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Meeting the Team in American Samoa

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Tuesday was my first full day here in Pago Pago, American Samoa. I started out the morning meeting with the many members of our emergency management team here on the island, beginning with the chief of the Emergency Medical Services unit. We toured their EMS facility and I was very lucky to have a quick chance to speak to some of their EMS workers. The chief told us how critical volunteers are to their work and that they focus on supporting emergency preparedness efforts in their different villages on the island. What the chief explained – that having a strong grassroots capacity is key for American Samoa – was echoed in all of our meetings throughout the day.

Next, we went to meet with the governor. FEMA has worked closely with him and his team through every step of the recovery from the tsunami in September 2009, and our meeting reinforced how critical this strong partnership is to this ongoing effort. The governor spoke about the territory’s experiences on Friday, when they and other Pacific islands were at risk of potential impacts from the tsunami. While they were very lucky to have been spared, the governor underscored that what’s happening in Japan only heightens the importance of being prepared for earthquakes, tsunamis and other hazards. And as he put it best, we can all learn from each other. And that’s really what the Pacific Area Risk Managers ‘Ohana meeting is all about.

We then met with some of the chiefs who lead the villages on the island, and the director of Homeland Security and his team. Each of these meetings underscored two important principles for us at FEMA – the importance of engaging the entire community in preparedness and that we have to make sure that all of our efforts to plan for, respond to and recover from disasters reflect the needs of the actual communities. American Samoa, for example, has an incredibly strong community preparedness effort that starts in each of their villages – and is supported from the ground up.

In the afternoon, we toured some of the homes that have been or are being built as part of the ongoing recovery work – one of the many types of assistance FEMA is providing to disaster survivors. While progress has been made, there is still a lot of work ahead. Our recovery office in Pago Pago is overseeing these and other recovery efforts, and has been working to communicate regularly with the families whose homes are being rebuilt, and keep them informed of every step in this process.

In every meeting today, and in every encounter I have had here so far, I have been struck by the resilience of the people of American Samoa. Their determination and commitment to continuing to rebuild, and to becoming better prepared for all hazards, is inspiring.

Yesterday, I got the opportunity to speak at the PRiMO conference. The PRiMO conference is all about building partnerships and strengthening the emergency management team – two ways we can build our resiliency in the Pacific region and elsewhere.  Everything I have seen, or listened to in the last day is sure to help add to the important conversations we will be having. I look forward to another day of learning, and discovering how we can further build the team and strengthen our work, taking into account the many lessons learned in Samoa, Japan, and from other recent disasters.

- Tim

Annual U.S. Spring Outlook: Flooding Expected to Worsen

The National Weather Service (NWS) released their annual spring outlook today to help citizens take the necessary steps to prepare. This year’s outlook predicts spring flooding will worsen beginning as early as this week, affecting almost half the country from the North Central U.S. through the Midwest and the Northeast, causing an above average risk of flooding across portions of the Northeast, including Southern New England and parts of eastern NY State.

Some specifics from the Spring Outlook include:

  • For the third consecutive year, forecasters predict major flooding along the Red River of the North, which forms the state line between eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.
  • Other areas of the Midwest primed for major flooding include Devils Lake in North Dakota, the Milk River in Northeastern Montana, the James and Big Sioux Rivers in South Dakota, the Minnesota River, and the Mississippi River from its headwaters near St. Paul, Minnesota, downstream to St. Louis.
  • There is an above average risk of flooding across portions of the Northeast, including Southern New England and parts of eastern NY State.

In a conference call today with the National Weather Service, Administrator Fugate reiterated that there are a few simple steps every family should take now, before disaster strikes: be aware of your risk, make an emergency kit, get a family communication plan and get flood insurance before flooding occurs.

At FEMA, we have been working closely with all our state partners on incorporating lessons learned from the past flood seasons into our emergency planning for this year, as well as conducting aggressive outreach with our federal, state and local counterparts, and emergency managers. For more information on these efforts, check out:

You can continue to monitor the latest forecasts from your local National Weather Service office, visit our Flood Safety Awareness page for additional preparedness tips, and remember, if you come across a flooded road, Turn Around, Don’t Drown.
 

 

Three Steps to Flood Safety

Our agencies, along with other Federal, State, local agencies, volunteer and faith-based groups, and the private sector, are emphasizing flood safety this week.

Since last year’s flood season, FEMA has been working with all our state partners on incorporating lessons learned from the past flood seasons into our emergency planning for this year, and emphasizing the important role that the public has in those emergency plans.

And since February, our regional offices have been conducting aggressive outreach, along with our federal, state and local counterparts, emergency managers, and representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about the importance of personal preparedness.

It’s of particular importance this year because many communities have already experienced flooding as snow melts and spring rains come. National Weather Service forecasts are calling for a particularly busy spring flooding season for the upper Midwest eastward through New England, but this message isn’t only for that area of the country.

Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the U.S., and causes billions of dollars in damage each year for families and businesses. Whether you are a homeowner, renter, or business owner, there are steps you can take to reduce the damage a potential flood may inflict.

