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Setting the Record Straight About FEMA’s Disaster Fund

We are getting a lot of questions about how FEMA will continue to fund the different disasters states are continuing to recover from, as well as the immediate response and recovery efforts for Hurricane Irene.

Our immediate focus is to continue doing everything we can to support our state and local partners as they respond to Irene and meet the immediate needs of disaster survivors, and we have the resources needed to do this. To make sure we have all the resources we need to do this, FEMA is placing some funding restrictions on longer-term repair, rebuilding and mitigation projects from previous and current disasters that are funded through our Disaster Relief Fund.

In other words we are implementing what we refer to as “immediate needs funding,” a strategy that is not new and that we have used in previous years to help preserve our disaster relief funding for immediate needs. This will not impact the individual assistance disaster survivors are receiving for losses from recent disasters, like the tornadoes, and will not affect the availability of aid for any people who suffer losses from Hurricane Irene and qualify for federal disaster assistance.

It is very important that that the public, especially the disaster survivors we serve, understands what this means. Under Immediate Needs Funding:

  • Current or future disaster survivors will continue to receive their individual assistance payments from FEMA to help replace or repair damages to property or cover other personal losses. This is true for disaster survivors in Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, and all other states recently impacted by tornadoes or flooding.

    States will be continue to receive funding reimbursement for debris removal, emergency protective and response measures, and assistance to help with housing missions, mission assignments, and other critical needs. Longer-term recovery projects for open disasters that had already been submitted by states will continue to receive funding. The only projects that will temporarily be impacted are longer-term recovery projects and hazard mitigation projects that were not already in our system. To be clear – funding will not be eliminated for any of these projects, but merely put on hold until additional appropriations are made available.

There are a few important things to keep in mind about Immediate Needs Funding.

  • This is not a new strategy – it has been implemented in previous years to help preserve the funding for the Disaster Relief Fund. Specifically, Immediate Needs Funding Guidance was released in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2010, as a precautionary measure to preserve the balance of the DRF until Congress allocated additional funding.
  • FEMA does not “divert” funds from one disaster to pay for another disaster. As Administrator Fugate explained yesterday during a briefing for the media:
    “We are not taking any money away from survivors. When we go into [Immediate Needs Funding] use money that continues to provide funds to all the individual assistance programs for all of the open disasters. It also continues to provide funding for the emergency protective measures, debris removal. What it does do, we stop funding new work in older disasters that have not already been in the system to maintain funds to continue to support the survivors, as well as the response to this disaster. We're working very closely with the White House on what funding may be needed as part of that will be based on what the damage assessments we do see from this storm.”

Again, this Immediate Needs Funding strategy will not affect our preparation or response operations for Hurricane Irene or any event in the coming weeks or months, and current and future eligible disaster survivors will continue to receive individual assistance payments, which help begin their recovery process by covering some of their personal losses. In addition, eligible states will continue to receive funding for emergency response work or protective measures. We look forward to continuing to work with all of our partners toward our common goal – to protect the people and communities we serve and help states continue to recover from Hurricane Irene and other disasters.

Irene Update 29: President Obama on Response and Recovery Efforts

Editor's note: This was originally posted by Colleen Curtis on the White House blog at 8:35 p.m. EDT, August 28.

With Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate at his side, President Obama today gave the American people a brief update on the ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Irene, the deadly storm that devastated swaths of the East Coast this weekend. The President also expressed concern for those who were impacted:

Our thoughts and prayers are with those who’ve lost loved ones and those whose lives have been affected by the storm. You need to know that America will be with you in your hour of need.

While the storm has weakened as it moves north, it remains a dangerous storm that continues to produce heavy rains. One of our chief concerns before Irene made landfall was the possibility of significant flooding and widespread power outages. And we’ve been getting reports of just that from our state and local partners. Many Americans are still at serious risk of power outages and flooding, which could get worse in the coming days as rivers swell past their banks.

So I want people to understand that this is not over. Response and recovery efforts will be an ongoing operation, and I urge Americans in affected areas to continue to listen for the guidance and direction of their state and local officials.

The President thanked the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, state and local officials and the many volunteer organizations who worked tirelessly over the past several days, noting that the advance planning has saved lives and property. Moving forward, he said that FEMA will be working with state and local responders to assess damage and assist in the recovery.

Watch the full remarks:

Irene Update 28: Working With All Levels of Government

Mayor Nutter and Congressman Fattah receive briefing at Regional Response Coordination Center in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia, PA, August 27, 2011 -- Congressman Chaka Fattah (right) & Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (second from right) receive a briefing from Regional Response Coordination Center manager John McGowan prior to the onset of hurricane Irene.

