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News of the Day: Community Relations Teams On The Ground

When federal disaster assistance becomes available to individuals, we use many means of communication to encourage disaster survivors to apply with FEMA. One way we get the word out is through our teams of community relations specialists. We’ve talked about community relations teams in the past, after they hit the ground in Alabama encouraging residents to apply for assistance. Recently, teams have been on the ground in Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Georgia, performing door-to-door “sweeps” in affected areas.

The work of community relations teams have been in the news lately, and we wanted to share a few of the recent stories:

Unfortunately, scam artists will also go door-to-door, aiming to take advantage of disaster survivors. If anyone comes to your door, we encourage all residences to ask for formal identification that they are a FEMA employee. (See this past blog on avoiding and reporting fraud.)

If your home or business has sustained losses and it’s in an eligible county, you can apply for disaster assistance by:


 

PLAN - Another Part of the Public's Emergency Communications Plan

As we constantly say at FEMA, having an emergency communications plan is one of the most important things people can do to be prepared for disasters. And this morning, Administrator Fugate will join several of our partners in emergency communications at an event in New York City to announce a new tool that will enhance federal, state and local emergency communications plans with the public – the Personal Localized Alerting Network, or more appropriately, PLAN.

PLAN is a technology developed by FEMA that will allow any customers of participating wireless carriers to turn their mobile phones into personal alert systems. What’s new about that? Well a few key things:

  • First, these alerts will be geographically targeted, so people will receive them based on where they are when an emergency hits, as opposed to where they live. This is a much more practical and useful way of getting emergency information, when it matters most.
  • Second, these alerts will be able to get through to phones, no matter how jammed nearby cell towers are.
  • And third, they are completely free of charge and require no sign up. Wireless carriers voluntary choose to participate, and in doing so, provide the technology to new and existing customers. Customers whose phones include the new PLAN technology will have the alerts already activated on their phones, but can opt out of receiving them if they choose to do so.

At 11 a.m. EDT today, Administrator Fugate will join the FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the top executives of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon to announce that this new technology will be ready to go ahead of schedule in New York City and possibly other metro areas – by the end of this year.

It’s an exciting announcement and one that yet again demonstrates that FEMA is just part of the team, along with other federal agencies, the private sector, and many others, most importantly the public. We know there will be a lot of questions today and going forward about how this new technology will work so stay tuned to the blog for important information.

To get started, check out this fact sheet.

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think about PLAN.

Our Role: Continuing to Support Ongoing Flood Fight

Editor’s Note: Updated on May 10, 5 p.m. EDT 

Yesterday, President Obama made federal disaster assistance available to individuals in five counties in Missouri and Tennessee, to supplement the state and local recovery efforts in the area struck by severe storms, tornadoes, and flooding.  

If you live in an eligible county and have sustained losses, you can register for assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov, on your phone at http://m.fema.gov, or by calling  800-621-FEMA (3362) / TTY 800-462-7585.

If you have flood insurance, this is a good time to locate your policy and proactively contact your insurance company to find out what information you may need to have on hand if you need to file a claim.  For general flood insurance questions, a step-by-step guide to filing a flood claim, and more information about flood insurance, visit http://www.FloodSmart.gov or call 1-800-427-4661.

And as we continue to support the response to the severe storms that affected the Southeast earlier this month, we are also continuing to closely monitor the ongoing flood fight along the Mississippi River Valley, its tributaries and other low-lying areas.

Historic flood levels have been set at many locations where the river has crested, and thousands of Americans are continuing to be affected. Here's a rundown of what we’re doing to support the flood fight, and what you can do if you live an area at risk for flooding:

What we're doing
Through our regional offices in Atlanta, Ga., Chicago, Ill., Denton, Texas, and Kansas City, Mo., we remain in close contact and coordination with our state and local partners in all of the areas affected by, or potentially impacted by, flooding. And as the crest moves down the Mississippi River, we will continue to coordinate closely with officials from the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

At the request of the states, we currently have staff on the ground in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee working with state emergency management partners, to coordinate federal support. Last week, President Obama declared emergency declarations for Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana, and a major disaster declaration for Kentucky, allowing the federal government to support emergency measures to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety.

