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What We’re Watching: 7/29/11

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.

Tropical Storm Don
Since our last blog update on tropical storm Don, National Hurricane Center forecasts from the National Weather Service are calling for tropical storm Don to bring heavy rains and high winds to areas of south Texas, starting tonight. Our regional office in Denton, Texas has been in regular contact with the Texas Division of Emergency Management to coordinate any potential response efforts.

Yesterday, the Denton regional office activated its Regional Response Coordination Center to allow for the activation of emergency support functions needed for federal coordination among federal, state, and local communities, should there be a need or request for federal support. There are also Incident Management Assistance Teams available for deployment and Urban Search & Rescue is available to deploy, if needed.

It’s critical that all members of the public in areas that could be impacted by Don take this storm seriously – and stay out of harm’s way. Tropical storms can often create heavy rainfall which in turn causes flooding hundreds of miles inland. Here are some safety tips to remember, in case a hurricane or tropical storm threatens your area:

  • Listen to the direction of local officials. Be sure to know your evacuation route in case evacuation orders are given.
  • Install straps or additional clips to securely fasten your roof to the frame structure. This will reduce roof damage.
  • Driving through a flooded area can be extremely hazardous. Almost half of all flash flood deaths happen in vehicles. When in your car, look out for flooding in low lying areas, at bridges, and at highway dips. As little as six inches of water may cause you to lose control of your vehicle.

For the latest updates on tropical storm Don, visit http://www.hurricanes.gov/, and make sure to visit Ready.gov/hurricanes to get prepared for severe tropical weather. And remember – it’s still early in hurricane season and we expect a very active next couple of months. Now is the time to get prepared, before a storm approaches your community.

National Night Out
Earlier this week, U.S. Fire Administration, Deputy Administrator Glenn Gaines encouraged fire and emergency medical service personnel to partner with law enforcement to promote emergency and fire preparedness by hosting a National Night Out event in their local community. National Night Out is a program to promote neighborhood spirit and public safety-community partnerships, and over 15,000 communities are expected to host local events across the country. Check out his blog post or contact your local law enforcement agency and learn how your fire department or EMS can get involved.

Public Private Partnership Conference
In addition to National Night Out, next week is also the first National Public Private Partnership Conference in Washington D.C. We’ll host interactive workshops, working groups, and discussions led by experts regarding the growing importance of the private sector in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery. Stay tuned to our blog for more details in the coming days and in the meantime, here’s more information on the conference.

White House Blog promotes National Preparedness Month
Finally, we wanted to share a blog post from the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, encouraging faith-based and community organizations to register as a National Preparedness Month coalition member. Coalition members have access to specialized resources for engaging their audience in emergency preparedness, in addition to a discussion forum where they can share their ideas and learn from preparedness initiatives happening in their backyard during September.

Whether you’re a student, parent, school administrator, pastor, business continuity professional, first responder, emergency manager, or a concerned citizen, join the thousands that have signed up and become a National Preparedness Coalition member today.

Alabama Recovery: Committing to the Long Term

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Three months ago, violent storms and tornadoes caused devastation that changed the lives of Alabamians forever. Although we will never forget the tragedy that thousands of Alabamians have experienced, we continue to work with our partners across the emergency management team to assist the state in building communities that are stronger and more resilient.

I am proud to look back on the last 90 days and see the progress that has been made. To date,

  • 90 percent of the staggering amount of debris has been removed from the storm-ravaged areas.
  • Nearly 88,000 disaster survivors have applied for financial assistance from state, federal and volunteer agencies resulting in more than $140 million approved in federal assistance.
  • Some survivors have been able to find permanent housing solutions and are well on their way to rebuilding their lives.

Some of this progress can be seen in a photo of Pratt City before and after:

Pratt City, AL, May 11, 2011 -- Blue tarps dot the landscape of a section of Pratt City hit by the April 27th tornado. Tarps are used to try and protect contents from further damage in homes not completely destroyed. FEMA has provided thousands of tarps to Alabama residents since the storms.
Pratt City, AL, May 11, 2011 -- Blue tarps dot the landscape of a section of Pratt City hit by the April 27th tornado. Tarps are used to try and protect contents from further damage in homes not completely destroyed. FEMA has provided thousands of tarps to Alabama residents since the storms.