On Saturday, we had the pleasure of hosting Congressman Chaka Fattah and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to the Regional Response Coordination Center in Philadelphia, Penn. I first called Congressman Fattah to thank him for his support during preparations for Irene, and the call ended in an invitation for both gentlemen to take a tour of the office and receive a briefing on the situation.

The Mayor and the Congressman received a briefing on the hurricane from the National Weather Service liaison, Fred McMullen, as it approached the Region’s states (Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania). They were also briefed on the federal family’s support of state and local efforts from the regional response center’s leadership team, including myself.

Congressman Chaka Fattah & Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter receive a briefing from National Weather Service Liaison Fred McMullen prior to the onset of hurricane Irene.
Philadelphia, PA, August 27, 2011 -- Congressman Chaka Fattah (right) & Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (center) receive a briefing from National Weather Service Liaison Fred McMullen prior to the onset of hurricane Irene.

After their situation briefing, the Mayor and the Congressman further toured the response coordinating center and met with the various Emergency Support Functions (ESFs). These ESFs have various responsibilities in the FEMA support effort, some of them are FEMA staff, and others are liaisons from various federal agencies and non-profit organizations. All work together to provide support to the state & local officials who serve as the first responders to any disaster.

We were glad to have a chance to personally update the Mayor and Congressman – as we say at FEMA, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from emergencies is a team effort, and we continue to closely coordinate with our partners across all levels of government. And even though Irene passed through the region this weekend, we continue to capitalize on these strong relationships to make sure our partners are aware of the latest situation.  We have teams working side-by-side with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency's Emergency Operations Center in Harrisburg, Penn., and we're closely monitoring the potential flooding in the region III states.

For the latest on our role following Irene, visit the Severe Tropical Weather category on our blog.

Irene Update 27: Department of Energy on Their Role

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted on August 26, 2011 by Patricia Hoffman, Assistant Secretary, Department of Energy. She talks about the Department of Energy’s role in supporting state and local response and recovery efforts after disasters, such as Hurricane Irene, affect energy infrastructure.

The Energy Department is closely monitoring Hurricane Irene as it travels up the U.S. coast. Upon declared emergencies, the Energy Department serves as the energy focal point for response and restoration efforts, monitoring energy infrastructure and coordinating response across the federal community, state and local governments, and industry. Department emergency responders are now staffing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Response Coordination Center in Washington, DC as well as FEMA’s Regional Response Coordination Centers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta. An emergency responder is also deployed to Puerto Rico as part of an Incident Management Assistance Team on the island.

Emergency Situation Reports are now available detailing the storm's impact to the energy sector and restoration activities being taken.

The energy sector is also preparing for this event by taking such actions as bringing in additional crews, preparing equipment for emergency restoration work, keeping utility contractors on call and ensuring that additional supplies, such as poles and pole-top equipment, are on hand to promptly respond and restore service should the storm result in outages. These are just some of the preparations that are currently underway.

Americans living on the East Coast should also prepare and follow local direction. FEMA's website offers practical guidance on what to do before, during, and after a hurricane. If you experience a power outage, you should contact your local utility for assistance.

The Energy Department’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) is the designated Federal Sector-Specific agency directing Emergency Support Function 12 (ESF-12) activities for the Energy Sector under the National Response Framework. In the event of an emergency, OE maintains teams of responders that specialize in energy infrastructure. These responders can be quickly activated and deployed to the location of an event. During an event, OE staff coordinate with deployed personnel, other Department offices, and Federal and State and local agencies in responding to the emergency.

Additional information on the Department’s work in emergency preparedness is available at the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

Irene Update 26: Still a Threat

While many are saying the U.S. “dodged a bullet” with Irene, Administrator Fugate gives a reminder that Irene is still a threat – especially because of heavy rains and the potential for widespread flooding:

Get prepared for floods at, and please continue to follow the direction of local officials if your area is being affected by Irene. For other flood safety tips, check out our blog post from earlier today.

Irene Update 25: Tips for during and after a flood

Tropical storm Irene continues to affect much of the East Coast, bringing significant rainfall and potential flooding/flash flooding to the affected areas. We encourage all those in communities that have been or may be impacted to follow the direction of local officials and take shelter inside during the storm.

As Irene continues through the East Coast, stay tuned to the radio and television for information, and remember that flash flooding can occur at a moment’s notice. Here are some additional flood safety tips in case your community, or that of a friend/loved one, may be affected by the heavy rains of Irene.

