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Lessons learned, but the mission continues

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Six months after one of Alabama’s deadliest tornado outbreaks, you can’t help but reflect on what you were doing when you learned of the magnitude of the April 27th storms and what those first images and sounds were like as people described the storms’ impact on their lives. As the State Coordinating Officer for Alabama Emergency Management Agency, my mission was meeting the immediate needs of the survivors, ensuring they had a place to shelter, something to eat and staff available to answer their questions as they made future plans regarding their recovery.

In the midst of sheer devastation, the April storms are an example of team work and coordination, between the locals, state, federal, private and volunteer partners. As I reflect back, if a part of that puzzle was missing, the response and recovery would not have gone as well. With any big, life-altering event, you walk away with life lessons; as an agency we are looking at definite areas we want to modify and amend before the next disaster. I’m convinced that this will not be the worst disaster that we will ever face, as bad as this disaster was for the state. That’s why it’s important for AEMA to continue to train and exercise for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best outcome.

Six months later, this mission is far from over. That is why it is imperative for the AEMA staff and the rest of Alabamians not to forget the lives lost as a result of the April 27 storms and the April 15 storms. Each of us can honor the memory of the victims by making sure our friends, family members and neighbors take severe weather preparedness serious.

Here’s an update on the work we’ve done and our ongoing recovery efforts following the devastating storms in Alabama six months ago:



To learn more about preparedness in Alabama, visit http://www.ema.alabama.gov/.

Celebrating Extraordinary Emergency Preparedness

I am thrilled to announce the winners of the 2011 FEMA Individual and Community Preparedness Awards! We received applications from 36 States, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The applications reflected the full breadth of the emergency management team, with submissions from faith-based, tribal, non-profit, private sector, and community-based organizations, as well as individuals.

Winners showed incredible innovation and creativity. I am honored to recognize organizations such as the Washington State Emergency Management Division and individuals like the late John D. Solomon who are making a difference in people’s lives by emphasizing the importance of preparedness.

One examples of an award winner is the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, who developed a "Send Word Now" system which provides text messages, email and voice alerts to tribal members during emergencies. Several of this year's winners also distinguished themselves by involving their entire community in emergency preparedness. For instance, the New York City Citizen Corps program collaborated with more than 60 community organizations, government agencies, private sector organizations, and volunteer programs to promote emergency preparedness.

Others were exemplary in their ability to train and educate community members. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago trained more than 55,000 youth and their families in over 20 low-income neighborhoods. And the Earthquake Country Alliance conducted the successful Great California ShakeOut, an annual statewide earthquake drill that involves millions of participants - a concept that has been replicated in other states and countries.

Here’s a full list of this year's award winners and their respective categories:



  • Outstanding State Citizen Corps Council Initiatives: Arkansas State Citizen Corps (AR)
  • Outstanding Local Citizen Corps Council Initiatives: New York City Citizen Corps (NY)
  • Outstanding Community Emergency Response Team Initiatives: NBC Universal CERT (CA)
  • Outstanding Achievement in Youth Preparedness: American Red Cross of Greater Chicago (IL)
  • Preparing the Whole Community: San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians (CA)
  • Promising Partnerships: Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies (BRACE) (FL)
  • Engagement with Faith-Based Communities: David L. Maack (WI)
  • Innovative Training and Education Programs: Washington State Emergency Management Division (WA)
  • Outstanding Drill, Exercise, or Event: The Great Central United States ShakeOut (TN)
  • Awareness to Action: Earthquake Country Alliance (CA)
  • Innovative Use of Technology: Citizen Corps of St. Clair County (MI)
  • Outstanding Achievement in Public Health: Cobb County Public Health Preparedness and Response (GA)
  • Community Preparedness Heroes: Brenda Gormley (TX), Tod Pritchard (WI), Carolyn Bluhm (CO)
  • First Annual Recipient of the John D. Solomon Preparedness Award: John D. Solomon, Creator of In Case of Emergency, Read Blog (NY)

Award winners will receive their awards and be honored guests at a community preparedness roundtable event in Washington, D.C., where they can share their experiences, ideas, and solutions on community preparedness with other award winners, Citizen Corps program managers, and other FEMA officials.

Congratulations to this year’s winners and those that received honorable mentions, and thank you all for the amazing work you do to prepare your communities.

Practice earthquake safety in the ShakeOut drill

We’ve mentioned the Great California ShakeOut several times on the blog, but wanted to put out a friendly reminder now that it’s right around the corner. On Thursday, October 20, at 10:20 a.m. Pacific time, over 8 million people will participate in an earthquake drill to practice how to safely duck, take cover, and hold on in the event of an earthquake.

