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The Entire Team – Ready to Support Louisiana

For weeks, we have been monitoring the potential for significant flooding in Louisiana, along with the other states currently being impacted by the Mississippi River flooding and historic water levels. And similar to their actions to mitigate the impacts of flooding in Missouri several weeks ago, today the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana to help minimize damage to property, structures, and to protect millions of people from historic flood levels.

Our thoughts are with all of those affected by the breach of the Morganza Spillway. While the Army Corps is responsible for levee maintenance and control and the decision to breach this Spillway, FEMA, the USDA and the rest of the federal family are focused on ensuring the safety and recovery of the people and communities we serve, and at the direction of President Obama, we have been working with the state of Louisiana for quite some time to prepare for this event.

USDA wants to assure all farmers who purchased crop insurance and whose crops have been damage by the flooding that you will be eligible for crop insurance indemnities in accordance with the provisions of your crop insurance policy. To all of those producers who are unable to plant, but have purchased crop insurance, you will be eligible for prevented planting payments in accordance with your policy.

In preparation for this action, under the leadership of Secretary Napolitano, FEMA has already deployed staff, including a Federal Coordinating Officer, on the ground in Louisiana. These staff, along with our Regional Administrator, Tony Russell, are in constant contact with the governor and his emergency management team, and are working side by side in the state’s emergency operations center. In addition to personnel on the ground, we’ve identified a staging area in the Baton Rouge area, to ensure the needed supplies, such as water, meals, and blankets, are located close to the affected areas, should they be needed.

In the past two weeks since historic floods have affected the Mississippi River Basin, both of our agencies have been providing updates on the situation and working closely with state and local officials to assist impacted communities and help get people back on their feet. This will continue to be a team effort. Working together, in support of all of our state partners being impacted by this flooding, we will do everything we can to help mitigate this damage and protect the families, farmland and communities we serve.

Preparing For The Future of Emergency Management

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Back in March, I blogged about two documents that will shape FEMA’s future - our strategic plan and "Publication 1".  There is no doubt that as the world continues to change, these changes will have profound effects on the emergency management profession.

In addition to the two guiding documents I shared in my previous blog post, we’re also helping the emergency management profession better plan for the future through our Strategic Foresight Initiative.  The initiative is an effort from a cross-section of the emergency community to consider questions like these:

  • How should the effects of climate change be considered as investments are made in mitigation?
  • What capabilities will emergency managers need as America’s population ages and becomes more diverse?
  • How can emergency managers leverage social networking to become more effective?
  • What events and circumstances have the potential to transform the field of emergency management, similar to September 11 or Hurricane Katrina?

The SFI community identified nine drivers that will affect the future of emergency management:

  • the changing role of the individual in disaster preparedness, 
  • climate change,
  • critical infrastructure, 
  • the evolving terrorist threat, 
  • global interdependencies and globalization, 
  • government budgets, 
  • technological innovation and dependency, 
  • universal access to and use of information, and 
  • U.S. demographic shifts.  

The next step for the SFI community is to explore key trends in each of these issue areas, with the goal of helping emergency managers across the country to be better prepared for changes in their profession. (Read our summary of findings PDF or TXT.)

Over the next few months, I’ll write additional blog posts that analyze each of the key drivers identified by the Strategic Foresight Initiative community.  I invite you to post any comments, thoughts, or suggestions you may have on the nine drivers above and how they may impact emergency management.  I look forward to sharing the initiative’s findings in future blog posts.

American Red Cross: Safe and Well in Alabama

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It might sound counterintuitive - if people’s cell phones are out, what are the chances they will be able to register themselves on a website? That’s what makes the American Red Cross’s approach to family reunification so special. Our dedicated volunteers are present on the ground after a disaster strikes to provide supported registration on the Safe and Well Website (www.redcross.org/safeandwell). They help people register on the site and capture registrations any way they can.

During the Alabama disaster response, registrations have been collected mostly via paper forms for back-data entry, but we have many strategies for getting the job done. The presence of Safe and Well volunteers in a disaster-affected community helps people connect with their loved ones, but it also allows those volunteers to be eyes and ears on the ground for operation headquarters.  As they travel in outlying areas, they are in a position to gather information about unmet needs. They can bring that information back to the disaster relief operation headquarters and make sure it receives the attention it deserves.

