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Engaging Latino Communities in Emergency Management

On March 27, FEMA, the HHS Office of Minority Health and the National Council of La Raza co-hosted a webinar that highlighted the tools and resources available to help emergency management agencies strengthen relationships with the Latino Community.

The emergency manager’s tool kit for Latino communities was one resource that was highlighted and discussed during the webinar. This tool kit is part of a collaborative partnership between the National Council of La Raza, the HHS Office of Minority Health and additional partners. It is designed to:

  • Improve responsiveness not only to Latinos, but the whole community in disaster planning, relief, and recovery efforts
  • Provide effective practices for overcoming some of the largest barriers to full inclusion of diverse communities

We also covered additional effective practices from a regional and local perspective, from our Voluntary Agency Liaison Unit and two local emergency managers: Freddy Zelaya of the City of Fort Lauderdale, FL and Steve Pollio of Coconut Creek, FL.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to meet with leaders from across the country at the 2nd annual Latino Leadership Summit. During the Summit, we discussed how cooperation and collaboration between FEMA and the Latino community can help ensure that the needs of Latinos are recognized and addressed. We also discussed how leaders of the Latino community can play a vital role in bolstering disaster response and recovery capabilities.

FEMA is committed to strengthening relationships not just with the Latino Community, but with the whole community, a community that includes the elderly, people with access and functional needs, children and non-English speaking populations, to name a few. And we recognize that in order to do this effectively, we need to better understand how to reach diverse communities; we need to adapt to the needs of our communities; and most importantly, we need to speak the language of our communities. As such, I’d like to share some additional resources that focus on a whole community approach to emergency preparedness.

I encourage you to view and share the webinar with your colleagues and use the tools and resources provided. It’s important to continue the conversation for how we can work with the whole community to effectively prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against any disaster. You can do so by posting your comments and ideas on our FEMA Think Tank.

Coming Soon: The Great Utah ShakeOut

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I’ve been following the progress of the upcoming Great Utah ShakeOut and I’m really pleased with what I’ve seen to date. Perhaps what’s most impressive is the number of participants, which continues to climb daily.

With less than one week to go, the Great Utah ShakeOut has already enlisted a record number of Utahns for what promises to be the largest such exercise in state history. The number of participants – 840,000 and counting – represents a full third of the state’s population. I wonder if any state has achieved such a high percentage of participation in their ShakeOut drill.

The level of participation may not come as a big surprise to Utahns, who have traditionally embraced a culture of preparedness and who pride themselves in being able to take care of themselves and their neighbors when disaster strikes. That’s really what we mean when we talk about a culture of preparedness—broad buy-in from the whole community, beginning at the individual level, to the point at which being prepared becomes a behavioral norm, like buckling your seat belt.

I really enjoyed one of the articles posted on the ShakeOut website and on a local newspaper. It was written by Joe Dougherty, who is a Public Information Officer for the Utah Department of Emergency Management, and it uses coach speak to advise participants to “practice how you will play.” We know that nothing we do can begin to approximate what would happen if the Wasatch Fault earthquake should occur – especially when estimates predict a temblor in the 7.0 range. But we do know that people who have actually practiced drop, cover, and hold on drills, prepared a disaster kit and made a communications plan will come through the event in much better shape than the unprepared.

Disaster experts tell us that after any traumatic event, the initial stages of shock and denial is followed by the impulse to action—or inaction. Those who have already practiced in a simulation are far more likely to choose actions that will not only increase their chance of survival but also make them more resilient, so they can recover faster.

I like to remind folks that we need to quit practicing for the disaster that just happened, and instead take a harder look at how we’re going to deal with the really big ones that will happen sooner or later. That’s why I like ShakeOuts.

Way to go, Utah. Keep up the good work.

And if you haven’t already registered for the ShakeOut on April 17 at 10:15 a.m. MDT, visit the Great Utah ShakeOut website and sign up today!

Texas Tornadoes Update 2: Joint Preliminary Damage Assessments Continue in Dallas-Fort Worth

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Joint Preliminary Damage Assessment teams, consisting of local, state, FEMA and Small Business Administration representatives are continuing to survey tornado damage in Tarrant County, Texas today. We’re standing shoulder to shoulder with our state partners and will continue to do so until all affected locations requested by the state have been assessed.

Texas, April 6, 2012 --Preliminary Damage Assessment teams fanned out across the Dallas Fort Worth area in the aftermath of the Tuesday tornadoes. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, (r) is Joined JOhn Nelson, of FEMA (L) and Ruby Dailey (c) of Texas Department of Emergency Management.

