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President Obama in New Jersey: "We Are Here for You"


Editor's note: This was originally posted on the White House blog October 31, 2012.

president obama air force one

CAPTION: President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talk as they fly over the coast of New Jersey on Marine One, Oct. 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Two days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in southern New Jersey, President Obama was on hand to witness the devastation, comfort residents, and pledge the full support of the federal government in the recovery effort.

Across the state, the storm damaged homes, flooded communities, and left more than 2 million people without power. The President and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie surveyed the effects of the hurricane from Marine One, then walked the streets of Brigantine, a town near Atlantic City. The two leaders also visited a community center now serving as a shelter for displaced residents.

"One of our challenges now is to get back to normalcy," said Gov. Christie. "And so the things we need to do is to make sure that we get power restored as quickly as possible; make sure that people have clean drinking water, and waste water treatment plants are working; hospitals are taken care of the way they need to; and that we get kids back to school. And so, I discussed all those issues today with the President, and I’m pleased to report that he has sprung into action immediately to help get us those things."

President Obama outlined the steps being taken by federal emergency responders. Even before the storm hit, FEMA and other groups were able to preposition supplies like water, food, and power generators. Now more than 2,000 FEMA personnel are on the ground in the state, and the President promised that the recovery effort would continue. 

"Number one, and most important, our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones," he said. "For those like the people I just had the chance to meet on this block and throughout New Jersey and throughout the region whose lives have been upended, my second message is we are here for you, and we will not forget; we will follow up to make sure that you get all the help that you need until you've rebuilt."

Sandy update 4: Staying safe & how to help


Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. While the worst of the weather is beyond some areas on the East Coast, Sandy remains a very large storm system that continues to pose life-threatening hazards for coastal and inland areas including high winds, heavy rains, dangerous storm surge and flash flooding, and snow and cold weather hazards in some areas.

Some important safety reminders if you’re in an area that has been, or is still being, impacted by this storm:

  • Continue to listen to your local officials – If you evacuated and are returning home, make sure local officials have deemed the area safe to return to.  If Sandy is still impacting your area and local officials give the order to evacuate, do so immediately.  
  • Stay off the roads - Emergency workers may be assisting people in flooded areas or cleaning up debris. You can help them by staying off the roads and out of the way.
  • If your power is out, safely use a generator or candles - Never use a generator inside a home, basement, shed or garage even if doors and windows are open. Keep generators outside and far away from windows, doors and vents. Read both the label on your generator and the owner's manual and follow the instructions.  If using candles, please use caution. If possible, use flashlights instead. If you must use candles, do not burn them on or near anything that can catch fire.
  • Avoid downed power or utility lines - They may be live with deadly voltage.  Stay away and report them immediately to your power or utility company.
  • Don’t drive or walk through flood waters – It only takes a small amount of water to move people or vehicles. If you encounter a flooded roadway, don’t attempt to pass through water – turn around, don’t drown.  And if your home has flood water inside or around it, don’t walk or wade in it.  The water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewage.

How to help those affected by Sandy

We’ve had a number of questions come in on our Facebook and Twitter accounts about how to help those who have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  A few pointers to remember:

  • Cash is the most efficient method of donating – Cash offers voluntary agencies the most flexibility in obtaining the most-needed resources and pumps money into the local economy to help businesses recover.
  • Volunteer or donate through a trusted organization – At the national level, many voluntary, faith-based and community-based organizations are active in disasters, and are trusted ways to donate to disaster survivors. In addition to the national members, each state has its own list of voluntary organizations active in disasters.

Numerous blood drives have been canceled as a result of the storm and the Red Cross has a need for blood donations. To schedule a blood donation or for more information about giving blood or platelets, visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Here’s a video from President Obama reminding everyone how we can help those in need after a disaster:

Latest update on FEMA’s activities

Last night, the President declared major disasters for New York and New Jersey, making disaster assistance available to those in the heaviest hit areas affected by the storm.  Individuals and business owners who sustained losses in the following counties in New York and New Jersey can begin applying for assistance by registering online or on your phone at

  • Declared counties in New York: Bronx, Kings, Nassau, New York, Richmond, Suffolk, & Queens.
  • Declared counties in New Jersey: Atlantic, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean & Union Counties

Those impacted can also apply by calling 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired.

