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Closely Monitoring Severe Weather & Tornadoes in the Southeast

Editor's Note: Updated at 3:25pm.

The National Weather Service has issued tornado watches and warnings in several parts of the Southeast. People living in parts of the Mississippi Valley, Lower Ohio Valley and Tennessee Valley have been experiencing tornadoes, widespread damaging winds and hail since last night and conditions are forecast to continue today.

FEMA, through our regional offices in Atlanta, Ga., and Denton, Texas, is closely monitoring the weather situation, including tornadoes, affecting parts of the Southeast, and has been in touch with state and local officials. We’re also in close contact with our federal partners at the National Weather Service forecast offices.

When natural disasters like these tornados strike, the first responders are local emergency and public works personnel, volunteers, humanitarian organizations, and numerous private interest groups who provide emergency assistance required to protect the public's health and safety and to meet immediate human needs.

Although there have been no requests for federal assistance at this time, FEMA stands ready to support the states if needed as part of the emergency management team.

We’d like to remind everyone that could be affected by severe weather to follow the instructions of state and local officials, and listen to local radio or TV stations for updated disaster response and evacuation information.

We urge everyone to listen to NOAA Weather Radio and local news for severe weather updates and warnings, and follow the direction provided by their local officials.

As severe weather approaches, keep in mind these safety tips:

  • Continue to monitor your battery-powered radio or television for emergency information, and follow the guidance of your local officials.
  • Injury may result from the direct impact of a tornado or it may occur afterward when people walk among debris and enter damaged buildings. Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris.
  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report downed power lines and electrical hazards to the police and the utility company.
  • After a tornado, be aware of possible structural, electrical or gas-leak hazards in your home. Contact your local city or county building inspectors for information on structural safety codes and standards. They may also offer suggestions on finding a qualified contractor to do work for you.

Finally, everyone should become familiar with the terms used to identify a tornado hazard and discuss with your family what to do if a watch or warning is issued. Terms used to describe tornado hazards include the following:

  • Tornado Watch - Tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.
  • Tornado Warning - A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.

For more information on tornado preparedness tips, visit or to find out how you can protect your family during emergencies.

For additional updates from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross, you can follow their Twitter and Facebook pages:

On Facebook: Alabama Emergency Management Agency, American Red Cross

On Twitter: @AlabamaEMA, @AlabamaRedCross

What We’re Watching: 1/20/12

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

This weekend, our friends at the National Weather Service expect a mixture of winter weather in several parts of the U.S. Heavy snowfall is expected to continue throughout parts of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains with some flooding likely. They also predict freezing rain to impact parts of the Great Plains and Midwest.
Additionally, high winds are forecasted throughout parts of the Rocky Mountains, Great Plains and Central parts of the U.S. Heavy rain with the potential for flooding is forecasted for the Pacific and, unfortunately, severe drought conditions are expected to continue across the South.
Stay up-to-date on your local forecast by visiting or on your mobile device. And remember, you can prepare for winter weather, or any kind of severe weather, by visiting or on your mobile device.

The Great Central Shakeout

The countdown to the Great Central U.S. Shakeout has officially begun, with only a little over 2 weeks away from the exercise. On February 7 at 10:15 a.m. central, millions of Americans will stop what they’re doing to participate in an earthquake drill and "Drop. Cover. Hold on." I encourage you to participate in this exercise to ensure you’re prepared in the event of an earthquake. 
So far, more than one million people have registered to participate in the Shakeout across the Central U.S. You can still participate even if you live in other regions. So if you haven’t already, sign up to “shakeout” – then encourage your friends and family to register too.

For more information on the Shakeout or to learn how to host a Shakeout event, visit The Great Central Shakeout. And check out to learn how you can prepare your home, workplace or school for an earthquake.

Picture of the Week

Volunteers from Habitat for Humanity build two new homes for tornado survivors. Jewish and Muslim New York University student and staff volunteer at the job site work side-by-side. FEMA funding and coordination with volunteer agencies help make cooperation like this possible.

Volunteers from Habitat for Humanity build two new homes for tornado survivors.  Jewish and Muslim New York University student and staff volunteer at the job site work side-by-side.  FEMA funding and coordination with volunteer agencies help make cooperation like this possible.

FEMA Think Tank

Thanks to everyone who submitted ideas and comments to the Think Tank. So far, there have been more than 100 ideas submitted from people across the U.S. As promised, Deputy Administrator Serino will hold the first monthly conference call next Thursday, Jan. 26 at 1:30pm CST – so save the date on your calendar.

The conference call is open to the public, so anyone interested in listening in on the discussion can join. The call in number is 800-593-0692 and password is Think Tank January. You can access the captioning for the event and follow the discussion and pose questions on Twitter by searching and using #femathinktank.