With the ShakeOut just a few days away, here are a few reminders about the drill:
 

  1. You don’t need to be in California to participate - The recent earthquake on the East Coast shows that earthquakes can happen practically anytime, anywhere, even if you don’t live in California. So we’re encouraging everyone to take part in the ShakeOut and practice how to stay safe during an earthquake.

    And be on the lookout for other ShakeOut drills happening soon, including the ones for the Central U.S. and Utah.
     
  2. There are many ways to engage your family, workplace or school in earthquake safety – Taking part in the ShakeOut is a great first step in knowing how to stay safe in the event of an earthquake. There are also steps you can take to prepare your business, home, or school BEFORE an quake strikes that may lessen the damage and help you recover faster. Ready.gov/earthquakes has information on getting prepared for an earthquake, and we encourage you to check it out.

    The ShakeOut website has more details on how you can take part in earthquake safety – maybe it’s hosting an emergency preparedness fair, posting flyers around your workplace or school, or reviewing your family emergency plan on a regular basis.
     
  3. After the ShakeOut, share your story – Share your photos of how to “Duck, Cover, and Hold On”, or tell your friends/family/coworkers how you joined in the ShakeOut. The photos or stories you share may inspire someone else to get prepared for an emergency.

So join in at www.ShakeOut.org/register and pledge your family, school, business, or organization’s participation in the ShakeOut. We look forward to seeing your story about how you got involved!

Supporting Disaster Recovery in New England

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Even as the leaves change color in New England, many communities across the region are still working hard, recovering from the damage from this past season’s destructive weather.

At FEMA, we continue to work closely with our state and local partners that are still recovering from the tornadoes that swept through the Connecticut River Valley and the aftermath of tropical storm Irene. Both events affected homes, businesses and communities in all six states in the region. We continue to support individuals and communities affected by these disasters, and the recovery has come a long way, as this video shows:




Between June 1 and October 1, across New England, FEMA and the Small Business Administration has provided the following support:
 

  • 6,302 individuals and families approved for grants totaling $29,160,789
  • 434 individuals and families approved for low-interest disaster loans totaling $20,542,400
  • 52 businesses approved for low-interest disaster loans totaling $5,684,100

And as of Thursday, October 13, $4,841,388 in public assistance grants have been obligated for 416 local governments and private nonprofits. The numbers will continue to rise; our work here is far from over.

FEMA has set up offices across the region to ensure we’re working closely with our partners at the state, local and tribal levels, as well as voluntary organizations and others in the private sector. We want to ensure that every penny of assistance eligible under law reaches the communities that need them.

As New Englanders work to recover from the impact of the recent storms, FEMA continues to offer assistance and support to local and state partners across the region. We are proud partners in this recovery effort and remain committed to offer support and assistance for the remainder of the recovery effort.

For more on the ongoing recovery efforts, visit our disaster pages:

Connecticut – Tropical Storm Irene
Maine – Tropical Storm Irene
Massachusetts – Severe Storms and Tornadoes
Massachusetts – Tropical Storm Irene
Rhode Island – Tropical Storm Irene
Vermont – Tropical Storm Irene
New Hampshire – Tropical Storm Irene

In Photos: Honoring Fallen Firefighters

PoThe names of firefighters who lost their lives in 2010 are unveiled at the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial.
Emmitsburg, MD, October 16, 2011 -- The names of firefighters who lost their lives in 2010 are unveiled at the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial. Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, and Glenn Gaines, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, were in attendance to honor those who lost their lives serving their communities, and support the families they leave behind. (Photo courtesy of Fallen Firefighters Foundation)

Yesterday, the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation hosted a memorial service remembering firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Administrator Fugate and Glenn Gaines, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator, were among those in attendance, honoring those who have died in the line of duty to serve their communities, and supporting the families they leave behind.

Administrator Fugate delivered a message from the president as part of Fire Prevention Week – here’s part of that message:


Fires, whether caused by people or nature, can have devastating effects. Hundreds of thousands of fires happen in and around American homes every year, killing or injuring thousands of people and causing untold damage to families and communities. This week, we honor the selfless first responders who put themselves on the line to safeguard us all from fire, and we reaffirm the need for Americans to practice fire safety throughout the year…

This week, our Nation honors the dedicated firefighters and other first responders who do the hard, dangerous work of keeping our communities safe from fire. Many have laid down their lives to save our friends and neighbors, and their selfless sacrifice defines the nature of courage. As we pay tribute to their memories, let us resolve to maintain our vigilance and take proactive steps to stop fire emergencies before they begin.

