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Quick Update 2: Supporting the States’ Response and Recovery

Editor's Note: This blog post was updated on May 26 at 3:35 p.m. EDT.

Officials meet in Joplin, Missouri.
Joplin, MO, May 25, 2011 -- Administrator Craig Fugate (second from the left) and Rev. David Myers (left), director of the DHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, meet with Dr. Kevin Ezell (second from right), president, Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, and an unidentified member of the Southern Baptist response team, in Joplin, Mo. The group is meeting inside a Mobile Emergency Response Support vehicle, equipped with phone and video communications systems.

Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families in Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and other states impacted by severe storms and tornadoes. As of this morning, we continue to support the states’ response and recovery efforts in Missouri, Minnesota and the other areas affected by severe weather.

At the direction of President Obama, senior administration officials from across the federal family traveled to Joplin to meet with state and local officials, assess the damage from the May 15 devastating tornadoes, to ensure the state is receiving all the support needed for response and recovery operations. Officials from the White House, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, Small Business Administration, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration joined Administrator Craig Fugate who has been on the ground in Joplin since Monday.

Current and former players with the St. Louis Rams are arriving in Joplin to visit a Red Cross shelter and tour the damage. The players are traveling with DeMaurice Smith, executive director, National Football League Players Association, which is one of many private sector partners that helps work with disaster survivors and lifts the spirits in communities reeling from tragedy. We thank them for their visit to Joplin, and for all the work they do to help people and communities rebuild.

Today’s forecast from the National Weather Service is calling for the potential of severe weather across much of the U.S., covering an area from Louisiana up to New Hampshire. Severe storms are possible parts of the Great Plains as well, stretching from Montana to Nebraska.

If your area has the potential for severe weather, be sure to stay updated with your local forecast and continue to listen to the direction of local officials. You can also take steps now to get prepared for severe weather at

We will continue to provide our latest updates on this blog. See this blog post for the latest on the role of the federal government.

Other links
- Blog post on how to help disaster survivors in Joplin
- Information on helping survivors after a disaster

Continuing to Monitor Severe Weather

Editor's Note, updated on May 26, 2011: an update to this blog post has been posted.

Through our regional offices, we're closely monitoring the severe weather and tornado watches and warnings as they continue. We are ready to support our state partners and the entire emergency management team as they prepare for and respond to the severe weather.

Here are some tips to remain safe:

  • A tornado watch means a tornado is possible in your area.
  • A tornado warning is when a tornado is actually occurring, take shelter immediately.
  • Listen to local and state officials for emergency information and instructions, and follow local news reports for the latest updates in your area.

For more tornado safety tips, visit or on your smartphone. You can also visit on your smartphone for local weather forecasts.


Midwest Storms Recap 3: Overview of Federal Family's Support For States' Response Efforts

Since the deadly tornadoes first struck parts of the country last week, the federal government has been in constant contact with all of the impacted states as they responded to and began recovery efforts from these devastating storms.

The administration, through FEMA, is committed to bringing all of the resources of the federal family to bear to support Missouri and the other states devastated by the deadly tornadoes and storms this weekend.

Through our regional offices in Kansas City, MO and Chicago, IL, has been in close contact and coordination with the states since the storms first struck, and has already deployed staff and resources to the impacted areas in Missouri to help with response needs.

Here is a recap of the support efforts of the federal family today:

