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Video: Strengthening Relationships for Long Term Recovery

It has been a year of deadly and destructive tornadoes across the United States. Unfortunately, the active weather has put many communities – Joplin, Mo.; Cordova, Ala.; Smithville, Miss., just to name a few – in the similar situation of dealing with overwhelming damage and tragic loss of life. But they are not alone.

Last week, several communities that were impacted by tornadoes this year participated in a FEMA-organized, sustainability workshop in Greensburg, Kan. (read a recap of the workshop from Deb Ingram, Assistant Administrator, Recovery). Four years ago, in 2007, an EF-5 tornado destroyed more than 90 percent of the small town in just a matter of minutes. At the conference, Greensburg community leaders were eager to share their story of dramatic recovery and provide insight to the questions and challenges that may lie ahead for recovering communities.

The video below highlights the integral relationships that are already being formed through FEMA’s Long-Term Community Recovery program as several cities across the country work towards rebuilding.

What we’re watching: 7/8/11

Flooded street in Minot, N.D.
Minot, ND, July 6, 2011 -- Parts of several neighborhoods are still under water after the Souris River overflowed its banks. We continue to support the emergency management team and disaster survivors as response and recovery efforts continue in North Dakota

Severe weather outlook
As we mentioned earlier this week, our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are calling for many rivers in the upper Midwest and northern Plains to remain above flood stage through the summer. And with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center calling for additional rain in these areas over the next few weeks, it’s important you’re taking steps to get prepared if you haven’t already done so.

Forecasters are also calling for drought conditions to continue across the South, with excessive heat expected in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. Be sure to visit for tips on getting prepared for the hazards in your area, and visit to get your local forecast.

Video: Planning for the whole community
In case you missed it, Marcie Roth, director of FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, was interviewed by St. Petersburg College’s National Terrorism Preparedness Institute to talk about “Planning For The Whole Community”. As Administrator Fugate says, emergency managers need to plan for everyone in their communities, including children, elderly and those with disabilities or access and functional needs. We encourage you to check out the video of Marcie’s interview and learn more about FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination.

CDC Blog: A story of family preparedness
We’ve mentioned The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Public Health Matters” blog before – remember their post on zombies and emergency preparedness? Last week, the blog featured the story of Cyndi Rilling, a CDC employee who had to put her family’s emergency plan into action when tornadoes roared around her house.

Cyndi talks about the steps she took to emphasize emergency preparedness with her children, and how her emergency kit and shelter proved to be invaluable when storms whirled around them. Here’s a look at some Cyndi’s blog post – check out the full blog post on the “Public Health Matters” blog:

Before this tornado outbreak, we had mixed success discussing our family’s emergency preparedness plan with our kids. They’d laugh and comment that “nothing ever really happens around here.” They agreed to follow the plan if things ever got bad, but they were somewhat resistant to what they called the “crazy drills,” like practicing where the rally point was.

And they asked why we had to shelter under the porch, preferring to stay in their beds. The night of April 27 wasn’t a “crazy drill” though, it was the real thing and I was happy we had a plan in place.

News of the Day – What do Waffle Houses Have to Do with Risk Management?


What do Waffle Houses have to do with risk and disaster management?

As anyone who has heard Administrator Fugate speak once or twice knows, more than you might think. During his days as the head of Florida’s Department of Emergency Management, Craig began to use a simple test to determine how quickly a community might be able to get up and running again after a disaster: The Waffle House test.

If this comparison seems odd at first, think again.

Yesterday, EHS Today, a magazine for environment, health and safety leaders, explained that major companies such as The Home Depot, Walmart, and Waffle House serve as role models in disaster preparedness. They’ve taken necessary steps to prepare. These companies have good risk management plans to ensure that their stores continue to operate when a disaster strikes, and also provide basic supplies to people in their community. As the article explains, the Waffle House test is:

If a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it’s yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red. Because Waffle House is well-prepared for disasters… it’s rare for the index to hit red.

As Craig often says, the Waffle House test doesn’t just tell us how quickly a business might rebound – it also tells us how the larger community is faring. The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can re-open, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again – signaling a stronger recovery for that community. The success of the private sector in preparing for and weathering disasters is essential to a community’s ability to recover in the long run.

EHS Today’s article serves as a good reminder that businesses should get ready. Up to 40 percent of businesses affected by a natural or man-made disaster never reopen, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Keep your business out of this statistic. As we’ve said before, learn about the resources available to help your company prepare for a disaster – and stay in business.

