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Alabama: To some it’s debris - to others, a source of hidden treasures


A homeowner does a final cleanup of his yard before the debris is removed. Operation Clean Sweep is helping residents rid their property of the storm debris.
Pratt City, Ala., June 1, 2011 -- A homeowner does a final cleanup of his yard before the debris is removed. Operation Clean Sweep is helping residents rid their property of the storm debris.

Sometimes debris is just debris. But in a disaster it can be a much-needed glimpse of humanity. My first experience with this was after September 11, 2001, where I was a deputy federal coordinating officer at Ground Zero. Facing an unbelievable amount of destruction and loss amongst the twisted steel and collapsed chaos of dust and debris, I would occasionally spot a piece of a desk, a handwritten note or crumpled photograph and find relief in these signs of life.

For the last few weeks, survivors of Alabama’s onslaught of tornadoes have been in the process of putting their lives back together. Cleaning up after something like this is never easy, but we try to retrieve fragments of the past when we can, like pieces to a puzzle, one memory at a time.

FEMA and the State of Alabama are helping residents clear the enormous piles of debris the April 27 tornadoes left behind. The program, called Operation Clean Sweep, provides funding to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or to the state and local government to hire a private contractor to remove the rubble on private property in the highest impact areas once the owners sign a “right-of-entry” form.

Operation Clean Sweep is underway in designated Alabama communities to clear debris from areas of catastropic damage. FEMA assigned the task to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Tuscaloosa, AL, June 1, 2011 -- Operation Clean Sweep is underway in designated Alabama communities to clear debris from areas of catastropic damage. FEMA assigned the task to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (© C.J. Hamilton, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

At the governor’s request, FEMA has increased its share of the debris removal cost to 90 percent, with the non-federal share at 10 percent. The deadline for the program has also been extended, now ending July 12. And if residents follow guidelines for debris separation, it allows some construction material to be salvaged for reuse or recycling. Recycling ultimately helps to free up landfills and save taxpayer dollars.

Many people who have reached out to help the survivors have started their own type of recycling by setting up websites and drop-off points for priceless mementos – things like first-year baby photos, sports memorabilia and handcrafted Mother’s Day cards. Amazingly, the tornado winds blew personal keepsakes clear across state lines. On one Facebook page a couple was thrilled to be reunited with their wedding photo showing them filling a vase in the sand as part of their ceremony on a beach. They were also able to salvage that glass vase beneath the rubble of their house, “untouched.”

Wedding photo of couple at the beach.
Holt, AL, June 1, 2011 -- A couple finds their wedding picture amongst tornado debris. Many Alabamians across the state are recovering from storms and tornadoes that struck in April 2011. (© Published with permission of Kelli Griffin Hallman)

In another story, Jeff and Paula Baccus of Hackleburg, Ala. say they were lucky in that some of their family treasures were not destroyed, although about 50 massive trees fell on their home. Jeff hid in the hallway with the family’s two dogs as the deafening sound of the wind twisted tree trunks. Paula hugged her 16-year-old son in a neighbor’s basement as the roof blew off and the walls collapsed. As with many survivors, they feel blessed to be alive.

The cleanup process has been a team effort for the Baccus family. A few days after the tornado hit, volunteers came from all over the country to help them begin removing debris. The private sector is also engaged, as U.S. Steel donated equipment to help cut away timber from the house.

As the Baccus family and many others continue to sort through what the tornadoes left behind, I hope they can salvage a few tangible pieces of the past that will offer comfort as they move forward in their recovery.


Monitoring Flooding in The Upper Midwest

The National Weather Service anticipates that several areas of the Missouri River and North Platte River could experience potentially record-breaking water levels this summer as snow melts and descends from the Dakotas and Rocky Mountains, and additional rainfall continues to be much higher than normal in some areas that feed the Missouri River Basin.

Many areas in our regions are already experiencing flooding, so we wanted to provide a quick update on what FEMA’s doing to be prepared in case the flooding worsens, and share some ways to stay safe if you live in the potentially affected area.