The inquiries coming in from the public have made their way to me via our call centers and local Red Cross chapters. We have even had two requests from prison chaplains looking to give peace of mind to men serving time far from their tornado-ravaged hometowns. I work in the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center, and each morning I receive a consolidated report from our call centers with new cases for our field teams.

Looking through those call logs gives me a glimpse of the conversations our tireless Red Cross call agents have had with those in the affected areas. I have seen many call records indicating that the agent helped a worried family member conduct a search on the Safe and Well website for a missing loved one. It gives me such joy to see that someone’s fears were alleviated in a moment when they heard that a note was posted on Safe and Well saying their loved one was okay.

There are times, however, when the person’s name is not found in our registry. If the sought person has a serious, pre-existing health or mental health condition, Safe and Well volunteers can conduct a search for that person in the community. My role at national headquarters is to speak with the people seeking their loved ones, gather as much information as I can, and send the cases down to the teams we have working on the ground.  Field teams drive for hours and hours through affected communities. They knock on doors, speak with neighbors, and check local shelters for information about missing people. So far our determined and passionate teams have resolved 62 of our 64 cases. If you have not been able to locate a loved one on the Safe and Well Website, and if that person had a pre-existing medical condition, know that you can initiate a search request by contacting your local American Red Cross chapter.

Editor’s Note: You can also access Safe and Well on your mobile phone, at www.redcross.org/safeandwell. The American Red Cross is one of the many voluntary agencies that help in times of disasters.  For information on other organizations active during disasters, visit www.nvoad.org.

Photos 4: Support Efforts for Southern U.S. Tornadoes and Flooding

Here's a look at some of the photos from this week. For our latest updates, stay tuned to this blog.

If you or someone you know has sustained losses in a county that is designated for federal assistance, apply for assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov, on your phone at http://m.fema.gov, by calling (800) 621-3362 / TTY (800) 462-7585, or by visiting a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) near you (find DRC’s on your phone).

HS Secretary Janet Napolitano stopped in Cherokee Valley, Ga., near Ringgold, to see the destruction of the April 27, 2011 tornado.
Ringgold, Ga., May 8, 2011 -- DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano stopped in Cherokee Valley, Ga., near Ringgold, to see the destruction of the April 27, 2011 tornado. She met with residents who lived through the tragic event. She was joined by Charley English, Director of Georgia's Emergency Management Agency.


DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano meets with residents of Ringgold at the First Baptist Church.
Ringgold, Ga., May 8, 2011 -- DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano meets with residents of Ringgold at the First Baptist Church during her visit to the tornado ravaged area. With her are Tom Stufano (Left) Chief of Staff of the Georgia disaster, and FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer, Gracia Szczech (Right).

Janice Sawyer, Site Director for the Capitol River Chapter (Miss.) of the American Red Cross, points to a flooding home.
Vicksburg, Miss., May 11, 2011 -- Janice Sawyer, Site Director for the Capitol River Chapter (Miss.) of the American Red Cross, points to a flooding home in Vicksburg, Miss. The Red Cross is assisting in the ongoing response and recovery efforts. (Photo courtesy of the American Red Cross. See more photos, videos, and updates from the Red Cross.)

Officials with multiple agencies discuss plans for removal of the April tornado debris.
Birmingham, Ala., May 11, 2011 -- FEMA Region IV Administrator Phillip May (left); US Army Corps of Engineers Commander, MG Todd T. Semonite; FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) Mike Byrne; Alabama Emergency Management Agency Executive Officer Jeff Bayard; FEMA Deputy FCO, Joe M. Girot, and other staff, discuss plans for removal of the April tornado debris. FEMA Public Assistance funds can pay a portion of debris removal cost.

Volunteers with the Salvation Army help unload a truck of home furnishings for disaster survivors.
Raleigh, N.C., May 12, 2011 -- The Salvation Army staff partner with the Green Chair Project to help disaster survivors in North Carolina re-furnish their homes. The Green Chair Project makes donated home furnishings available at a low cost to individuals and families identified and referred to Green Chair by its partner agencies. FEMA is responding to severe storms and deadly tornadoes that damaged or destroyed homes and businesses across North Carolina on April 16, 2011.