Texas, April 6, 2012 -- Preliminary Damage Assessment teams fanned out across the Dallas Fort Worth area in the aftermath of the Tuesday tornadoes. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, (r) is Joined John Nelson, of FEMA (L) and Ruby Dailey (c) of Texas Department of Emergency Management.

These “PDA teams” aren’t just looking at the numbers of damaged and destroyed homes, but we’re also gathering information on the impact to these communities as a whole. In a past blog post, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate mentioned that our states have developed robust capabilities to respond to these events. With those capabilities in mind, our partners and teammates at the federal, state, tribal, and local level, as well as voluntary agencies and the private sector bring many types of aid with them to assist in times of need. So we are also looking at whether or not there are enough resources within the state and communities, along with insurance to meet the needs of those that have been impacted.

Throughout much of the day, teams will be walking through tornado-ravaged cities and towns, knocking on doors, and talking to as many residents as possible.

Lancaster, Texas, April 6, 2012 -- Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins (r) leads state and federal team members through a tornado stricken neighborhood as part of the damage assessment process. Joint preliminary damage assessments are ongoing following the tornadoes that struck the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Lancaster, Texas, April 6, 2012 -- Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins (r) leads state and federal team members through a tornado stricken neighborhood as part of the damage assessment process. Joint preliminary damage assessments are ongoing following the tornadoes that struck the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Obviously, the teams won’t be able to talk to every single survivor. So if you’ve been impacted and you don’t see one of our teams, make sure to report your damages to local or state officials. These reports will be shared with the PDA team and cross-referenced with the street report, then all of the information will be considered for the assessments.

While assessments are ongoing, you should clean up as needed and be sure to contact your insurance company as soon as possible and file a claim.

As the teams speak with disaster survivors, they will be asking about whether the damage to homes will be covered by insurance. Often, levels of insurance can be a major consideration when determining whether a state should request a FEMA declaration. Ultimately FEMA cannot duplicate benefits like insurance.

As Administrator Fugate has mentioned before, insurance is often the first and best way of protecting your family and property from disaster. Depending on the coverage limits, disaster survivors may be made far more whole by their insurance policy than they would from supplemental federal disaster assistance.

In any event, it’s always a good idea for survivors to keep receipts of any disaster-related expenses such as lodging, medical, repair and cleaning supplies, etc. You may also want to make a list of the major items that have been damaged such as utilities, appliances, furniture, and personal property.

If you have immediate needs such as shelter, food, water, clothing, etc., you should seek help from the local voluntary and faith-based groups in your area.

The PDA teams are working as quickly and as safely as possible to complete the assessments, so that next steps can be taken by local and state officials.

What We’re Watching: 4/6/12

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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 
It appears the weather this weekend will be relatively nice and everyone can enjoy the holiday weekend according to our friends at NOAA. As of today, there are no significant weather threats expected across the U.S.

Severe drought conditions are expected to continue throughout parts of the Southeast, Central and Southern Great Plains, Southwest, and Upper Mississippi Valley. Additionally, some flooding is forecasted in Southeast Texas.

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

Highlighting Preparedness
We wanted to share an article about the great work our disability integration specialists are doing to help ensure everyone is prepared for an emergency. As Deputy Administrator Serino discussed during last month’s FEMA Think Tank call, it’s important for everyone to be involved in emergency planning, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts. And it’s equally important to ensure everyone has access to resources that will help them be more prepared in the face of an emergency.

Here’s an excerpt from a local ABC news affiliate featuring Disability Integration Specialist Jessica Mitchell discussing how her work in Region V is ensuring that the preparedness needs of residents with access and functional needs are met.

"I definitely think people should prepare in advance, think about what type of disasters are likely to happen in your area and how you would respond to them," said Jessica Mitchell, FEMA's Region V disability integration specialist. "Think about how you would know if a disaster is going on."

Mitchell said her role is to make sure people disabilities know what do during an emergency and how state and local emergency managers can make their programs more accessible.

For many years, FEMA has had information on emergency plans for people with disabilities.

We've really been updating our information to take into account new technologies that people with disabilities use and really try to make more of a concerted effort to get the information out to people with disabilities," Mitchell said. "We do offer training for emergency managers and local planners. We have the functional needs, support services and general population shelters where we teach people who plan out how emergency shelters will work, the different things they can do to make sure it's accessible with all types of disabilities, from mobility disabilities, to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, to people who are blind or have low vision or have cognitive or intellectual disabilities."

Read the full article and watch the interview.

