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What We’re Watching: 4/20/12

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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.
 
Weather Outlook

This weekend, there are no significant severe weather threats. The folks at NOAA forecast below normal temperatures for most of the Western U.S. Heavy rainfall is expected across the Mid-Atlantic region and New England. Heavy rainfall over a short period of time can cause flash flooding. If heavy rainfall is expected in your area, be familiar with these terms:

  • Flood Watch: Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information 
  • Flash Flood Watch: Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information. 
  • Flood Warning: Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Flash Flood Warning: A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately. 

Visit www.ready.gov/floods for tips on what to do before, during, and after flooding. Be sure to discuss with your family what to do if a flood watch or warning is issued.

Severe drought conditions are expected to continue throughout the Southeast, Central and Southern Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, the Southwest, and portions of the California. Severe drought conditions are also expected for parts of the Mid-Atlantic and New England.

We encourage everyone to monitor your area's local forecast, as weather conditions can often change. Stay up-to-date on the forecast in your area by visiting weather.gov or mobile.weather.gov on your mobile device.

National Volunteer Week Wrap-Up
This week, we’ve been celebrating and thanking the millions of people who donate their time and services and volunteer across the country each year. Here at FEMA, we work closely with many faith-based and community organizations to help individuals affected by disasters. These volunteers play a key role during disaster response and recovery, and volunteers are important members of the emergency management team.

Here are our blogs on National Volunteer Week:

We salute and thank all of those who volunteer their time and services and help the nation each and every day.

Severe Weather Preparedness Week Kickoff
Next week (April 22 - April 28), we’re partnering with NOAA for the first National Severe Weather Preparedness Week. All week, we’ll be providing the public with information about the threat of severe weather and the importance of being prepared for severe weather before it strikes. We’re asking people to pledge to prepare and be a force of nature by telling their family, friends and communities how they prepared for severe weather. Knowing your risks and knowing what steps to take can save your life. Join us all week as we share important information and tips on how you can prepare for severe weather.

Visit www.ready.gov/severeweather for more information and tools you can use to be a force of nature.

White House Twitter Chat 
As part of Severe Weather Preparedness Week, Administrator Fugate and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, the National Weather Service Deputy Administrator, will be participating in a White House Twitter Chat. On Tuesday, April 24 at 11 a.m. EST, they’ll discuss the dangers of severe weather and the importance of getting prepared before severe weather strikes. You can ask questions and follow the chat on Twitter by using the hashtag #WHChat and following @WHLive.

Celebrating National Volunteer Week

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This week, people across the country are celebrating National Volunteer Week, and at FEMA, we’re happy to join in that celebration. To all the volunteers: thank you. Thank you for volunteering and playing a vital role in strengthening your communities.

Yesterday I spoke to volunteer organizations about how FEMA values and works with the volunteers that step up during and after disasters to help get communities back on their feet. In fact, we can’t talk about community resiliency without mentioning volunteers. They play a key role during disaster response and recovery, and volunteers are important members of the emergency management team.

Last May, a deadly tornado came through Joplin, Missouri and destroyed a high school. The City of Joplin was committed to opening school on time in September – and they did it. They set up in a shopping mall, but it was a fully functioning school and was actually one of the most high-tech schools I had ever seen. All of that was accomplished by a community and its volunteers – including the very people who had survived the tornado.

Simply put, we couldn’t do it without the whole community – including state and local governments, private businesses, and volunteer organizations. When it comes to emergency response, we need to harness all of these groups because they can do the things we can’t. For example, in many instances, a faith-based organization can serve meals to survivors more quickly and efficiently than the government because they know and understand their community, and they have the experience of serving that community long before it was affected by a disaster.

At FEMA, we have taken great strides to work closely with our nation’s volunteer organizations. During disasters, we have volunteer liaisons in our National Response Coordination Center and field offices to ensure we are leveraging the resources of organizations such as the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. And in March, we announced the creation of FEMA Corps, which established a new unit of AmeriCorps volunteers who are solely devoted to FEMA disaster response and recovery activities.

Even though National Volunteer Week is wrapping up, the value you provide to your community is everlasting. If you are involved in a voluntary organization and are seeking ways to get involved, we encourage you to connect with your local government and build those connections before a disaster strikes. You should also seek ways to participate in local exercises.

So to all the volunteers out there: thank you again. We couldn’t do it without you.

