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It's Never Too Late to Resolve to Be Ready

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As we move into 2011 and start trying to make progress on our various new year’s resolutions, we at FEMA will continue encouraging all of our partners – and that includes you – to take steps now to be prepared for emergencies. As many of you know, throughout the holiday season, we urged folks to join us in making a resolution to be ready for disasters. But as we said then, disasters aren’t limited to one time of year – and neither is our need to be prepared for them. It’s never too late to Resolve to be Ready for disasters. 

On this blog, we’ve written a lot about the three simple steps you can take to make good on a pledge to prepare for emergencies in this New Year. But for those of you who want to go the extra mile, you can also sign up to participate in preparedness training.  Consider linking up with a Community Response Team in your local area, or visit CitizenCorps.gov to learn about other opportunities in your community.

When more people are able to take care of themselves after a disaster strikes, emergency responders can concentrate on helping those who are most vulnerable in our communities, whether it's infants and children, seniors, or people with disabilities, to name a few.  Visit Ready.gov to learn about creating an emergency plan that fits the needs of you and your family.

- Tony

What we're watching: 1/7/11

The first full weekend of 2011 is upon us.  Here’s what we’re watching:

Severe weather
Meteorologists are calling for a storm system to bring snow to the Great Lakes, parts of New York (including New York City), and some of the east coast into next Tuesday.  Forecasts are also calling for potentially icy conditions in much of the Southeast this weekend, so be sure to track your local forecast at weather.gov and visit Ready.gov to get prepared. As always, we’re continuing to monitor the coming weather closely, and through our regional offices, will remain in close contact with our state and local partners to ensure they have all the support they need throughout the weekend.

(For the weather-watchers among us, check out this forecast map of the precipitation expected across the U.S. in the next five days.)

A few press hits
MaryAnn Tierney, FEMA Region III Regional Administrator, encourages readers of the Sentinel Newspaper to consider a New Year's resolution (Prince George and Montgomery counties, MD).

The Bel Air (MD) Patch highlighted the Harford County Division of Emergency Operations’ receipt of the 2010 FEMA Region III Leading by Example Award for the work of the Citizen Corps Council.  Across the U.S. many Citizen Corps Councils volunteer to prepare individuals and their communities before a disaster strikes.  In Hartford County, the council developed and executed an impressive 37 separate preparedness initiatives.

Accepting the challenge
We’re also watching our challenge on Challenge.gov, where you can share your idea on preparing before a disaster strikes. There have been a lot of great submissions - we would love to hear your idea, too!  The deadline for submitting ideas is January 29, 2011.

"Ready"-made content for public officials

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

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

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

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

- Brent


 


Improving the Recoupment Process

Recently, you may have heard about or read a report issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General (IG) saying FEMA has identified approximately 160,000 applicants that may have received improper disaster assistance payments totaling approximately $643 million.

Unfortunately, whether through fraud, human or accounting errors, or for other reasons, assistance sometimes goes to individuals who are not eligible for it during the response to any disaster.

The payments in question were made through our Individuals and Households Program during the response and recovery to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and after. The program is intended to help uninsured disaster survivors with temporary housing or to repair damage to their home or for other disaster-related needs. The large scale of the disasters (over $7 billion has been disbursed to help those in need), coupled with safeguards and protections that simply weren’t strong enough at the time, led to a large number of potentially improper payments.

So why haven’t we tried to get the money back?

The recoupment process used under previous administrations was in need of critical improvements.

A 2007 court order from a lawsuit challenging FEMA’s recoupment efforts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, along with regulations established by the Department of Homeland Security in 2007, led us to suspend our recoupment process.

Plain and simple, the process needed a lot of changes.

So what are we doing about it?

In the years since, we have been working to rectify these problems. The bottom line is we are committed to being responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, and not only do we agree with the Inspector General’s recommendation that we recoup improper payments, but independent of this report we have been working to finalize plans to recoup improperly awarded funds, while continuing to support Gulf Coast communities as they continue to recover.

We have not been taking this task lightly, as we have also been taking another look at all our documents and information for the over 160,000 disaster survivors, to ensure that we are recouping funds from the right individuals. The survivors of these disasters have been through a lot, and they deserve an open and transparent process.

Since President Obama came into office, FEMA, working closely with our state and local partners in Louisiana and Mississippi, has been able to free up over $5 billion in backlogged projects to restore community infrastructure and services, including $1.8 billion for New Orleans schools. For far too long these projects had been deemed too hard to deal with, or were just simply ignored, and it was slowing the recovery of the Gulf Coast.

We are proud that we’ve been able to cut through the red tape, but realize there is much more work to be done, including finalizing the new recoupment process. We are well underway – and had been well before this IG report was released - in taking the steps we need to finalize that new process so that it is fair and transparent for both disaster survivors and taxpayers.