And here is a list of our blog posts from this past week in case you missed any of them:

Have a wonderful and safe holiday weekend!

Flat Stanley Visits FEMA Headquarters and Learns How to Get Prepared

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Over the last few days Flat Stanley has been making his way around Washington, DC with a very special chaperone, Administrator Craig Fugate. We’re excited Flat Stanley was able to join Craig in some very important meetings, take a tour of FEMA Headquarters and even learn a lesson on how to be prepared when disasters strike.

Craig and Flat Stanley even took a moment out of their busy schedule to shoot this video to help us get the word out to families and communities about getting prepared for disasters, including severe weather and home fire prevention.



As Flat Stanly learned while visiting www.ready.gov/kids, here are four steps that kids and families can take to get prepared:
  1. Know the facts – Talk to your parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters and learn some simple facts about disasters in your area and also some tips on what to do during an emergency. 
  2. Make a plan – Kids can make their own emergency plan, but we love it when families make plans together. Know where to go if a disaster hits your home or school and how you can get back in touch with one another. 
  3. Build a kit – Don’t forget about the Kids when your family builds their emergency kit – board games, coloring books and puzzles can be great activities for when the power goes out. 
  4. Graduate from Readiness U! – Once you’ve completed the first three steps and learned about being prepared, take an easy quiz to test your preparedness skills – you’ll even get a neat certificate for being ready for an emergency. 

You can also find fun preparedness games and activities like word searches, crossword puzzles, comic strips and more at www.ready.gov/kids. There are also resources for parents and teachers to help children take an active role in getting prepared.

Susanna Marking: From the Office to the Field, Every FEMA Employee is an Emergency Manager

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On March 1, 2012, the State of Illinois requested assistance from FEMA to conduct Preliminary Damage Assessments as a result of the severe storms and tornadoes that affected Illinois on February 29. Those same storms caused significant impacts across much of the Midwest and South, and we also received requests to support PDA’s in Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. Disaster reservists and staff from our regional and headquarters offices immediately deployed to the affected areas to support our states.

Among the staff deployed was Susanna Marking, who in her day-to-day job is a Media Relations Specialist at headquarters. In keeping with the Administrator’s vision that all FEMA employees are emergency managers, Susanna was deployed in support of the Illinois PDAs. I thought I would share, in her words, a little bit about her experience.
 “When my supervisor sent me to join PDA teams after some significant tornado damage in Illinois, I had no idea what to expect. While I had worked at FEMA for nearly one year, I had not yet deployed to the field. I was excited to learn more about the work we do every day to support our states and disaster survivors; it was going to be a great opportunity to understand what it is like to work in the field at a disaster as a FEMA employee.

I arrived in Marion, Ill. on March 5 and spent the next several days training with our experienced FEMA public information officers in the field, supporting the State of Illinois on damage assessments. All of these PIO reservists had a wealth of experience and many had worked for FEMA a long time (8-15 years as a reservist), serving communities around the country in their share of disasters – including Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. In just two days, I learned a tremendous amount about the PDA process, and the role of PIOs in the field.

The first day, I was assigned to shadow Dick Gifford, a FEMA Reservist PIO, with his assigned PDA team. Each team was assigned a PIO and specific counties to assess. I learned that the reason we deploy PIOs with PDA teams is to ensure that the media is well informed, while also allowing the teams to continue their work uninterrupted. Equally important, the PIOs can also facilitate the media’s interactions with disaster survivors.

I spent my first day observing Dick and asking him questions about his experience over the years, suggestions on how to work with news media during PDAs, and tips for providing interviews. Dick and I joined the PDA team at the county Emergency Operations Center and listened to a briefing from the State Emergency Management Agency. Afterwards, we attended a press briefing where FEMA and the State spoke to several local media about the damage assessment process. Throughout the day, I helped the media get some footage of the teams going door to door and speak to survivors, as well as field interviews about the PDA process.

As the media began to leave to file their stories, I continued to walk with the PDA teams around the neighborhood and saw many of the homes that were destroyed by the tornado. I spoke with some of the disaster survivors and learned about their experiences. They spoke of how worried they felt about their family members, how they had lost their pets and belongings, and even how their neighbors had helped them after the tornado.