Volunteers Make a Difference Across the Nation

It’s National Volunteer Week! Join us in recognizing the amazing volunteers nationwide that donate their time in an effort to give back to their community. Last year more than 64 million Americans spent hours in shelters, faith-based and community groups, schools, and other areas making a difference through service. And more than 3 million Citizen Corps-sponsored volunteer hours were logged for supporting preparedness and response activities representing over 65 million dollars for the year.

I’d like to congratulate volunteers everywhere, in particular the Citizen Corps volunteers that promote preparedness and support first responders before, during, and after disasters. FEMA’s Citizen Corps program provides volunteer opportunities to individuals that want to get involved. Local Citizen Corps Councils build on community strengths to:

Find a Council in your area and get involved today.

Disaster volunteer opportunities are available for Citizen Corps and its Partner Programs. FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team program educates individuals about preparedness and trains them to support first responders in disasters. Adults and teens can volunteer to make their community a safer and more secure place to live.

There’s also Medical Reserve Corps, Fire Corps, Neighborhood Watch, and Volunteers in Police Service that recruit individuals locally and use their skills to support public health, fire, and law enforcement services.

Citizen Corps is dedicated to engaging the whole community in an effort to ensure the safety and security of jurisdictions across the country. Whether it’s empowering our youth to become the next generation of community leaders or working with the many wonderful organizations dedicated to supporting preparedness efforts nationwide, volunteers DO make a difference!

Retirement of Dr. Christopher T. Jones

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I’ve talked about the unique training FEMA provides for emergency responders at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Ala. This one-of-a-kind training facility has enhanced the preparedness of local, state and tribal responders from all over the country. We’ve seen these impacts as incidents have played out from New York City to Joplin, Mo over the past few years.

The approximately 90,000 responders a year who receive training through CDP programs benefit from a dedicated and experienced staff. They’ve also benefited from the insight and leadership provided over the past four years by CDP Superintendent Dr. Christopher T. Jones. Dr. Jones is retiring June 2 after more than 32 years of public service.

Dr. Jones became CDP Superintendent in August 2008 and, during his tenure, oversaw the training of more than 336,000 emergency responders from across the nation. He even trained alongside some of those responders as he led the CDP. FEMA, the CDP, and most importantly our nation’s emergency responders have all benefited from Dr. Jones’ unwavering commitment to preparedness. He has the unique ability to see the challenges and unmet needs of responders and how to address them.

More than two years ago he recognized the need for responders to have access to training for biological incidents, so the CDP incorporated nonpathogenic forms of anthrax and ricin into the toxic agent training at the center’s Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological Training Facility. The responders who have gone through the training have come away with greater confidence and understanding of their ability to deal with what was previously an unfamiliar threat.

Dr. Jones also saw the value of expanding the CDP’s mass casualty medical surge training by updating the dated emergency department of the Noble Training Facility from a cramped, four-bed trauma bay to a spacious, modern facility that more closely replicates the environment where doctors, nurses and other hospital staff work in their home towns.

The CDP’s new Emergency Department also incorporates technology that allows these doctors, nurses and hospital staff who train at the CDP the opportunity to practice and experience a realistic response to an intense and demanding mass casualty incident.

While we wish him luck in his retirement, FEMA will miss his vision, insight, dedication, and professionalism. And so will the thousands of responders across our nation who have benefited from his leadership at the CDP.

Helping Restore Vermont’s Historic Bridges to the Past

Vermont is a small state with a big tradition of maintaining its historic rural beauty. Tourists flock by the thousands to the state year-round to take in its gentle green mountains and sprawling farmlands interrupted only by silver silos, red barns and white-steeple churches. Many of these visitors come to admire the picturesque covered bridges spanning the state’s rivers and streams.

Before the historic flood of 1927, the number of covered crossings totaled about 500. But the storm completely destroyed more than 200. Over the years, the number of these bridges still standing has dwindled down to about 100.

Tropical Storm Irene damaged or destroyed over a dozen of these bridges, leaving ardent fans of these historic landmarks to do everything they can to restore them. (Some residents are so devoted that when one of the bridges was captured on video during Irene crumbling into the river, audible gasps and cries could be heard from bystanders.)

With help from FEMA’s Public Assistance program, many of these storm-damaged bridges are being repaired and rebuilt in a way that retains their historic character.

“We have the most complete collection of covered bridges per square mile than anywhere else on earth,” says Scott Newman, historic preservation officer at Vermont’s Department of Transportation. “We’re very proud of that collection and we work hard to maintain them in cooperation with the towns, and today with FEMA’s help.”