AL, July 26, 2011 -- Pratt City, AL, July 26, 2011 -- Disaster recovery and rebuilding near Cherry Ave. in Pratt City (Birmingham). FEMA is working to rebuild areas affected by the tornado that struck Alabama.
AL, July 26, 2011 -- Pratt City, AL, July 26, 2011 -- Disaster recovery and rebuilding near Cherry Ave. in Pratt City (Birmingham). FEMA is working to rebuild areas affected by the tornado that struck Alabama.

But, we still have work to do and now is the time for communities to look forward to the possibilities that recovery brings. Part of rebuilding is having a long-term community recovery plan, which unites public, private and nonprofit sectors, as well as members of the public, to identify resources for recovery projects through the Long Term Community Recovery program. So far, nine Alabama communities are participating, looking to rebuild stronger and safer.

The state is also focusing on building more resilient structures through hazard mitigation to lessen the effect of future disasters. Alabama was awarded $33 million in funding up front for mitigation. This funding may be used for many projects, including safe rooms aimed at saving lives and property.

Our goal has been, and will continue to be, helping the state, its communities and its people recover from the damage and dislocation caused by the storms. Now is the time to think about what the new reality will be for Alabama. It is not easy rising from the rubble, but with a helping hand Alabama can and will get back to a sense of normalcy.

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

History Reminds Us That Flooding Isn't Over

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Minot, N.D., July 26, 2011 -- A contractor removes debris from a storm drain during a rain storm in a Minot neighborhood. North Dakota, Montana and Utah are still seeing high water levels, as frequent heavy rain storms historically affect Colorado this time of year
Minot, N.D., July 26, 2011 -- A contractor removes debris from a storm drain during a rain storm in a Minot neighborhood. North Dakota, Montana and Utah are still seeing high water levels, as frequent heavy rain storms historically affect Colorado this time of year.

July is known for hot summer days, barbeques and picnics and outdoor activities with friends and family.

It also can be known as the monsoonal flow season in Colorado. It is the time of the summer where you can almost time those afternoon thunderstorms and showers rolling across the state. Recently Colorado has been experiencing strong thunderstorms laced with heavy rains, and strong lightning. These storms also bring localized street flooding and are a reminder to all in Colorado that flooding can happen very quickly.

Some of Colorado's costliest and deadliest disasters have happened during the last week of July and were flooding related. On July 31, it will have been 35 years since the "Big Thompson" flood. Tragically, 144 people died that day as a result of the flood – both Colorado residents as well as visitors to the state. A total of 418 homes were destroyed. Twenty-one years later, another devastating flood occurred in Colorado - this time in Ft. Collins. On July 27-28, 1997, 14.5 inches of heavy rain fell in 31 hours, resulting in five deaths in Spring Creek.

Colorado isn’t the only state in Region VIII to experience heavy monsoonal rains and flooding during the month of July. Last week we saw loss of life in Wyoming due to flooding, North and South Dakota have had flood warnings, and we continue to see high water in North Dakota, Montana and Utah. The flood danger in Region VIII is not over.

As citizens, we can't predict or change the weather patterns that bring flooding. However, we can be prepared and be aware of our surroundings. Stay connected to news sources that will alert you to dangerous weather conditions. If you are in an area prone to flash flooding (low-lying, or next to a stream/river or drain), be aware that skies could be clear overhead, but heavy rains 20 miles away could be headed downstream and in your direction.

Valuable information on preparedness for all disaster types including flooding can be found at www.Ready.gov. Key preparedness strategies include:

  • Having a preparedness plan and kit,
  • Making sure everyone in your household knows the plan,
  • Following the instructions of local officials, evacuate if told to do so,
  • Avoiding moving water when you’re walking or driving and remember that flash floods are appropriately named since they can happen in a flash.

As we approach the midpoint of summer, continue enjoying the outdoors, time with friends and family, and all that our states have to offer. We can honor those who have lost their lives due to flooding by preparing ourselves and our loved ones for the potential of dangerous weather.