This was a remarkable learning experience for me – not only because I learned more about the role of a field PIO at FEMA, but because I learned so much about the PDA process in general. Throughout the deployment, I learned so much about the emergency management team that Administrator Fugate often talks about. I witnessed the valuable work volunteer organizations do, and the community spirit that comes from neighbors helping neighbors when disasters hit small communities. I learned about all the organizations that are involved in PDAs, what type of data the teams collect, and the type of questions they ask homeowners and the county. And it was awesome meeting so many FEMA disaster reservists – the foundation of our workforce. Some of them are out in the field all day, interacting directly with survivors – and it shows just how important their role is, and how well they represent FEMA as the face of our agency.

My short deployment with the PDA teams and developing my knowledge of the process proved to be an invaluable learning experience for my career at FEMA. Working at HQ can often feel like I am worlds away from FEMA’s work of helping survivors in affected communities. The concept really came full circle for me. Looking ahead to my next deployment experience, I’m looking forward to working hand in hand with the dedicated federal, state, tribal, local and FEMA staff during the next recovery process.”

An Important Update on Our Recoupment Process – Part Three

I want to provide another update on the recoupment process for disasters declared between August 28, 2005, and December 31, 2010, to make sure disaster survivors affected by the recoupment efforts are aware of important upcoming deadlines.

In my February blog, I said we would send out Notice of Waiver letters to disaster survivors who may be eligible for a waiver, and we were committed to implementing the law to the fullest extent and to offer the fairest resolution possible for those who received improper payments at no fault of their own. As of March 30, we mailed more than 87,000 Notices to disaster survivors who may be eligible for a waiver.

At this time, we are conducting thorough reviews of the debt waiver requests we have received, and we are approving requests that clearly meet the requirements for the waiver (more about this below). Starting this week, we will begin to notify applicants whose reviews have been completed and are approved for a waiver.

Important Note: For disaster survivors affected by the recoupment efforts who have not submitted debt waiver requests, you have 60 days from the date of the Notice of Waiver to submit a waiver request, and for a majority of disaster survivors who have received Notices, the deadline to submit your waiver request is between April 16 and 23. As an additional measure, FEMA will also be mailing reminder letters to those who have yet to request a waiver, urging them to do so.

When you respond to the Notice of Waiver letter, your written letter request must provide certain information that explains:
  • Why collecting the debt would cause you serious financial hardship;
  • What you spent the money on and why you are unable to return funds to FEMA. If you happen to have any receipts showing the disaster-related expenses, please provide those to FEMA as well; 
  • Any other personal circumstances that would make collecting the debt burdensome and unfair. 

Although in the past you may have already provided us with information to request an appeal, a payment plan or a compromise on your debt, the standards we must consider for this waiver are different, and it is important that you provide us with as much information as you can to support your request to waive your debt.

This includes completing a form that provides a certification to FEMA of your household “Adjusted Gross Income” from your most recent federal tax return for either 2010 or 2011. This is a requirement under the new law.

As I mentioned above, in order to be eligible for a waiver, certain requirements need to be met, and those are:

  1. The improper payment was received from disasters declared between August 28, 2005 and the end of 2010. (NOTE: the law does not apply to recoupment efforts for disasters declared after Jan. 1, 2011)
  2.  The improper payment was a result of an error solely on FEMA’s part – not on the part of a survivor;
  3. The improper payment cannot have involved fraud, presentation of false claim or misrepresentation; 
  4. The survivor household’s adjusted gross income on their most recent Federal tax return 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 
  5. The collection of the debt would be “against equity and good conscience,” meaning that it would be unfair under the circumstances of the case to collect the debt.

 It is important to note that Congress wrote this law to apply only to recoupment efforts for specific past disasters. In recent years, we have taken significant steps to put strong controls in place to cut down on the percentage of improper payments disbursed after disasters, and we will continue to do everything we can to reduce the need for any potential recoupments for current and future disasters.

If you have questions about the process to request a waiver, you may visit www.fema.gov/debtwaiver or contact

FEMA’s Recoupment Helpline
1-800-816-1122
Monday through Friday
9:00 AM - 8:00 PM EST,

If you have a speech disability or hearing loss and use a TTY, call 1-800-462-7585 directly.

If you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-816-1122.

Everyone at FEMA appreciates your patience as we all work through this process – thank you again.

Understanding Our Risk: Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 201: Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment

At FEMA, we’ve been working hard to ensure that our nation continually strengthens its resiliency and becomes as prepared as it can be against all hazards. Today we took another step forward in that ongoing effort with the release of the Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 201: Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment. The THIRA process builds on the progress we’ve achieved so far with the National Preparedness Goal and the description of the National Preparedness System. Ultimately, the THIRA process provides a common way to more fully understand all of the risks communities face – thus helping the emergency management team make wise decisions to keep people safe.

