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What We're Watching: 9/28/12


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.

National Preparedness Month Wrap-Up

As we end the month, we want to take a second to thank everyone who participated in this year’s National Preparedness Month, particularly those who became who became an NPM coalition member and helped us educate others about emergency preparedness.  All month long, we’ve encouraged individuals, businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations to learn about the local hazards in their communities, make a family communication plan, build an emergency kit, then get involved in their local community preparedness efforts.  Just because the month is ending, that doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing your part to help your family, friends, and community become better prepared for an emergency.

We hope that you continue to encourage others to take an active role in preparedness to ensure that together we become a more resilient nation.  We encourage you to continue to host preparedness community outreach events, fairs, workshops, webinars and trainings. 

This NPM was a success because of the commitment you made to help create a culture of preparedness, and we simply could not have done it without you. Visit for more information and resources on how you can continue to promote preparedness all year long.

And to help close out National Preparedness Month, join us next Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. EDT for a National Preparedness Month Twitter chat with Paulette Aniskoff, Director of FEMA’s Individual and Community Preparedness Division.  During the chat, we’ll discuss different ways people prepared during the month, useful tools and resources for promoting preparedness and take questions you may have. Join the conversation and ask questions by using #NatlPrepChat.

Again, thank you to everyone who participated this month!

Have a wonderful and safe weekend.

Prepared for Anything: City Life

National Preparedness Month is a good time to consider the unique challenges we face in our communities when disaster strikes. FEMA Region V located in downtown Chicago, IL. -- the third largest city in the U.S. in a vibrant metropolitan area. Every day millions of people commute to work, attend school, and enjoy our beautiful parks and attractions - right in our downtown area. Chicago is not unlike many urban areas around the county, but how many of us consider the unique challenges and threats that can arise when we live and work in the heart of all the action?

Living and working in an urban area, it’s easy to take for granted that everything you need is at your fingertips. But what would you do if there was an emergency? How would your family cope if the power was out? What would you do if your family was separated and you couldn’t reach them?

No matter if you live in a small or large city, the infrastructure you depend upon for everyday activities could be disrupted. Transportation routes could be closed or changed due to severe weather or any number of emergencies. Power and public utility outages could last for days. This could mean that you and your family could be separated for a period of time. It is also possible that communication infrastructure could be disrupted, so calling or e-mailing each other may not be an option.

So what can you do to keep your family safe?

First, identify a friend or relative who lives out-of-state for family members to notify that you are safe. It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members.

Second, teach family members how to use text messaging. Text messages can often get around network disruptions when a phone call might not be able to get through.

Third, subscribe to alert services. Many communities now have systems that will send instant text alerts or e-mails to let you know about bad weather, road closings, local emergencies, etc. Sign up by visiting your local Office of Emergency Management website.

Finally, download the simple Family Emergency Plan (FEP) (PDF - 508 Kb) and fill out the sections before printing it or emailing it to your family and friends.

Check out for more information about preparing your family for emergencies, no matter where you live or work.

Flat Stanley & Stella Train with Community Volunteers


The Anaheim Citizen Corps Program was honored to have FEMA Flat Stanley and Stella join us for a day of training in Anaheim, California.  They were really excited to participate with our Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and meet some of our residents and businesses in the area who wanted to be better prepared for disasters.   They learned that the City of Los Angeles, Anaheim’s neighbor 30 miles to the north, started the CERT program after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake as a way for neighbors to help one another after emergencies.   Anaheim has had a CERT program since 1992 and they are celebrating their 20th anniversary this November.  FEMA Flat Stanley and Stella are certainly on the guest list!

Flat Stanley and Stella joined me in welcoming CERT students and encouraged them to become volunteers with the city once their training was complete.

Flat Stanley and Flat Stella with Mary Jo Flynn.

As the CERT class was getting ready to practice some of their skills, Fire Department volunteers spent some time with Flat Stanley and Stella reviewing fire safety, how to use a fire extinguisher and the importance of having a buddy with you.

Flat Stanley and Flat Stells with Firefighters.

Flat Stanley and Stella also took a close look at an A-B-C fire extinguisher, which is one of the most common types of fire extinguishers to use for smaller fires. 

Flat Stanley and Flat Stella with fire extinguishers.

In addition to the CERT volunteers, Anaheim also has volunteers who specialize in radio communications who are members of Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES) and were showing off their communications trailer and radio equipment to Flat Stanley and Stella. 