Editor’s Note – Read some of Robin’s other blog posts: 
- Midwest and Upper Midwest Flood Fight Continues – Our Role 
- Floodwaters Swamp Minot, But Don’t Dampen Resolve in the “Magic City”

Tropical Storm Don Moving Through Gulf of Mexico, Watch Issued

As we mentioned yesterday, forecasts from the National Hurricane Center project tropical storm Don will affect south Texas late Friday evening or early Saturday morning. At this time, forecasters do not expect a significant increase in strength before it hits the U.S., however a tropical storm watch has been issued for the south Texas coastline, stretching from Brownsville to Galveston.

As we continue to closely monitor the storm as it approaches land, we wanted to remind you of what a “watch” and “warning” means when it comes to severe tropical weather.

  • Tropical storm watch = sustained winds of 39-73 mph are possible within the specified area in the next 48 hours
  • Tropical storm warning = sustained winds of 39-73 mph are expected within the specified area in next 36 hours
  • Hurricane watch = sustained winds of 74 mph or greater are possible within the specified area in the next 48 hours
  • Hurricane warning = sustained winds of 74 mph or greater are expected within the specified area in the next 36 hours

Since history tells us that tropical storms and hurricanes can change rapidly, it’s important to stay up to date with the latest forecast and information. The National Hurricane Center is the official source for updates on developing tropical weather, and you can follow their updates whether you’re at your computer or on your phone:

Please continue to listen to local officials (here's a link to the Texas Division of Emergency Management) and as always, visit Ready.gov/hurricanes for information on getting prepared for a tropical storm or hurricane.

Tropical Storm Don in Gulf of Mexico

Editor's Note: As of 4 p.m. EDT, the storm system has further organized and intensified into tropical storm Don, with the current forecast track projecting landfall in southern Texas.  The National Hurricane Center website has the latest information, and we will continue to provide updates on this blog about our role.

A wave of tropical thunderstorms is currently developing near the Yucatan Channel, between the coasts of Cuba and Mexico. According to the National Hurricane Center, this system is continuing to become better organized and if current trends continue, could become a tropical depression in the next 48 hours. We’re closely monitoring the situation through our regional offices in Denton, Texas and Atlanta, Ga., while coordinating with our partners at the National Hurricane Center forecast offices.

Although it is too soon to know how quickly this storm could develop and what its potential impact may be on the U.S., current forecast models do show that the storm could impact parts of Mexico and southern Texas. Since before the start of hurricane season, we’ve been encouraging residents in hurricane-prone areas to get prepared, whether you live on the coast or further inland. History has taught us that storm tracks can change quickly and unexpectedly – and it’s critical that all members of the public areas get prepared.

If you haven't already, now is a good time to visit http://www.ready.gov/ and learn a few simple steps every family should take to get prepared before disaster strikes. And remember when it comes to hurricanes and tropical storms, listen to the direction of local officials. Be sure to know your evacuation route in case evacuation orders are given.

You can also visit http://www.hurricanes.gov/ or http://hurricanes.gov/mobile on your phone for the latest forecasts for severe tropical weather. If you’re on Twitter and Facebook, you can follow the latest updates from the National Hurricane Center for the Atlantic basin at twitter.com/NHC_Atlantic and www.facebook.com/US.NOAA.NationalHurricaneCenter.gov.

FEMA’s 2011 Individual and Community Preparedness Award Nominations Begin

Family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors are vital partners in helping communities across the country to respond to and recover from disasters. More often than not, it is these individuals who are the first on the scene, providing assistance and supporting the efforts of emergency responders. Thousands of Citizen Corps councils and partner programs throughout the nation empower the public to take action in making their communities safer and better prepared to respond to disaster, whether natural or manmade, by offering a wide array of education, training, and volunteer service opportunities.

To highlight the innovative practices and achievements of these too-often unsung heroes, FEMA is now accepting applications for the 2011 Individual and Community Preparedness Awards. The awards showcase the great work being done by individuals, families, and local communities, FEMA’s partners at the state, territorial, local, and tribal levels, and non-governmental organizations in the non-profit, faith-based, and private sector communities.