Wednesday, May 25

  • Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano calls Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin to express her condolences on behalf of the federal family and to offer support for the communities affected by last night's deadly tornadoes.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its federal partners continue to work closely with state and local officials in Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and other states impacted by the deadly tornadoes and severe storms that struck the Midwest over the weekend and last night.
  • In Oklahoma, FEMA staff on the ground, including a Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO), tour damages with Oklahoma Emergency Management (OEM) Director and Oklahoma Governor Fallin. The FCO has been embedded with state officials at the Oklahoma Emergency Operations Center since last night.
  • FEMA deploys a regional Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) to Oklahoma to coordinate with state and local officials to identify needs and shortfalls impacting disaster response and recovery.
  • In Arkansas, FEMA has staff on the ground, including a Federal Coordinating Officer, working closely with the Governor and the Arkansas Emergency Management team.
  • The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, Oklahoma is forecasting a high risk of severe thunderstorms for portions of the Mid-Mississippi Valley into the Lower Ohio Valley today and tonight, including areas around St. Louis, Mo., Little Rock, Ark. and Memphis, Tenn. These storms have the potential to produce large hail, strong winds, and torrential rainfall.
  • FEMA, through its regional offices in Kansas City, Missouri, Chicago, Illinois, Denton, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia, continue to stay in constant contact with our state and local counterparts as we monitor additional severe weather.
  • FEMA Administrator Fugate continues to tour affected areas in Missouri and meet with disaster survivors, state and local officials, first responders and representatives of voluntary organizations to ensure the state has what they need as response efforts continue.
  • One Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) is open in Joplin, Missouri. It is staffed by state, voluntary agency and federal personnel to help those whose homes or businesses were affected by recent storms and tornadoes. This center is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, until further notice. At the DRC, representatives from FEMA, state and other agencies meet one on one with disaster survivors, explain assistance programs and help survivors apply for disaster aid.
  • National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD) member organizations such as American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Convoy of Hope, and many others continue to be heavily involved in the disaster response by providing assistance to Missouri disaster survivors. The Red Cross Safe and Well secure website continues to provide a way for people to find information on people affected by the storms.
  • Supplies such as meals, water, cots and blankets are either on site or en route to three strategically located incident support bases established in three locations across Missouri. The support bases will allow FEMA to move supplies closer to the affected area in case they are needed.
  • A federal mortuary assistance team has arrived to the Joplin area, and will work under the guidance of local authorities, providing technical assistance and personnel. This effort was coordinated through Emergency Support Function 8, which was previously activated by FEMA, and authorizes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate hospital medical needs and patient evacuations, in support of the state, if necessary.
  • More than six FEMA Community Relations (CR) teams are on the ground meeting with disaster survivors in Joplin and additional Community Relations specialists are en route, explaining the assistance available and to help survivors register for assistance. So far, CR teams have worked one-on-one with more than 200 tornado survivors in Joplin. Over the past several days, they have been actively canvassing neighborhoods, visiting shelters and supporting the operation of disaster recovery centers.

See yesterday's recap of federal support efforts on the blog.

White House Blog: Volunteers Prove Essential to Disaster Response

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted on the White House Blog on May 4, 2011, by Divya Kumaraiah, Policy Assistant to the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

Over the past few weeks, a series of devastating tornadoes swept across the country. From Mississippi to Virginia, communities are suffering great losses. The Corporation for National and Community Service’s (CNCS) Disaster Services Unit rapidly mobilized thousands of volunteers to assist local recovery efforts.

Working closely with the State Service Commissions and FEMA, CNCS has built partnerships across public and private sectors to provide critical services to communities in need. In Kentucky, AmeriCorps members support local Red Cross shelters. In St. Louis, AmeriCorps Safety Service Corps deployed members to remove trees from roofs and tarp houses to keep out the rain. Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) and AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) volunteers are providing services such as checking on the welfare of affected residents, clearing debris, delivering clean water, assisting residents with relocation, distributing donations, organizing sandbag efforts to prevent flooding, transporting elderly residents to medical facilities, and providing case management support.

For Kelly DeGraff, the Senior Advisor for Disaster Services at CNCS, the agency's response to the tornadoes in Mississippi was particularly poignant. In less than 24 hours after the tornado struck Jackson, MS, CNCS volunteers were on the ground serving affected residents. A team of six NCCC members from the Southern Region campus in Vicksburg, MS helped to feed residents and distribute supplies. For nearly a week, team Leader Moses Moua, 23, of Orlando, FL and Corps Member Michael Brown, 20, of Indianapolis, IN provided day and night staffing at the American Red Cross shelter in Clinton, MS.

While working in the shelter, Moua and Brown spent time with Frelicia May and her family of sixteen. May, her husband, sister, children and grandchildren were painfully familiar with being in a shelter following a storm. After losing everything during Hurricane Katrina, they had drifted to several places in Louisiana and Texas before settling near her family in Jackson, MS. On April 15, when the tornado struck May’s new home, she gathered the few things she could salvage and headed to her sister’s two-bedroom apartment. They quickly realized that the cramped apartment would not provide the large family sufficient space or resources to get back on their feet.

The May family took refuge in the American Red Cross shelter where Moua and Brown welcomed them. After a few days at the shelter, May spoke affectionately of the NCCC members – “We love them. They laugh and talk to us and treat us like family. Michael is really good with the kids.” In addition to providing the families with basic needs, Brown has been playing tic-tac-toe, basketball, coloring, and reading to the 13 children.

“I can do a lot of things that I couldn’t do before, like build things. I knew exactly what to do when I got to this shelter because we had training on it,” said Brown. He said that being an NCCC volunteer has taught him a lot of skills and given him training that he didn’t know he would utilize. It has also taught him the power of giving back.

Throughout the year, CNCS engages more than 1.5 million Americans of all ages and backgrounds in service. Senior Corps, AmeriCorps State and National, and the AmeriCorps NCCC volunteers have been particularly active in responding to the recent disasters. These programs play an essential role assisting communities responding to a disaster. CNCS volunteer programs provide a great deal of value both to the communities in which they serve and the volunteers themselves.

For more information, contact the CNCS Disaster Services Unit at

Day 4 – Hurricane Preparedness Week: Inland Flooding

Resident pushes car through flood waters.
Brownsville, Texas, July 24, 2008 -- A resident pushes his stalled car through a flooded street. Hurricane Dolly made landfall on South Padre island with 120 mph winds.