FEMA officials look at a map showing storm damage in the city.
Pleasant Grove, Ala., May 6, 2011 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate (right), Alabama Emergency Management Executive Officer Jeff Byard, Mayor Jerry Brasseale, and FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael F. Byrne look at a map showing storm damage in the city. State and local officials are partners wth FEMA in disaster response and recovery.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and State Senator Roger Bedford greet applicants for assistance at the FEMA/State Disaster Recovery Center.
Hackleburg, Ala., May 6, 2011 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate (center) and State Senator Roger Bedford (right) greet applicants for assistance at the FEMA/State Disaster Recovery Center. FEMA is here to assist storm affected residents recovery from the deadly April tornado.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate speaks to State and local officials, the press, and others at the Phil Campbell Rescue Squad building.
Phil Campbell, Ala., May 6, 2011 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate speaks to State and local officials, the press, and others at the Phil Campbell Rescue Squad building which is being used as a disaster service center. Administrator Fugate is touring some centers to assess needs and meet with officials in areas affected by the April deadly tornado.

Emergency Alerts Delivered to Your Phone: What Our New PLAN Means to You

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Tuesday’s joint launch of PLAN (Personal Localized Alert Network) with the FCC and the New York City Mayor’s Office marks another major milestone in the deployment of FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert Warning System.  PLAN is the more user friendly public naming for the CMAS (Commercial Mobile Alert System).  The launch in New York City is just that, a launch of the capability, not a pilot.  The system is another tool that allows emergency managers at all levels to communicate alerts and warnings to the public.

With the cooperation of the cellular industry, PLAN will enable citizens to receive alerts about imminent threats on their mobile devices.  So what’s new about this?

  • The messages incorporate broadcast delivery technology and will not be impacted by cellular network congestion – a fancy way of saying the alerts will get through even if cellular networks are swamped.  As we all know, traditional text messages and telephone calls get stuck during heavy cell traffic, so these critical and potentially life-saving alerts will always get through.  
  • The messages are location based and will provide alerts to you about threats where you are currently located.  For example, if you are visiting New York City, you will receive the same alerts as people who live in New York City.  And let’s say you moved to Los Angeles but didn’t change your cell phone number, you would still receive the alerts because you’re in the warning area.
  • And as far as cost, the service comes at no expense to the emergency managers who send the messages.

PLAN and the Emergency Alert System (alerts via TV and radio) are components of FEMA’s IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System) program.  Through IPAWS, we are focused on modernizing our public alerting system, so alerts can be transmitted to the public on as many channels as possible, and PLAN is a major step forward as we enhance our nation’s emergency alert systems.  As we always say at FEMA, we are just one part of a larger emergency management team – and getting PLAN to this stage has been and will continue to be a great team effort.

To help explain where PLAN fits into the overall design of an alerting system and how it affects our key stakeholders – especially the public – I wanted to take a minute to answer some of the most common questions we’ve been hearing.

What was FEMA’s role in PLAN? 

As part of our responsibility to ensure the President can communicate with the American public under all conditions, FEMA instituted and maintains the Emergency Alert System (EAS).  As I mentioned above, EAS are the tests and alerts you receive over radio and TV.  With the public’s reliance on ever evolving technologies, we’ve broadened our approach to include a host of other alert disseminators, including Internet Services, NOAA radios, and state and local unique alerting systems.

We’ve been working with the FCC and the cellular industry on PLAN for several years, when we came up with the vision for technology that will actually transmit the alerts to cell phones.  And if you’ve heard the term Commercial Mobile Alerting System, that’s the term that is more commonly know within the cellular industry.

As part of the IPAWS system, we developed what we call “an aggregator” which takes the original message, puts it into a language that mobile phones carriers can use, and then distributes it over their networks to their customers.

Is PLAN different from CMAS or a change in FEMA’s approach to mobile alerting?

No – for all of our stakeholders in the wireless and other technical communities, PLAN is CMAS, just with a different, more user-friendly name. You can think of PLAN as the public label for CMAS.

So where does the FCC come in?

The FCC, along with other federal agencies like the National Weather Service, is our partner in all things related to IPAWS, including PLAN. The FCC is the governing body for anything that broadcasts and in this case, they wrote the rules for how the cell companies should use and install the equipment, and they have been a great partner in implementing PLAN.