You can also continue to contribute to the conversation by using our collaboration forum and submit a new idea and comments.

Presidential Policy Directive 8

Be sure to comment on the Presidential Policy Directive-8 (PPD-8) frameworks that are currently open: Mitigation Framework, Prevention Framework, Protection Framework, and Response Framework. The campaigns will close soon, so visit our community today and make sure your ideas are heard.

White House Honors Champions of Change in Emergency Preparedness


Today, along with Secretary Janet Napolitano and Special Assistant to the President on Homeland Security Richard Reed, I had the pleasure of participating in the White House Champions of Change Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C.  We honored 17 exceptional leaders in local communities across the nation who have excelled in helping to build a more resilient nation by preparing their communities for disasters. These men and women have demonstrated significant innovation and creativity in getting their communities ready for unexpected emergencies.

I had the opportunity to hear from the honorees about their experiences, ideas, and solutions, as well as their advice on how other citizens and organizations can emulate their success.  I was truly inspired by their innovative ideas on how to make their community stronger and more prepared for disasters.

For example, one of these remarkable honorees is Venus Majeski, the Director of Development & Community Relations for the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities.   She spearheaded the Alianza Emergency Preparedness Project Plus, a project designed to address the disaster readiness of people with access and functional needs, and who also live in underserved areas.  She works to ensure that all individuals are integrated into their community’s overall disaster readiness preparations.   Others took an innovative approach, such as Michael Smith, the fire chief for the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians. Chief Smith helped San Manuel develop a "Send Word Now" system which provides text messages, email and voice alerts to tribal members during emergencies.

Several of this year's honorees also distinguished themselves by involving their entire community in emergency preparedness. Herman Schaeffer, the Director of Community Outreach for the New York City Office of Emergency Management, helps oversee the New York City Citizen Corps program, which collaborated with more than 60 community organizations, government agencies, private sector organizations, and volunteer programs to promote emergency preparedness.  And Jodi Simpson, a Homeland Security Planner for the St. Clair County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, who created a robust new public preparedness campaign called, “Be Ready St. Clair County.”  They played public service announcements at local movie theaters, hosted video contests, and launched a Facebook page where residents ended up sharing information with one another during and after storms.

These are just a few outstanding examples of how any person or organization can make a different in their community’s emergency preparedness and response. And there are many more like them. Check out the full list of awardees.   The initiative and involvement of these honorees represents the role that each one of us plays in making sure that together, as a nation, we are better prepared for disasters.  And this serves as a reminder to all of us that we can make a difference in our community, whether we are in a faith-based, tribal, non-profit, private sector, or community-based organization – or even just one individual.

I hope these awardees have inspired you to take action within your own community.   Here are some easy ways to get started and get involved:

  • Contact your local emergency management agency or Citizen Corps Council to get involved in your community’s planning process.
  • Join a local Community Emergency Response Team to train you in basic disaster response skills so that you can help your neighbors immediately after an emergency.  
  • Start a preparedness project.  Identify a need, build a team, set goals, and serve your community.  
  • Know your risk, develop a disaster communications plan, and build a kit.  

For more information and ideas, visit  And maybe you will be the next Champion of Change.

News of the Day: Continuing the Public-Private Partnership

Yesterday, Administrator Fugate spoke at the National Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness Disaster Management Summit, “Private Sector Resources in the Emergency Management Plan; The Public-Private Partnership Conference” in New Orleans. The Administrator’s remarks focused on the importance of engaging the private sector as part of the emergency management team.

As the entire team and the Administrator often say, it takes the whole community to respond to and recover from a disaster - this includes the entire federal family, state, local and tribal governments, faith-based and non-profit communities and the public sector. Businesses in the private sector contribute unique capabilities that allow us to better serve the public during an emergency.

Whether it’s helping share our preparedness messages with the public or staying open during a disaster to provide survivors with water, food, and other needs – it’s been proven that the private sector is a critical team player in emergency management.

Here’s an excerpt from the Associated Press regarding the Administrator’s remarks from the conference:

Craig Fugate, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says the government needs to stop thinking it can handle all aspects of a disaster and make sure the private sector is included in disaster planning and response.

He told emergency planners to engage chambers of commerce and the business community in general to see what the private sector can do to help in the wake of a disaster.

Fugate said, “helping businesses open after a disaster fills in critical needs — such as getting food, water, gasoline and other essentials to people.”

If you are in government, you've got to get out of this mindset that we can manage no matter how big the disaster is.

 Read the full story from the Associated Press.