Submissions should emphasize achievements taking place between January 1, 2010 and June 1, 2011, and can feature examples of any outstanding achievements in individual and community preparedness worthy of recognition. The deadline for submitting an application is August 26, 11:59 p.m. E.D.T.

Winners will be announced in September during National Preparedness Month, and will be honored guests at a community preparedness roundtable event in Washington, D.C. One winner will be selected to attend the 2011 International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Conference in Las Vegas, NV, and to participate as a guest on FEMA’s panel on community preparedness.

Download the instructions and guidelines before submitting an application. Remember, entries must be received by August 26, 11:59 p.m. E.D.T.

We look forward to reading about all of the excellent work being done across the nation!

National Night Out: Engage & Educate Your Community

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As we often say at FEMA, getting neighborhoods prepared and making them a safer place is a team effort, at the federal, state, local, and community level. That’s why I’m proud the U.S. Fire Administration is working with the National Association of Town Watch to encourage fire and emergency medical service (EMS) personnel to partner with law enforcement and participate in the National Night Out.

National Night Out is a program to promote neighborhood spirit and public safety-community partnerships, and over 15,000 communities are expected to host local events across the country.

I wanted to encourage you and your department to participate in National Night Out and host a local community event.

It’s a natural fit.

Fire and EMS are part of the community, and what a great way to reach out to the very people you serve by sharing important fire prevention and life safety information. There are so many things you could do to enhance a local event:

  • Fire apparatus and ambulances could serve as a backdrop for your educational booth while your department shares home fire safety checklists,
  • You could encourage residents to schedule smoke alarm installations, and answer questions about smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and other fire safety topics,
  • EMS personnel could perform free blood pressure screenings,
  • You could provide information on CPR training.

For more information on National Night Out or to register, visit www.NationalNightOut.org or contact your local law enforcement agency and learn how your fire department or EMS can get involved. Time is running out, but it’s not too late to become actively involved this year. This is a great way to get important fire safety information into our communities.

And while you're at it, National Preparedness Month (September) is right around the corner, so sign up to be a coalition member today to get resources and tips on spreading the preparedness message in your community.

Eligibility Criteria for FEMA Assistance

Recently, we have seen a lot of questions and news coverage about why tornado survivors in Alabama may or may not be receiving federal aid assistance. Disaster survivors in Alabama and other parts of the nation have been through a lot, and we’re working hard to ensure that everyone who is eligible for federal assistance gets the help they need.

We’ve spoken before about questions regarding federal disaster assistance. However, we wanted to take a moment to explain FEMA disaster assistance eligibility. Individuals and families in a declared area whose essential property has been damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance, are eligible for disaster assistance. Eligibility criteria are set by law and are the same for all disasters, no matter where you live. For example, under federal law we cannot duplicate benefits. If individuals already have insurance that will cover the damages, this may impact their eligibility for federal disaster aid.

Because several factors are considered when determining eligibility, we encourage all disaster survivors to apply for aid. You may be eligible for more than you realize, so it’s worth it to apply. If you apply for federal assistance and are eligible, you will receive assistance. Also, keep in mind that the status of federal funding for disasters will not impact how many people are eligible for assistance.

The bottom line is eligibility criteria for FEMA assistance is the same across the board – for all survivors and all disasters.

To learn more about eligibility criteria, survivors can visit http://www.disasterassistance.gov/ or call the helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). Survivors who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use a TTY can call 1-800-462-7585 directly; those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), can call 1-800-621-3362. They can also visit a disaster recovery center, where they can talk with someone who can help determine the best course of action for recovery.

Survivors in Alabama and in other states across the country have been through a lot, and we are committed to helping them every step of the way.

What We’re Watching: 7/22/11

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.

Extreme Heat Conditions
Most of the nation has been under a heat advisory over the past week. The National Weather Service expects excessive and dangerous heat and humidity to continue throughout the weekend across much of the central and eastern U.S. The highest heat index values are expected across parts of the Midwest, Ohio Valley and Mid-Atlantic.

