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Midwest and Upper Midwest Flood Fight Continues – Our Role


As many of you are aware, since this winter, we have been working extensively with all of our state partners to prepare for and respond to a very active flood season. As these efforts continue, we’re very closely monitoring the situation in Minot, N.D., where water levels in the Souris River are predicted to reach record highs and bring historic flooding to the community. There have been predictions of flooding on the Souris, but only recently did we learn just how major that flooding was going to be. And, as with any flood or disaster, it is critical that people follow the instruction of local officials. Today we watched the community of Minot do just that as sirens sounded, and it was made clear that it was time to go.

The most important priority right now is the safety of individuals, families and facilities being impacted by the flooding. Here’s what you can do:

  • Follow the instructions of state and local officials,
  • Listen to local radio and TV stations for updated emergency information,
  • If roads are closed or there is water over a road, do not drive through the water.

FEMA Region VIII here in Denver has been working with the our six states and other federal agencies for months to get ready for these rising waters across the region. We currently have personnel and a joint field office in Bismarck, N.D., as a result of earlier flooding this spring, we have commodities staged at locations in North Dakota, and we have additional supplies prepositioned at an Incident Support Base in South Dakota, in case they are needed.

Recently I visited flooding in South Dakota along the Missouri, and this evening I will make my way to North Dakota and Minot so I can see firsthand the flooding and levees that have been overtopped. Seeing devastating flooding in our states has reminded me how important it is to be prepared for any disaster. If you haven’t already, now is the time to take simple steps to protect your loved ones, homes and businesses from flooding. Visit to learn more.

- Robin

What to do if you receive a recoupment letter from FEMA

Since January, we have been providing updates on this blog about the revamped recoupment process that we are currently undertaking. We are committed to making sure that all of our stakeholders – especially disaster survivors – have a full understanding of this process and how they might be affected by it.

As some of you may remember from our previous blogs, 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.

While each individual case is different, in some instances you may just have to provide some additional information to show that you were indeed eligible for assistance. We encourage anyone who has questions about their case, wants to appeal the decision, or establish a payment plan to contact us at:

  • 1-800-816-1122 or TTY 1-800-462-7585

Bottom line – these letters are the start of a conversation between you and FEMA, and not the end.

You might be able to give information to FEMA that might change our determination about your status.

So again, everyone should read their letters carefully, ask questions, and ask for help. We are here to serve you – the disaster survivor – and it is your right to appeal our decision.


Alabama: Safe rooms, havens of hope


Last week, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and FEMA hosted the Safer Alabama Summit conference in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The aim of this conference was to get the word out about the important role that safe rooms can play in protecting families and communities, and federal funding that is available to build them. I wanted to share a conversation that was the perfect conclusion to the event.

Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 13, 2011 -- Federal Coordinating Officer, Michael Byrne, presents at the Safer Alabama Summit.
Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 13, 2011 -- Federal Coordinating Officer, Michael Byrne, presents at the Safer Alabama Summit.

Following the conference, a woman wanted to know how to apply for a grant to finance the construction of a safe room in a school in her community. She was a local councilwoman and she had heard about schools that had been destroyed during the devastating tornadoes of April 27. An elementary school principal in the town of Moulton sent his students home rather than have them shelter in the designated area in the hallway. It was a good thing he did, because many of the children would have been severely injured, or killed, since the roof and walls of the school caved in.

I told the councilwoman what many of the speakers at the summit had emphasized: it all starts with the community. Residents notify their local emergency manager or other appropriate local official about their interest in building a safe room or shelter. The local official then writes a letter to notify the state that the community will be applying for a hazard mitigation grant from FEMA. If the funding is granted, the state manages the program to make sure the final product meets specifications.

“We have a city council meeting at the end of the week, and I’m bringing a letter to notify the state that we will be applying for a grant from FEMA,” she said.

That is exactly what I hoped people would take away from the conference. Safe rooms and shelters come in all shapes and sizes. You can get a small one to stash in your garage, which fits three people. Or you can get a larger one built to serve as a safe haven for members of a school or office. They start at about $3,000 and run upwards depending on how big you make it. And just as a note, communities will only receive a grant to reimburse them if the safe rooms are built to FEMA specifications, which can withstand winds up to 250 mph (an EF-5 tornado).

I hope that the local officials who attended the summit will go back to their communities and look for opportunities and locations for safe rooms, and then, in conjunction with state, federal and other agencies, work on ways to fund and install them. I’m hoping to hear more stories from those writing letters of intent, not only from those in Alabama but also from others across the country.