Here’s another excerpt from a local New Orleans newspaper:

Public officials should make it as easy as possible for retailers -- who have a profit motive, as well as a desire to help their communities -- to get back up and running. That could mean relaxing curfews so stores can restock at night or suspending zoning rules so operators can do business in a parking lot. Such steps, in turn, would help ensure a speedier return of normalcy.

Why is it one minute after the disaster, we think government is going to do everything? The more goods and services that the private sector is able to provide to meet the needs, then (government) can focus on the most needy and vulnerable areas.

I think this is a hard lesson for us to learn in government: The bigger the disaster is, the less likely you're going to control much of anything. It takes a team. It doesn't take a dictator.

Read the rest of the story at The Times-Picayune.

Share Your Ideas on the Future of Emergency Management


Throughout last year I blogged about the Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI) and the work all of the SFI participants have done around exploring the forces of change (i.e. drivers), plausible future operating conditions, challenges, and opportunities. The initiative was designed to identify what the emergency management community would need to be successful regardless of what the future holds.

Today, I’m pleased to announce the release of the Crisis Response and Disaster Resilience 2030 report which includes insights on the future role of emergency and disaster management; strategic needs and gaps the community will have to address; and a look into the emergency management community of 2030. This report presents the following SFI findings to date:

  • An examination of the forces of change shaping the emergency management worlds;
  • An identification of vital and compelling strategic needs as identified during the SFI workshop as participants explored the five alternative emergency management scenarios; and
  • An image of the future emergency management capacities and capabilities.

The strategic needs in particular – focused around essential capabilities, innovative models and tools, and dynamic partnerships – are intended to be a catalyst for leadership discussion throughout the emergency management community, and to prepare us, and the nation, for whatever challenges and opportunities the future holds.

This report is intended to provide planners and managers with insights that can shape a range of critical decisions, starting today. Such decisions—which can be made in advance of disasters—include improving prioritization of resources and investments, managing new and unfamiliar risks, forging new partnerships, and understanding emerging legal and regulatory hurdles.

FEMA's role in SFI is to coordinate and support the advancement of research and dialogue around these findings and engagement of the emergency management community. Understanding the future is essential; taking action to improve resilience and adaptability throughout our community is imperative. I hope you will join us in further discussion regarding the Strategic Foresight Initiative and future findings by leaving a comment below.

FEMA invites its partners to make full use of this report within their own organizations, and to make it available to their membership and constituency groups, as appropriate.

For more information on the SFI, you can contact the SFI Project Team via email at and you can visit the SFI web page to read the relevant research papers.

Bill Read Announces His Plans to Retire


Bill Read, the Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center, announced that he plans to retire by this June.

All of us across FEMA and the larger emergency management team will greatly miss Bill and thank him for his outstanding service to our nation throughout his career, spanning more than four decades. Bill not only brought tremendous leadership to the National Hurricane Center, he was also a great friend and partner to FEMA and state and local officials across the country.

Under his direction, FEMA, NOAA and the National Hurricane Center continued to strengthen our internal collaboration and our focus on preparedness. He also spearheaded the Center's use of social media to modernize their communications efforts and provide important weather tracking updates in real time.

Bill has served as the Director of the National Hurricane Center since 2008. Prior to coming to FEMA, we also worked together when I served as the head of emergency management for the state of Florida.

We wish Bill the best of luck as he begins to pursue his new endeavors, and know that he will continue to be a proud advocate for personal readiness and empowering all Americans with the information they need to prepare for disasters.

What We’re Watching: 1/13/12

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.

Let it snow (and be cold, too)

“Old man winter” started to rear his head this week, and forecasts from the National Weather Service project colder temperatures and heavy snow may be in store for many in the coming week as well.

  • Cold & snowy spots - The Northern Plains and portions of the Northeast are expected to have much colder temperatures than normal, and areas around the Great Lakes are expected to experience heavy snow early next week. Much of Alaska will continue to have below normal temperatures, including the southern coast.
  • Other severe weather – Other areas of the U.S. may experience heavy rains early next week, including portions of the Southeast and Pacific Northwest.

For a complete run-down of your local forecast, visit or on your mobile device. And remember you can get prepared for winter weather, or any kind of severe weather, by visiting or on your mobile device.

Martin Luther King, Jr. day of service

This coming Monday, January 16, is Martin Luther King, Jr. day – nationally recognized as a day of reflection and service. One way to honor the civil rights leader and his contribution to America is by volunteering your time and talents on Monday, and throughout the year. The President’s United We Serve website has resources for finding and getting involved with volunteer opportunities and organizations in your neighborhood. (The National Service Blog has a great post up about a church in Endicott, New York, who pitched in to help disaster survivors in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Lee.)

