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2011: The Year in Photos

As 2012 approaches, we wanted to take a minute to reflect on the past year. 2011 has by far been one of the most active in disaster years in recent history. From the historic spring flooding in the Midwest and the deadly tornadoes that struck Alabama and Joplin, Mo., to the East Coast Earthquake in August – this year has certainly been busy for the entire team.

Before we ring in the new year, we wanted to share some photo’s from this year. Take a look at the slideshow below to see 2011: The Year in Photos.

 
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Making An Important New Year’s Resolution Stick

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Before the ball drops and we ring in the New Year, I’m sure many of you have made New Year’s resolutions for 2012. Many which I seem to repeatedly make year in and year out, like working more exercise into my daily routine, eating healthier, saving more or donating a larger portion to charitable causes. However, this year I have a New Year’s resolution idea that could prove to be priceless. Resolve to be Ready in 2012 and commit to making family, home or business better prepared for an emergency.

I know the hardest part of keeping a resolution is sustaining momentum after those first few weeks of the New Year. So here are some ideas for how you can phase in you resolution to be ready for an emergency in 2012:

  • Set a monthly reminder in your calendar to test your home’s smoke alarms – the first of every month in your personal or work calendar can serve as a great reminder to test your smoke alarms.
  • Pick up one item for your emergency kit on each of your shopping runs – building your family’s emergency kit doesn’t need to happen in one fell swoop. Pick up canned food, bottled water, a battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, and other recommended emergency items over the first month or two of the year (it will also spread the cost of building your emergency supply kit).

I sincerely hope you will join Administrator Fugate and the rest of us at FEMA to Resolve to be Ready in 2012. It’s a resolution we can keep, and one that will definitely prove its worth, should disaster strike.

An Important Update on Our Recoupment Process

Over the past year, as directed by law, FEMA has re-initiated an improved process for identifying cases of improper payments made to individuals after disasters and to take steps to recover those funds. As we have explained before on this blog, several laws require FEMA and other federal agencies to conduct this process, known as “recoupment.” At the direction of our current leadership, we have worked within the legal constraints of these laws to make the process more fair and understandable for both disaster survivors and taxpayers. However, under these existing laws, FEMA was unable to waive debts.

Last week, Congress passed a law providing FEMA discretion to waive certain debts from disasters declared between August 2005 and the end of 2010 if the debt arose from an improper individual assistance payment made as a result of FEMA’s error, there was no fault on the part of the survivor, and the survivor currently has an income of $90,000 or less. The law does not apply to recoupment efforts for disasters declared after Jan. 1, 2011.

FEMA is committed to implementing the law to the fullest extent possible so that it meets its intended purpose: to offer a fair resolution to those survivors who received improper payments through no fault of their own and who may be unable to repay their debt due to their financial circumstances.

So now that the law has been passed, what next?

FEMA is currently reviewing the law and developing a plan to implement it. This includes examining the reasons for recoupment and the potential population of survivors who might be eligible to have their debts waived. We look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers and all interested stakeholders during this effort.

As we begin work on this implementation plan, FEMA is not scheduled to send any new debts to Treasury for collection before Jan. 13, 2012. We know that there are many survivors and other stakeholders who will have questions about the effects of this new law. While we are just beginning to determine how to implement this brand new law, the legislation does make clear that a recoupment case must meet all of the following criteria in order to be eligible for full forgiveness:

  • The improper payment was received from disasters declared between Aug. 28, 2005 (Hurricane Katrina) and Dec. 30, 2010;
  • The improper payment was a result of an error solely on FEMA’s part – not on the part of a survivor;
  • The improper payment cannot have involved fraud, false claim or misrepresentation by the survivor;
  • The survivor’s adjusted gross income for the last taxable year was less than $90,000 (a survivor with an income of greater than $90,000 whose case meets the other qualifying criteria could be eligible for a partial waiver) ; and
  • The collection of the debt would be against “good conscience and equity.”

Our priority is to ensure that all survivors have clear and complete information about these changes once we have an implementation plan to share, and we are working to make that happen as quickly as possible.

It is important to note that Congress wrote this law to apply only to recoupment efforts for older disasters. As we have also explained before, in recent years we have taken significant steps to put strong protections in place to cut down on the percentage of improper payments disbursed after disasters – and it is now less than one percent, on average. We will continue to do everything we can to reduce the need for any potential recoupments for current and future disasters.

We want to move expeditiously on this implementation effort, but we also want to get it right. We thank all of our stakeholders – especially survivors – for their patience as we move into the next phase or this effort and look forward to working together to make these important changes a reality.

What We’re Watching: 12/23/11

 
At the end of each week, we post a "What We’re Watching" blog as we look ahead to the weekend and recap events from the week. We encourage you to share it with your friends and family, and have a safe weekend.