Summer's Here, So Are More Thunderstorms

Summer begins today - a time for backyard barbeques, trips to the beach and lots of outdoor fun, but it’s also a time when dangerous thunderstorms become more frequent. As a series of thunderstorms move across the U.S. this week (and since it’s also Lightning Safety Awareness Week), we wanted to share a few tips on how to stay safe if a thunderstorm rolls into your area.

According to the National Weather Service, hundreds of people are struck by lightning each year, causing countless debilitating injuries and 55 deaths on average. If you hear thunder - even a distant rumble or a crackling aloft - you are already in danger of lightning striking in your area. To avoid being struck by lightning, the National Weather Service recommends:

  • Get into a fully enclosed building or hardtop vehicle at the first rumble of thunder;
  • Stay indoors for 30 minutes after the last thunder clap;
  • Monitor the weather forecast when you’re planning to be outdoors;
  • Have a plan for getting to safety in case a thunderstorm moves in;
  • Do not use a corded phone during a thunderstorm unless it’s an emergency; unplugged cell phones are safe to use indoors;
  • Keep away from plumbing, electrical equipment and wiring during a thunderstorm.

Visit for more tips on getting prepared for thunderstorms and lightning, and share the tips above with your family and friends. And be sure to bookmark on your computer (or on your phone) to stay up to date with your local weather forecast all summer long.

Other links
Emergency managers, business continuity experts or human resource professionals can view a toolkit on lightning safety from the National Weather Service.

Video: Tuscaloosa Mayor Discusses Coordinated Local Response


A few weeks back, I wrote about Walter Maddox, Mayor of Tuscaloosa, Ala., when he was featured in a New York Times story talking about his thoughts just after the devastating tornado struck his town.  In this video, the Mayor spends a few minutes with us discussing how training contributed to a more coordinated response at the local level by following Incident Command (IC) principles.

Here’s one particular quote from the Mayor that shows the value of training:

If we wouldn’t have gone through this training, it would have been a disjointed effort…we would have had [the police department] doing their own thing, fire and rescue doing their own thing, and environmental services doing their own thing.

As this story shows, emergency management training isn’t just for police and firefighters.  FEMA provides many training resources that can benefit state, tribal and local leaders, members of a volunteer organizations, faith-based and private sector leaders, and even the public at large.  More information on these training programs and courses can be found at

Thanking the Staff at the Center for Domestic Preparedness

We’ve featured many posts on this blog about FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness, our one-of-a-kind facility that offers civilians and other members of the emergency management team specialized training in dealing with and responding to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive weapons. We have heard from the Mayor of Pacific, Washington, who recently completed a training course and gained a better understanding of the challenges his first responders face and about a New York City police officer whose CDP training helped him think quickly and save lives while thwarting the attempted car bombing in Times Square in 2010.

Well this week, Administrator Fugate traveled to CDP to tour these training facilities first hand – and thank the men and woman who provide this unique training.

Whether it was witnessing an exercise that trains hospital and health care professionals for how to deal with overwhelmed emergency rooms after a disaster, or watching students get trained on how to respond to toxic chemical agents, it’s clear that the skills and instincts students learn at CDP make an enormous difference in real world situations.

After touring the different facilities and watching a number of different training exercises, Administrator Fugate had the chance to meet with the staff. As Craig told them, there is a tendency to think about the Center for Domestic Preparedness as just a training institute for terrorism. It’s not. CDP trains the team for dealing with complex situations and environments. It’s about developing critical thinking and skills that can be transferrable across all kinds of disasters, whether natural or manmade.

The staff at CDP are building and training people for the worst-case, nightmare scenarios, the “Maximum of Maximums” that you often hear Craig talk about. These are scenarios that we hope will never happen – but we don’t have the luxury of not preparing for them.

We hope that the students who come to CDP will never actually face the same scenarios they experience here, but if they do they will be ready. And that’s thanks to their top-notch trainers, CDP staff are highly experienced in their respective fields and they play a critical role in training and strengthening the emergency management team, from local officials to emergency room and hospital workers to volunteer community response teams. Their classes will continue to have a mass multiplier effect in saving lives and protecting communities around the country.

We'd love to hear your story about how training made a difference in an emergency. Share your story in the comments below.

What We’re Watching: 6/17/11

Every Friday, we do a “What We’re Watching” blog as we look ahead to the weekend. We encourage you to share it with your friends and family, and have a safe weekend.

Severe Weather Outlook
Over the next few days, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is calling for drought conditions to continue for much of the southern U.S., stretching from Arizona to Florida. In many areas, these drought conditions have raised the chances of wildfire outbreaks, so make sure you know how to prevent and stay safe from wildfires. And as wildfires continue in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, we continue to support emergency responders and firefighters through Fire Management Assistance Grants.