This week is National Hurricane Preparedness Week, so we’ve been sharing ways you can get prepared before hurricane season begins on June 1.  Today, we wanted to look at the threat that severe tropical weather poses to inland areas, specifically, flooding.

While many immediately think of strong winds when they think of hurricanes, heavy rains and inland flooding are equally destructive and dangerous.  Hurricanes and tropical storms have the potential to unload heavy and sustained rainfall which can overwhelm drainage systems and cause flooding.

In addition to our normal steps of getting a kit, making a plan and being informed, you can also get prepared for flooding by purchasing flood insurance.  Flooding can cause significant financial damage to homes and businesses, and flood insurance can help protect yourself from this risk.   Visit for more information on flood insurance. (Flood insurance policies typically take 30 days before they take effect, so don’t wait until it’s too late.)

For more tips on getting prepared for flooding, visit, or check out this video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.   While we can’t predict where hurricanes may strike this season, we can all take steps now to get prepared.

May is National Building Safety Month


The devastation caused by the recent tornadoes and thunderstorms has highlighted how critical building safety is to overall public safety, property protection, and to our economic lifeblood.  Fittingly, President Obama has proclaimed May as National Building Safety Month in order to heighten awareness of the key role that the development and construction of safe residential and commercial building standards plays in the fight against catastrophic damage caused by disasters.

So in light of National Building Safety month, I wanted to share FEMA’s efforts in this area, along with some additional resources to help make your home or business better prepared for a disaster.

What We’re Doing
As an agency, FEMA works with national building code organizations and building officials on a daily basis to help develop effective building codes and standards that will make structures safer and more resilient.  As part of the agency’s mission, scientists and engineers are working to help establish stronger standards for disaster resilience, safety, and fire prevention in the construction and retrofitting of buildings to help Americans better withstand and recover from all disasters.

Our Building Science Branch is dedicated to helping reduce risk to life and property by providing state of the art hazard mitigation solutions for the built environment.  Working in collaboration with many professionals from FEMA, its stakeholders and its public and private partners, these efforts are helping communities and citizens across the nation prepare for, withstand, and recover from disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.

To promote improved building safety standards, we cooperate closely with the International Code Council, the nation’s pre-imminent organization dedicated to protecting the health, safety, and welfare of people by creating better buildings and safer communities.

Building Safety Resources 
FEMA recommends that all Americans learn about simple steps they can take today to better prepare their home or business property for a disaster.  Even in the recent outbreaks of tornadoes and storms, we saw how taking steps, such as building a safe room, can save lives.  With this focus on personal preparedness in mind, here are a few resources on making your home or business safer today:

For more on National Building Safety Month, visit the International Code Council Foundation.

Rethinking FEMA’s Public Assistance Programs for Communities Affected by Disaster


Several blog posts have talked about how the federal assistance process often works in various disasters. When the President authorizes a disaster declaration, he authorizes a variety of response and recovery programs; and one of those programs is our public assistance program.

The public assistance program provides grants to states who provide funds to applicants from state, local, tribal and territorial governments and certain private, nonprofit organizations for emergency work (such as debris removal or sheltering) and repair and replacement work, such as repairing damaged schools, fire stations, and other work, allowing their communities to quickly respond to and recover from major disasters and emergencies.

Since the program began, we have assisted countless communities across the country during their recovery, and allocated an average of $3.3 billion in public assistance funding annually. (Find additional facts and statistics about the PA program).

We have a challenge in providing financial assistance to disaster-affected communities quickly, while also ensuring proper fiscal accountability, and we have heard from numerous stakeholders that these processes can be difficult to understand, so we are seeking ways to improve our processes.

So here’s what we’re looking for: if you’ve been involved with our public assistance program, at any level, we’re asking for your feedback on streamlining and changing the program to ensure quick delivery of assistance, more options for community recovery, and fiscal accountability.

We’re calling this a “bottom-up” review, and we’re looking for ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the PA program with input from our stakeholders. We have consulted our partners from the National Advisory Council and the National Emergency Management Association, as well as other stakeholder groups to ensure this review is open and transparent, to reflect the valuable input from those we serve.

To give an overview of the bottom-up review, it’s being conducted in four phases, and we’re currently in phase one:

Phase I – Stakeholder Engagement (current phase)
FEMA will engage external stakeholders through FEMA’s website by soliciting direct feedback on proposed program concepts, and interaction with the National Advisory Council and Regional Advisory Councils, States, Tribes, national associations, and local stakeholders.

Phase II – Feedback Analysis & Program Option Development
Based on the input received, we will develop proposed programmatic options for consideration by FEMA leadership and stakeholders.