Severe Weather Outlook

Throughout the weekend, multiple severe weather conditions are forecasted throughout the U.S. The National Weather Service expects heavy snow to continue throughout parts of the Northern and Central Rockies. In addition, heavy snow is forecasted for interior New England on Dec. 25. Southern California can expect high winds through Dec. 26. Parts of the South and Central and Southern Great Plains will experience severe drought conditions.

Remember to check weather.gov (or mobile.weather.gov on your phone) for the most up-to-date weather forecast in your area.


Wishing for our Gifts of Preparedness

All month long, we’ve been encouraging you to give the gift of preparedness this holiday season. So this weekend, I’ll be looking underneath the tree and in my stocking for some new preparedness items to add to my emergency supply kit. And for all you last-minute shoppers looking for creative and practical gifts ideas for family and friends, here’s one last reminder of great gifts ideas this holiday season:

  • Flashlight with extra batteries,
  • NOAA weather radio or hand crank radio,
  • Solar cell phone charger,
  • Even better, a tote bag or back pack with some basic emergency supplies to get your loved ones emergency kit started.

Visit Ready.gov for more gift ideas and to learn how you can Resolve to be Ready in 2012.

From all of us here at FEMA - wishing you and your family a safe and happy holiday,

Rachel

Share Your Ideas to Help Strengthen the Nation’s Preparedness

Earlier this year, President Obama released a policy directive aimed at strengthening the security and resilience of the United States: Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD-8): National Preparedness.

With your help, FEMA and its partners have created a National Preparedness Goal, which sets the vision for building a more resilient and secure nation, and a National Preparedness System, which identifies the programs, processes and tools for achieving that vision. Now, we are focusing on the next set of activities.

This is where you come in: Today, we’re launching an ongoing dialogue and are asking for input as we develop the next documents to meet the milestones required by the policy directive. We need your suggestions and comments across a variety of topics. This can include your general views on preparedness, such as a successful approach that your community or organization has used to assess preparedness; examples of how you, your business, or community as a whole collaborates with local law enforcement officials and federal authorities to help identify potential threats or prevent incidents; and stories of how local government and private sector stakeholders interact in your community to support emergency response needs during disasters. These are just a few of the many topics we will be discussing.

Visit fema.ideascale.com and click on the link for ‘Presidential Policy Directive 8’ to provide your ideas. You also may view, comment and vote on other people’s ideas.

We appreciate your help as we continue our efforts to make the nation more resilient and secure.

Commerce’s EDA Investing to Strengthen Tennessee Businesses and Grow Nashville’s Hospitality Industry

Editor's Note: This was originally posted on the Commerce Blog.

Between March and May of 2010, severe storms and floods devastated many parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Nebraska and Rhode Island. While Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is not a first responder to such disasters, the agency quickly got to work assessing the damage and connecting with local leaders regarding their needs as they began to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Recognizing the critical role that EDA can play for these communities, Congress provided $49 million in supplemental funding for EDA to award to these states to help them in their recovery efforts.

Last week, businesses in Tennessee got some good holiday news, when EDA announced its investment of $5.8 million to help build critical infrastructure to support Tennessee businesses and jobs and to develop a strategic marketing strategy to grow the Nashville hospitality sector following the floods of 2010.

These grants will assist in Tennessee’s recovery and redevelopment efforts by funding the necessary improvements that will ensure the resilience of physical and economic infrastructure and include:

  • $2 million to the Jackson Energy Authority to build core sewer infrastructure to protect major regional employers, including the Jackson-Madison Hospital and numerous industrial and manufacturing businesses, from flooding. The project is expected to result in the retention of 9,690 jobs, according to grantee estimates;
  • $1.49 million to the city of Dyersburg to help build an elevated water storage tank that will improve water capacity for manufacturing and industrial businesses and will serve new tracts of land being developed outside of the flood plain to accommodate business needs. The project is expected to save 433 jobs, create 200 jobs and generate $4 million in private investment, according to grantee estimates;
  • $1.3 million to Conexion Americas of Nashville to help build the Casa Azafran Community Center, which will provide expanded business startup or expansion assistance to Latino small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs;
  • $1 million to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau to implement a regional marketing strategy that will support the city’s economic recovery by promoting the hospitality industry, which lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the wake of the flooding that impacted the city in 2010.

In announcing the grant, U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson said “The Obama administration is committed to helping communities impacted by natural disasters rebuild stronger and smarter to protect businesses and jobs. These critical EDA investments will provide the infrastructure needed to help keep businesses running and workers productive in the event of future floods, expand vital business assistance to Nashville’s Latino community and help Nashville revitalize its critical hospitality sector to create new jobs.”

In May 2010, President Obama signed the Tennessee Disaster Declaration and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area struck by severe storms, flooding, straight-line winds, and tornadoes beginning on April 30, 2010, and continuing. The president's action made Federal funding available to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Preparing New Employees for the FEMA Mission

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A few weeks ago, I was honored with an opportunity to spend four days serving as an executive mentor to some of FEMA’s newest employees through FEMA’s Mission Readiness course. It was a great opportunity to work with a small group of men and women who’ve accepted the challenge and committed themselves to helping Americans prepare for and recover from disasters.

