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We Must Be Prepared. Even for Earthquakes.

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We have hurricanes in North Carolina. We have tornados, floods, ice storms and an occasional four-inch snowfall that’ll have our streets closed for days and our Northern transplants aghast and confused by the empty bread and water shelves in grocery stores. But we don’t have earthquakes. That is to say, we didn’t have earthquakes until we actually did on August 23, 2011.

I was sitting at my desk on campus at North Carolina Central University working out latest training manual for MGT 405 Mobilizing Faith-based Communities in Preparing for Disaster, when my tin of mini Altoids jiggled and fell to the floor. It was an oddly familiar scene, I mean, I’d seen something like it a dozen times in the movies. The tea cup rattles. Books fall from the shelves. The ground opens up and waterlines burst in rooster-tails of mist spraying panicked drivers.

This wasn’t that kind of earthquake. The tea cup shook, but that was the extent of the damage; nevertheless, that barely-there earthquake provided me and my colleagues with one of the strangest and strangely horrifying sensations we’d ever experienced. It was certainly disconcerting in the moment to feel the building move beneath us, but perhaps even more so, because until that moment, an earthquake was simply as far off the radar as a meteor strike – it was simply unimaginable.

Our institute is in the business of helping first responders prepare for natural disasters and we often challenge participants in our courses to understand the risks to their communities and plan for them using an all-hazards approach. But it took an earthquake in Durham, North Carolina for us to truly have a sense of the spectrum of possibilities. There’s a dorm across from my office where 500 students live. It’s an old dorm. And there’s a facilities plant and chemistry labs where students and staff and faculty work with volatile chemicals and compounds just around the corner. We have an emergency plan, but like most universities and towns and cities and counties, is it enough?

NCCU will participate in the Great Southeast Shakeout on October 18th not only because we feel we need to be prepared in case another earthquake hits, but because if not an earthquake, there will be something else. In the months since the earthquake the university has developed a campus CERT team and engaged in all-campus emergency training. The Shakeout exercise will take place in our university’s emergency management courses for undergraduates, introducing them to concepts and best practices that will help make them our future leaders and our communities safer.

Finally, our institute continues to train emergency managers and faith-based community organization leaders through our MGT 405 course that is available through the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium.  In order to train the whole community, we must engage all sectors of the community in order to mobilize our citizens. Our whole community truly needs to be prepared for every possibility – even when, as we’d always thought of earthquakes, those possibilities seem impossible.

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ShakeOut and my school

Editor’s note: the following is posted by Gabriela Rodriguez, a member of FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Council from Puerto Rico. She shares how her school is involved in the ShakeOut earthquake drill coming up Oct. 18, as well as the steps it has taken to prepare for earthquakes. Learn more about the ShakeOut drill at ShakeOut.org.

There are many reasons why I decided to participate, along with my school, in the ShakeOut.  As the youth representative in my region, (FEMA Region II) I’m always seeking for new opportunities to advise friends and neighbors on emergency preparedness, and this seemed like an excellent way to do so. Through the ShakeOut, we can practice and verify our evacuation plans, and if we did not have one, the drill provides a reason to develop it.

Our REACT group has modified the existing plan at the school, along with the directors, as we had some challenges with the more distant areas or closed air conditioned rooms. We established a sequenced sound system with bells as part of the evacuation and we are completing the final details to have a good activity that may remain permanently in our school.

My school holds regular drills and constantly strives to be better prepared. That also encouraged me to register, because we always have the unconditional support of our directors.

Thank you,

Gabriela Rodríguez 

FEMA Region II Youth Preparedness Council representative

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Posted on Wed, 10/17/2012 - 13:53

North Carolinians Get Ready to Drop, Cover and Hold On

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Many of us in North Carolina felt shaking last year after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck Mineral, Virginia.  We all learned that day that you don’t have to live on the West Coast to experience an earthquake.

It’s equally important for our part of the country to be prepared for earthquakes because it only takes one to cause serious, even catastrophic, damage.   That’s why Governor Bev Perdue recently proclaimed this Thursday, October 18, as Earthquake Preparedness Day, and North Carolinians will be among the nearly 1.5 million participating in the Great Southeast ShakeOut earthquake drill at 10:18 a.m. that morning. 

While the drill includes simple steps—drop, cover and hold on—they are critical during a real earthquake.  Even minor earthquakes can cause objects and debris to fall and these steps can help us avoid serious injuries. 

We also have to remember that we may not be anywhere close to home when an earthquake strikes.  Many of us travel to more earthquake prone areas while we’re vacationing, visiting friends and family, or taking business trips. Preparing for hazards that exist where you’re visiting is just as important as preparing for hazards that exist at home.