Phase III – Vetting and Validation of Concepts
We will provide stakeholders an opportunity to review and provide feedback on the proposed programmatic options.

Phase IV – Feedback Analysis & Development of Final Option(s)
After evaluating and incorporating changes based on feedback, FEMA senior leadership will review programmatic option(s) and decide on a course of action.

We have posted an issue paper that can help guide you in formulating feedback. For additional information visit

If you are interested in submitting feedback, suggestions or new ideas, email us at by May 31, 2011.

Quick Update: Supporting the States’ Response and Recovery

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families in Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and other states impacted by tornadoes last night.

In Oklahoma, FEMA already has staff on the ground, including a Federal Coordinating Officer embedded with state officials at the Oklahoma Emergency Operations Center, and in Arkansas, we also have a Federal Coordinating Officer embedded with state officials at their Emergency Operations Center. FEMA also has proactively placed two Incident Management Assistance Teams on stand-by to assist with coordination efforts, should they be needed and requested by the state.  Damage assessments are beginning in the affected states and will give us a better sense of the scope of the damages. We stand ready to support the response and recovery efforts.

In addition, we continue to support the emergency management team in Joplin, Mo. and Minneapolis, Minn. from Sunday night’s deadly tornado outbreak.  In Joplin, specifically, we currently:

  • Have a Mobile Emergency Response Support Team on the ground providing self-sustaining telecommunications, logistics, and operations support elements
  • Are assisting the state with technical advice on debris removal,
  • Have an IMAT team on the ground to coordinate with state and local officials to identify potential needs,
  • Are coordinating with the Department of Health and Human Services on meeting hospital and medical needs, and
  • Are working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in establishing housing priorities.

Here’s an excerpt from a statement by Administrator Fugate this morning on the developing situation:

These historic storms have highlighted the incredible resolve of the American people, especially the first responders, emergency workers, firefighters, volunteers and neighbors who have been working around the clock for days to respond to these storms and conduct search and rescue efforts. Their efforts have been extraordinary. To all of these heroes across the country, we thank you for your efforts and will do whatever we can to support you as our work continues in the days, weeks and months ahead.

We urge all Americans in regions where additional severe weather is expected today to continue to listen to the instructions of your state and local officials and monitor your local news for emergency updates. If you haven’t already, pick a safe location, such as a storm cellar or a basement, where you and your family can stay until the weather passes. It’s essential that everyone who can get themselves out of harm’s way does.

We will continue to provide our latest updates on this blog, so check back often, and get prepared for tornadoes at

Tornadoes Touching Down in Oklahoma – Ready to Support the State

Editor's Note, May 25, 11:50 a.m.: See this updated blog post for the latest on our ongoing support for the ongoing tornado response and recovery efforts.

Through our regional offices in Denton, Texas and Kansas City, Mo., we are closely monitoring the severe storms and tornadoes currently passing through Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. We stand ready to support our state partners and the entire emergency management team across the affected area as they prepare for and respond to the severe weather.

As President Obama has said throughout the day, if you are in the path of the storms, listen to local and state officials for emergency information and instructions, and follow local news reports for the latest updates. You can take steps today to get prepared for a tornado by visiting or on your smartphone.

We currently have staff on the ground in Oklahoma, and have placed an Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) on stand-by to assist with coordination efforts, should they be needed and requested by the state. (An IMAT is an emergency response team with dedicated staff able to deploy within two hours and arrive at an incident within 12 hours. The team supports the initial establishment of a unified command and provides situational awareness for federal and state decision-makers crucial to determining the level and type of immediate federal support that may be required.)

We will continue to update the blog as necessary, so check back for our latest updates.

With all the tornado activity, here are some reminders on terminology from the National Weather Service:A tornado watch means a tornado is possible in your area.

  • A tornado warning is when a tornado is actually occurring, take shelter immediately.

Day 3 – Hurricane Preparedness Week: Wind Danger

Hurricane season is fast approaching (beginning June 1), and we are encouraging those in hurricane-prone areas to get prepared as part of National Hurricane Preparedness Week. Yesterday, we focused on getting prepared for the storm surge often caused by hurricanes– today’s theme is keeping your family and home safe from tropical storm- and hurricane-force winds.

While hurricane-force winds often make the news, there’s no such thing as “just a tropical storm”. Hurricane- and tropical storm-force winds can send debris through the air, causing damage to homes and businesses. Also, hurricanes can also produce tornadoes that add to the storm's destructive power, so it’s important to get prepared for the high winds of severe tropical weather.

Here are some tips on getting your home or business prepared for high winds. For more information on getting prepared for a hurricane, visit

  • Reinforce garage doors. If wind enters a garage, it can cause dangerous & expensive structural damage.
  • Be sure trees and shrubs around your home are well trimmed.
  • Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to board up windows with 5/8” marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.

For more information on the dangers of high winds, see this video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or visit their website.


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