What makes the THIRA unique is that it doesn’t just look at natural hazards or terrorist threats. Instead it takes into account the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk to a community—regardless of the cause. The preparedness guide lays out a five-step process on how to do that, and it is adaptable to the needs and resources of our local, tribal, territorial, and state homeland security and emergency management partners. The five steps are:

  • Identify the threats and hazards of concern - What could happen in my community?
  • Give the threats and hazards context - Describe how a threat or hazard could happen in my community, and when and where it could happen. 
  • Examine the core capabilities using the threats and hazards - How would each threat or hazard affect the core capabilities identified in the National Preparedness Goal?
  • Set capability targets - Using the information above, set the level of capability a community needs to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from its risks.
  • Apply the results - Use the capability targets to decide how to use resources from the Whole Community.

Throughout the THIRA process, our goal is for communities to find out what data and information they should check regularly and keep updated so that they can recognize when their community’s threats and hazards change. THIRA helps jurisdictions focus on key information about their community and how that jurisdiction and community interacts with its partners at all levels – local, state, and federal.

And it’s important to note that while the THIRA will be used to inform resource allocation and planning, the THIRA will not replace hazard mitigation plans. In fact, the THIRA will take into account the Hazard Identification and Risk Assessments that have already been written by local and state governments for the last decade.

To learn more about our overall preparedness efforts, we encourage you to read up on Presidential Policy Directive 8: National Preparedness.

An Inside View of Bio Training for First Responders

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A few months ago, we highlighted the introduction of biological materials into first responder training at FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness, in Anniston, Ala. Since the first group of responders went through this enhanced training on Feb. 8, a total of 270 responders from more than 30 different states have now trained with nonpathogenic strains of anthrax and ricin inside our Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological Training Facility.

Here’s a short video giving a glimpse into the training:



We initially piloted two courses—Technical Emergency Response Training for CBRNE Incidents and Hazard Assessment and Response Management for CBRNE Incidents, and as we continue to expand our program, we will eventually include biological materials in three additional courses over the next year.

Anniston, Ala., Feb. 17, 2012 -- The Center for Domestic Preparedness created scenarios similar to scenes where biological agents may be deployed by fashioning its training bays into a restaurant environment (pictured above) and a post office scene. The training bays provide a realistic, safe and secure location for first responders to analyze the biological materials and demonstrate the appropriate response.Anniston, Ala., Feb. 17, 2012 -- The Center for Domestic Preparedness created scenarios similar to scenes where biological agents may be deployed by fashioning its training bays into a restaurant environment (pictured above) and a post office scene. The training bays provide a realistic, safe and secure location for first responders to analyze the biological materials and demonstrate the appropriate response.

Anniston, Ala., Feb. 17, 2012 -- First responders are given a unique opportunity to use detection equipment distinctive to biological materials. The Center for Domestic Preparedness is the only place where civilian first responders can now train using both biological materials and toxic chemical agents.
Anniston, Ala., Feb. 17, 2012 -- First responders are given a unique opportunity to use detection equipment distinctive to biological materials. The Center for Domestic Preparedness is the only place where civilian first responders can now train using both biological materials and toxic chemical agents.

Monitoring the Tornadoes and Standing By to Support the State of Texas

Denton, Texas, April 3, 2012 -- FEMA Region 6 Planning Section Chief Eddie Pack works in the Regional Response Coordination Center (RRCC) as tornadoes and severe weather move through the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Photo by FEMA/Stephanie Moffett
Denton, Texas, April 3, 2012 -- FEMA Region 6 Planning Section Chief Eddie Pack works in the Regional Response Coordination Center (RRCC) as tornadoes and severe weather move through the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Photo by FEMA/Stephanie Moffett


 
As severe weather and tornadoes move through the Dallas/Fort Worth area, we are supporting the state of Texas and have been in constant contact with our state partners at the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).

We are actively monitoring the situation from our regional office in Denton, TX and we have activated an Incident Management Assistance Team to support the state, if needed and requested.

We encourage everyone to continue to listen to their local officials for information and instruction during and after the storms. After the storms pass, we advise community members to be careful when entering structures that have been damaged; to wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris; and to not touch downed power lines or objects that are in contact with downed lines.

While we have already seen damage in and around Dallas County, Texas, this storm continues to move and could potentially impact parts of Arkansas. Remember, as severe weather moves into other areas, continue to listen to your NOAA weather radio and local weather forecasts, and be familiar with these terms:
 

  • 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.

Again, please listen and cooperate fully with public officials.  We’ll provide more updates as needed.

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