We can’t predict when the next earthquake will strike, but drills like the Great Southeast ShakeOut will help us get ready. We should all practice the steps now so we’ll know how to react if the ground starts shaking. Please join me and sign up to participate at www.shakeout.org/southeast.

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“Go One Step Further” and the Great ShakeOut

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Editor's Note: The views expressed by Bob Boyd do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

Agility, while obviously an organization focused on disaster preparedness and recovery, is also a collection of individuals who share a common desire to help.

We earn a living providing critical post disaster assistance to our members across the continent, but in addition, our leadership has answered a calling to offer assistance to people and organizations who are working to increase their own resilience through whatever means possible.  The Great Southeastern ShakeOut is an event we have adopted as not only a reason to practice a critical emergency plan, but we also hope to use this event as a reminder to “go one step further.”  Practicing the “Drop, Cover & Hold On” action is the first step, but then what happens after?  Surely communications, safe evacuation and treating the injured are all immediate concerns following an emergency like this.

Agility and the Small Business Administration have partnered to provide a free Earthquake Preparedness Checklist, available at www.PrepareMyBusiness.org.  We encourage everyone to take some of the steps on this checklist and practice them as part of the ShakeOut event.  For example,

  • Updating phone lists and contact information for employees,
  • Testing an alert notification system,
  • Restocking supplies in the office first aid kit, and
  • Checking the status of fire extinguishers and ensuring employees know where they are located.

How Agility is “Shaking Out”

Agility sent emails to its customers in the Southeast inviting them to register for the Southeast ShakeOut, and offered the Earthquake Preparedness Checklists as a useful way to “go one step further.”

Additionally, Agility’s own offices and staff will be participating at 10:18 a.m., Oct. 18 by practicing the “Drop, Cover, Hold On” action, followed by a building evacuation drill.  Afterwards, Agility leadership will test our alert notification system and provide instructions to employees and stakeholders for what to do after the event.  Prior to the Oct. 18 event, our HR department will perform a full evaluation of the accuracy of critical contact information on file for employees.  They will send emails to all employees reminding them to involve their own families in the drill by reviewing family plans at home and checking emergency kit supplies or building a kit.

The ShakeOut events provide an excellent opportunity to build a culture of preparedness within any group or organization.  It only takes a few minutes to register and participate in the ShakeOut.  But we encourage everyone to take it one step further and incorporate other steps into your drill that can enhance your preparedness.

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What We're Watching: 10/12/12

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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.

Tropical Activity in Atlantic

We continue to monitor Tropical Storm Patty which has strengthened in the Atlantic east of the Bahamas. According to the National Weather Service, the storm is expected to be short-lived and weaken over the weekend. There are currently no watches or warnings in effect.

We are also continuing to monitor an area of interest over the Eastern Caribbean Sea about 100 miles west of Dominica. Currently, this storm has an 80% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours.

We will continue to monitor both storms and provide updates as needed. Visit www.hurricanes.gov for the latest advisories and updates on these storms.

Fire Prevention Week

As Fire Prevention Week comes to a close, we want to thank everyone who shared fire prevention and safety tips, information and resources with their family, friends, neighbors and community.  It’s important for everyone in your family to be prepared in the event of a fire.  

In case you missed it, here are some important steps you can take to make sure your home and family are ready for an emergency:

  • Prepare and practice your fire escape plan twice a year with everyone in your household, including children and people with disabilities.
  • Draw a map of each level of your home and show all doors and windows.
  • Find two ways to get out of each room. Make sure all doors and windows that lead outside open easily.
  • Only purchase collapsible escape ladders evaluated by a recognized testing laboratory. Use the ladder only in a real emergency.
  • Teach children how to escape on their own in case you cannot help them.
  • Have a plan for everyone in your home who has a disability.
  • Practice your fire escape plan at night and during the daytime.

Visit www.usfa.fema.gov to learn more about preventing home fires and keep your family safe from a fire.

Are You Ready to “ShakeOut”

Next Thursday, October 18 at 10:18 a.m., join millions of people across the nation and Drop, Cover, and Hold On for The Great ShakeOut.  The Shakeout is the biggest earthquake drill in the U.S. and it’s a great way for your family or organization to practice what to do if an earthquake strikes. 

Already, there are over 12.9 million people registered to participate. So don’t miss this opportunity to make sure you and your family are prepared for an emergency.  We hope you’ll join us in this chance to “ShakeOut” for earthquake preparedness.