As we often say at FEMA, emergency management is a team effort, and we wholeheartedly commend the daily sacrifices of first responders working to meet the immediate needs of those affected by a disaster – whether it’s a hurricane, earthquake or home fire.

Here are more images from the memorial service, held at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md.

Glenn Gaines, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, stands with Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, as they honor firefighters who lost their lives at the National Fallen Firefighter memorial service.
Emmitsburg, MD, October 16, 2011 -- Glenn Gaines, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, stands with Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, as they honor firefighters who lost their lives at the National Fallen Firefighter memorial service. (Photo courtesy of Fallen Firefighters Foundation)

As part of the Fallen Firefighters memorial service, firefighters and family members honor those who have lost their lives serving their communities.
Emmitsburg, MD, October 16, 2011 -- As part of the Fallen Firefighters memorial service, firefighters and family members honor those who have lost their lives serving their communities. (Photo courtesy of Fallen Firefighters Foundation)

Firefighters stand at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial during the Fallen Firefighters memorial service.
Emmitsburg, MD, October 15, 2011 -- Firefighters stand at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial during the Fallen Firefighters memorial service. Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, and Glenn Gaines, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, were in attendance to honor those who have lost their lives serving their communities and support the families they leave behind. (Photo courtesy of Fallen Firefighters Foundation)

A firefighter displays a flag as part of the National Fallen Firefighters memorial service.
Emmitsburg, MD, October 16, 2011 -- A firefighter displays a flag as part of the National Fallen Firefighters memorial service. Each year, firefighters and their families gather to honor those who have lost their lives serving their communities. (Photo courtesy of Fallen Firefighters Foundation)

What We’re Watching: 10/14/11

Every Friday, we post 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.


Possible Tropical Storm Systems

Hurricane season lasts until November 30, and we’re currently closely watching two areas of interest with a chance of developing into a more organized tropical storm system. Since hurricane season started back in June, we’ve been working on a daily basis with our partners at the National Hurricane Center as they provide the latest forecast information for both the Atlantic and Pacific basins.

The threat of tropical storms and hurricanes still persists, so those in coastal or inland areas should take steps to get prepared. Make sure you have an emergency kit to sustain you and your family for at least 72 hours, and an emergency plan so you know where to go and who to contact if a tropical storm or hurricane does hit.

At Ready.gov/hurricanes (or m.fema.gov on your smartphone), learn the steps you can take today to get your family and property more prepared, and visit hurricanes.gov (hurricanes.gov/mobile on your smartphone) for the latest tropical forecast.

Fire Prevention Week Wrapping Up

This past week, Glenn Gaines, the Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, has posted several blogs about fire safety, with a focus on preventing home fires and limiting the loss of life and property. Here are his blog posts, in case you missed them:

To conclude Fire Prevention Week, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate will attend the National Fallen Firefighters memorial service on Sunday in Emmitsburg, Maryland to honor those firefighters who have given their life on the job.

We encourage you to take steps to prevent fires in your home, workplace or school, and there are some easy steps to help: make sure all your smoke alarms are working and practice your fire escape plan. For more on getting prepared for a fire, visit Ready.gov/fires.

Coming Up…

As we look out several days, we wanted to remind you of two upcoming events:

  • Health & Human Services Facebook App Challenge ends November 4 – The Department of Health and Human Services is hosting a challenge for members of the public to develop a Facebook application that helps individuals be better prepared before a disaster strikes. Ideas should focus on designing a Facebook application that makes it easy for people to create their own emergency support network and provides users with useful tools in preparing for and responding to emergencies.
  • Emergency Alert System Test coming up November 9 – The first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System is next month, and we’re working closely with our partners at the Federal Communications Commission and broadcasters across the country to ensure people know what to expect. For more, check out yesterday’s blog post from Damon Penn, Assistant Administrator, National Continuity Programs.

Protecting your Family from Fire: Smoke Alarms and Home Escape Plans

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Throughout Fire Prevention Week, I’ve reflected on the changes in how we prepare for and prevent fires, as well as the importance of properly using a fire extinguisher. To wrap up the week, I wanted to remind you that protecting your family and home from fire all begins with prevention.


Have working smoke alarms in your home

Properly installed and maintained smoke alarms are one of the best and least expensive means of providing an early warning of a potentially deadly fire and could reduce the risk of dying from a fire in your home by almost half.