In addition to federal disaster assistance being available in several counties, states and localities and the American Red Cross continue to operate emergency shelters in many states.  You can search for open shelters by visiting the Red Cross website, downloading the FEMA smartphone app, or by texting the word “shelter” and a zip code to 43362 (4FEMA).  For example, if you’re searching for a shelter in the 01234 zip code, you would text Shelter 01234.

Finally, we continue to work closely with our emergency management partners and are embedded with state teams to support response efforts and assess unmet needs. Our priority focus remains on life-saving and life-sustaining activities.  Currently, more than 1,500 FEMA personnel are positioned along the East Coast working to support disaster preparedness and response operations, including search and rescue, situational awareness, communications and logistical support.  Here are some details about our staff’s support:

  • Twenty-eight teams comprised of 294 FEMA Corps members are pre-staged to support Sandy.
  • Seven federal urban search and rescue task forces have been activated and are deploying in the Mid-Atlantic as needed and requested. 
  • Fourteen Incident Management Assistance Teams
  • Twelve liaison officers are positioned in state emergency operations centers along the East Coast supporting preparedness activities and ensure there are no unmet needs. 
  • Ten Disability Integration Advisors supporting emergency management in ten states on current alert and warning, evacuation and sheltering needs and preparing for potential post-storm operations.

Please share these important safety reminders and we hope you’re taking every precaution to stay safe.

Sandy update 3: follow the direction of local officials


Washington, D.C., Oct. 28, 2012 -- President Barack Obama participates in a briefing with federal agency partners on preparations for Hurricane Sandy at FEMA's National Response Coordination Center. At right is FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. FEMA/Aaron Skolnik

Washington, D.C., Oct. 28, 2012 -- President Barack Obama participates in a briefing with federal agency partners on preparations for Hurricane Sandy at FEMA's National Response Coordination Center. At right is FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. More on the President's visit to FEMA on the White House blog.

Hurricane Sandy continues to swirl closer to the coast, with impacts already being felt in several states as of Sunday afternoon.  At the direction of President Obama, FEMA continues to coordinate the federal government’s assistance and preparations for Hurricane Sandy.  Today, the President visited FEMA headquarters and received a briefing from federal, state, and local officials coordinating the preparation efforts.  He continued to direct Administrator Fugate to ensure the federal partners continue to bring all available resources to bear in supporting potentially affected areas.

If you are in the potentially impacted area, here are the key reminders right now:

  • Follow the direction of local officials – if told to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Make final preparations – If you’re further inland, now is the time to make final preparations.  Be ready for power outages and stock up on emergency supplies of food, water, medications, and other supplies.
  • Know the forecast for your area – Sandy is a large storm with potential impacts from wind, coastal flooding, inland flooding, rain, and snow.  Listen to your NOAA weather radio and local news reports, or visit for the conditions in your area.
  • Check on your neighbor – make sure they’re ready too.

Key FEMA activities today

Earlier today, the President declared an emergency for the State of Maryland.  The President’s action authorizes FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts to provide assistance for required emergency measures to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety in the City of Baltimore and all counties in the State of Maryland.

Along with our federal partners, we remain in close coordination with states and tribal governments and continue to coordinate resources to provide support as needed. FEMA Incident Management Assistance Teams and liaison officers have been deployed to potentially affected states along the East Coast.  Mobile Emergency Response Support (MERS) personnel and teams are in place or are en route to Delaware, the District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania to support the states with secure and non-secure voice, video, and information services, operations, and logistics support to state response operations, and with any potential requests for assistance.