We know there are a lot of players in PLAN, but to break it down simply:

  • A committee of wireless industry representatives, public safety officials, and experts from the alert and warning community recommended the requirements for establishing a mobile alerting system.
  • Wireless carriers choose to voluntarily participate in this program in accordance with rules and recommendations adopted by the FCC.
  • Wireless carriers are responsible for making their networks and mobile phones compatible with the new system.
  • Public safety officials who want to use the new capability are responsible for being able to communicate emergency alerts for transmission to the cellular networks. Remember that only authorized federal, state or local authorities can issue emergency alerts, the same way they do through the radio and TV broadcast emergency alert system.
  • FEMA is working with state and local officials and organizations to help them use the technology and develop best practices and procedures for sending emergency alerts to their specific area or region.

Why was New York City announced early?

Several of our wireless partners – AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile and US Cellular – were able to work with New York City to get the technology ready to implement early, by the end of 2011. This was an exciting development – but it in no way means that we are limiting PLAN to only New York City.

The technology for delivering these messages is available now, and the development and distribution of the phones will make the system ready for everyone to use by April, 2012.

Will PLAN track mobile phone users?

No. PLAN is used only to deliver emergency alerts. In the same way that emergency alerts do not track individual homes when they are displayed on TV sets, PLAN will not be used to monitor wireless device usage or monitor consumers’ locations.

Will I be swamped with messages I don’t want?

No.  PLAN is a technology that will be incorporated into the phone itself.  Consumers do not need to sign up for this service.  You will not be able to turn off a Presidential alert, but you will be able to turn off other alerts.  Don’t worry, the President isn’t going to flood you with running commentary on your local events.  Just like with sending alerts to your radio and tv, it’s our insurance that the President can always communicate with the public even if they aren’t by a TV or radio.

How much will consumers pay to receive PLAN alerts?

Participating carriers will not charge consumers a fee to receive PLAN alerts.

How much will it cost states and localities to participate in PLAN?

We anticipate that any costs will be minimal.  State and local authorities will only need a compatible software program to access the system to send alerts and warnings.  Many emergency managers already use programs that are compatible with the system.

Does PLAN replace the Emergency Alert System?

Absolutely not. As I mentioned above, the Emergency Alert System is for notifications via the TV and radio and PLAN is for notifications via your smartphone.  PLAN and the Emergency Alert System are components of IPAWS.

PLAN was never intended to serve as the only way to alert the public of an emergency.  Just like we use multiple digital channels to communicate with the public (full website, mobile site, Twitter or Facebook), PLAN is another tool that will complement the Emergency Alert System and state and local alerting systems.

Will PLAN be available everywhere?

Participation in PLAN by wireless carriers is voluntary. Some carriers will offer PLAN over their entire networks and all of their devices, while others will offer it over parts of their service areas. Ultimately, we expect that PLAN will be available in most of the country. Consumers should check with their wireless carriers to determine the extent to which they are offering PLAN.

How will subscribers know if their carrier offers PLAN?

Under FCC rules, wireless carriers that have limited participation in PLAN will be required to notify existing and new customers of this fact. Consumers should check with their wireless carriers to determine the extent to which they are offering PLAN.

Will consumers need a new phone or a smart phone to receive alerts?

That depends. Some phones may require only software upgrades to receive alerts, while in other cases, a subscriber may need to purchase a new PLAN-capable phone. Consumers should check with their wireless carrier regarding the availability of PLAN-capable phones.

What is the incentive for a consumer to upgrade to a PLAN-capable phone?

This one is easy – PLAN will help us save lives. We hope that everyone will be able to benefit from this tool when it is fully available.

We know there will continue to be a lot of questions about PLAN, and we will do our best to answer them here. In that spirit, I wanted to share another article that gives a good sense of how PLAN is just one part of our work.

If there are other questions I can help answer, please leave a comment below.

The Recoupment Process and What It Means for Recent Disaster Survivors

As some frequent blog readers may remember, back in January, we first explained on this blog that FEMA, along with other federal agencies government wide, is required by law to identify any potential improper payments of federal disaster aid, and to take steps to recover those funds.

I also testified before the Senate on this same matter back in March.

Recoupment is not a new process that only FEMA is required to engage in.  Our agency recently reinitiated the process after placing it on hold in 2007.  And like FEMA, other federal agencies are also required to recoup improper payments that they may have made.  But with the recent severe storms and flooding, we understand that this process raises many concerns, especially among current disaster survivors applying for federal assistance.