 A smoke alarm stands guard around the clock and when it first senses smoke, sounds a shrill alarm. This often allows a family the precious but limited time it takes to escape.

Here are some key reminders for placing and maintaining the smoke alarms in your residence:

  • Replace smoke alarms no later than ten years after their installation.
  • The U.S. Fire Administration also recommends that you have smoke alarms inside and outside of bedrooms, on every level in your home, and interconnected so that when one smoke alarm sounds they will all sound.
  • Test your smoke alarms every month.

Review and practice your fire escape plan regularly

When making a fire escape plan, it’s important to:
  • Discuss the plan with everyone in your household, especially family members who cannot escape unassisted.
  • Plan two ways out of every room.
  • Designate an outside meeting place, away from your home, but where the firefighters can see that you are out and safe.
  • Practice your escape plan every month at least twice a year with everyone in your home. Practice at night and during the daytime.
 In case a fire does occur, remember to:
  • Leave your home.
  • Call the fire department from outside using a cell phone or a neighbor’s phone.
  • Get out and stay out! Never return to a burning building!
Following these two steps – maintaining smoke alarms around your home and reviewing/practicing your fire escape plan – will go a long way in preventing the loss of life and property from fire.

I encourage you to share this information with family, loved ones and friends and emphasize the importance of fire prevention – it could save your life, or that of someone you love.

For more information on smoke alarms and fire escape planning, and help in identifying potential fire hazards in your home, visit the Ready.gov/fires. To learn more about resources for sharing fire safety, and for free publications, visit the U.S. Fire Administration’s website.

Emergency Alert System Test: One Month Away

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Back in June, I blogged about the first national-level test of the Emergency Alert System that will take place on November 9 at 2 p.m. eastern. With the test now less than a month away, I wanted to put out a friendly reminder about what it means for you.

So here's an excerpt from my first blog post, with details about the test:



One of the most important communications tools that helps federal, state, local, territorial and tribal authorities issue emergency information and warnings to the public is the Emergency Alert System. This system is frequently used and tested at the local level, but to date it has never been tested on the national level. Chances are you have seen or heard the Emergency Alert System tested in your area many times, whether while watching your favorite TV show or listening to the radio.

What will people hear and see during the test?

On November 9, the public will hear a message indicating that “This is a test.” The audio message will be the same for both radio and television. However, the image on the screen and the text/crawl at the top of television screen may not be the same for all viewers. When the Emergency Alert System test is over, regular programming will resume.

How long will the test last?

We anticipate that the test will last approximately 3 minutes. While most messages, such as tsunami or hurricane warnings, are limited to two minutes by the emergency alert system, the Presidential message capability (which will be used in the national test) does not have a time limit. So to evaluate if the system properly interprets the Presidential message code in this test, the message duration must be longer than two minutes in length.

Since we first announced the test, we've been actively engaged with our partners at the Federal Communications Commission, our state, tribal, territorial and local partners, the broadcast community, and other key stakeholders to make sure the word gets out about the upcoming test, and we'll continue to spread the word in the coming weeks. I encourage you to visit the FCC website for more information about the test, including answers to some frequently asked questions.

Protecting Your Family from Fire: Fire Extinguishers

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Fire Prevention Week graphic.
At the U.S. Fire Administration, we receive numerous questions throughout the year (and especially during Fire Prevention Week) related to home fire safety, but none more so than questions related to fire extinguishers.

The use of a fire extinguisher in the hands of a trained adult can be a life and property saving tool. However, a majority of adults have not had fire extinguisher training and may not know how and when to use them. Several years ago when I was still on the job as Chief with the Fairfax County Fire/Rescue department, I recall an incident to which my fire company was dispatched. It was an early morning apartment fire where the occupants of a first floor unit attempted to extinguish a kitchen fire using a fire extinguisher without ever calling the fire department. Ultimately, the fire entered the partitions, spread to the upper floors, and tragically killed one occupant on the third floor.