We challenge you to take these three easy steps to get prepared for flooding:

  • Know your risk – Look for the updated NOAA Spring Outlook tomorrow on http://www.weather.gov/, and understand the current flood risk in your area by monitoring National Weather Service river forecasts and flood warnings. Another useful site for learning your risk for flooding is FloodSmart.gov, where you can enter an address and learn its flood risk profile.
  • And as always, when severe weather strikes, we urge all individuals in the region to listen to NOAA Weather Radio and their local news to monitor for updates and follow the directions provided by their local officials.
  • Make an emergency kit – If you wait until your community has a flood warning to prepare for flooding, it’s unlikely you will be able to take the necessary precautions in time. FEMA’s preparedness website, Ready.gov, has tips for how you and your family can prepare before a flood strikes. Specifically, an emergency kit (containing non-perishable food items, flashlight, hand-crank radio, airtight container for important documents, and other items) can prove invaluable if your home is flooded.
  • Insure your property by purchasing flood insurance – Many people may not think of insurance as a way to be prepared, but it can be crucial in helping individuals and communities recover quickly. Homeowner’s insurance typically does not cover damage or losses from flooding, so contact your insurance agent to find out more. Flood insurance policies normally take 30 days to become effective, so it’s important to consider flood insurance before flooding hits.

Floods occur somewhere in the United States or its territories nearly every day of the year. So be prepared and be FloodSmart by taking action on the three steps above to reduce the impact a flood will have on you, your family or your business.

- Craig and Jack

On the Road with Our Pacific Area Partners

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As the U.S. government continues to offer support to the people of Japan, and FEMA continues to stay in close contact with our state partners along the West Coast that were impacted by Friday's tsunami, I am traveling to Hawaii and American Samoa this week to meet with our partners in emergency management from across the pacific, and discuss how together, we can build more resilient communities.

Although this trip had been scheduled for quite some time, long before Friday, what just happened in Japan underscores the importance of building strong relationships, across the entire emergency management team. I started out my trip yesterday in Honolulu, where FEMA has our Pacific Area Office, also known as our PAO. The PAO, along with our regional office in Oakland, CA, was in constant contact with Hawaii state officials throughout Friday, and continue to work closely with them as they begin to conduct assessments of the damage the tsunami caused. While in Honolulu, staff from our PAO and regional office and I met with Governor Abercrombie and his staff, where we discussed the aftermath of the tsunami and how the state was faring. While there have been no requests for federal assistance yet, the Governor and I both agreed that our strong partnership helped during the state's immediate response. We were ready to help any way needed, and FEMA will continue to work to support the state as recovery efforts get underway.

For the next three days, I'm in American Samoa, where FEMA has been working to support the territory's ongoing recovery from the devastating tsunami that struck in September 2009. Today, I'll be meeting with Governor Tulafono and other territory and local officials and touring some of our ongoing recovery projects. Tomorrow, I'll be participating in the O'hana Pacific Area Risk Managers Annual Conference, which many of our federal, state and territory partners are attending. There's no doubt that the devastation in Japan will be on all of our minds -- and make our discussions all the more relevant.

The bottom line is, as the people of Samoa learned a year and a half ago, none of us are invincible to a catastrophic disaster. The recent earthquakes in Chile, in New Zealand, which I experienced firsthand, and in Japan should be an important reminder to all of us that earthquakes and other disaster can strike anytime, anywhere. We all need to do our part to be prepared.

I'm looking forward to a week of constructive meetings and dialogues that will help us continue to build on our efforts at FEMA. I'll continue to check in from the road - so stay tuned to the blog for more updates.

- Tim

Over 1 million in for the Central U.S. Shakeout Drill

As the tragic events in Japan have made clear, earthquakes can strike with no notice and cause devastating consequences.  In the U.S., many areas are at risk for an earthquake, which is why preparing is so important.

In addition to creating your family emergency plan and getting a kit, earthquake drills can enforce how to stay safe during and immediately after a quake.  One such drill is the Great Central U.S. Shakeout, a multi-state earthquake drill that focuses on the potentially life-saving actions of “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” during/after an earthquake.

The drill will only be effective if people participate and, so far, over 1 million people have signed up.  That’s great, but if you haven’t signed up for the Shakeout, do so today, and if you have already, take the time to tell a friend to sign up.

While we don’t know where or when the next earthquake will strike, we can all take steps to lessen the effects of a quake.  And wherever you live in the U.S., check out these earthquake preparedness tips from Ready.gov to get started.

Recent flooding serves as a reminder

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The Northeast, and particularly the State of New Jersey, has been hit with significant flooding over the past few days

We’re continuing to closely monitor the situation along with our state and local agencies, as well the National Weather Service forecast offices.  At the request of Governor Christie, we will be assisting the State of New Jersey with preliminary damage assessments, examining the extent of the damage from the recent floods.  (See this blog post about the disaster declaration process and spring flooding.)

As Flood Safety Awareness Week continues, the recent flooding in the Northeast serves as a great reminder of the importance of being prepared for floods.  This is especially true if you are in a low-lying area, near water or downstream from a dam.  Even a very small stream or dry creek bed can overflow and create flooding.