And as we reflect on the spirit of service, we would like to sincerely thank the countless volunteers and voluntary organizations who are a valuable and indispensible part of the emergency management team. They are a vital part in assisting those affected by disasters, and the success of our efforts greatly depends on the passion and generosity of organizations and individuals after disasters.

Spooky preparedness for Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t add something spooky/superstitious. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control posted a quirky blog about zombie preparedness – showing how planning for a fictitious zombie apocalypse could serve as a great exercise in getting prepared for real-world emergencies.

So even though we aren’t specifically watching anything related to zombie attacks this weekend, those of you who are a little more superstitious about numbers and dates will enjoy the CDC’s “Preparedness 101 – Zombie Apocalypse” blog post.

Have a great weekend, and stay safe.

In Chicago - Strengthening Relationships Across The Entire Team


Craig Fugate speaking at conference.

Chicago, Ill., Jan. 12, 2012 --Administrator Fugate addresses a collection of federal, state and local officials, as well as private sector partners, regarding working together during a complex disaster response.

For our FEMA regional offices across the country, engaging internal and external stakeholders in planning for future emergencies is a top priority. This means building relationships throughout the whole community to find opportunities to prepare both man-made and natural hazards.

FEMA Region V, which covers Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, is currently engaged in several planning projects to ensure that all levels of government, the private sector and non-governmental organizations are ready for future events. As a part of this, Region V has been engaged in a collaborative effort with the state of Illinois, Cook County and the City of Chicago to develop a comprehensive and integrated operational plan with the goal of a more effective and coordinated response to a detonation of an improvised nuclear device. The planning project, which was initiated by Regional Administrator Andrew Velasquez III has been ongoing since the fall of 2010.

Since the formal kickoff in October 2010, efforts have included well-attended planning workshops and summits with first responders, elected officials, the private sector and government agencies at the local, state and federal level. Yesterday, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and Regional Administrator Velasquez addressed attendees at a summit near Chicago to discuss the important role the private sector plays in planning for a large scale, complex incident. Business leaders were challenged to think about how a catastrophe would affect their facilities, their employees, the infrastructure needed to sustain their operation, the vendors they depend on for materials, and the potential demand for services could potentially overwhelm their capabilities. Additional workshops and exercises are planned throughout 2012.

In any large disaster, it is not possible for a single organization to stand alone; instead, a network of private and governmental organizations must work together to help communities respond and recover.

For more information on how to make your family, your business and your community more resilient, go to

Toads Wield More Power Than You May Think


Sometimes large-scale events and unforeseen circumstances can slow down recovery efforts, and sometimes all it takes is something small – like a toad. In case you don’t regularly read the Austin American Statesman, you may have missed an interesting story that shows the complex nature of disaster recovery. Those involved with disaster recovery need to think about a wide variety of factors that come into play, including the cleanup efforts’ effects on animals.

To set the stage, a historic wildfire season hit Texas in 2011, and we continue to work in support of state and local officials in providing assistance to affected individuals and local governments. This assistance to local governments includes supporting removing debris in some of the damaged areas.

A small, rare object that could soon be spotted hopping nearby, however, has the potential to delay FEMA-funded recovery projects in certain areas. This object is the endangered Houston toad, which surfaces during mating season. Emergency managers have a responsibility to carry out our jobs in a manner that avoids or minimizes adverse impacts to the environment, especially potential impacts on endangered species.

Because of this, our recovery experts met recently with officials from the state and Bastrop County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, a local electric cooperative, and environmental experts to make sure recovery will not violate federal environmental policies and laws and will minimize adverse effects on the toads.

The meeting was productive in that the key stakeholders on this issue came to a consensus on how best to proceed. For now, debris removal is going strong as we increase our capability to monitor the toads. Meanwhile, we continue to work with stakeholders to proceed with recovery efforts while protecting the natural environment.

In the end, the Houston toad serves as a symbol that successful disaster recovery requires a team of individuals and organizations working together to solve problems both big and small -- sometimes as small as a toad.

Click here for more information on FEMA’s Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation Program.

This Morning’s Twitter Chatter

As the public affairs team scanned through our Twitter stream this morning, I wanted to share some of the day’s most relevant messages so far. If you’re not on Twitter, you can follow us @FEMA and Administrator Fugate or our other accounts we have to communicate with stakeholders.

Two year anniversary of Haiti earthquake

Winter weather affecting several regions of the U.S.

Yesterday's passing of Bob Lay, longtime emergency management director in Brevard County, Fla.

Resources for emergency managers

One quick note: if you want to receive our Twitter messages via text message, text FOLLOW FEMA to 40404 (Twitter’s text message number; standard message/data rates apply). You can always unsubscribe at any time by, just text UNFOLLOW FEMA to 40404.