NOAA Says Flooding To Continue – Our Role

As we have seen over the past several months, historic flooding has been occurring throughout the central and southern regions. While rivers remain high around these regions and communities are impacted by the long-duration flooding, we continue to support local and state governments throughout the U.S. and are coordinating with the federal family’s response to the ongoing flooding.

Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasted that the flood threat will continue this summer as many rivers remain above flood stage. This flood fight is going to be a long effort – but we will be standing with all of the affected families, neighborhoods and communities every step of the way. And it will continue to be a team effort – with the government working hand in hand with all of our partners, public and private.

We have been working proactively with these states for months to prepare for and respond to flooding. We encourage people to remain vigilant and stay prepared as high river levels are expected to continue for weeks; perhaps until the end of the summer. And if you’ve been affected by the flooding, see if disaster assistance is available in your county.

Here's a look at some of the ways we continue to work with other government agencies to provide resources and expertise to help individuals, communities, and states prepare for and respond to the rising waters:

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is providing FEMA and other federal agencies with hydrologic reports and expertise related to river level forecasts. The information provided by the Army Corps is shared with our emergency management partners at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is providing geo-intelligence along the Missouri River. This information is used to create flood inundation mapping that assists local and state emergency managers make informed decisions to protect life and property.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation is providing continuous updates on the status of major and critical transportation routes.
  • The Civil Air Patrol is performing aerial reconnaissance to provide high resolution imaging of flooding.
  • Subject-matter experts from the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are mission-assigned to provide guidance on the assessment of the electrical grid, powerlines, waterlines, and wastewater treatment facilities in the impacted area.

For more information on FEMA’s efforts, check out the “Floods” category on the blog, and be sure to visit to get prepared today.

Recalling A Visit to Minot


Minot, North Dakota, is currently experiencing some pretty devastating flooding. I visited Minot on Wednesday to review response and recovery operations there, to meet with State and local officials, as well as the FEMA team on the ground. State and local officials have been doing an amazing job keeping their citizens safe and supporting disaster survivors. Given the large amount of damage caused by the flooding, the fact that there has been no loss of life is a true testament to the importance of the swift actions leaders took in order to ensure safety. Mayor Zimbelman of Minot, Mayor Gruenberg of Burlington, Governor Dalrymple, and The Adjutant General, General Sprynczynatyk, have been leading their teams in doing great work, and I’m proud of the FEMA team that’s supporting their efforts.

Minot, ND, June 29, 2011 -- Rich Serino, FEMA deputy administrator, surveys flooding in Minot with The Adjutant General, General Sprynczynatyk.
Minot, ND, June 29, 2011 -- Rich Serino, FEMA deputy administrator, surveys flooding in Minot with The Adjutant General, General Sprynczynatyk.

I surveyed flooding throughout Minot and nearby affected counties by helicopter with General Sprynczynatyk. The devastation is severe. Infrastructure, homes, and businesses are affected. Many buildings are completely submerged by water, with roofs barely visible. But even with all the devastation, there were also many success stories with flood-fighting measures. As we surveyed other counties affected by flooding, I saw where the Corps of Engineers was working on protective measures for other structures and neighborhoods.

Levees had been built to protect many public buildings and critical infrastructure, including an elementary school, helping minimize damage. The preparations made by state and local officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to contribute to the flood-fighting efforts.

Minot, ND, June 29, 2011 -- General Sprynczynatyk discusses issues with Richard Serino (left), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deputy administrator, during a disaster recovery meeting with state and local officials in Minot, North Dakota.
Minot, ND, June 29, 2011 -- General Sprynczynatyk discusses issues with Richard Serino (left), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deputy administrator, during a disaster recovery meeting with state and local officials in Minot, North Dakota.

Minot Mayor Zimbelman, Burlington Mayor Gruenberg, North Dakota Governor Dalrymple, and General Sprynczynatyk, helped me understand the needs and concerns of survivors and the community at large. I explained the importance of FEMA’s role in providing assistance to disaster survivors. Based on information gathered in joint damage assessments, FEMA was also able to make available individual assistance programs in three more counties, bringing needed disaster assistance to more individuals and business owners. FEMA was assisting in protective flood-fighting measures in communities across North Dakota long before flooding began, and FEMA will be in North Dakota for the long haul, providing tools to help the community and survivors rebuild.