In recognition of the importance of preserving these portals to the past, whether bridges, homes or other buildings, FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program does not require communities to follow the normal federal regulations when rebuilding historic structures. However, owners and applicants are encouraged to make repairs in a way that lessens and prevents disaster damage in the future while retaining historic integrity. Although FEMA cannot reimburse the state for improved renovations, the agency can provide funding to incorporate certain mitigation techniques.

Bowers Bridge, built about 100 years ago in West Windsor, was knocked almost 200 yards from its foundation when huge hay bales careened down the flooded river and lodged against it. Its original deck came through the storm mostly intact, but its roof, which was replaced in the 70s, was badly battered. The top is now being rebuilt just like it was at the turn of the century – by hand in the old English joinery style, using wooden pegs and grooves instead of nails – but will be raised by 18 inches to allow more water to pass beneath it.



The Brown Bridge in Shrewsbury is another bridge that remains part of the community’s colorful past including tales of roaming bandits. Many residents in the community remember having picnics on it as children. Although the Brown Bridge did not sustain much damage – just a few holes from floating debris – the road on one side was destroyed.



To prevent this from happening again, the approach will be rebuilt with a fortified stone wall. Also, special material, known as geosynthetic, will be placed under the pavement to absorb moisture and prevent the soil from buckling the road.

Once these and other bridges are restored, there will be much cause for celebration. Says Shrewsbury resident Michelle Suker, “When I'm coming home I miss my bridge. I have told my girls that the day that we're able to cross the bridge again, I think I'm going to stop and get out and kiss it before we drive across. It will be an emotional moment.”

Severe Weather Update 3: The Importance of Being Prepared and Staying Safe in Impacted Areas

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As we continue to monitor the aftermath of the storms, Administrator Fugate commented today:

 

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those who’ve lost loved ones in Oklahoma, and the survivors affected by these storms. FEMA's priority is to support local efforts to keep residents and communities safe, and we remain in close coordination with the affected states.

We urge residents to monitor storm conditions, and follow the guidance of their local officials, both for the continuing severe weather threats as well as directions to avoid affected areas.”

The importance of being prepared can never be underestimated. On Saturday, in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska, there were reports of more than 100 tornadoes, along with dangerous winds, driving hail, and some flooding, and I would like to commend the effort of local and state first responders in preparing for the storms, as well as their ongoing work in the aftermath to protect lives and provide immediate assistance during this difficult time.

There have been many stories of residents heeding warnings, buying weather radios, and either evacuating mobile home parks or finding safe places to take shelter in their homes. While there have been some reports of injuries, and tragically some deaths, the potential impacts could have been much worse if not for the preparedness measures that were taken.

I wanted to note the actions of residents in the Pinaire Mobile Home Park in Wichita, Kansas who took these warnings seriously and sought shelter prior to the severe weather hitting. Their prompt response to the warning likely saved many lives. Residents of mobile homes must plan in advance and identify safe shelter options because mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes and should be abandoned in cases of severe weather because they can overturn very easily, even if they have been “secured.”

 
Our thoughts are with the countless citizens in communities and rural areas whose homes have been damaged or destroyed, and I want to encourage residents in impacted areas to continue to listen to their NOAA Weather Radios, monitor media and follow instructions from their local leaders so we can all protect life and property. If possible, take this opportunity to make sure your emergency supply kit has what it needs using the checklist on Ready.gov, and if you’re in an area where severe weather is still forecasted, read our blog from yesterday on steps you can take to prepare and remember to remain vigilant.

 
If you’re a survivor in an impacted area, there are a few important points you should remember:
  • Continue to monitor your battery-powered radio or television for emergency information.
  • Use extreme caution when walking among debris, downed power lines and entering damaged buildings; be aware of exposed nails and broken glass and wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris.
  • Avoid carbon monoxide hazards and never use generators or other gasoline devices inside your home, basement, garage or camper.
  • Be aware of possible structural, electrical or gas-leak hazards in your home, and in general, if you suspect any damage to your home, shut off electrical power, natural gas and propane tanks to avoid fire, electrocution or explosions.
  • Hang up displaced telephone receivers that may have been knocked off by the tornado, but stay off the telephone, except to report an emergency.
You can visit the Red Cross Safe and Well website to find information on people affected by the storms and lookup open Red Cross shelters.