Our priority is to make sure that people and communities impacted by the tornadoes are getting the aid they need, and we continue to encourage everyone in eligible states and counties to apply for federal assistance.

Overpayments sometimes occur because FEMA provides Individual Assistance in advance of insurance coverage - and later receipt of that coverage by an individual creates a duplication. In addition, after most disasters there is a small percentage of funds that are disbursed because of processing and human error, largely resulting from the speed by which we distribute assistance.

In recent years, strong protections have been put in place to reduce the number of errors that typically lead to improper disaster assistance payments. These protections are designed to better serve disaster survivors and reduce the number of recoupments for current and future disasters.  And as result of these changes, we have already seen our error rate for assistance payments drop from 14 percent during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to about two percent on average for disasters last year.

Recoupment is a difficult process and one that FEMA, under legal requirements passed by Congress, has worked hard to make as fair as possible for both disaster survivors and taxpayers. We continue to focus on making sure that everyone – whether previous, current or future disaster survivors – has clear and complete information about the recoupment process.

And, we continue to encourage all survivors of the tornadoes, flooding and other recent disasters to contact FEMA to apply for federal disaster aid.

You have most likely seen this information, but in case you may have missed it, there are three easy ways for disaster survivors to apply:

CMT Concert Tonight: One Way To Help Survivors

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We have written recently about our ongoing work with the private sector, and we wanted to share an additional example where you can get involved, too.  Tonight at 9 p.m. EDT, Country Music Television (CMT) will host “Music Builds: The CMT Disaster Relief Concert” to raise awareness and money for disaster survivors affected by the recent storms, tornadoes and flooding.

The event will feature a special call to action by President Obama, along with performances from some of country music’s biggest stars. All money raised will go to the American Red Cross, one of the many voluntary agencies working to help survivors.

In addition to working with CMT, here’s a glimpse of some of the work we’ve been doing with other partners in the private sector:

  • The Outdoor Advertising Association of America has coordinated with their members to post disaster assistance messages on a multitude of digital billboards across the Southeast.  These signs provide critical information in English, en Espanol, and through TTY assisted calls.
High above the catastrophic damage wrought by an F5 tornado, an operational electronic billboard flashes important assistance information to Tuscaloosa, Alabama survivors.Tuscaloosa, AL, May 6, 2011 -- High above the catastrophic damage wrought by an F5 tornado, an operational electronic billboard flashes important assistance information to Tuscaloosa, Alabama survivors.
  • LodgeNet helped survivors by placing our 30-second disaster assistance video in 261 hotels (53,400 rooms), in the same states, on the opening welcome channel.
     
  • We have also worked with the National Football League Players’ Association, most recently in Alabama (see photo below).  Like Goodyear, Family Dollar, Target, Home Depot, Verizon and countless others, they are truly part of the team.
FEMA Deputy Richard Serino, University of Alabama football All-American Javier Arenas, and Alabama EMA Director Art Faulkner view aerial shots of damaged areas in Tuscaloosa.

Tuscaloosa, AL, May 6, 2011 -- FEMA Deputy Richard Serino, University of Alabama football All-American Javier Arenas, and Alabama EMA Director Art Faulkner view aerial shots of damaged areas in Tuscaloosa at the temporary Emergency Operations Center (EOC) located at the Alabama Fire College. The Tuscaloosa EOC was completely destroyed in the tornado.

Donating through an event like the CMT Disaster Relief Concert is just one way you can help disaster survivors – check out this blog post for more information on where you can donate or volunteer.

Connecting the Private Sector to Emergency Response

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As FEMA continues to support our state partners across the country as they respond to and recover from disaster, its important to remember that FEMA is just part of an emergency management team that includes the entire federal family, state, local and tribal governments, the faith-based and non-profit communities and the public.  In addition, a crucial component of our nation’s capability to respond to and recover from disasters rests in the private sector.

Understanding the unique capabilities that businesses have to contribute, FEMA has expanded its capability to communicate, cultivate and advocate for collaboration with the U.S. private sector.

Since November 2010, FEMA’s Private Sector Division has continued to host representatives’ rotations in our National Response and Coordination Center, the nerve center of our ongoing response and recovery efforts. The main responsibility of these representatives is to participate in the National Response and Coordination Center when it’s activated, establishing vital relationships between government and the private sector. 

A billboard tells disaster survivors how to register for federal disaster assistance.