Minot, ND, June 29, 2011 -- Richard Serino (left), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deputy administrator, meets with Faith based Volunteer Agencies at the FEMA/State Disaster Recovery Center in South Minot, North Dakota.
Minot, ND, June 29, 2011 -- Richard Serino (left), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deputy administrator, meets with Faith based Volunteer Agencies at the FEMA/State Disaster Recovery Center in South Minot, North Dakota.

I also had a meeting with the Small Business Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Lutheran Disaster Services, and other faith-based and volunteer groups, thanking them for the joint effort they have made to assist disaster survivors ever since flooding preparations began. They are such an important part of the team, and the work they have done and are continuing to do is a true testament to the good that can come of a “whole community” approach to emergency management.

One of the highlights of my visit was when I met with disaster survivors at a local disaster recovery center and shelter. Being able to offer a small amount of comfort and a listening ear to disaster survivors is one of the more rewarding aspects of my job. One conversation I had with a survivor in a Red Cross shelter especially reinforced the community coming together.

The survivor told me how he had taken his car into the shop for repairs prior to the flooding. When he arrived to pick it up a couple days later, the shop owner told him that he didn’t have to pay for the repairs, even though the bill was around $2,000. The owner told him he had been through enough. This is just one example of neighbors helping neighbors, working together during a community’s time of need to make rebuild after disaster a little bit easier.

As I did while visiting Minot, I want to encourage individuals in the eligible counties to register for assistance with FEMA and to visit a disaster recovery center to speak face-to-face with officials from FEMA and the state for more information on available assistance. We remain committed to assisting survivors and communities alongside the other members of the emergency management team, and we’ll be here as long as it takes to help this community recover and rebuild.

Minot, ND, June 29, 2011 -- Richard Serino, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deputy administrator, visits with disaster survivor Dona Young at the Red Cross shelter in Minot, North Dakota.
Minot, ND, June 29, 2011 -- Richard Serino, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deputy administrator, visits with disaster survivor Dona Young at the Red Cross shelter in Minot, North Dakota.

Planning for Long-Term Recovery: Sharing Lessons, Tools and Resources

In the wake of this year’s deadly tornadoes, storms and flooding, we’re working diligently with a wide array of partner agencies and organizations to support communities recently impacted by disasters (such as Joplin, Mo., Smithville, Miss.; and Cordova, Ala. as well as many others) as they work down the path towards long term recovery and reconstruction. With these thoughts in mind, this week, FEMA hosted a Sustainable Communities Workshop – A Peer-to-Peer Discussion on Recovery in Greensburg, Kansas.

While Greensburg may seem like an odd place to bring together leaders in the emergency management and disaster recovery field, the town has significant meaning for disaster recovery and hazard mitigation. Greensburg sustained damage from an EF-5 tornado on May 4, 2007 that resulted in more than 90 percent of the structures in the community being severely damaged or destroyed, giving leaders there a unique perspective on the challenges currently facing several cities devastated by this spring’s disasters.

The discussions were open and honest, with the focus being the integration of sustainability concepts and principles into recovery. Participants provided state and local peer-to-peer best practices, guidance and advice to one another to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of long term recovery and hazard mitigation efforts.

For me, the most promising take-a-way from the workshop was strengthening relationships between federal, tribal, state and local governments, the business community, non-profit and faith-based groups and the public - who all have a stake in how a community rebuilds after a disaster.

As the recovery and rebuilding efforts continue in the areas hit by the recent disasters, it’s this kind of knowledge sharing and collaboration that will show community leaders that their communities really can come back stronger than ever. This collaboration effort will help communities not only recover from disaster but do so in a way that is good for the environment, good for taxpayers and good for the public’s
long-term health.

This event is also one result of a collaboration between FEMA and Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Sustainable Communities, from a Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) signed in March 2010 (PDF, TXT). This MOA encourages the agencies to work together to build a strong framework for both pre-disaster planning, post-disaster recovery and integrating smart growth into hazard mitigation planning for communities around the nation. This work also helps to inform federal, tribal, state and local efforts to develop strategies for integrating hazard mitigation and recovery programs and adapting to a changing climate.

We wanted to be sure that the lessons shared during this workshop went beyond just those that were able to participate, so a report is being produced to document the keys ideas and recommendations from the communities and states that were able to participate.