Visit www.shakeout.org to sign up to participate.

Have a wonderful and safe weekend!

South Carolina’s Faults due for a ShakeOut

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The earthquake threat that exists in South Carolina typically doesn’t get much attention as say, a hurricane, a tornado or even an ice storm potential.  Many living in the Palmetto State aren’t aware that the epicenter of the largest earthquake ever recorded on the eastern seaboard was near Charleston, S.C. on August 31, 1886.  This magnitude 7.3 earthquake resulted in 60 deaths, 90 percent of all buildings in the Charleston area were destroyed and property damage was estimated at $5-$6 million in the period’s currency. 

The 1886 quake was felt over 2.5 million square miles from Chicago to Cuba.  The South Carolina Emergency Management Division estimates an earthquake of similar magnitude occurring today would result in hundreds of fatalities; the damage to infrastructure and the economy would be spread over many states for many years afterwards. 

It’s important for communities that may not be as susceptible to frequent earthquakes to be aware that it’s still a risk they should prepare for.  Even though South Carolina hasn’t experienced an earthquake of such severity since the 1886 Charleston event, we experience 10-30 measurable tremors a year, with 5-6 on average physically felt.  That’s why as part of the South Carolina’s annual Earthquake Awareness Week, more than 213,000 people from the state are participating in the Great Southeast ShakeOut.  For example, an elementary school will be visiting the South Carolina State Museum on Thursday, visiting an exhibit on the 1886 earthquake and also participating in the drill at 10:18 a.m. Additionally, South Carolina Emergency Management Division is holding an earthquake preparedness table top earthquake exercise with several county emergency management agencies near the South Carolina-Georgia border.

Planning for this drill has given state emergency management communities an opportunity to have a little fun while conducting a disaster preparedness campaign.  Through the development of Public Service Announcements, promoting social media pages, hosting chats and getting out in the communities, public information teams from the Nation’s Capital to Savannah and everywhere in between have been creative and enthusiastic about the Great Southeast ShakeOut- a testament to how dedicated our emergency management community is to making sure the people we serve have the information they need to make decisions about their personal safety. 

We’ve been able to discuss the differences between the Richter and Mercali scales, to explain why some companies don’t offer earthquake insurance and to encourage people to take this opportunity to understand the types of emergencies their communities are most vulnerable to and take steps to prepare for them; all through multiple platforms, traditional and new.  Plus, in states where college football reigns supreme, it’s been a friendly competition to see which state gets the most participants to practice “Drop, Cover and Hold On” at 10:18, on 10/18. I hope you’ll sign up to participate, too.

Editor's note: Derrec Becker is a Public Information Officer with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division and can be reached at dbecker@emd.sc.gov and via social media @SCEMD.

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Fire Prevention Week – Remembering The Great Chicago Fire

Fire Prevention Week - October 7-13 - is a time to reflect on the bravery of our local firefighters who risk, and sometimes sacrifice, their lives to save others.  It is also a time to make sure you and your family have an emergency plan and know the steps to take if confronted by a fire or other emergency. 

Before joining the FEMA team, I was the Director of the state of Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Executive Director for the city of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management.  I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of fires.  That is why FEMA Region V has joined with the city of Chicago Fire Commissioner, Jose Santiago, to provide some important information you need to know about fires. 

Today, there are drought conditions in many parts of the United States.  Chicago was also experiencing a similar situation during a very dry summer in 1871. The ground, wooden buildings and vegetation was extremely parched and left the city in a vulnerable state.  On October 8, 1871, a fire broke out in the barn area of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary’s home on the west side of the Chicago River.  The exact cause of the fire remains undetermined, but regardless of the cause, the fire continued to blaze for two-days devastating our great city.   Exhausted firefighters were assisted on October 10, when much needed rain helped to extinguish the fire.  

While the story of the Great Chicago Fire is one of the major events in our city’s history, fires are devastating events to individuals, families and businesses.  Today, most people have very busy lives, but sitting down with your family for 20 minutes to talk about your fire escape plan, like U.S. Fire Administrator Ernie Mitchell said last week, can have a dramatic impact on your family safely exiting your home during a fire.  As you discuss fire safety with your family, remember the different needs you may have. For example, do you have pets?  Are there people with disabilities in your home or business?  What is the best route for evacuation?  Fires can rage out of control and become deadly in seconds.  So planning now can save lives. And remember to practice your plan at least twice a year.

Take a moment to visit www.usfa.fema.gov to learn more about how you can prevent fires and keep your family safe.

What We're Watching: 10/5/12

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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.