While drought conditions persist across the south, widespread flooding is predicted to continue for parts of the Mississippi, Missouri, and North Platte rivers. We continue to work alongside the entire emergency management team to support the affected states, as we have since flooding started earlier this spring.

Be sure to stay up to date with your local forecast this weekend – check out for tips on getting you and your family prepared for any emergency.

Registration Deadlines Approaching
Several of our bloggers have talked about our ongoing recovery efforts across the southeast and central U.S. since this spring’s deadly storms, tornadoes and flooding. While we continue to provide support to local and state governments through public assistance, the deadline for individuals and business owners to apply for federal assistance is quickly approaching in some states. Anyone that sustained losses in a county that’s eligible for individual assistance should apply, regardless of whether they have insurance. However, survivors should still contact their insurance companies and file necessary claims as well. Visit our page about the three step process for applying. (Check out our three step guide to applying for assistance to find what information is needed to apply, what items are covered, and more.)

Survivors can apply for assistance by calling 800-621-3362 (TTY 800-462-7585), visiting or on your phone or by visiting a nearby disaster recovery center. For information on your state’s application deadline, visit the disaster page.

Talking Hurricane Preparedness With The Weather Channel
In case you missed it, Administrator Craig Fugate stopped by Weather Channel studios yesterday to talk about hurricane preparedness. Hurricane season started June 1 and lasts until November 30, so take the steps your family or your workplace needs to get prepared today – before a hurricane or tropical storm threatens your community. Check out the full story about Craig’s visit at

Check Out Our Latest Photos and Videos
As we continue our ongoing recovery efforts in areas that have been impacted from the severe weather over the past several months, we encourage you to take a look at our photo and video libraries. Here are a few of our recent photos to get you started:

 Tuscaloosa, AL, June 11, 2011 -- University of Alabama Heisman Trophy winner and New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram poses for pictures with a faith-based volunteer group from Georgia. Mark came back to Tuscaloosa to help FEMA Community Relations by meeting with volunteers and survivors.
Tuscaloosa, AL, June 11, 2011 -- University of Alabama Heisman Trophy winner and New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram poses for pictures with a faith-based volunteer group from Georgia. Mark came back to Tuscaloosa to help FEMA Community Relations by meeting with volunteers and survivors.


Morehouse, Missouri was inundated by flooding in late April of 2011. Almost every home was touched by the disaster in one way or another. AmeriCorps Hoopa Tribal Civilian Community Corps has spent many hours in the community hauling trash, scrapping floors and cleaning homes. The city of Morehouse has honored them for their service at a community picnic.

Fort Pierre, SD, June 7, 2011 -- U.S. Air National Guard 114 Fighting Wing members gather at sunrise to begin patrol on the levee in Fort Pierre, S.D. FEMA and other federal agencies are supporting the State Incident Management Team in their effort to prepare for flooding along the Missouri River.
Fort Pierre, SD, June 7, 2011 -- U.S. Air National Guard 114 Fighting Wing members gather at sunrise to begin patrol on the levee in Fort Pierre, S.D. FEMA and other federal agencies are supporting the State Incident Management Team in their effort to prepare for flooding along the Missouri River.

Big Rock, TN, June 15, 2011 -- Foudiya Henri (left), a community relations field worker, talks with Tom Whitehawk as Shavonne Westerfield, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and Kristen McEnroe (background), Federal Coordinating Officer Cadre listen in. Community relations field workers are often the first face-to-face contact many survivors have with the agency.
Big Rock, TN, June 15, 2011 -- Foudiya Henri (left), a community relations field worker, talks with Tom Whitehawk as Shavonne Westerfield, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and Kristen McEnroe (background), Federal Coordinating Officer Cadre listen in. Community relations field workers are often the first face-to-face contact many survivors have with the agency.

Alabama: When the going gets tough, even the tough seek help


As a former New York City firefighter, I’m no stranger to trauma. First responders who have witnessed devastation sometimes can’t get the upsetting images out of their mind. Or sometimes they hear cries for help weeks later. One fire response at a social club in the Bronx more than 20 years ago still stays with me. The fire wasn’t huge, and was contained quickly, but when firefighters went up to the second floor, they found several people had died from smoke inhalation. We were just sick – here they had done everything right and still couldn’t save their lives.

A lot of us were shaken up after that. But back then, most of us at the fire house would have rather had a root canal than talk to a counselor about our feelings.

Unfortunately, firefighters are not the only ones who think that way, and no one is immune to trauma and stress. Studies show that after a disaster, survivors and emergency responders are at risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (from epidemiologic reviews). Symptoms can include flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, survival guilt, extreme exhaustion and anxiety.