Here’s a brief recap of what FEMA and our federal partners have been doing:

  • The American Red Cross mobilized hundreds of disaster workers, readying shelters and coordinating efforts with community partners in potentially affected states.  To find an open Red Cross shelter, download the Red Cross Hurricane app or visit
  • To support potential pre- and post storm hospital evacuations, in coordination with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through Emergency Support Function 8, FEMA has the capability to activate ambulance contracts to support state requirements to evacuate patients if needed and requested.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deployed temporary emergency power teams, consisting of planning and response teams and resource support staff to assist with critical infrastructure. 
  • The Department of Energy continues to work with states and local partners to pre-mobilize storm and field personnel to assist in power restoration efforts. 
  • FEMA and the Department of Defense are establishing Incident Support Bases in Westover, Mass. and Lakehurst, New Jersey to position supplies including water, meals, blankets and other resources closer to potentially impacted areas, should they be needed.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is monitoring the storm and will take steps to prepare and protect FAA facilities and equipment that are in the projected path of the storm, including control towers, radars and navigational aids. The FAA's top operational priority is to quickly re-establish air traffic service to support disaster relief efforts.

We will continue to provide updates on this blog about FEMA and the federal family’s preparations and response to Hurricane Sandy, and don’t forget to download the FEMA smartphone app for safety tips and open shelters.

Seeing teamwork before Hurricane Sandy

Washington, D.C., June 27, 2012 -- Flat Stanley and Flat Stella tour the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. FEMA Photo

A lot of activity has been happening around FEMA lately as we get ready for Hurricane Sandy to come into land.  Today, we visited a very busy place called the National Response Coordination Center, or NRCC, where lots of people come together to work on helping those who may get rain, wind, or lose power from Hurricane Sandy.

The workers get help to states and people that may be affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Right now, everyone is focused on getting prepared before the storm may hit.  Here is a picture from inside the big room showing all the workers.

Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2012 -- FEMA's National Response Coordination Center is activated in preparation for Hurricane Sandy's landfall.

During times of emergency, people from FEMA and many other government agencies work in the NRCC to make sure people and supplies are being used in the best way.  These people work on many different things, but they all come together as a team to ensure everything is covered. They help set up safe places for people to go during and after a storm and make sure things like water & food are moved into the right areas so people can get them after an emergency.  Some of the voluntary organizations we’re working with are the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army USA, the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  These organizations and many more are working together to make sure everyone is prepared for Hurricane Sandy.

This shows some of the agencies that work with FEMA in the NRCC – We are standing next to a few of their “seals” or symbols:

Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2012 -- FEMA Flat Stanley and Flat Stella visited FEMA's National Response Coordination Center and learned about the teamwork that happens there.

And we even got to sit in the NRCC for a few minutes and wear the same vests worn by the people who work there.  The vests help to show who everyone is and what they’re working on!

Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2012 -- FEMA Flat Stanley and Flat Stella visited FEMA's National Response Coordination Center and learned about the teamwork that happens there during times of emergency.

Finally, workers in the NRCC told us the simple things people can do now to get prepared for Hurricane Sandy. They can be sure to have an emergency kit with a flashlight, batteries, food, water, and more!  Here’s a picture with us and an emergency kit – ask your parents if your family has one!

Washington, D.C., Aug. 24, 2012 -- FEMA Flat Stanley and Flat Stella learn about items to go into a family emergency kit.

We had fun learning about the teamwork that happens in the NRCC and we hope everyone who may be affected by Hurricane Sandy is getting prepared like we are!

Sandy update 2: Tips for getting prepared


We are closely monitoring Hurricane Sandy and continue to prepare to support potentially affected state and tribal governments.  Forecasts from the National Hurricane Center show a large area may be impacted by high winds, heavy rains, storm surge, and snow.  These hazardous conditions may be compounded by the likelihood of widespread power outages.  