In addition to personnel on the ground, we're also sending supplies to a pre-determined staging area in western Kentucky to ensure the needed supplies are located close to the affected areas. Here’s a quick look at the supplies at the staging area so far:

  • More than 720,000 meals,
  • More than 460,000 thousand liters of water,
  • More than 39,000 blankets,
  • More than 20,000 tarps and
  • More than 14,000 cots.

Aerial photograph of Nashville, Tennessee last year showing flood damage.
Nashville, TN, May 4, 2010 -- An aerial photograph shows the extensive flood damage to Nashville during last May's flooding.

What you can do
If you live in an area that may be affected, follow the directions of local officials (including evacuation orders), as record flood levels are anticipated as the crest continues to move down river.

The National Weather Service remains the source for official weather information, and has issued flood warnings across several states, from Cairo, Ill. to Baton Rouge, La., including Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana as rivers are forecast to crest over the next few weeks. You can track your local forecast at www.weather.gov or on your phone at http://mobile.weather.gov.

Become familiar with the terms that are used to identify a flooding hazard and discuss with your family what to do if a flood watch or warning is issued: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 flood safety and preparedness tips, visit Ready.gov, and check back on the blog for the latest updates.

Not too late to “Drop! Cover! Hold On!”

Many of you were following our blog and the activities leading up to the Great Central U.S. Shakeout conducted on April 28. Not only was the ShakeOut the multi-state earthquake drill (with 3.1 million participants), there’s no doubt that it was also the most successful drill to take place along the New Madrid Seismic Zone.  Millions of registered participants; from Atlanta, Ga. to Chicago, Ill. took part in the “Drop! Cover! Hold On!”  drill scheduled to teach earthquake safety.

Students practice earthquake safety by getting under their desks.
Students at the Milford Elementary School in Atlanta, GA participate in the ShakeOut drill. FEMA and GEMA personnel were there to answer questions about earthquake and emergency preparedness.

While the drill itself was a big success, individuals, families, businesses, and communities should continually prepare for the threat of earthquakes. Even if you did not participate in the Great Central ShakeOut last month, we encourage you to conduct earthquake drills at any time with your family, coworkers or employees.

And as always, we also encourage you to take three simple steps to get prepared for any emergency: get a kit, make a plan and be informed.

Photos 3: Support Efforts for Southern U.S. Tornadoes and Severe Storms

We are continuing to support the emergency management team across the southeast as they recover from deadly storms and tornadoes.  Here are some of the latest photos from our Photo Library, highlighting some of the ongoing recovery efforts.

A Catoosa County resident confirms the necessary paper work for filing an application to receive federal funding for damage.
Griffin, Ga., May 4, 2011 -- A Catoosa County resident confirms the necessary paper work for filing an application to receive federal funding for damage from the April 27, 2011 tornado. FEMA Disaster Assistance Employee Carol Hill, at the Catoosa County Disaster Recovery Center, explains the process.

Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne conducts an interview an Associated Press photographer.
Concord, Ala., May 4, 2011 -- Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne conducts an interview an Associated Press photographer. He explained FEMA's role in helping communities and individuals recover from the April 27 tornadoes and how they can come to this Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in Concord, or any other DRC in Alabama, and register with FEMA.

The downtown section here was destroyed by the April 28 tornado.
Heckleburg, Ala., May 6, 2011 -- The downtown section here was destroyed by the April 28 tornado. FEMA is on the ground and continues to assist in recovery efforts.

Trucks prepare to transfer mobile homes which will serve as temporary housing to residents of Hackleburg, Alabama.
Selma, Ala., May 7, 2011 -- Trucks prepare to transfer mobile homes which will serve as temporary housing to residents of Hackleburg, Ala. who lost their homes to the April 27 tornadoes.