What FEMA’s doing

  • We’ve been working closely with our state and federal partners since this winter, in anticipation of a busy spring and summer flood season.
  • FEMA currently has a liaison in the Montana emergency operations center, a state liaison team in the Nebraska state emergency operations center to support the state in sheltering support and other requests as it responds to ongoing flooding; and an open field office in Bismarck, N.D., and Pierre, S.D., responding to ongoing and potential flooding. We have also been assisting the state of Wyoming with planning, through a team of liaisons at the state emergency operations center.
  • An eleven-member FEMA Incident Management Assistance Team has also been deployed to the Montana state emergency operations center, to help coordinate if additional federal support is needed. Also, this week FEMA, state and local officials in Montana began conducting flood damage assessments.
  • We remain in close contact with all of our state and local partners as they prepare for and respond to any potential severe weather. Specifically, we’re coordinating closely with numerous federal partners, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Weather Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Civil Air Patrol and others assisting in the flood fight.

What you can do to stay safe

- Flood Watch: Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
- Flood Warning: Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if local officials give notice to evacuate, do so immediately.
- Flash Flood Watch: Rapid rises on streams and rivers are possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
- Flash Flood Warning: Rapid rises on streams and rivers are occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately.
  • Make sure you take steps to protect your property and family from the damages of flooding. Visit for more on getting prepared, or visit on your smartphone for tips on staying safe before, during and after a flood.

This blog will continue to have the latest updates on FEMA’s role, so be sure to check back for more information. And be sure to check out your state’s emergency management website for localized updates.

Other links
- Purchasing flood insurance is another way you can protect your property from the financial damages of natural or man-made flooding. Flood insurance policies have a 30-day wait period before they become effective, so make sure to have it before you need it. More info at

What We’re Watching: 6/3/11

Severe weather outlook
Severe weather will affect much of the U.S. over the coming days, as forecasts from the National Weather Service are calling for:

  • above normal temperatures to continue across the southeast,
  • continued flooding for those along the Mississippi River and in much of the Great Plains,
  • heavy precipitation and lower temperatures for northern California, and
  • severe drought conditions to continue across the south, especially in Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana.

Check your local forecast at and and get prepared for the hazards in your area at

A look back at this week
We’re continuing to support states across the Northeast after a severe storm and tornado outbreak struck on Wednesday, along with the ongoing flooding in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. And as recovery efforts continue in response to the southeast and Central U.S. tornadoes and Mississippi River flooding, we will continue to provides updates on our blog.

This past week was also the beginning of hurricane season, which lasts until Nov. 30. has complete information on getting prepared, whether you live in a coastal or inland area.

And Thursday we announced the winner: Map Your Neighborhood. It's a program from the Washington State Emergency Management Division.

Working at FEMA
We’re always looking for highly motivated, energetic and innovative people to add to our team at FEMA. We’re currently recruiting for a number of positions that you can search on, but we wanted to specifically highlight two:

Find our photos and videos
If you like pictures and videos, you’ll love our photo and multimedia libraries. They have seen a lot of new additions in the past few weeks, so be sure to check them out. Here’s one of our latest videos, showcasing our outreach to disaster survivors in Joplin, Mo.


Resources For Getting Your Business Prepared


Many of my fellow bloggers emphasize the importance of individuals getting prepared before disaster strikes. The three simple steps we stress – get a kit, make a plan, be informed – can help not only individuals, but also businesses get ready for an emergency.

Up to 40% of businesses affected by a natural or man-made disaster never reopen, according to the Insurance Information Institute. We think this percentage is much too high, which is why we wanted to remind you of some tools that businesses can use to get prepared for emergencies:

  • Ready Business – complete with tips and tools for human resource managers, business continuity professionals, or business owners looking to get prepared for emergency. There is also a page with downloadable brochures, checklists, videos, and advertisements to promote preparedness at your business.
  • American Red Cross Ready Rating Program – a free, self-paced program designed to help businesses, organizations and schools become better prepared for emergencies. When you join and become a member, you'll complete a 123-point self assessment of your level of preparedness, gain access to tips and best practices information, and commit to improving your score each year to maintain membership. (FEMA does not endorse any non-Federal Government organizations, entities, or services.)

We encourage you to share these resources with a human resources professional, business continuity professionals, or your manager at your workplace. Businesses and the entire private sector are an important part of the emergency management team, so we will continue to work closely with them to strengthen our nation’s ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

Other links
Here are some recent blog posts highlighting our ongoing collaboration with the private sector:

Thank You: NFL Players’ Association




Over the past couple of weeks we’ve worked with numerous partners to meet the needs of survivors of recent storms, tornados and flooding in various parts of the U.S. We wanted to take the time to offer a special “thank you” to the National Football Leagues Players’ Association for the work they have done in Joplin, Mo. following the destructive storms last month. Numerous NFL players have visited survivors of the storms and toured the damages throughout Joplin. They have also helped in getting the word out to register for assistance (like the video above).