If you or someone you know may be impacted by Hurricane Sandy, here are a few things to do today and tomorrow to get ready:

  • Get some extra cash out at the ATM today. If the power goes out, banks/ATMs may be offline for some time.
  • Make a plan for how you’ll keep your cell phone charged if you lose power for several days. Picking up a solar or hand-crank charger for your phone is a good idea.
  • Take steps to protect your home/business from high winds – cover windows, clean gutters, trim trees.
  • Get to the store today for emergency supplies such as water, nonperishable food, batteries, flashlight, etc.
  • Make sure you have what you need in case the power goes out and cold weather moves in. Double check that you have a safe, warm place you can go, blankets in your home/car, and winter items like snow shovels and rock salt.
  • Employers: make sure your employees are prepared and review your continuity and tele-work plans.
  • More information for your emergency kit

The President has directed Administrator Fugate to ensure that all available federal resources are being brought to bear to support state and local responders in potentially affected areas along the East Coast as they prepare for the severe weather.   To increase coordination between Federal partners, the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) has been activated, a multi-agency center based at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C.  The NRCC provides overall coordination of the federal response by bringing together federal departments and agencies to assist in the preparations for and response to disasters.  

While we continue busy preparing to support Hurricane Sandy response, so are a collection of voluntary organizations like the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army USA, the Humane Society of the United States, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and other National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters. Check out President Obama's video on how you can support the great work of these organizations.
president obama sandy briefing
CAPTION: President Barack Obama receives an update on the ongoing response to Hurricane Sandy during a conference call with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Dr. Rick Knabb, Director of the National Hurricane Center, and John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, in the Oval Office, Oct. 26, 2012. Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, and Richard Reed, Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, are seated at right. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Continue to visit our blog for the latest updates on FEMA’s role in preparing to respond to Hurricane Sandy.

What We’re Watching: 10/26/12


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.

Hurricane Sandy

rainfall forecast for Hurricane Sandy (map)

CAPTION: Forecast image from NOAA’s Hydrological Prediction Center, showing possible rainfall amounts over the next five days. This graphic is automatically updated by the Hydrological Prediction Center.

We continue to closely monitor the progress of Hurricane Sandy as it makes its way north in the Atlantic Ocean.  At this point in Sandy’s progression, the key message remains that now is the time to get prepared.   From the most recent National Weather Service forecasts, it’s clear the impacts of the storm will be felt across a wide area.  These impacts could include heavy rains and snowfall, flooding, high winds, storm surge and power outages.  As the image shows above, forecasters are calling for significant rainfall, which may result in flooding in some areas.  We recommend you check the items in your family emergency kit and make sure you have supplies that can sustain you and your family for at least 72 hours:

  • canned food,
  • a can opener,
  • water,
  • batteries,
  • a flashlight,
  • radio & pet food/medicine

In advance of any potential impacts from the storm, FEMA is deploying Incident Management Assistance Teams to North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine to assist states, should emergency response assistance be needed.  In addition, we’re sending staff to emergency operations centers in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey to coordinate if additional support is needed. has more information on how to get your family, home, or business prepared for the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  Follow updates from the National Hurricane Center at for the latest forecast on Hurricane Sandy and for your local weather forecasts.


Think Tank Call on October 30 – Postponed

The FEMA Think Tank scheduled on Tuesday, October 30 in Orlando, Florida has been postponed to allow FEMA leadership and participating emergency management experts to focus on response preparations involving Hurricane Sandy.

We will reschedule the Think Tank titled, “Looking Back, Looking Forward - FEMA Think Tank 2.0” in the near future. The collaborative forum will look at various solutions-based models that have been identified on previous calls and implemented in local communities to advance emergency management. In the looking forward portion of the forum, FEMA will look at the future of the Think Tank and explore new collaborative web tools the emergency management community can use to share resources and best practices.

We encourage you to visit the online forum at to comment on the ideas we will be discussing in the future or submit your own ideas and comment on others. 

Halloween safety tips

While much of the East Coast closely watches Hurricane Sandy, the rest of the country is looking forward to a spooky Halloween next Wednesday, October 31.  In addition to the spookiest time of the year, Halloween is historically a time when there is an increase in fires, especially fires related to the use of candles. So as you’re partaking in Halloween preparations, decorating, and trick-or-treating, remember these safety tips from the U.S. Fire Administration to stay fire safe:

  • Avoid using candles inside and out, as they are the most common fire hazard around Halloween.  Use a flameless candle in your Jack-O-Lantern – they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Pick a few up when you’re at the store this weekend
  • When creating a costume, choose materials that will not easily ignite if it comes in contact with heat or flame.
  • Wear light-colored, flame retardant, costumes decorated with retro-reflective tape or stickers. 
  • When purchasing items, make sure that all costumes, wigs and props are labeled flame-resistant or flame-retardant.