Fire Prevention Week

Sunday, October 7 marks the kickoff to National Fire Prevention Week. All week long, we’ll be sharing important fire prevention tips, information and resources to help get you and your family prepared in the event of a fire. In case you missed it, here’s a link to a blog post from U.S. Fire Administrator Ernie Mitchell, encouraging everyone to participate in Fire Prevention Week and stressing the importance of having two ways out of your home in the event of a fire.  

We’re asking everyone to do two simple things:

  • Practice your fire escape plan at home, school, or the office - Walk through each room and identify two ways out, checking to make sure the smoke alarms work in each room. Also, make sure you pick a designated meeting spot outside your home, school, or office that everyone will meet at, in the event of a fire.  
  • Say “Thank You” to your local fire department - The men and women in the fire service risk their lives, sometimes on a daily basis, to protect us. Take a moment to thank them for their dedication and continued service.

Visit Ready.gov or the USFA website for more information and safety tips on preparing for a fire.

Upcoming Events

  • The Great ShakeOut – Join millions of people and register to participate in the Great ShakeOut.  On October 18 at 10:18 am Drop, Cover, and Hold On for the biggest earthquake drill in the U.S. Last year more than 12.5 million people were registered in ShakeOut drills worldwide. Participating is a great way for your family or organization to be prepared to survive and recover quickly from big earthquakes.
  • October Think Tank Call – Join Deputy Administrator Serino on October 30, 2012 at 3:15 p.m. EDT to look back on a year of Think Tank calls and how these conversations have inspired you to make an impact in emergency management.  The topic of the call is Looking Forward, Looking Back—FEMA Think Tank 2.0 and will focus the solutions that have been implemented in local communities, as well as discussing the future of FEMA Think Tank and how we can keep the momentum going.

Before the call in a few weeks, we are inviting you to submit a short narrative on our online forum about a project or solution that you’ve implemented from previous FEMA Think Tank calls.  We will select 2-3 innovative emergency management projects – either final or still in development – to highlight on the October call.

Stories Worth Sharing

Lastly, we wanted to share two stories about preparedness that caught our attention:

  • The Dallas chapter of the American Red Cross posted about a blog sharing ways parents can comfort children during disasters.  The blog emphasizes how important it is for parents to be there to support their children during and after a disaster. A strong support system goes a long way for children after a tragic event.
  • An article on Real Simple discussed the best foods for your emergency kit – things that don’t require refrigeration, are easy to prep, and pack nutritional value.  (We're providing these links for reference only. FEMA does not endorse any non-government websites or companies.)

Have a safe weekend.

How to get involved with this year’s Fire Prevention Week

I have a challenge for you.  Wherever you’re reading this blog post, look around the room you’re in. Do you know two ways that you could safely exit the room in the event of a fire? 

Sunday marks the beginning of Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 7-13), and the fire service, teachers, and others in your communities across the U.S. will be sharing fire safety tips, with a focus on the importance of knowing how to safely evacuate your home, school, or office during a fire.  We’ll be using the slogan “Have Two Ways Out”, which is a key ingredient in knowing the fire escape plan for wherever you are.

Since I started in the fire service over 40 years ago, I’ve talked with hundreds of people that have been affected by fires in some way. Before I get into how you can get involved with this year’s Fire Prevention Week, I wanted to share two quick points that I’ve learned through these conversations, specifically related to this year’s theme for Fire Prevention Week.

First, practicing your fire escape plan can save the life of someone you love.  A fire can take your possessions, but it doesn’t have to take your life, or the life of a loved one.  Twenty minutes – that’s how long it took my family to have our fire drill at home.  I make fire safety a priority in my home because I’ve seen the tragic results of families and individuals not being able to safely get out of their homes when there was a fire.  In addition, I have heard many stories from people who said they were able to escape during a fire because they had practiced and understood the fire escape plan.

Secondly, making fire safety a “family affair” leads to results.  Over the years many parents told me that their children had learned about fire drills either from visits to the fire department or from fire fighters coming to their school.  As a result, kids were excited about having a family fire drill and practicing getting out of your home safely.  Children can be great agents of change within their households – especially when they’re inspired by a role model like a local firefighter.  So I encourage you to make practicing your fire escape plan a fun activity for your family, and there are a few ways that the U.S. Fire Administration can help with that: 

  • This video, which outlines the key reminders for home fire safety:

Now, how can you get involved in Fire Prevention Week?  Simple.  I’m asking everyone to do two simple things this week:

  1. Practice your fire escape plan at home, school, or the office.  Walk through each room and identify two ways out, being mindful that the smoke alarms work in each room as well.  And make sure you decide on a safe meeting spot outside in the event of a fire.  If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at the resources listed above – they can help you get the ball rolling.
  2. Say “Thank You” to your local fire department.  The men and women in the fire service risk their lives, sometimes on a daily basis, to protect lives and property.  I know from experience that getting a “thank you” card or visit from someone in the community can energize and stick with the department for a long time.