We are committed to serving those impacted by the storms and would like to thank the entire emergency management team for their continuous hard work and dedication to the recovery efforts in Missouri. From first responders, to local/state government, to our partners in the private sector, including the NFL Players’ Association, we appreciate all that you have and will continue to do.

To read more about the NFL Players’ Associations work in the recovery of Joplin, visit:

And the Winner is…


I'm proud to announce that the winner is the Map Your Neighborhood program submitted by Penny W. Here’s a little bit about the program from Penny’s submission:

It [the Map Your Neighborhood program] involves meeting with a small group of your neighbors to set up a plan for evacuation, rescue, etc. in the event of a disaster. You physically draw a diagram of your neighbor's homes to include gas shut-offs, water shut-offs, etc. You also inquire and make a list of who has a ladder, chain-saw, rope, muscular strength, or who can provide childcare so others can go to the aid of surrounding neighbors and so on. It is a very easy program to understand and does not rely on a large group to participate, just you and your immediate neighbors. It teaches basic preparedness and give some insight as to what may be needed and who, in your own neighborhood, is able to provide it.

Note: Map Your Neighborhood is a program from the Washington State Emergency Management Division.

Getting prepared in your neighborhood is one of the most important things you can do, because the more prepared you and your community are, the quicker you will bounce back after a disaster.

You can learn more about the Map Your Neighborhood program on the Washington State Emergency Management Division website, and although we only have one winner, there were over 150 ideas submitted, so take another look at some of the submissions to see if you can implement one of them in your community.

As we continue to work with the whole community (federal, tribal, state, and local governments, non-profit and voluntary organizations, the private sector, and the public) to respond to and recover from the recent disasters, we are continuing to encourage individuals, families, and businesses to prepare before the next disaster strikes. And as we all know, hurricane season officially started yesterday, and NOAA is predicting another busy hurricane season. Don’t forget to visit and

Congratulations again to Penny W. and the State of Washington Emergency Management Division and thank you to everyone who submitted entries to the challenge.

Quick Update: Northeast U.S. Tornadoes

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families in central and western Massachusetts impacted by the tornadoes that swept through the Northeast last night. This morning, FEMA is joining the state in conducting assessments of areas of western and central Massachusetts affected by yesterday’s severe weather and tornadoes. In addition, a regional Incident Management Assistance Team is on the ground in Massachusetts to assist state response efforts, as needed.

As we mentioned last night, we continue to closely monitoring the impact of the storm through our regional office in Boston, Mass., and remain in close contact and coordination with state emergency management officials.

At the request of the respective states, FEMA has liaison officers in place in Massachusetts and Vermont, and a liaison officer has been in contact with New Hampshire emergency management officials. These officials are working with state officials and are in place to help coordinate federal support, if needed.

Check back on the blog for the latest on our role. For updates from Massachusetts, check out:

Continuing to Monitor Severe Weather in the Northeast

Updated at 10:05pm EST:

Massachusetts Resources:,,

Updated at 8:50pm EST:

At the request of the respective states, FEMA has liaison officers in place in Massachusetts and Vermont, and a liaison officer has been in contact with New Hampshire emergency management officials. These officials are working with state officials and are in place to help coordinate federal support, if needed.

Through our regional office in Boston, we're closely monitoring the severe weather and tornado watches and warnings as they continue throughout the Northeast. We are in close contact and coordination with our state partners and stand ready to support as they respond to the severe weather, as needed.

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.

We will continue to update the blog as necessary, so check back for our latest updates on severe weather and tornadoes.

June 1: Official Start of the Hurricane Season


It’s June 1, which means it is the official start of Hurricane season. With hurricane season officially here, we wanted to share a video from Administrator Fugate:

You can do your part by making sure you and your loved ones are prepared by having an emergency plan and kit. Talk with your friends and neighbors and encourage them to do the same. And you can also take steps to get prepared for a hurricane at your workplace, so talk with your human resources manager about steps you can take.

Last week was Hurricane Awareness Week and we wrote a series of blog posts to illustrate the importance of being informed about the many hazards of severe tropical weather. Here there are again if you didn’t have a chance to read them:

Visit to get prepared and embed our widget on your website to help us get the word out:


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