From the Photo Library

FEMA Corps in West Virginia

Charleston, W.Va., Oct. 2, 2012 -- WV Federal Coordinating Officer, Dolph Diemont, addresses the newly arrived FEMA Corps teams, Bayou 6 and Summit 3, at the Charleston, WV Joint Field Office (JFO). The 20 members and leaders received a JFO orientation briefing outlining all JFO disaster assistance program areas as background for their assignments at the JFO and the four West Virginia Disaster Recovery Offices.

Charleston, W.Va., Oct. 2, 2012 -- WV Federal Coordinating Officer, Dolph Diemont, addresses the newly arrived FEMA Corps teams, Bayou 6 and Summit 3, at the Charleston, WV Joint Field Office (JFO). The 20 members and leaders received a JFO orientation briefing outlining all JFO disaster assistance program areas as background for their assignments at the JFO and the four West Virginia Disaster Recovery Offices.

California Shakeout

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 18, 2012 -- FEMA Region IX Administrator Nancy Ward, Lucy Jones of USGS, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa demonstrates the Drop, Cover, Hold On process at ShakeOut LA.

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 18, 2012 -- FEMA Region IX Administrator Nancy Ward, Lucy Jones of USGS, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa demonstrates the Drop, Cover, Hold On process at ShakeOut LA.


San Francisco, Calif., Oct. 17, 2012 -- FEMA Region IX Earthquake Specialist Jennifer Lynette provides earthquake tips to a reporter from KTSF television, a Cantonese speaking station, during a pre-ShakeOut event in San Francisco's Union Square. FEMA is a supporter of ShakeOut, the largest earthquake drill in the nation.

San Francisco, Calif., Oct. 17, 2012 -- FEMA Region IX Earthquake Specialist Jennifer Lynette provides earthquake tips to a reporter from KTSF television, a Cantonese speaking station, during a pre-ShakeOut event in San Francisco's Union Square. FEMA is a supporter of ShakeOut, the largest earthquake drill in the nation.

For those on the East Coast, use the weekend to continue to prepare for Hurricane Sandy and have a safe weekend.

Closely Monitoring Hurricane Sandy


Through our regional offices in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, we continue to closely monitor Hurricane Sandy as it moves north in the Atlantic Ocean. We remain in close coordination with state and tribal emergency management partners in Florida and the potentially affected southeast, Mid-Atlantic and New England states. Administrator Craig Fugate provided some important reminders earlier today.

"As Hurricane Sandy proceeds closer toward southeast Florida, residents should listen to local officials for updates and follow their instructions. As the storm moves northward, it serves as a reminder that we all need to be prepared for severe weather.  Now is the time to update your family communication plans, check your supplies, and stay informed.  A hurricane isn't a point on a map - it's a big storm and its impact will be felt far from the center. FEMA is in contact with states and tribal governments and stands ready to support their preparedness efforts."

I’d like to emphasize the Administrator’s last point about the size of these storms.  The storm’s future path is still uncertain, but National Weather Service forecasts show that Hurricane Sandy may impact additional states throughout the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast into early next week.  This means millions along the East Coast should closely watch the progression of Hurricane Sandy as it moves northward.  Going into tonight and tomorrow, the Florida Keys, southeast and east-central Florida are expected to experience heavy rainfall and high winds.
As Hurricane Sandy moves northward and closer to Florida, we encourage residents to prepare now for tropical storm and hurricane conditions. Here are a few safety tips if you are in the potentially affected area:

  • For the severe weather forecast for your area, listen to your NOAA Weather Radio, local media and forecast reports.
  • Check on the items in your family’s emergency kit - Remember to include items like a flashlight, hand-crank radio, and a solar powered cell phone charger to your emergency kit.  Hurricanes often bring power outages, so be sure your emergency kit can sustain your family for at least 72 hours after the storm.
  • Make a plan for how you will contact friends and family in the event of an emergency.
  • Flooding is often the most significant threat from hurricanes and tropical storms - avoid walking or driving through flooded areas – it only takes six inches of fast-moving flood water to knock over an adult and two feet to move a vehicle. 
  • As always, follow the direction of local officials.  Don’t put yourself at risk, if they give the order to evacuate, do so immediately.

