.

We also have additional teams standing by, including preliminary damage assessment teams, should their assistance be required. In addition, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard have air assets available to support the state, should they be needed.

Follow Direction of Local Officials
We encourage all those in the potentially affected areas to follow the direction of local officials and keep informed of local conditions. If local authorities order an evacuation, leave immediately; follow evacuation routes announced by officials, and stay away from coastal areas, river banks and streams. As forecasts call for the potential of coastal flooding, tidal surges and related flash flooding, remember that it can take only a few minutes to a few hours to develop.

For more information and winter preparedness tips, please visit: Ready.gov/winter or http://m.fema.gov on your smartphone.

Stay Connected
Follow the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management:

Closely Monitoring Severe Storm in Alaska

According to National Weather Service forecasts, a rapidly developing significant winter storm system is anticipated to affect the west coast of Alaska today and tomorrow. We are closely monitoring the situation through our regional office in Bothell, Wash., our area office in Anchorage, Alaska, and the National Response Coordination Center in Washington, D.C.

The National Weather Service has issued winter storm, blizzard, coastal and inland flood warnings along the Bering Sea and west coast of Alaska and forecasts that this system will intensify as it moves northward.

Staying Safe
We encourage Alaskans to monitor weather conditions closely and to follow the direction provided by their local officials. If local authorities order an evacuation, leave immediately, follow evacuation routes announced by officials, and stay away from coastal areas, river banks and streams.

As forecasts call for the potential for coastal flooding, remember that it can take only a few minutes to a few hours for flooding to develop. Be prepared to take detours and adjust your route due to road closures if there is standing water. Driving through a flooded area can be extremely hazardous, so when in your car, look out for flooding in low lying areas, at bridges, and at highway dips. Remember that as little as six inches of water may cause you to lose control of your vehicle.

Make sure your emergency supply kit is ready. It should include at least a three-day supply of food and water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries, and other items specific to your family’s needs. (Power outages can often occur during severe winter storms, so check out yesterday’s blog post with power outage tips.)

Finally, familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a winter storm hazard and discuss with your family what to do if a winter storm watch or warning is issued. Terms used to describe a winter storm hazard include the following:

  • Freezing Rain creates a coating of ice on roads and walkways.
  • Sleet is rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Winter Weather Advisory means cold, ice and snow are expected.
  • Winter Storm Watch means severe weather such as heavy snow or ice is possible in the next day or two.
  • Winter Storm Warning means severe winter conditions have begun or will begin very soon.

What We’re Doing
In preparation for the storm:

  • We have been in constant communication with our state and federal partners including Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, National Weather Service, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Department of Defense,
  • We have placed liaisons at the Alaska State Emergency Operations Center in Anchorage, Alaska to coordinate federal support as needed and deployed an Incident Management Assistance Team to support state efforts at the Alaska State Emergency Operations Center, and
  • We have also activated the Regional Response Coordination Center in Bothell, Wash. and the National Response Coordination Center in Washington, D.C. to continue to monitor conditions and coordinate federal support to the state, as needed.

As this storm system develops, we will continue to closely coordinate with our federal, state and local partners. For more information and winter preparedness tips, please visit: www.Ready.gov/winter to find out how you can prepare your family for winter storms and other disasters.

Stay Connected

Colder Weather is Upon Us – Be Prepared for Power Outages

Posted by: Paulette Aniskoff, Director, Individual and Community Preparedness

Who would have thought the cold and blustery weather, along with the white fluffy stuff, would show up this soon? Although we are approaching the end of hurricane season, we were recently forced to shift our focus to winter weather risks as we were harshly reminded that disasters happen year-round.

While some may enjoy the colder weather and the accompanying snow, others like myself, prefer the warmer temperatures. Regardless of your view on cold and snow, now is the time of year when temperatures drop. It is also the time of year when gusting winds and accumulating ice and snow can bring power outages.

Utility crews work to restore power in the aftermath of a deadly winter storm.
Simsbury, Conn., November 5, 2011 -- Utility crews work to restore power in the aftermath of a deadly winter storm. Some areas of Connecticut were without electricity for more than a week. FEMA is assisting government and residents recover from the storm and is providing food and water, as well as generators for some public buildings and nursing homes.

Power outages can accompany virtually every natural disaster and are more common than you’d think. Power grids, generating plants, transformer stations, power poles and even buried cables are vulnerable to the elements of natural disasters. The rare October Nor’easter that struck recently left approximately 3.2 million customers on the East Coast without power. The effects can be devastating and outage durations can last a couple of hours or a couple of weeks depending on the severity of the event and service options available in the affected area. (How we’re supporting Northeast states after the severe winter storm.)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released its Winter Outlook for this December through February, which will be influenced strongly by La Niña causing shifts in weather patterns across the country. But with no way to be 100 percent certain about the weather to come, it’s important to be prepared for emergencies 365 days a year.

One thing we can do, as community leaders and preparedness advocates, is to take the time to encourage organizations, communities, individuals and families to review their disaster plans and update their emergency kits. Below are a few considerations you can share with community members when discussing how to prepare for a power outage:



  • Ensure you have a battery-powered or hand cranked radio to listen for emergency updates and news reports.
  • Have flashlights or electric lanterns on hand to provide light; candles may add a spark of adventure during power failures, but they are dangerous fire hazards. Flashlights and electric lanterns require batteries so consider, during extended outages, keeping a supply of extra batteries.
  • Remember, microwaves will not work! It’s important to keep a three- to 14-day supply of water and of nonperishable food such as ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables, canned juices, milk, and soup. Additionally, have a hand-operated can opener available. FEMA recommends one gallon of water per person per day.

Actions to take during a power outage:
 

  • If using a portable generator during a power outage, it should always be operated outside, away from doors and windows to avoid dangerous carbon monoxide.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to prevent food spoilage.
  • During the winter, let the sun warm rooms during the day and close shades and curtains at night.
  • Avoid plugging emergency generators into electric outlets or hooking them directly to your home's electrical system - they can feed electricity back into the power lines, putting you and line workers in danger.
  • When the power comes back on, wait a few minutes before turning on major appliances, to help eliminate problems that could occur if there's a sharp increase in demand. If you think electric power has been restored to your area but your home is still without power, call your local power company.

Even if your community wasn’t affected by this recent winter-like storm, it’s still important to take the opportunity to inform your community about its risks and provide simple tips. Everyone can play a vital role in helping our communities prepare for severe winter weather.

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