Flat Stanley at Anaheim CERT.

Finally, they were invited by CERT and RACES volunteer, Norman Todd, to get on the radio and practice sending messages.  They learned that Norman and the RACES volunteers in Anaheim are part of a world-wide network of volunteers who have agreed to help first responders by relaying messages when other systems like telephone lines may not be working.

Flat Stanley poses with RACES volunteer.

Before leaving to head back to Washington, D.C. we all stopped by the Anaheim Emergency Operations Center where they met RACES volunteer Jonathan Ramos who gave them a tour of the facility.  They saw firsthand the value and importance each volunteer makes as part of Emergency Operations during disasters and how they are part of a much larger network of first responders from the local, regional, state and federal level.

Flat Stanley with Emergency Operations Center representative.

We look forward to future visits from FEMA Flat Stanley and Stella and we hope they are able to share with other communities the tremendous impact and difference volunteers make within a community.


Discussions with Isaac Survivors: Reliving the Storm & Looking to Recovery


Roland Phillips, a leader of the French and Indian community called Grand Bayou in Plaquemines Parish, LA, had ridden out five hurricanes, including Katrina. So he decided to stay put for Hurricane Isaac, which hit land on Aug. 29, 2012. “I’ll never stay through a storm again,” Phillips told me. “It was the worst I ever experienced. It stayed on top of us for two days and two nights; it just ate us up.”

volunteers cover a roof with blue tarp
CAPTION: LaPlace, La., Sep. 13, 2012 -- Volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse International Relief install blue tarp to keep rain from a home damaged by Hurricane Isaac.

Hurricane Isaac may not have had the most powerful winds the Gulf Coast has ever known, but it moved so slowly through such a wide swath of communities over many states, including the northeast, that its force, for some, was more frightening than Hurricane Katrina.

No matter: faith-based and other voluntary groups responded during the storm and will be there for months, and perhaps years helping survivors recover. Volunteers staffed emergency shelters, served thousands of meals, delivered fresh water, chain-sawed fallen trees, “mudded out” homes and church sanctuaries, installed blue plastic tarps on torn roofs, fielded phone calls and provided emotional and spiritual care. In the future, they will rebuild homes and houses of worship and provide case management services that connect survivors to government and other benefits.

volunteers survey damaged home
CAPTION: Plaquemines Parish, La., Sep. 13, 2012 -- Volunteers from the Mennonite Disaster Service survey the work in progress at a home damaged by Hurricane Isaac.

The Rev. Michael Giles, pastor of Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Braithwaite, LA, knows about hurricanes. As president of Christian Ministers Missionary Baptist Association, he has been active in rebuilding homes destroyed by Katrina. With Hurricane Isaac, Rev. Giles moved from being a volunteer to being a survivor. His home and church were flooded by the storm. When I asked him about the faith-based volunteers he was working alongside to mud out his church, he said, “I’ve got one word to describe them: awesome.” He continued: “They never stop working. They work hard. They never complain.”

Eight-foot Water Line

Steven Bledsoe is the chair of the Committee for Plaquemines Rebuilding. This long-term recovery group started soon after Katrina. Like Rev. Giles, Bledsoe is not only a leader of volunteer and community groups helping the area recover from Katrina; he too is a survivor of Hurricane Isaac. “I had two feet of water in my home with Katrina. That’s why I got involved in long-term recovery.” He then showed me the eight-foot water line inside his home’s first floor left by flood waters from Hurricane Isaac. Faith-based volunteers from another group worked around us as we stood where his living room had been. They were tearing down molding sheetrock and shoveling muddy debris into wheelbarrows. “The volunteers?” he said. “I can’t say enough about them. They don’t say a lot about it, but I know their faith encourages them to volunteer.”

volunteer moves debris
CAPTION: Plaquemines Parish, La., Sep. 12, 2012 -- A volunteer from the Mennonite Disaster Service hauls debris from a home damaged by Hurricane Isaac.

A gas station and convenience store located on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish near the Belle Chase Ferry landing had become a gathering place for survivors and volunteers. Yet a third faith-based group had set up a mobile feeding station in the store’s parking lot, as the store was closed due to flooding. It was lunch time and people were lined up for meals to be served. Survivors I met included Braithwaite fire chief Urban Treuil (who also owned the gas station and store) and Gregory Meyer, an ice-truck delivery man. Both men and their families had long months of recovery ahead of them. Meyer’s home, which was raised on stilts to prevent its flooding, had been built in 1721. Six generations of his family had lived there. Now it was drying out from 10 feet of floodwaters. I asked him what he was going to do. “I’m coming home, man. My family and I are going to come home. But we’re feeling alone. Don’t forget us.”