A FEMA employee explains a mitigation program to show how to build or rebuild stronger, safer structures that can withstand most tornadoes.
Benson, N.C., May 6, 2011 -- FEMA Mitigation Outreach Specialist Crispin Nery explains the bracket system used in the DAWG HAUS or Disaster Avoidance with Good Home Attenuating-Unionization System structure to West Johnstone High school shop teacher Eddie Poplin before beginning construction. The DAWG HAUS is a FEMA mitigation program to show how to build or rebuild stronger, safer structures that can withstand most tornadoes.

A tornado survivor applies for FEMA assistance.
Concord, Ala., May 4, 2011 -- A survivor of the April 27th tornado takes the first step of applying for assistance by registering with FEMA at the Concord Disaster Recovery Center.

FEMA officials meet with citizens impacted by the April 27 tornado.
Concord, Ala., May 4, 2011 -- FEMA External Affairs Officer Bob Jensen and Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne meet with citizens impacted by the April 27 tornado, and discuss how to register with FEMA.

A FEMA official answers media questions concerning FEMA's use of temporary housing in North Carolina.
Rocky Mount, N.C., May 7, 2011 -- FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Mike Bolch and Deputy State Coordinating Officer Emily Young answer media questions concerning FEMA's use of temporary housing in North Carolina. FEMA is responding to the deadly tornadoes and severe storms that damaged or destroyed homes and businesses across North Carolina on April 16, 2011.

The residents of Ringgold take time from cleaning up their damaged town to remember veterans.
Ringgold, Ga., May 5, 2011 -- The residents of Ringgold take time from cleaning up their damaged town to remember veterans, and take part in the National Day of Prayer. Ringgold, in Catoosa County, was hit by a powerful tornado on April 27, 2011.

Recap 9: Response and Support Efforts for Southern U.S. Tornadoes and Severe Storms

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.

At the request of the respective governors, FEMA currently has teams on the ground in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee, as well as strategically pre-positioned commodities in the region to support the states.

Federal Coordinating Officers have been working closely with these affected states to assist them in meeting the unique needs of their residents.

Today, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Nicole Lurie, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, and FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino fanned out across Alabama, and met with state and local officials, FEMA staff on the ground, and disaster survivors at Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs), to review recovery activities and talk about the importance of registering for disaster assistance. 

Recap for Friday, May 6th:

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Nicole Lurie, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, and FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino fanned out across Alabama today, and met with state and local officials, FEMA staff on the ground, and disaster survivors at Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs), to review recovery activities and talk about the importance of registering for disaster assistance.
  • Each state is actively communicating its efforts to the public through the community relations staff on the ground, who are meeting with disaster survivors, through other outreach to explain the assistance available and to encourage survivors register for assistance. Further updates on activities can be found for Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia,  Kentucky , Mississippi and Tennessee
  • Thirty-six disaster recovery centers are open across Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia - these centers are staffed by state, voluntary agency and federal personnel to help those whose homes or businesses were affected by recent storms and tornadoes. The Disaster Recovery Center Locator is a resource that allows individuals to find DRCs nearest to their location, once they are open, and includes information such as hours of operation, services offered, and driving directions.  The centers are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week until further notice. The Disaster Recovery Center Locator can be found online at /drclocator or on our mobile site at http://m.fema.gov/.
  • More than 500 inspectors are on the ground in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas assessing damages in order to help applicants to receive financial assistance. The number of field inspectors is expected to increase rapidly over the next several days.
  • More than 50,500 people have registered for assistance in five states affected by severe weather and tornadoes in late April, including Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee, roughly 900 of these registrations were completed through the mobile m.fema.gov site, and more than $23.7 million in grants has been approved for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
  • FEMA posted an additional 21 messages to its blogFacebook and Twitter accounts. To date, FEMA has provided more than 40 responses to comments on FEMA Facebook and twitter accounts.