 
Regional Administrator Beth A. Freeman has reached out to the governors of Kansas and Iowa and has been in constant contact with officials at the Kansas Department of Emergency Management and the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Regional Administrator Andrew Velasquez spoke with Emergency Management Agency Directors in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, and Regional Administrator Tony Russell has been in constant communication with the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

 
State liaison officers have also been proactively deployed to the Emergency Operations Center in Topeka, Kansas and Des Moines, Iowa to coordinate response activities, and Incident Management Teams are also being deployed to the Kansas and Iowa state emergency operations centers to support the state response efforts if needed.

 
We all stand ready to provide assistance to the states and storm survivors as needed. And remember, there is more severe weather forecasted for different parts of the country, so stay informed by visiting http://www.weather.gov/ and http://mobile.weather.gov/.

 

Severe Weather Update 2: Residents in the Midwest and Southern States Should Prepare

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We’re continuing to monitor the severe weather in the midwest and southern states through our regional offices in Chicago, Ill., Denton, Texas, and Kansas City, Mo., and we’re closely coordinating with our federal partners at the National Weather Service.  As a result of yesterday’s tornado touchdown in Norman, Okla., we proactively deployed an Incident Management Assistance Team to the Oklahoma City state emergency operations center to support the state response efforts if they are needed. 

The National Weather Service is expecting a major tornado outbreak today in the Central and Southern Plains, and NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center has projected the worst conditions to hit late Saturday afternoon between Oklahoma City and Salina, Kan., and other areas could see severe storms with baseball-sized hail and winds of up to 70 mph.

As Administrator Fugate said earlier today:


“There are simple steps residents in these areas can take now to be prepared.  It’s vitally important to listen to NOAA Weather Radio and local news to monitor for severe weather updates and warnings and follow the direction provided by local officials.”

In case you weren’t aware, during crises, the NOAA Weather Radio system is used to broadcast timely and important information from the National Weather Service (the only authority on weather forecasting) and emergency personnel offering local situational updates.

As you’re listening to the updates, you should be familiar with the difference between a watch and a warning, and discuss with your family what to do if either one is issued:
 

  • Watch: Meteorologists are monitoring an area or region for the formation of a specific type of threat (e.g. flooding, severe thunderstorms, or tornadoes).
  • Warning: Specific life and property threatening conditions are occurring and imminent. Take appropriate safety precautions.

There are a few other important points people should remember:
 

  • Residents of mobile homes should plan in advance and identify safe shelter in a nearby building, because they offer little protection from tornadoes and should be abandoned because a mobile home can overturn very easily even if precautions have been taken to tie down the unit.
  • If you are in a sturdy structure, such as a home, school or hospital, go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level, and if there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. You want to put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
  • If you’re outside, don’t ever try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. You should leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter and watch out for flying debris because they cause the most fatalities and injuries.

If you have children or if you’re an educator, we also have a kids section on ready.gov that has a lot of great information to help children be prepared for disasters.  The site walks them through the different steps: knowing the facts, making a plan, buiding a kit, and then they graduate from Readiness U!

In addition to the kids section, you can find numerous safety tips on www.ready.gov and we also have information available in Spanish and other languages.  You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter, including the NOAA (Facebook and Twitter).

And as always, listen to local officials and check on your neighbor.  Stay safe.

Preparing Before the Storm

As plans take shape for enjoying the weekend ahead, I want to provide an update on the possibility of severe weather impacting our area today, Saturday afternoon and into the early morning hours of Sunday. FEMA is closely monitoring weather conditions that are likely to produce a strong storm system that is predicted to impact the plains and several Midwestern states.

We can’t always anticipate when or where a disaster might strike. This severe weather threat should serve as a reminder to everyone to have a plan for what you and your family will do if there is a disaster, and prepare an emergency supply kit for your home and car to help prepare for power outages or impassable roads.

Growing up in Iowa, we were familiar with severe weather and our family would shelter in the basement under the stairs during tornado alerts. Warning systems and technology are much more accurate today. I want to urge everyone in the region to listen to a NOAA Weather Radio and their local news for updates, and follow the directions provided by their local officials.

Did you know that most NOAA Weather Radios can be programmed to provide warnings and information for specific areas, usually by county? With a bit of time invested in programming your radio, you won’t have to be bothered at all hours with pesky announcements that are not pertinent to your area. If you have questions about how to prepare your family for an emergency, please visit http://www.ready.gov/.