During a flood:

  • Be aware of streams, drainage channels, canyons, and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without such typical warnings as rain clouds or heavy rain.
  • Secure your home. If you have time, bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to an upper floor.
  • Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
  • Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be quickly swept away.

After a flood:

  • Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
  • Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
  • Avoid moving water.
  • Stay away from downed power lines, and report them to the power company.
  • Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.

Visit for more information about what to do before, during and after a flood, or on your phone at – and see the severe weather watches/warnings in your area at

Irene Update 24: Continuing to Get the Word Out


We continue to take proactive steps to support our state, local and tribal partners in their preparations and response to Irene. In addition to working with our partners across the emergency management team, Administrator Fugate has been making the rounds on national media outlets to make sure citizens along the East Coast are following the direction of local officials and getting tips on staying safe.

He emphasized that individuals should not underestimate Irene’s impact, as flooding, weak/damaged trees and downed power lines are potential hazards after the storm. (More tips on staying safe during a tropical storm/hurricane).

In case you missed them, here are a few videos from Administrator Fugate’s interviews this morning:

Irene Update 23: Stay Safe If Your Area is Affected

Our thoughts and prayers are with those that have been impacted by Irene, as we continue to closely monitor the storm as it makes landfall in New York and New England. Along with the entire federal family, we’re continuing to lean forward to support our tribal, state and territorial partners as Hurricane Irene continues north along the eastern seaboard, having already affected Puerto Rico and several East Coast states.

Even though Irene is now a tropical storm, it is critical that residents and businesses continue to listen to the instructions of their local officials and closely follow news and weather reports. Tropical storms still bring high sustained winds, heavy rains, and can cause dangerous conditions and flash flooding.

If you’re in an area already affected by Irene, here are a few reminders on staying safe:

  • Stay away from downed power lines, flooded roadways and fallen tree limbs.
  • If your area has lost, or may lose, electricity, remember to never use portable generators indoors or in garages, basements or sheds. The exhaust from generators contains high levels of carbon monoxide that can quickly incapacitate and kill.
  • Don’t drive or walk through flooded areas. The reason that so many people drown during flooding is because few of them realize the incredible power of water. A mere six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult. It takes only two feet of rushing water to carry away most vehicles -- this includes pickups and SUVs.
  • If you have evacuated, don’t return home until the all clear is given by local officials. There may be hazards that prevent you from being able to return home such as downed power lines, road closures, roads or bridges that are impassable, and traffic lights not working.


What We’re Doing
Our immediate focus and priority, as we move from into the response and initial recovery phase, is to do everything we can to support first responders and emergency managers at the frontlines with efforts to keep residents and communities safe. Here’s a brief update on what we’re doing:

  • We’ve proactively positioned a total of 18 Incident Management Assistance Teams along the coast to coordinate with state, tribal and local officials to identify needs and shortfalls affecting potential disaster response and recovery.
  • Six national urban search and rescue teams, comprised of more than 500 personnel, are activated and ready to deploy if needed.
  • Community relations teams are being staged to support states along the East Coast. These teams, if needed, help inform disaster survivors about available services and resources.
  • Mobile Emergency Response System assets have been strategically located along the entire east coast to support emergency response communications needs.

And although the storm is still passing through the Northeast, some may already be thinking about how they can help the survivors and affected communities. Remember to not send unsolicited donations after a disaster, but to go through a recognized disaster relief organization to find out what the needs are. Cash is often the most efficient way to help those affected by a disaster. Cash donations allow voluntary and faith-based organizations to fund response and recovery efforts, obtain goods and services locally, and provide direct financial assistance to disaster survivors to meet their own needs.

For the latest developments hurricane Irene, check out the National Hurricane Center full ( or mobile website (

Irene Update 22: August 28 Recap

We remain committed to bringing all of the resources of the federal family to bear to support the states and territories that have already been affected by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene and the states that are preparing for the storm. Through our regional offices in Boston, Mass., Philadelphia, Penn., New York City, N.Y., Atlanta, Ga., and our Caribbean Area Office in Puerto Rico, have been in close contact and coordination with the states and territories that have been affected, and states that will be impacted.

Over the past several days, President Obama has declared a major disaster declaration for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and emergency declarations for North Carolina, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, making available federal resources to support response efforts. Prior to Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene's making landfall on the East Coast yesterday, we deployed teams and resources along the East Coast from South Carolina to Maine.

In advance of Irene moving through the territories earlier this week, we deployed teams to both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to coordinate directly with local officials on the ground. At the direction of President Obama and DHS Secretary Napolitano, FEMA continues to work with our federal, state, territorial, tribal and local partners, as well as voluntary organizations, the private sector, and others to aggressively prepare for Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene.