What We’re Watching: 5/6/11

Getting Assistance to Survivors
President Obama has made federal disaster assistance available to individuals and business owners in several states in the past two weeks – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee.  If you are in an area that has received a disaster declaration, and you haven't yet, now is the time to register for assistance.  Visit www.disasterassistance.gov to apply online, or http://m.fema.gov to apply on your smartphone.  You can also call (800) 621-3362 / TTY (800) 462-7585 or visit a disaster recovery center in your area.

Ongoing and Potential Flooding in Central U.S.
As we continue to support the severe storms and tornadoes that affected the Southeast last week, we are also continuing to closely monitor the ongoing flood fight along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, their tributaries and other low-lying areas.   Through our regional offices in Kansas City, Mo., Chicago, Ill., Denton, Texas and Atlanta, Ga., we are in close coordination with the affected states and stand poised to support them as needed.

The National Weather Service remains the source for official severe weather information, and has issued flood warnings across several states, from Cairo, Illinois to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, including Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana as rivers are forecast to crest over the next few weeks. On May 4th, President Obama declared emergency declarations for Mississippi and Tennessee, and a major disaster declaration for Kentucky, which allows for additional federal support to state and local governments.

If you are in a potentially affected area, follow the directions of local officials and heed all evacuation orders, and check out this blog post for more tips on flood safety.

Public Service Recognition Week, May 1-7
As Public Service Recognition Week comes to a close, we’d like to extend a heartfelt “thank you” to all those who work behind the scenes to support local communities, cities, and the nation.  This video from the White House blog gives a special thank you to those in the Federal family from First Lady Michelle Obama:

Safe Room Saves Lives in Oklahoma Tornado

Author: 

Editor's note: updated on May 6, 4:13 p.m.

On April 14, deadly storms rolled through Oklahoma, with a tornado touching down in Atoka County. As the winds of up to 165 miles-per-hour roared overhead, nearly 200 men, women, children and firefighters stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a safe room in Tushka Public School.

“The death toll would have been much higher had there not been a safe room to take shelter in,” said Tushka Mayor Brickie Griffin. “We are thankful we had a safe room on April 14.”

A safe room is all that is left of a house destroyed by a tornado.
Shawnee, OK, May 13, 2010 – This photo, taken last year in Oklahoma, shows all that remains of a country farmstead. A safe room helped save the lives of the family as tornadoes destroyed their home.

Oklahoma has 77 similar safe rooms across the state, each demonstrating coordination between federal, state, and local governments. Two thirds of the construction of the safe room came under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, a program administered by FEMA.

Within the state, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management administers the grant program and worked with Tushka officials to make the project a reality. The purpose of the grant program is to fund measures that will reduce the loss of life and property in future disasters, including the building of safe rooms.

William J. Dorann III, the Federal Coordinating Officer in the ongoing Oklahoma recovery, described the purpose of a safe room the best:

"The goal of a safe room is to provide refuge from storms for individuals and families. As we saw in the town of Tushka, a safe room can be vital in protecting lives and provides a safe haven from the effects of devastating tornadoes."

Building a safe room is one step you can take to keep your family safe in the event of severe weather. Check out these tips for building a safe room, and more tips on getting prepared for emergencies at Ready.gov.

To insure the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the public, the construction of schools, hospitals, state buildings and certain other buildings in Oklahoma have to meet, at a minimum, the Oklahoma Building Code which is based on the International Building Code. For the higher protection afforded by tornado safe rooms, guidance and standards exists from FEMA's Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms (FEMA P-361, 2008) and the International Code Council/National Storm Shelter Association Standard For The Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC 500-2008).

Safe and Well: Let Friends and Loved Ones Know You’re OK

One of the most unsettling aspects after a disaster is establishing contact with family, friends, and loved ones to let them know your whereabouts. In addition, loved ones in other areas are often anxious to hear from those in the affected area to know they are OK. Since the deadly tornadoes struck in the southeast last week, we’ve been encouraging survivors to visit the Red Cross Safe and Well site to connect disaster survivors with their families.