I promised him that we wouldn’t, that his story would be told. And I am confident, with the amazing commitment of thousands of volunteers yet to come to the area, he and the other survivors of Hurricane Isaac throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, numerous other states, will see another and better day.

A subway to nowhere teaches first response training

At FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness, there is now a new venue where first responders can receive invaluable, hands-on training: a subway. The subway features four full size cars complete with lighting, smoke, seating, video capability, and even realistic commercial signage that is common in subways.

subway train at center for domestic preparedness

CAPTION: The CDP created a rail system that uses four cars. One car features a tunnel collapse scene, while another is damaged by an improvised explosive device. The subway system requires a response by emergency personnel to triage and extricate survivors, and mitigate the scene from hazardous chemicals or biological materials.

During training, emergency responders will have the opportunity to enter one car breached by falling concrete and threatened by simulated electrical hazards, and given the task of properly triaging survivors and transporting them to the appropriate medical personnel. They will also be required to find the source of any contamination that may be present and mitigate that threat so law enforcement, rescue, and emergency medical services can assist survivors.

damaged subway car for training

CAPTION: A subway car displays results from a simulated tunnel collapse that will require the triage and extrication of survivors.  The subway system gives training personnel the option to also include lighting malfunctions, smoke, and realistic sounds depicting the chaos expected in an actual event.

smokey subway car used for first responder training
CAPTION: Smoke fills the room in a railcar during a simulated subway accident at the CDP. The CDP created a subway system, complete with full size railcars, lighting, seating, and even the commercial signage common on subways.

Here’s what Chuck Medley, CDP branch chief for training management, had to say:

We created the subway system based on the actual size of passenger transportation systems found in the United States. It provides us an opportunity to present hazards that responders may encounter when responding to a mass casualty incident associated with public transportation systems.  In addition to the tunnel collapse and explosion, we can also simulate potential chemical and biological threats.

The CDP develops training based on potential threats, and the threat to our cities’ public transportation systems is real. This venue, while simulating a subway, also replicates the complexity of response to other public transportation modes including busses, trains, and even street cars. This training will increase the edge for emergency responders to successfully respond.

For first responders, practicing in simulated environments like those at the CDP can mean a faster, more efficient response to a real-world event.  If you’re an emergency response provider, emergency manager, or healthcare professional, check out for training courses that can lead to on-the-ground results if an emergency should strike.  If you’ve attended CDP training in the past, share your experience and leave a comment below.

National Advisory Council Welcomes New Members


Today, we are welcoming nine new members and reappointing one member to the FEMA National Advisory Council (NAC). Mandated by Congress in the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, the mission of the NAC is to ensure effective and ongoing coordination of federal preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation for natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.  The NAC is comprised of state, tribal and local governments, private sector, and non-governmental partners who advise and provide me recommendations on a variety of aspects within emergency management.

In the past few years, I have worked with council members to further emergency management’s approach to support citizens and first responders, focusing on topics such as integrating access and functional needs as part of our base planning efforts, considering the unique needs of children in disaster response operations, and engaging the whole community in the development and implementation of Presidential Policy Directive – 8 (PPD 8) deliverables. These new members highlight our continued desire to have a council that represents a cross section of all members of the emergency management team.

Jim Featherstone, General Manager, Emergency Management Department, City of Los Angeles, has been reappointed as the Chairperson and Teresa Scott, Director of Public Works, City of Gainesville, Florida is the new Vice Chair for the NAC.

I’d like to welcome our new members and I look forward to working with them during their tenure with the NAC.  