Five weeks after the devastating tornadoes in Alabama, the Alabama Department of Mental Health and FEMA have partnered to activate Project Rebound, a program that provides crisis counselors to community outreach and education services groups. Teams of these counselors are on the ground to help residents and emergency responders, free of charge, in areas affected by the April tornadoes.

So far, the department has hired 77 Project Rebound crisis counselors for 36 counties participating in the program. Project Rebound crisis counselors will be working with all social services agencies in their community as they reach out to both disaster survivors and emergency responders dealing with the stresses that come with recovering after a disaster.

And because mental health experts say elderly and children are also among those at risk for traumatic stress, Project Rebound is making a special effort to reach out to these survivors as well.

Needing mental health resources after a disaster is something I don’t have to be reminded of, but don’t want others to forget. For more information on Project Rebound, or if you’re a disaster survivor or emergency responder in Alabama, visit

National Advisory Council Welcomes New Members

Today, we are welcoming 16 new members to the National Advisory Council (NAC). The NAC advises Administrator Craig Fugate on all aspects of emergency management. The new members highlight our continued desire to have a council that represents a cross section of all members of the emergency management team.

The NAC is comprised of state, tribal and local governments, private sector, and non-governmental partners who advise and provide recommendations to the FEMA Administrator on the National Preparedness System, National Incident Management System, National Response Framework, FEMA grants programs, and more.

The NAC membership application period was announced back in February, 2011 and ran through March 4, 2011. New members will serve from June 15th, 2011 through June 15th, 2014, unless otherwise noted.

Newly Appointed NAC Members:

Lee Feldman, City Manager, City of Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Edward Gabriel, Director, Global Crisis Management and Business Continuity, The Walt Disney Company
Jerome Hatfield, Lieutenant Colonel /Deputy Superintendent of Homeland Security, New Jersey State Police
Clifton Lacy, Director, University Center for Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response
Cathy Lanier, Chief of Police, Metropolitan Police Department
Robert Lee, Former Adjutant General, State of Hawaii, Department of Defense
Robert Davidson Leipold, Executive Director, National VOAD (Term ends June 15, 2012)
David Miller, Former Administrator of Iowa Homeland Security & Emergency Management Division
Michael Rackley, Director, Global Security Services, Target
George Schloegel, Mayor, City of Gulfport, Mississippi (Term ends June 15, 2012)
Kurt Schwartz, Homeland Security Advisor and Emergency Management Director State of Massachusetts (Term ends June 15, 2013)
Charles Shimanski, Senior Vice President Disaster Services, American Red Cross (Term ends June 15, 2013)
Mary Troupe, Executive Director, Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities
David L. Waldrop, Chief Evangelist / Architect, Public Safety Initiative, Microsoft Corporation
Rebecca White, Tribal Council Chairwoman, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, Omaha
Phil Zarlengo, Chairman, AARP Board of Directors

Based on a mandated by Congress in the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, the mission of the NAC is to ensure effective and ongoing coordination of federal preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation for natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.

Additional information on the NAC, including a list of current members, can be found at /about/nac/

Missouri: Military Veterans Helping Survivors Through Volunteering

As our bloggers frequently mention, recovering after a disaster is a team effort, where the public, private sector, voluntary and faith-based groups, and government agencies work together to address the short and long term needs of individuals and the affected community. There have been countless examples of this team effort in action since this spring’s devastating tornadoes, storms and flooding.

We wanted to showcase one of the many dedicated voluntary groups assisting in the recovery efforts in Joplin, Mo. since a deadly tornado struck on May 22. A group of military veterans, named Team Rubicon, has been helping survivors rebuild after the tornado, and are using the volunteer experience to forge new friendships. Here’s an excerpt from the USA Today story:

When Kasey Sands and her family returned home last month a few days after a tornado flattened much of Joplin, Mo., a dozen strangers were removing trees toppled in their yard.
"I asked them who they were, and they said they were veterans," says Sands, 27. "They said they like to help with peace and not just with war."

They were Team Rubicon, a non-profit group of veterans formed after the 2010 Haiti earthquake to help in the immediate aftermaths of disasters. They also raced in after tornadoes struck Alabama in April and following earlier crises in Chile, Burma, Pakistan and Sudan. More than 500 people have volunteered; 25 were in Joplin for a week…

Jake Wood, Team Rubicon's president and co-founder, says responding to tragedies "is the most obvious fit for veterans who have so much to offer." Many members are doctors, paramedics and nurses. Besides aiding survivors and searching for victims, members help one another adjust to life after war, he says.

For the latest on the ongoing recovery efforts in Joplin, visit the disaster page.