I hope that you will take my fire drill challenge. It takes just a little bit of time to make such a huge difference in the safety of your loved ones. Remember, “Have Two Ways Out!"

Useful Links
- For more information about fire preparedness, visit Ready.gov/fires
- For more about the U.S. Fire Administration, visit usfa.fema.gov.

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Capturing the Moment and Kicking off FEMA Corps

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to meet the second group of the inaugural class of FEMA Corps during their induction ceremony in Vinton, Iowa.  Soon, this group will join their fellow FEMA Corps inductees in regional offices and joint field offices around the country.  Similar to the induction ceremony in Vicksburg, I couldn’t help but come away from this ceremony energized, knowing this group of young people is sharply focused on making a difference in their world – particularly in the lives of disaster survivors.

For those that don’t know, FEMA Corps is a program that establishes a service cadre of 18-24 year olds dedicated to disaster response and recovery.  The graduates of the program 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 Corps sets the foundation for a new generation of emergency managers – promoting civic engagement, community service, and teamwork – all while strengthening the nation’s disaster response by supplementing FEMA’s existing Reservist workforce.

The program was created through a partnership between FEMA and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Amelia Rubin, one of the new inductees, addressed her peers at last week’s induction ceremony, highlighting the limitless potential of the young people blazing a trail in the newly formed FEMA Corps program.  

Vinton, Iowa, Sep. 28, 2012 -- I stopped for a photo with Amelia Rubin, who provided an inspiring speech at the induction ceremony of the inaugural FEMA Corps class from Vinton, Iowa.

I stopped for a photo with Amelia Rubin, who provided an inspiring speech at the induction ceremony of the inaugural FEMA Corps class from Vinton, Iowa.

Amelia’s speech is worth sharing as her words echo the enthusiasm and optimism I saw in every one of our newly inducted FEMA Corps members. I hope that reading it through this blog post will transmit the same level of energy felt by those in the room.  Here is Amelia’s speech:

Good evening distinguished guests, team leaders, family, friends, and fellow corps members. As you know we are celebrating a new collaboration and our first FEMA-Corps class! We are pioneers!  According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, a pioneer is: a person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development.

As pioneers forging the road ahead in the new partnership between FEMA and the Corporation for National and Community Service, we have a very special responsibility, gift, and challenge. It is a scary gift, but we have to have faith; in ourselves, our team and unit leaders, and our mission.

To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.”

We have the privilege of helping to create our staircase, the challenge of having and keeping the faith when we can’t see the next stair, and the responsibility to keep walking until we’ve reached the end. We’ve been working so hard these last four weeks, so walking up this staircase is a well-earned challenge that we are totally capable of, we just have to keep a positive mental attitude.

Our attitude will influence not only our time here as a group, but the work we do for the communities we are sent to, and the people from those communities whom we hope to help during their times of need. A quote I really like from Grandma Moses is “Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.”

Grandma Moses was a farm wife in the late 1800s and is cited as an example of someone who has discovered her passion (which for her was painting American folk art) at a late age and decided to pursue it anyway. We have the opportunity to pursue our passion right now! I mean, that passion, burning as a small flame in our chests, is what led us here in the first place. Once we all got to campus and started our training, those little flames came together to create a raging wildfire. During our training, we have learned how to control that fire and use it to create change and help new things grow.

Even though we have been given informative, thorough training by both National Civilian Community Corps staff members and FEMA representatives, being the first anything can be a mystery.  Neil Armstrong said, “Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand.” We as class 19 are embracing the wonder and desire to understand and coupling that with our shared ambitions to make a difference in the world we live. I can’t think of a more powerful force than this. So, also in the words of Neil Armstrong, let me say to you, NCCC Class 19 and first FEMA-Corps class of the North/central Region, let’s make sure that even though “This is one small step for [us]…” it will be “one giant leap for mankind.”

Great job, Amelia!  As evidence Amelia’s speech, the FEMA Corps members are excited and energized to become part of the FEMA team.

Congratulations to all the new members of our inaugural FEMA Corps class!  To learn more about the FEMA Corps program and how to get involved, visit fema.gov/fema-corps.

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