  • Ms. Anne Kronenberg, Executive Director, San Francisco Department of Emergency Management
  • Dr. Sarita Chung, Director and Attending Physician, Disaster Preparedness Division of Emergency Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston
  • Senator Joseph Bolkcom, Assistant Majority Leader, State Senator, Iowa State Senate
  • Mr. Ken Miyagishima, Mayor, City of Las Cruces, New Mexico
  • Mr. Thomas Powers, Vice President, Corporate Security and Safety, Iron Mountain
  • Mr. Robert Maloney, Director of Office of Emergency Management, Baltimore City, Maryland
  • Mr. Joseph Nimmich, Director, Maritime Surveillance and Security, Raytheon Homeland Security
  • Lieutenant General Guy Swan, Vice President of Education and Executive Director, Institute of Land Warfare at the Association of the US Army
  • Mr. Pat Earl Santos, Deputy Director, Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), Louisiana

Additional information on the NAC, including a list of current members, can be found at

Being Prepared for the New School Year

Although we’ve only been working at FEMA for a few months now, we have learned how important it is to be prepared, no matter where you are.  And with the new school year underway, we’ve been learning some important things to help keep kids and parents safer.  Things like:

 Washington, D.C., Sep. 20, 2012 -- Photo of Flat Stanley with his emergency contact card.

Complete an emergency contact card for each child in your family. Put the cards in their backpacks or book bags.

 Washington, D.C., Sep. 20, 2012 -- Flat Stella Practicing the Evacuation Plan for FEMA HQ.

Find out how often they have students practice what to do in the event of severe weather or a fire.

 Washington, D.C., Sep. 20, 2012 -- Flat Stanley learns when it is appropriate to dial 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency.

Teach your children how and when to call 9-1-1 or your local emergency medical services number for help. 

 Washington, D.C., Sep. 20, 2012 -- Flat Stella learns about the importance of having a safety plan in place no matter where you are.

Ask your child's school for a copy of their emergency plan for you to keep at home or work.

And finally, parents should be sure to check with their children’s day care or school about what emergency plans they have. That way both parents and kids know what to expect during and after an emergency.

We hope everyone has a wonderful and safe school year!  In case you missed any of our other adventures, check out our blog posts!

One Step Closer to Tribal Stafford Act Amendment


Last month I emphasized my support for amending the Stafford Act to allow federally recognized tribal governments to make a request directly to the President for a federal emergency or major disaster declaration.  Today, the House of Representatives passed the 2012 FEMA Reauthorization Act, including Section 210, which includes such an amendment to the Stafford Act, and affirms the sovereignty of tribal governments.  If Congress passes and the President signs such legislation into law, my office will act promptly in the development of appropriate regulations and policies for implementation.

We’re one step closer to getting this change into law -- and it has been Tribal leadership and organizations, representing more than 300 tribes, who have engaged members of the House and Senate to act on this issue.  In fact, dozens of tribal leaders are on Capitol Hill today for “Tribal Unity Impact Week” to discuss their priorities with Members of Congress, including this change to the Stafford Act.

FEMA has strong, long-standing relationships with tribal governments and they are essential members of the emergency management team.  The U.S. Government has a unique nation-to-nation relationship with federally recognized tribal governments and amending the Stafford Act to recognize this sovereign relationship will only strengthen the way that FEMA supports tribal communities before, after and during disasters. The House’s action today is an important step forward for this legislation which would strengthen our nation's emergency management team.

Volunteer highlight: Helping to rebuild after Hurricane Isaac


For the past several days, our team has been hard at work on the ground in Gulfport, MS, continuing assessments and doing field work to repair damage to homes in the area.

CAPTION: All Hands Volunteers work to repair a roof damaged from Hurricane Isaac. (Photo courtesy of All Hands Volunteers)

The national media attention about the Hurricane Isaac recovery has dwindled, yet some of the toughest work remains ahead in the areas impacted by the storm.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve highlighted the work of some of the non-profit and voluntary agencies pitching in to help the affected survivors and communities – organizations you may have heard of, like the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the Humane Society

The efforts of volunteer groups, large and small, as well as established and up-and-coming, have continued in full force across the Gulf Coast region since Isaac made landfall.  One of those partners, All Hands Volunteers, continues to make an impact in the affected areas by organizing groups of volunteers to tackle a variety of projects.  As part of the National Voluntary Organizations After Disasters (National VOAD), they are committed to being actively involved in emergency response and recovery efforts for disasters across the country.  Jeremey Horan, Director of Operations of All Hands Volunteers, was kind enough to offer his perspective of Hurricane Isaac and share All Hands Network’s model for rapid response.

Here is Jeremey’s story:

On August 28, Hurricane Isaac, which had already raged its way across Haiti and the Florida Keys, made landfall on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. For days, its torrential rains drenched southern Mississippi and caused local flooding conditions that displaced families and destroyed properties.