I encourage you to take steps to get prepared for flooding, and visit Ready.gov/floodawareness to learn more.

- Lynn

Flood Safety: Be Aware, Be Prepared

National Flood Safety Awareness Week, March 14-18, is an excellent opportunity for all Americans to become more educated about the dangers that flooding can cause and what steps to take to be prepared for the risk of flooding.  

The current flooding occurring in parts of the Midwest, Southern and Northeastern parts of the nation  are a very real reminder that floods can happen anywhere and at anytime in the United States. Flooding, the nation's most common natural disaster can and does happen in every U.S. state and territory.

All floods are not alike, though. Some develop slowly during an extended period of rain, or during a warming trend after a heavy snow. Others, such as flash floods, can occur very rapidly, without warning or even any visible signs of rain. That’s why it’s critical to be prepared for flooding no matter where you live.

Here are some actions that you and your family can take today  to become better prepared:

  • Get an emergency supply kit - This includes items like non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries. You may want to prepare a portable kit and keep it in your car, which would include copies of prescription medications and medical supplies and copies of important documents like a driver's license, Social Security card, etc.
  • Create a family emergency plan - Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so you should know how to contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.  Plan places where your family will meet, notify caregivers and make plans for your pets.
  • Purchase flood insurance – A flood insurance policy can protect your home, property, or business from the financial damages of flooding.  Most homeowner’s insurance does not cover damage from flooding, so visit FloodSmart.gov to learn more.  Flood insurance policies normally have a 30-day waiting period before they go into effect, so make sure you’re protected before flooding occurs.
  • Be informed about your flood risk – As snow melts and spring rains fall, the National Weather Service uses several terms to help you identify the stages of flood hazard:
    • Flood Watch: Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information 
    • Flash Flood Watch: Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information. 
    • Flood Warning: Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately. 
    • Flash Flood Warning: A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately.

For more information about flood safety, visit www.Ready.gov/floodawareness.

From the White House: Ongoing Response to the Earthquakes and Tsunami in Japan

The White House released an overview of the United States' response in support of Japan:

Any U.S Citizens in need of emergency assistance should send an e-mail to JapanEmergencyUSC@state.gov with detailed information about their location and contact information, and monitor the U.S. Department of State website at travel.state.gov.

U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID) is coordinating the overall U.S. government efforts in support of the Japanese governments response to the earthquakes and subsequent tsunami that hit Friday and are currently directing individuals to www.usaid.gov for information about response donations.

USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) set up a Response Management Team in DC and sent a Disaster Assistance Response Team to Tokyo, which includes people with nuclear expertise from the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Health and Human Services (HHS) as well the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Two Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Teams (LA County and Fairfax County teams) which total 144 members plus 12 search and rescue canines and up to 45 metric tons of rescue equipment are also on the ground in Misawa, Japan and will begin searching at first light March 14.

The Department of Defense has the USS Reagan on station off the coast of Japan and the USS Essex en route, and is currently using an air facility in Misawa as a forward operating base.

The American Red Cross (ARC) International Services team is supporting the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) to assess the impact, determine response efforts, and assist the people of Japan.

Officials from the Department of Energy, NRC, and other agencies have maintained contact with Japanese officials and will provide whatever assistance the Japanese government requests as they work to stabilize their damaged nuclear reactors.

With regards to the United States, the NRC has released information stating that Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Territories and the U.S. West Coast are not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity.

Read the full update on whitehouse.gov.

Smoke Alarms and Springing Forward

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As we spring forward an hour for Daylight Savings, it’s a great reminder to make sure you have a working smoke alarm in your home.  Smoke alarms significantly increase your chances of surviving a deadly home fire, so we’re encouraging everyone to take simple steps to be prepared:

  • Test and clean your smoke alarms today and on the first of every month
  • Replace the batteries at least once a year
  • Place smoke alarms on every level of your residence and in every bedroom
  • Check the manufacture/expiration date on the smoke alarm (yes, smoke alarms have expiration dates)

And I also wanted to turn your attention to this article from the Portland Fire Department that tells the story of how a family’s fire escape plan saved the lives of two young girls and their mother, so please remember to practice your family escape plan --- it can literally save your life.

For more information about home smoke alarms and fire sprinklers, visit www.usfa.dhs.gov/smokealarms.

Please share these tips with your friends and family, and if you're on Twitter, join in the conversation by using the hashtag #imprepared after you test your smoke alarm.

- Rich

Tsunami Update 5: Final tsunami advisory cancelled for U.S.

From the National Weather Service:

All Tsunami Warnings and Advisories have been canceled for the U.S.

Damaging tsunamis are no longer expected to impact the U.S. west coast states, Alaska, and British Columbia. As local conditions can cause a wide variation in tsunami impact, the all clear determinations must be made by local authorities.

Visit this interactive map to see the latest, official NWS watches, warnings and advisories currently in effect for all types of hazards.

Bookmark mobile.weather.gov/ and m.fema.gov/ on your smartphone so you're always prepared when you're on the go.

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