 The following timeline provides an overview of these and other federal activities, to date, to support these territories, states, families and communities.

Sunday, August 28

  • The President convened a video teleconference in the White House Situation Room regarding the impact of Hurricane Irene. Vice President Biden, Chief of Staff Daley, DHS Secretary Napolitano, Treasury Secretary Geithner, Transportation Secretary LaHood, Energy Secretary Chu, FEMA Administrator Fugate, Homeland Security Advisor Brennan and other senior White House officials participated in the call. Secretary Napolitano and Administrator Fugate were asked to continue to be in touch with governors and local leaders along the East Coast.
  • President Obama signs a pre-disaster emergency declaration for the District of Columbia due to Hurricane Irene making available federal support to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety throughout the District.
  • President Obama signs a pre-disaster emergency declaration for the State of Delaware due to Hurricane Irene making available federal support to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety for the entire state.
  • States, localities and the Red Cross have been operating more than 500 shelters in eight states and Puerto Rico. The Red Cross is prepared to open additional shelters as needed. Last night's shelter population was estimated at more than 29,000. Information about open Red Cross shelters is available at and will continue to be updated.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (USACE) Temporary Emergency Power mission continues as power teams have been deployed to Incident Support Bases (ISBs) in Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. Power teams consist of planning and response teams, the 249th Prime Power battalion and designated resource support staff.
  • Thousands of Red Cross disaster workers are in place to help people along the East Coast once conditions are safe. Volunteers from partner organizations like Americorps National Civilian Community Corps and Southern Baptist Convention are positioned alongside Red Cross workers in many areas. Relief operations have been launched in more than a dozen coastal states. More than 200 feeding vehicles are positioned. Tens of thousands of prepackaged meals are moving into the area and the Red Cross is working with volunteer organizations and federal partners to ensure that kitchens are positioned in numerous locations after the storm moves through.
  • The Department of Energy's Response Center has been activated, providing real-time monitoring on power outages and other energy-related aspects of the storm. The Department provides the public with reports on the critical energy infrastructure impacted by the storm, as well as outage and restoration data, through Emergency Situation Reports, which are available at
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff are in close contact with state and local environmental responders and are prepared to provide technical support as needed.
  • Verizon has a private sector liaison at the National Response Coordination Center. This individual communicates and coordinates with private sector partners that could be impacted, or have already been impacted, by this storm, ensuring they have the support needed to respond and recover.
  • The private energy sector has been taking actions such as bringing in additional crews, preparing equipment for emergency restoration work, keeping utility contractors on call and ensuring that additional supplies, such as poles and pole-top equipment, are on hand to respond and restore service as quickly as possible.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is assessing the status of nuclear power plants. Commission officials are in close coordination with state emergency operations centers.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture urges the public to be aware of pet and livestock safety tips during power outages, flooding and evacuations.

See yesterday's blog post for a recap of earlier federal activities.

Irene Update 21: Urban Search & Rescue Teams Deployed to North Carolina

In anticipation of Hurricane Irene, FEMA deployed the Virginia Task Force 1 (VATF-1), Fairfax County’s urban search and rescue team to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. You may remember the VATF-1 from earlier this year; we deployed to Japan in response to the devastating earthquake in March of 2011 (under the direction of the Department of State). Our team is currently staged in Fayetteville and prepared to be mobilized as Hurricane Irene continues its path.

While waiting for orders, the task force, made up of a 77 member team and four search canines, is currently undergoing classroom-type training. This training prepares us for many types of disaster related situations, such swift-water activities and other related storm activities, including flooding and structural collapse. We are standing ready at this moment, but once we are activated, we’ll be on the move within an hour to provide assistance to the affected areas.

The task force consists of technical search and rescue specialists, structural engineers, physicians, paramedics, search canines, and communications and planning specialists. Our team can conduct physical search and heavy rescue operations in damaged or collapsed reinforced concrete buildings. In most cases, we are assigned to do specialized work in dangerous and hazardous areas that are inaccessible to residents and locals. If the team received orders through FEMA right now, we’d dispatch to the location, do an assessment and began the search.

We would search for:

  • Stranded citizens
  • Citizens trapped in damaged structures
  • Severely injured victims with accessibility limits

The task force is part of a major network across the nation. There are 28 Urban Search and Rescue Teams dedicated to bring together federal, state and local partner emergency response into the National Urban Search & Rescue Response System. All teams can be activated for major disasters to assist in rescuing victims or to assist in other search and rescue missions.

- John


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