FEMA will continue working with all the communities affected by this spring’s disasters to support them as they continue down their road to recovery and work to come back stronger and more sustainable, while mitigating against future disaster.

Other links
- More information about Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Sustainable Communities
- Long Term Community Recovery Planning – A Self Help Guide
- 2008 Road to Recovery – Review of Emergency Support Function #14 LTCR Activities
Sustainability and Hazard Mitigation in Recovery
- More information about rebuilding after a disaster

Foresight and prediction: Preparing for the future of emergency management


I’ve blogged a few times about our Strategic Foresight Initiative as we promote broader, long-term thinking about the future of emergency management.  My last post talked about nine drivers that will influence this future, and mentioned we would be exploring key issues in each of these areas.  I wanted to highlight three of these areas in this blog post, and briefly mention our approach in exploring the issues by using a combination of foresight and prediction.

While the two terms seem similar, a key difference between the two is that foresight acknowledges the fact that the future is uncertain, and tries to prepare decision makers for how the future may change.  Predictions are an attempt to remove uncertainty from the future.  Emergency managers must attempt to foresee what possible futures they may face when they make decisions that will have implications for years down the road. Today, it is important for emergency managers use a combination of foresight and predictions as they think about the future.  And that’s the approach we took in exploring each of the drivers.

I wanted to share our findings on three of these drivers in this post: 

  • Technology –The adoption of smartphones, new media, and other emerging technologies will change emergency management as they are adopted by a greater number of Americans—or if a disaster makes cellular networks unavailable.
  • Government budgets - Budget projections are grim at all levels of government.  Balance sheets are still feeling the effects of the economic downturn that began in 2007, and budgets will be squeezed in the long term by health care and retirement obligations as the Baby Boomers begin to retire.  Emergency managers will need to consider how they fund their activities if government budgets continue to be constrained.   
  • The state of critical infrastructure - The average age of infrastructure in the United States has been rising, meaning that structures are becoming older and more prone to failure.  Beyond that, the very nature of infrastructure could change as America adopts new and different technologies such as alternative energy and enhanced wireless communications networks.  Emergency response could be hindered by aging infrastructure, or disruptions to communications networks, and investments in new infrastructure offer opportunities to reduce the impacts of future disasters.

Through our Strategic Foresight Initiative, we have compiled additional research information about these three drivers.  I invite you to review these papers and post any comments, thoughts, or suggestions you may have.  Our objective is to broaden the dialogue and generate feedback and new perspectives on the issues being identified.

What We’re Watching: 7/1/11

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.

Richard Serino, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deputy administrator, visits with Red Cross official at the Red Cross shelter in Minot, North Dakota during his visit on June 29.
Minot, ND, June 29, 2011 -- Richard Serino, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deputy administrator, visits with Red Cross official at the Red Cross shelter in Minot, North Dakota during his visit on June 29.

North Dakota Flooding Response
Federal, state, and local officials continue to support disaster survivors in response to the historic flooding along the Souris River in North Dakota. Here’s a look back at our blog posts this week, discussing the emergency management team’s role in the ongoing flood-fighting efforts in North Dakota:

Disaster assistance is available to individuals and business owners in McHenry, Morton, Renville, Ward and Burleigh counties, and we encourage all disaster survivors to register with FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585 or by visiting or on your smartphone.

Upcoming holiday weekend
With the Fourth of July only a few days away, we wanted to take the time to remind you to have a safe and memorable holiday. For many, Independence Day is marked by fireworks, cookouts, and picnics. While you celebrate this year, remember to leave the fireworks to the professionals and use safe cooking techniques at your cookout. And if your local forecast is calling for high temperatures, remember to take steps to get prepared for the heat.

Arlene stays away, but serves as a reminder
In case you missed it this week, tropical storm Arlene became the first named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season. Although Arlene did not have a significant impact on the U.S. (and has since began to dissipate over Mexico), it serves as a reminder that hurricane season is here. Make sure you’re prepared for hurricane season by visiting and visit the National Hurricane Center website for official advisories and forecasts on severe tropical weather.

Faces of Homeland Security
Earlier this week, Secretary Napolitano, launched Faces of Homeland Security: Heroes on the Front Lines to tell the stories of some of the inspiring DHS employees who have gone above and beyond to prevent terrorism, secure our borders, enforce our immigration laws, safeguard cyberspace and prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

Check out Sidney Melton’s (a FEMA employee) story about his role following the deadly tornadoes that struck Alabama this spring.

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