 

What We’re Watching: 4/13/12

Author: 
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.

Weather Outlook

This weekend, our friends at NOAA forecast severe weather for parts of the Lower Missouri Valley, Eastern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, and Northeast Texas. Included in this forecast is a high probability for severe weather – especially in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, where large hail and a few strong tornadoes are possible. Here are some terms you should familiarize yourself with if severe weather watches and warnings are issued for your area:


  • Severe Thunderstorm Watch - Tells you when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning - Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm. 
  • 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. 

FEMA urges all individuals in the path of the storms to listen to NOAA Weather Radio and local news for severe weather updates and warnings and follow the direction provided by their local officials.

If severe weather is expected in your area, keep in mind these safety tips:

  • Continue to monitor your battery-powered radio or television for emergency information. 
  • 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.

Visit www.ready.gov for more tips on what to do if severe weather is expected in your area.

High winds are expected for Southeast Wyoming, Eastern Colorado, Western Nebraska, the Southern High Plains, Southeast New Mexico, West Texas, and parts of the Northeast. Below Normal temperatures are expected for part of the Northern and Central Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, and Upper Great Lakes. In contrast, above normal temperatures are forecasted for parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Heavy rain and snow is forecasted for parts of the North-Central Plains, Southeast Wyoming and Northern Colorado. Heavy rain is expected for the Midwest, Lower Mississippi Valley, and East Texas. Due to heavy rain, flooding is likely to occur across parts of Northern Idaho. Visit www.ready.gov/floods for tips on what to do to if flooding occurs in your area.

Additionally, severe drought conditions are expected to continue throughout part so the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southern Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, Southwest, and portions of California and the Central Great Basin.

Weather conditions can rapidly change, so we encourage everyone to monitor your area's local forecast by visiting weather.gov or mobile.weather.gov on your mobile device.

Upcoming Events

President Obama has declared next week, April 15 - April 21 National Volunteer Week. Every year, millions of people donate their time and services to volunteer in schools, shelters, hospitals and faith-based and community-groups. At FEMA we work closely with many faith based and community organizations to help individuals affected by disasters. Visit www.serve.gov for volunteer opportunities in your area and to read about the great work millions of people do every day.

The following week, we’re partnering with NOAA for Severe Weather Preparedness Week. All week long, we’ll provide you with tips and information on the importance of preparing for severe weather before it strikes. Tune in April 22 - April 28 for important information on how you and your family can prepare for severe weather.

FEMA and its Partners Release the National Preparedness Report

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The U.S. has made significant progress in enhancing preparedness and identifies several significant areas of national strength, based on a report FEMA released today.

FEMA and its partners released the National Preparedness Report, which assesses how prepared we are as a Nation. The report is part of a series of documents developed to meet the requirements of Presidential Policy Directive 8: National Preparedness.

PPD-8 aims to strengthening the security and resilience of the United States through systematic preparation for the threats that pose the greatest risk to the national security, including acts of terrorism, cyber attacks, pandemics, and catastrophic natural disasters.

The report focuses on five mission areas as outlined in the National Preparedness Goal released in September 2011. Those areas are prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery. Within these mission areas are 31 core capabilities essential to preparedness. The NPR assesses each of these 31 core capabilities.

An example of the progress highlighted in the report is the foundation for a national integrated, all-hazards planning architecture that considers routine emergencies and catastrophic events. Operational coordination has also improved with the adoption of the National Incident Management System, which provides a common doctrine for incident management.

Intelligence and information sharing capabilities are also stronger thanks to a national network of fusion centers and Joint Terrorism Task Forces that brings together federal, state, and local law enforcement, intelligence community resources, and other public safety officials and private sector partners. The report also identified opportunities for national improvement in cybersecurity, long-term recovery, and integrating individuals with access and functional needs into preparedness activities.

Everyone plays a role in preparedness and continued progress depends on broad collaboration. The development of this report highlights FEMA’s commitment to work with the whole community of preparedness stakeholders. FEMA developed the NPR in close coordination with leaders of federal departments and agencies, and the report reflects inputs from state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, private and nonprofit sector partners, and the general public.

The National Preparedness Report is the latest step in implementing PPD-8. Since the President signed the directive in March 2011, FEMA and its partners released the first edition of the National Preparedness Goal, the National Preparedness System description, and the working drafts of the National Planning Frameworks. For more information on PPD-8, visit www.fema.gov/ppd8 or contribute your ideas on our online collaboration community.

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