The following are tips to stay cool and safe:

• Stay indoors as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun.

• Drink plenty of water. Persons who have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease; are on fluid-restricted diets; or have a problem with fluid retention should consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake.

• Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible.

• Check on family, friends, and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone.

• Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.

September: National Preparedness Month
Earlier this week we launched new web tools so you and your organization can join the National Preparedness Month coalition and pledge your support to help prepare your families, businesses and communities for emergencies.

Once you register, you’ll have access to:


• a toolkit that includes suggestions for activities and events, templates, articles, banners and customizable materials,

• an events calendar allowing where you can post and promote preparedness events,

• discussion forums to share success stories to engage with fellow coalition members and FEMA representatives.

Reminder: Survivors should stay in contact with FEMA
Disaster survivors who registered with FEMA for assistance need to keep their contact information up to date to avoid delays processing their application. If your address or telephone changes you can update this information through DisasterAssistance.gov or call 800-621-3362 or TTY 800-462-7585. The toll-free helpline operates daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time.

Applicants generally receive a response from FEMA within 10 days after registering. Anyone who has not received mail from FEMA more than 10 days after registration should call 800-621-3362.

Video: Recap of DHS Secretary visit Minot, N.D.
We recently blogged on Secretary Janet Napolitano’s tour to flood damaged Minot, North Dakota. Here is a video of the Secretary’s promise of FEMA's continued support in the recovery of Minot.

Talking Emergency Management with our International Partners

Deputy Administrator Richard Serino shakes hands with Vladimir Puchkov, state secretary and deputy minister, EMERCOM of Russia, after signing the Meeting Protocol and 2011-2013 Work Plan. In the background, Alexey Avdeev, section head, International Cooperation Department, EMERCON of Russia, looks on.

As you hear us say frequently, FEMA is just part of the team, a team that includes many other partners, from states and local governments to tribal governments and organizations, to the private sector and voluntary groups. But there is another part of this team that people may not traditionally think of – our international partners. And earlier this week, our leadership at FEMA, including Administrator Fugate and Deputy Administrator Serino, met with our Russian emergency management counterparts in Boston, at the second annual meeting of the Bilateral Presidential Commission Working Group on Cooperation in Prevention and Handling of Emergency Situations.

Unbeknownst to many, building and strengthening our partnerships with the international community is a large focus for us at FEMA. We are an increasingly global society, and the many disasters that have struck our friends and colleagues around the world this past year, from the horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan to the earthquake that struck New Zealand are a reminder that we are all in this together. In fact, as some of you remember, our Deputy Administrator for Protection and National Preparedness, Tim Manning, happened to be in Christchurch when the earthquake struck and immediately joined up with local emergency responders to help with search and rescue missions. In addition to other types of aid, the U.S. sent FEMA-trained and funded Urban Search & Rescue teams to help with search and rescue efforts in the aftermath of the devastation in both New Zealand and Japan. And this past spring, many of our international partners participated in our annual national preparedness exercises, the National Level Exercise 2011.

We may live in vastly different places, but we’re part of the same team – and we have a lot to learn from each other in the international community. That was the goal of our meeting with Russia’s emergency management team: to explore ways we could learn from each other and new opportunities for partnerships. A lot of our dialogue focused on the widespread fires Russia faced in 2010, and lessons learned from their response, which used both civilian and military resources for the first time in years. We also shared our collective lessons learned from the Japanese earthquake and how we were able to deploy our respective urban search and rescue teams. Finally, we visited one of our Urban Search & Rescue teams, Massachusetts Task Force-1 in Beverly, which recently helped respond to the tornadoes that swept through parts of the state in early June.

This was not Administrator Fugate’s first meeting with Russia EMERCOM Minister Sergei Shoigu, who he visited last summer – but it did reinforce that disasters are not a unilateral issue. As a global society, we all have to help each other as we deal with similar threats and hazards. We are part of the same team, and we will all be more resilient and well-equipped to deal with emergencies if we tap into each other’s knowledge, experiences and resources. We thank our Russian partners for joining us in Boston and look forward to continuing to build this critical partnership.

-- Carole

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