As part of All Hands Volunteers’ rapid response model, we were on the ground in Vicksburg, MS the day the storm struck. Since it was confirmed that the three counties surrounding Biloxi were being heavily affected, we swiftly moved south to launch an assessment of the storm’s impact to determine how voluntary resources could be utilized to help those affected.

In many ways, we felt a bit of déjà vu, because it had been exactly seven years earlier that David Campbell, our executive director, formed Hands On USA to respond to the same area after Hurricane Katrina. Our name has changed, but our mission has not — we want to provide immediate, effective and sustainable support to communities in need by harnessing the energy and commitment of dedicated volunteers.

We also want to empower communities to swiftly and competently manage the chaos that typically surrounds a disaster event — especially as it relates to the pairing of community needs with volunteers to meet them.

As a member of National VOAD, we attended Southern Mississippi VOAD meetings in Biloxi and were quickly apprised of the known needs and helped to shape situational awareness based on our assessment findings. In collaboration with the VOAD, we were able to effectively vet pockets of unmet homeowner need and begin to clarify the scope of Isaac’s impact in communities along the MS Gulf Coast.

As a result, All Hands Volunteers is working to address the needs created by Isaac, working with volunteers who have pre-­-registered through virtual volunteer reception centers, getting homeowners to the next step in their recovery through direct service work. Because of the leadership provided by VOAD, we were able to access information before flood waters receded and to begin the process of aiding a community in its recovery. 

All Hands Volunteers’ assessment team and volunteers have been on the ground, helping Mississippi communities in need. Now we’re packing up to head to Louisiana to assess several communities that are requesting help.
(Photo courtesy of All Hands Volunteers)

All Hands Volunteers’ assessment team and volunteers have been on the ground, helping Mississippi communities in need. Now we’re packing up to head to Louisiana to assess several communities that are requesting help.
(Photo courtesy of All Hands Volunteers)

Editor’s note: FEMA is providing the following examples for your reference. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, companies or applications. The views expressed above do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Learn more about organizations that are part of National VOAD at

For more on FEMA’s role in the ongoing Isaac recovery, visit the disaster pages for Louisiana and Mississippi.

What We're Watching: 9/14/12


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.

Weather outlook
As summer starts to fade into fall in some areas of the country, we continue to closely watch the tropics.  As you know, we are currently at the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, and the season continues until November 30. Currently, tropical storm Nadine is swirling in the Atlantic ocean and poses no threat to the U.S. or its territories. Keep up with the latest tropical forecast from the National Hurricane Center at or on your phone at

And if you live in a coastal or inland area that could be affected by hurricanes or tropical storms, now's the time to prepare - visit or on your phone to learn how.

Isaac recovery continues

disaster recovery center
LaPlace, La., Sep. 11, 2012 – A FEMA Mitigation specialist talks to a Hurricane Isaac survivor in a Disaster Recovery Center. FEMA Mitigation specialists are assisting homeowners by providing them with information they need to rebuild their damaged property.

We continue to work closely with our state, local, and tribal partners as we assist those affected by Hurricane Isaac in Mississippi and Louisiana. Thousands have applied for disaster assistance so far, and Disaster Recovery Centers set up in the affected area continue to provide recovery information to disaster survivors. Earlier this week, we posted some stats about how Isaac survivors are applying for disaster assistance - I encourage you to check it out. The disaster pages for Louisiana and Mississippi have the latest information on FEMA's role in the recovery.

The excitement of graduation

fema corps graduation
Vicksburg, Miss., Sep. 13, 2012 -- Induction Ceremony for the inaugural class of FEMA Corps members. FEMA Corps members assist with disaster preparedness, response, and recovery activities, providing support in areas ranging from working directly with disaster survivors to supporting disaster recovering centers to sharing valuable disaster preparedness and mitigation information with the public. 

Lastly, all of us at FEMA are excited about the first class of FEMA Corps graduates that were newly minted earlier this week. FEMA Corps is a program that combines the expertise of FEMA and AmeriCorps to equip groups of young people to deploy into areas affected by disasters and assist the community with recovery. The new members, who range in age from 18-24 years old, will contribute to a dedicated, trained, and reliable disaster workforce by working full-time for ten months on federal disaster response and recovery efforts.

FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino spoke to the class of 231 graduates yesterday, and he blogged about his perspective on the FEMA Corps program as well.

Have a great weekend!


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