 Visit for more tips on preparing your home and family for the effects of a hurricane or tropical storm.

What We're Watching: 10/19/12


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.

A whole lot of shaking going on

No, the headline above isn’t referencing a big dance party…it’s talking about earthquake safety!  Yesterday, millions around the U.S. practiced earthquake safety as part of the Great ShakeOut drill.  Participants practiced how to “Drop. Cover. Hold On.” – the three simple steps to stay safe during an earthquake. Our own Administrator Craig Fugate participated in the drill (see photo below), and so did thousands of other organizations across the country.  Our blog has featured some great perspectives on earthquake safety over the past week leading up to the ShakeOut drill, so check out these posts in case you missed them:

Fire safety in for social media users

Earlier in October we observed Fire Prevention Week – with a focus on getting people to practice a home fire drill with their family.  For those that frequently use social media (or have children that do), this sign might be an appropriate reminder of the sequence of steps to follow if a fire should occur:

 In case of Fire, Exit Building Before Tweeting About It

Image courtesy of the Red Cross Chat blog.

Hurricane season down, but not out

As we approach the final days of October, the peak time for tropical storm and hurricane activity in the Atlantic is behind us.  However, last week’s Hurricane Rafael gave all of us a reminder that tropical systems can develop quickly even though the peak of the season has passed.  The Atlantic hurricane season lasts until November 30, so take time now to make sure your home, business, and family are prepared if you live in a coastal or inland area.  As we saw with Hurricane Isaac earlier this year, these storms often cause a significant amount of rainfall and flooding is typically their most dangerous and damaging effect. (or on your phone) is a great place to learn how to get prepared as we enter the “home stretch” of this year’s hurricane season.

New Features to Our Website

Since we launched our new website back in July, we’ve received user feedback from people all over the country. Well, we just made a series of improvements to the site, incorporating some of the responses and requests you shared with us.

We’ve launched a new search engine that’s better integrated with all the content that has to offer.  Search results are now much more accurate and include recommended pages, news releases, agency tweets and agency videos all on the main results page. You also now have the ability to filter your results by blog post, news, disaster declaration, documents, videos, photos, and images. 

We’ve also added the ability to view Disaster Declarations by state and by year.  A popular feature on the old website, users can now browse the declarations using a table format and easily see how many disaster declarations were issued by state or year and then filter by disaster type.

We appreciate all of the feedback we received and hope you all will find these new enhancements to be user friendly and beneficial when your browsing our site.

Let us know what you think of these new features by leaving a comment below.

Have a great weekend, and stay safe.

Practicing Safety and “Shaking Out”


shakeout drill

CAPTION: Administrator Craig Fugate (left) and Deputy Administrator Rich Serino practice "Drop. Cover. Hold On." as part of the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill held October 18.

Those of us in emergency management have a lot to say about getting prepared.  We urge folks to learn about the hazards in their area, get an emergency kit, and have a plan for what to do if a disaster should strike.  Despite those commonly-used messages, there’s one thing I wish we encouraged people to do more – practice.  Practicing your emergency plan makes you comfortable with it. And it also makes it much more likely that during an emergency, you will actually use the plan you drew up and practiced ahead of time. 

Practicing can have an impact on your own safety, too – which is why FEMA was encouraging participation in the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill that happened earlier today. Thousands of organizations and millions of people around the U.S. participated in the drill and practiced how to stay safe should an earthquake strike their community.  They put the three steps of “Drop. Cover. Hold On.” into action whether they were at their office, school, or home.  