A Red Cross Disaster Relief truck provides meals to residents and workers at the Pratt City deadly April tornado site.

Birmingham, AL, May 1, 2011 -- A Red Cross Disaster Relief truck provides meals to residents and workers at the Pratt City deadly April tornado site. The Red Cross and FEMA are partners in providing emergency services to disaster survivors.

Here’s a quick rundown of how it works:

  • People in the affected areas can list themselves as “safe and well” on the site. Friends and family outside the disaster area can then search for messages from their loved ones by using a pre-disaster phone number or complete address.
  • Disaster survivors can also update their Facebook and Twitter status through the Safe and Well Web site.
  • If a family member has heard from someone that is OK in the affected area, they can list that person on the Safe and Well site as well.

How to register:

  • Visit www.redcross.org/safeandwell on your computer or smartphone and click on the “List Yourself as Safe and Well” or “Search for friends and family” link.
  • Call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) and an operator from the American Red Cross can help you register.

If you are a disaster survivor, we encourage you to list yourself as “safe and well”. And if someone you know was affected by the storms and tornadoes, and they are OK, ask if they’d like you to register them as “safe and well”.

Tips on Staying Safe Before, During and After a Flood

We are working with local, state and federal partners as they continue to battle the ongoing flooding in the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys.  Through our regional offices in Kansas City, Mo., Chicago, Ill., Denton, Texas and Atlanta, Ga., we are in close coordination with the affected states and stand poised to support them as needed.

On May 4th, President Obama declared emergency declarations for Mississippi and Tennessee, and a major disaster declaration for Kentucky, which allows for additional federal support to state and local governments.

Floods can occur in all 50 states, so whether or not you live in the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, there are steps you can take today to get prepared.  Here are tips on what you can do to prepare before, during and after a flood:

Before a flood

  • Get flood insurance – Flooding can cause significant damage to homes and businesses, so protect yourself from the financial risk by purchasing insurance.   Flood insurance policies typically take 30 days before they take effect, so don’t wait until it’s too late.  Visit FloodSmart.gov for more information on flood insurance.
  • Safeguard your possessions - Create a personal flood file containing an inventory of your possessions, important personal documents and a copy of your insurance policies.  Keep it in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box or waterproof container. 
  • Prepare your house - Place the furnace, water heater, washer, dryer and electrical components on cement blocks at least 12 inches above the projected flood elevation.  Also, make sure your sump pump is working and install a battery-operated backup, in case of a power failure.
  • Develop a family emergency plan – Plan and practice a flood evacuation route from your home, work or school that takes you to higher ground.  Make sure your family knows how to contact one another in the event of an emergency, and ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be your emergency family contact. (And don’t forget to plan for your children and pets.)

During a flood

  • Go to higher ground and avoid areas subject to flooding
  • Do not attempt to walk or drive through flowing streams or flooded roadways
  • Listen to the direction of local officials and stay updated by following local news reports
  • If you come in contact with floodwaters, wash your hands with soap and disinfected water. 

After a flood

  • If your home has suffered damage, call your insurance agent to file a claim. 
  • Check for structural damage before re-entering your home to avoid being trapped in a building collapse. 
  • Take photos of any floodwater in your home and save any damaged personal property. 
  • Make a list of damaged or lost items and include their purchase date and value with receipts, and place with the inventory you took prior to the flood. Some damaged items may require disposal, so keep photographs of these items. 
  • Keep power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety. 
  • Boil water for drinking and food preparation until authorities tell you that your water supply is safe.
  • Prevent mold by removing wet contents immediately. 
  • Wear gloves and boots to clean and disinfect. Wet items should be cleaned with a pine-oil cleanser and bleach, completely dried, and monitored for several days for any fungal growth and odors. 

For more information on getting prepared for floods visit Ready.gov or m.fema.gov.

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