And what are we doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

We have worked diligently to put protections in place that will safeguard against fraud and abuse in future disaster situations and significantly reduce the percentage of improper payments, while ensuring that those in need are receiving assistance as quickly as possible.

As a New Orleans Times-Picayune story from earlier this week points out,

"FEMA has also instituted other rules aimed at avoiding improper payments after disasters, including additional verification requirements for automated payments; the flagging of "high risk" addresses like check-cashing stores, mail drops, cemeteries and jails; and the flagging of duplicate rental payments."

We are proud of the work that has been done, but realize there is much more to do.

- Rachel

Video from Northeast blizzard

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When a blizzard reared its ugly head across the Northeast U.S. at the end of December, much of the area came to a virtual standstill.  Airports and roads were closed, and several governors declared a state of emergency to mobilize their state’s resources to respond.  Our Regional offices were in touch with our state and local partners throughout the storm.

While the Northeast blizzard was a newsworthy storm, it won’t be the last severe storm this winter.  At FEMA, we encourage everyone to get prepared for winter weather before the next storm hits.  You can get started today at Ready.gov, where you can find tips on getting an emergency kit, making a family emergency plan, and being informed about the risks in your area.

If you’re looking for a little extra motivation to get prepared this winter, check out this video of the Northeast blizzard, taken near Boston, Massachusetts:



- Don

Reflections on 2010 from the Louisiana Recovery Office

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As 2010 draws to a close, it’s customary to reflect upon the highlights of the past year. For us at the Louisiana Recovery Office, 2010 most notably marked the 5th anniversaries of both hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It’s difficult to imagine that so much time has passed.  As Administrator Fugate pointed out, we know the rebuilding efforts have been incredibly challenging and frustrating at time, but they have also been a powerful testament to the courage, hope and determination of the people of the Gulf Coast and it’s impressive to see that progress is still moving forward at full speed.  Additionally, Louisiana was impacted by hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 and those recovery efforts also continue.

In fact, local parishes invited us to nearly 50 groundbreakings and grand openings of new facilities this year. Construction is vibrant throughout the state, and I am personally proud of the role FEMA has played in helping provide the federal funding for these recovery efforts. More than $3 billion was awarded in 2010 to help rebuild public infrastructure following the four hurricanes. One project that stands out significantly is the $1.8 billion in FEMA funding provided to the Orleans Parish School Board and Recovery School District. Children across Orleans Parish will benefit from this funding, which will help reconstruct more than 80 school campuses in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, property owners throughout the state have been strengthening and elevating their homes and businesses, better preparing them for future storm events. Just recently, $100 million was funded to the state of Louisiana to help such mitigation efforts. We’ve also been updating flood maps and providing outreach to communities, resulting in eight parishes adopting new maps in 2010.

Perhaps one of our most significant accomplishments has been the continued transition of families out of temporary housing such as travel trailers and mobile homes into more permanent, long-term housing solutions. We are continuing to do everything we can to help families still living in temporary housing find more permanent, long-term housing solutions. Working closely with the state, we were able to assist 741 Katrina/Rita households and 276 Gustav/Ike households transition into safer, more viable living arrangements.

As this chapter in our recovery closes, the Louisiana Recovery Office looks forward to what the future will bring. 2011 promises many new challenges and accomplishments, and every one of them will take us one step closer to full recovery. 

- Joe

Deadly Midwest storm ushers in 2011

Severe weather in the middle of the U.S. brought in the New Year with an exclamation point.  For residents in Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and parts of Illinois, a severe weather system moved through the area, bringing deadly storms and tornadoes.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and communities of those in Arkansas and Missouri who lost their lives during the storms.

We are in close coordination with our state and local partners, as well as volunteer and faith-based organizations, as they work with first responders to meet the immediate needs of survivors.  No federal assistance has been requested at this time, but our regional watch centers are closely monitoring the situation as damage assessments continue. Once assessments of the levels of damage are done, state and local officials can determine if their recovery needs are beyond their own capabilities and resources and if federal aid is needed.

The Midwest and South weren’t the only states experiencing severe weather this weekend – Californians are getting hit with another round of wet weather as they continue to recover from the Christmas flooding and mudslides. Through our regional office in Oakland, we also remain in close contact with California Emergency Management officials as they deal with their latest bout of storms.

Make sure you’re prepared for severe weather by having an emergency kit, making an emergency plan, and being informed of local conditions.  Visit Ready.gov to get prepared today.

If you’ve experienced severe weather lately, leave a comment as let us know how being prepared helped to ease the stress of the situation.

- Rachel

A few useful links from our state partners:

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