Tuscaloosa, AL, May 6, 2011 -- High above the catastrophic damage wrought by an F5 tornado, an operational electronic billboard flashes important assistance information to Tuscaloosa, Alabama survivors.  The billboard is just one example of effective partnerships with the private sector to assist disaster survivors.

When the deadly tornadoes and storms struck much of the southeast in April, the private sector representative worked to keep more than 200 private sector organizations informed with situation reports and status updates.  They also provided essential information back to FEMA on store openings, closures, conditions and challenges.

As a result of the Private Sector Representative position, we continue to build stronger ties with the private sector, and as a team we are more prepared than ever before.

I would also like to call special attention to the private sector representatives that have participated so far.  Katie Dempsey, from Target Stores Incorporated, was the first private sector representative to participate in this program from November 2010 – February 2011.

Doug Selby, from Big Lots, served from February – April 2011 and was followed by LaNile Dalcour of Brookfield Properties, who is currently serving as the private sector representative.

Interested candidates should contact FEMA-Private-Sector@dhs.gov for more information on rotational dates available.

Update On The National Level Exercise

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If you work in the emergency management field, or are a concerned citizen, then you have probably heard about the National Level Exercise happening May 16-19. The exercise will simulate a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault, which runs through the middle of the country along much of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. And since it’s a National Level Exercise, we are bringing all the relevant team members to make the exercise as realistic as possible – federal/state/local governments, the private sector, non-profit and faith-based groups, the public, and even the international community.

While putting our catastrophic earthquake plans into the simulated event is important, we’re also focused on continuing to support the ongoing disaster response and recovery efforts in much of the southern U.S. At this time several adjustments have been made to the exercise, most notably in the level of play for those regions actively engaged in disaster operations. Specifically, the states of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi and will participate through a simulation cell.

Exercise activity between the FEMA Regional Offices in Regions V, VI, and VII, and the States of Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Missouri, will be conducted as planned. Stay tuned to the blog and http://www.ready.gov/nle2011 for the latest updates on the National Level Exercise.

And if you’re looking for more information about getting prepared for an earthquake, check out these safety tips.

Senate Hearing on Social Media and Disasters

I’ve written several times about using social media in emergency situations.  This past Thursday, several of us from FEMA attended a hearing before a U.S. Senate panel on “Understanding the Power of Social Media as a Communication Tool in the Aftermath of Disasters.”  Administrator Fugate testified at the hearing to discuss how we use social media to facilitate two-way communication with the public in a disaster environment.  In case you missed it, here are some of the highlights from his testimony:

  • He emphasized the importance of adapting to the method and tools that the public uses to communicate. At FEMA, we are striving to leverage the tools that people use on a daily basis, rather than trying to convince the public to adjust to the way we think they should communicate.  Social media allows us to more fully engage the public as a critical partner in our efforts.
     
  • Administrator Fugate also discussed the use of "hashtags", which are names given to common topics of conversation on Twitter.  We actively participate in the social media and emergency management conversation through the hashtag "#smem" and used the hashtag "#smemhill" to discuss last week's hearing.  For more, read my blog post titled “SMEM = Social Media in Emergency Management”.
     
  • He also told a story about the power of social media, using a tropical cyclone in American Samoa as an example:

"We have to be able to listen to the community, but we may not be able to have that conversation one-on-one. Yet, in one event, I actually did.  There was a tropical cyclone in the central Pacific bearing down on American Samoa…

And I had a person tweet back to me that he was on the island, and that these were the conditions.  And I sent back and said ‘Thanks for the updates, can you keep sending them?’…

So he kept giving me updates, and so in real-time, I had a person that was there in American Samoa giving me updates about the tropical cyclone…

And then, mid-way through the backend of the storm, he began tweeting the Chicago Bears (versus) Green Bay game because he was a Packers fan. And I realized that if he is getting information about the game and that was his new concern, then maybe the storm wasn't too bad.  And it turned out that luckily it caused minimal damage.  That's a rare example, but it's also telling to look at the public as part of the team and a resource and doing a better job communicating with them."

In addition to Administrator Fugate's testimony, other governmental and non-governmental witnesses participated in the hearing to offer their unique perspectives on the value of social media as a disaster communications tool.  Other speakers included:

For more information on this hearing, check out Administrator Fugate's written testimony or the recap video (courtesy of C-SPAN).

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