The goal of the executive mentor is to help set the tone for new hires, and help them acclimate and excel in their new roles and their FEMA careers.

The course, hosted by the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Md., was developed as part of the organization’s Employee Readiness Program, which aims to help acclimate new employees into the FEMA workforce. The course describe opportunities and responsibilities to manage personal career paths, and helps students understand what the emergency management mission means to them both personally and professionally. As FEMA continually recognizes that well-trained employees are our number one asset, this course serves as the first of many training opportunities new workers will receive.

Along with a better understanding of the structure and functions of FEMA, I believe the students take with them an understanding that they have the power to determine the quality of their experience within our organization. And I hope they will remember that our jobs rely heavily on relationships like the ones they formed during last week’s training.

In truth, I may have gained the most from having a week with these energized, new members of the FEMA team. Even if you aren’t a FEMA employee, I encourage you can take advantage of training offered by FEMA – visit fema.gov/training to learn how.

A New Year, A New Course to Help Strengthen Public-Private Partnerships in Emergency Management

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It has been a long and productive year working together with the private sector and we’re excited to continue to build on this progress in 2012. As we get ready to head into a new year, I am pleased to announce the release of a free, web-based training course that will help the entire team continue to build and strengthen public-private partnerships in emergency management – FEMA IS-660: Introduction to Public-Private Partnerships.

What makes this course particularly exciting is that it was designed in collaboration with both the public and private sector, and anyone can enroll in the coursefor free! The target audience for this training includes emergency management and community planners, senior-level personnel from response agencies, representatives from private-sector organizations, and federal, state, local, tribal and territorial government agencies that may participate in collaborative continuity planning efforts.

To whet your appetite, this new training will:

  • Provide learners with an overview of the importance of public-private partnerships to emergency preparedness, response, and planning;
  • Highlight best practices on identifying roles, and establishing and sustaining public-private partnerships;
  • Require only two hours of your time.

So if you have an interest in how the private and public sectors can continue to work more closely together in emergency management, I strongly encourage you to take the course. It’s available through the Emergency Management Institute’s Independent Study Program, so check it out today.

This training is another great example of what we can achieve by working together. Many thanks to all of you who contributed to this dynamic tool, and thanks in advance to all of you who will enroll.

Other resources
More information on EMI ISP courses is available at: http://training.fema.gov/IS.

Monitoring Severe Winter Weather

We continue to closely monitor the severe winter weather in the Rocky Mountain and Central Plains as winter weather advisories, watches and warnings continue for the next few days. The National Weather Service has issued winter storm and winter weather advisories for parts of Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, and New Mexico. Through our regional offices in Denver, Kansas City and Denton, Texas, we are continuing to stay in close touch with our federal, state and local partners in all the of potentially affected areas. While there have not yet been any requests for federal assistance, we stand ready to support our state and local partners, if needed.

Yesterday, blizzard conditions forced interstate traffic to a standstill in several states, and caused tragic accidents in some places as well. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones, and the effects of this severe storm serve as a reminder of the dangers of winter weather.

While we can’t control if winter weather will affect our city or town, we all can take steps to be better prepared if it does. If your area is likely to be affected by snow, ice, or blizzard-like conditions this winter season, remember to:

  • Limit travel during a storm – only venture out on the roads if it’s absolutely necessary
  • Have an emergency kit in your vehicle – if a winter storm develops suddenly, have supplies on hand in case you’re stranded in your vehicle. (Ready.gov/build-a-kit has tips to get you started)
  • Take precautions for power outages – winter storms often cause power outages, so be sure your family and home take steps to sustain yourselves for at least 72 hours

For more winter safety tips, visit Ready.gov/winter, or http://m.fema.gov on your mobile device.

‘Tis the Season to Gift Preparedness

This time of year, many of us are scrambling to find that perfect last-minute gift for our family and friends. Between “doorbuster” sales and stores staying open around-the-clock, being inundated with products and gift ideas can be dizzying to say the least. Although your family and friends may love another festive sweater or paperweight, why not give something that could prove to be priceless in the coming year – emergency preparedness?

This year has shown that, no matter which part of the country you live in, everyone should be prepared for an emergency. In fact, giving the gift of preparedness may spark your family and friends to get better prepared for emergencies and spread the word to others about getting prepared. So, when you’re doing your last minute shopping, look in your favorite stores for practical, essential preparedness items like:

  • flashlights and batteries,
  • NOAA weather radios,
  • solar cell phone charger,
  • first aid kit, and
  • backpack with a few starter items for their emergency kit.

Here’s a video with some more holiday gift ideas:



Visit http://www.ready.gov/ (or http://m.fema.gov/ on your mobile phone) for more gift ideas and to learn how to get your home, family or business ready for the New Year.

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