Even if you missed the ShakeOut drill this morning, you can practice earthquake safety at any time.  It’s as easy as finding a table or desk where you can practice:

Practicing these steps is a great starter for getting better prepared.  Earthquakes occur all year long across our country – in a lot of places you wouldn’t expect. And whether your community is vulnerable to quakes, blizzards, hurricanes, floods, or wildfires, I challenge you to take simple actions and raise your practice to the next level:

  • Know the resources in your home – if a disaster struck tomorrow, would you have enough supplies, water, and food to sustain you and your family for at least 72 hours?  If you’re answer is “probably not” then has some great tips on building your family’s emergency kit with items already around your home.
  • Know the resources in your community – do you know the emergency management resources in your neighborhood or city?  Where is the nearest hospital?  Is there a safe room or shelter where you could go in the event of an emergency?  If your answers are “I’m not sure”, then check out this list of emergency management agencies and start learning about the key resources available in your neighborhood.
  • Know how you would stay in touch with family and friends – if the power was out and phone lines were unavailable, do you know how you would communicate with loved ones to let them know your status?  This is a vital part of any family emergency plan – you can download a template of a family plan at so you can answer “yes” to this question.

Finally, I’d like to give a big “thank you” to the schools, businesses, government agencies and families who participated in today’s Great ShakeOut drill.  I hope it got you thinking about how to stay safe should an earthquake strike.  Leave me a comment below and let me know how the ShakeOut drill went for you, or how you plan on participating next year!

Workplace Preparedness and The Great ShakeOut Tomorrow

On August 23, 2011 a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck Louisa County, Virginia; the shaking from this seismic event was felt as far north as New England and as far south as Georgia.  At the time of the initial tremor, I was at FEMA HQ on C Street in Washington, D.C - ironically discussing the latest plans for National Preparedness month with my team.  As the building shook more violently, I thought, I need to get out of here. I fought the impulse to run outside. I dropped, covered, and held on, waiting until the shaking stopped, grabbed my kit and evacuated.

As Director of FEMA’s Individual Community Preparedness Division, I had concerns about the safety of my staff located in our offices a mile away. Did they take the right protective action?  Was anyone hurt?  I immediately reached for my Blackberry to begin our emergency call down procedures.  Weak signal.  What now?  I sent a text message to my Deputy and awaited a response.

I tried to calm myself, having no doubts they knew exactly what to do.  However, it was my responsibility to try to ensure staff was safe. 

Only minutes later my Deputy responded that all my staff was safely gathered in our designated location. This was a reminder that practicing emergency plans really does save lives.  The next day I discussed the event with my team.  We told stories about where we were and what we did during the quake.  Some said it was a compelling experience to be on the other side of the whole ordeal. Many did the right thing during the shaking by dropping to the ground, getting underneath a sturdy object, and covering their head; others did not.

As a team, it allowed us to identify our safety gaps and the importance of practicing what we preach. Best of all, the discussions helped change a stressful situation into a learning experience.  The lesson we all learned is that both practicing and preparedness are needed to help build a more resilient nation.

Earthquakes occur without warning and you never know if the initial jolt is the start of a larger quake or even stronger aftershocks. You may only have seconds to react, which is why it’s important to know what to do when the shaking starts…and stops!

We can’t prevent earthquakes or other natural disasters from occurring, but we can take important steps to prepare for these events. We need to make sure if another quake were to strike, the response of those impacted would be timely and appropriate. Tomorrow, October 18, at 10:18 a.m. marks the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill and I encourage everyone to join. Participate with more than 14 million individuals, schools, businesses, government agencies, and other organizations across the United States who will be taking part in the event. This drill is designed to encourage individuals to get prepared in their community, increase awareness on what to do in a disaster, and promote evaluation of emergency plans. 

Take 90 seconds tomorrow to ensure if there is a future earthquake, you know the proper protective action to stay safe.

The drill consists of practicing these three simple steps:

  • DROP to the ground,
  • Take COVER by getting under a sturdy desk or table, and
  • HOLD ON to it until the shaking stops.

If you haven’t already signed up, it is not too late! Register for the ShakeOut and participate tomorrow. Also, make sure you that you visit for important earthquake preparedness tips that can help protect yourself and your loved ones in the event of an earthquake.


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