Fire extinguisher use requires a sound decision making process and training on their proper use and maintenance, both were absent in this incident. When should you or your family members use a fire extinguisher to control a home fire? I would like you to consider the following three questions before purchasing or using a fire extinguisher:

  1. What type of fire extinguisher is needed?
  2. Different types of fires require different types of extinguishers. For example, a grease fire and an electrical fire require the use of different extinguishing agents to be effective and safely put the fire out. For your home, select a multi-purpose fire extinguisher - such as those labeled "Class B-C" or "Class A-B-C" - that can be used on all types of home fires. And make sure the extinguisher isn’t too heavy to handle.
  3. Is the fire at a point where it might still be controlled by a fire extinguisher?
  4. Portable fire extinguishers contain a limited amount of extinguishing material and are valuable for immediate use on small fires only. For example, when a pan initially catches fire, it may be safe to turn off the burner, place a lid on the pan, and use an extinguisher. If the fire has spread, however, these actions will not be adequate. Only trained firefighters can safely extinguish such fires. Use a fire extinguisher only if:
      • Other occupants have left the building (your number one priority!) and someone has called the fire department; 
      • The fire is small and contained to a single object, such as a wastebasket; 
      • You are safe from the toxic smoke produced by the fire; 
      • You have a means of escape identified and the fire is not between you and the escape route; and 
      • Your instincts tell you that it is safe to use an extinguisher.  If not all of these conditions are present, you should NOT try to use a fire extinguisher. Alert other occupants, leave the building following your home fire escape plan, go to the agreed upon meeting place, and call 9-1-1 or your fire department’s emergency number from a cell phone or a neighbor's home.
         
  5. Am I physically capable of using the extinguisher?
  6. Some people have physical limitations that might diminish or eliminate their ability to use a fire extinguisher properly. Some people may find that an extinguisher is too heavy to handle or it may be too difficult for them to exert the necessary pressure to operate the extinguisher.

Sound Decision Making. Training. Maintenance. All are required to safely control a fire with an extinguisher. For this reason, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends that only those trained in the proper use and maintenance of fire extinguishers consider using them when appropriate. Contact your local fire department for information on fire extinguisher training in your area.

For more information on protecting your family from fire, visit Ready.gov/fires – and check out usfa.fema.gov for resources you can share about fire safety.

Fire Prevention Week: Reflect and Prepare

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During this 89th Fire Prevention Week (October 9-15, 2011), take a moment and reflect with me on how far we’ve come and where we need to go to protect our families and communities from fire. Before I discuss some of the changes in the firefighting and fire prevention landscape, the most important thing to remember is you can do your part to make your family safer from the risk of fire.

What You Can Do

The following tips will help you keep your family and homes safer, everyday:



  • Establish and practice an emergency escape plan that includes at least two exits out of your home and designate a meeting space outside of your home where first responders can easily see you.
  • Properly install and maintain smoke alarms on every level of the home, including the basement, outside sleeping areas, and inside each bedroom.
  • Consider installing a residential sprinkler in your home. Residential fire sprinklers protect lives and property by keeping fires small.
  • Know that the leading cause of fire and injury in the home is unattended cooking so stand by your pan when you are cooking, frying, grilling, broiling, or barbequing food.
  • If you live in an area prone to wildfire, keep the area around your home clear of combustible vegetation.
 

Learning Lessons From the Past

The threat from fire is ever present. Fire destroys lives and property, that’s why fire prevention is so important. One-hundred and forty years ago, the great Chicago fire consumed much of the city and claimed many lives. The fire fighting community soon recognized such disasters were preventable and society took action. In the process we learned to fight fires with more efficiency. From those destructive fires we learned to better control fires in blocks of buildings, then single buildings, then to just floors in a building, to now, when most fires are contained to the room of origin.

Because of this, society has saved vital resources, improved the urban landscape, and raised the level of safety through legislation, zoning ordinances, upgrading municipal fire defenses, expanding public water supplies, installing fire alarms and automatic fire sprinkler systems in commercial buildings, adopting building and fire codes, developing better building methods and materials, and teaching people how to prevent fire. Doing this was not easy, but it was a decision made by society that fire had to be controlled, and it took the efforts of everyone to make it happen.

New Challenges

While urban infernos are now very rare events, we face new fire-safety challenges. Today, our homes remain a place of great potential risk from fire. Not long ago our furnishings and belongings were mostly cotton, wool, and wood. Now plastic and synthetic materials make up many of the items we use every day and when burned produce greater quantities of deadly heat and toxic smoke compared to natural materials.

Fires in the modern home burn hotter and faster and have more potential fuel to keep the fire going than 50 years ago, presenting a greater challenge to occupant survival and for firefighters to control.

Fire Prevention Week provides the opportunity to reflect on fire-safety readiness and how we can better protect our families and communities from fire. To learn more about preparing your home and family for a fire, visit Ready.gov/fires. If you’re an emergency manager, educator, parent, community leader or concerned citizen, visit the U.S. Fire Administration website for more resources for sharing fire safety information.

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