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Forkston Township, Pennsylvania Gets its Bridge Back


A bridge is one of those things that can so easily be taken for granted. Even one that we may rely on to cut our day-to-day work commute in half, or allows us more frequent trips to the grocery store, after a while, can seem like an assumed part of life. But when these critical conduits are lost, as was the case when Hurricane Irene devastated parts of Forkston, a township near the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, the significance of these vital crossings is more fully realized.          

Recovery from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee is still in process here in Pennsylvania, where residents of Forkston just learned that FEMA has approved nearly $7 million in federal Public Assistance funding for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to reconstruct a bridge and nearby roadside that was at the heart of the community until Irene devastated it in late August 2011.

Few of us will soon forget how, even two weeks after Irene, many Forkston residents could not get to their homes because the bridge was gone. What’s more, some residents who were at home when Irene hit were stranded, cut off from critical resources. Some of the trapped residents made dramatic efforts to cross the Mahoopany Creek so they could access food and other necessary items. At one point, individuals even used ropes to inch across the water. They strung two ropes across the creek at different levels and shimmied, placing their feet on the lower rope while gripping the higher rope with their hands. Two of those ropes are visible in this photo (below) of people walking along what was left of Windy Valley Road along Mahoopany Creek.    

residents look over damaged bridge

CAPTION: The remains of Windy Valley Road, along the Mehoopany Creek in Forkston after Hurricane Irene. Stranded residents extended two ropes across the creek at different levels to shimmy across the creek for supplies. Photo by Jake Danna Stevens (Photo courtesy of the Scranton Times Tribune)

A gravel crossing was installed to pinch-hit as a means of passage until a more substantial structure could be built. But two days later, Tropical Storm Lee hit. High velocity floodwaters, fueled by a swollen Susquehanna River, washed the hardscrabble expanse away.

temporary gravel bridge

CAPTION: PennDot installed a rough-hewn gravel crossing over Mahoopany Creek on State Route 3001 in Forkston Township, Pa. after Hurricane Irene destroyed the original bridge that stood there. Two days later, Tropical Storm Lee washed it out. Photo by FEMA/Liz Roll

In December 2011, $2.4 million in federal funding was obligated to PennDOT to restore the bridge in its original location on State Route 3001. The project included removal of the collapsed bridge and placement of a temporary “Acrow Panel Bridge” in the vacant spot. Commonwealth-owned asphalt road, guiderails, shoulder and road embankments were also included in the project.

temporary bridge in forkston

CAPTION: A temporary bridge now stands over Mahoopany Creek on State Route 3001 in Forkston Township, Pa. Nearly $7 million in federal PA funding was approved in December to replace the temporary bridge with a permanent structure. Photo by FEMA/William Lindsey, Jr. 

The temporary bridge was a significant improvement, but in mid-December, FEMA approved $6,924,799 for the Commonwealth to reconstruct the bridge and to rebuild portions of surrounding Windy Valley Road.

FEMA’s share is 75 percent of the total $9,233,065 estimated cost of the reconstruction project.  The remaining 25 percent share of the cost will be paid by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

This kind of project is made possible through FEMA’s Public Assistance program, with close coordination among our state and local counterparts.  FEMA manages the program, approves grants and provides technical assistance to the Commonwealth and applicants. The Commonwealth educates potential applicants, works with FEMA to manage the program and is responsible for implementing and monitoring the grants awarded under the program. Local officials are responsible for identifying damage, providing information necessary for FEMA to approve grants and managing each project funded under the program.

Through Public Assistance, FEMA is able to better the lives of those impacted by disasters like Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. An informative list of Frequently Asked Questions about the program, which is an interesting process, is posted on  I look forward to continuing to help Pennsylvania recover from these storms and sharing more stories like these in the future.

What We’re Watching 12/21/12


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.

Winter weather

Today officially marks the beginning of winter, but cold, snowy, and icy conditions have already been felt by millions around the U.S.  Across much of the Midwest, a winter storm is bringing snow and ice that may cause headaches for those taveling over the weekend for the holidays.  As the map below from the National Weather Service shows, there are a lot of winter weather watches and warnings across the country, so make sure you keep up with your local forecast at or on your phone.

And if you’re looking for ways you can stay safe before, during, and after winter storms, visit on your computer or mobile phone.

weather map

CAPTION: Map from the U.S. National Weather Service showing current severe weather advisories, watches, and warnings. This map is automatically updated by the National Weather Service.  

Safe Holiday Travel

As it is every year, holiday travelers will inevitably take to the skies, railroads, and roads to visit with loved ones this weekend and next week.  So here are some holiday travel tips to keep in mind, no matter your mode of transportation:

If you’re taking to the friendly skies:

  • When getting to the airport, unanticipated heavy traffic, road construction, and road closures can put a severe kink in your plan. Give yourself enough time to arrive at the airport early - there may be a longer wait than usual for the holidays.
  • Make a choice to not feel rushed while at the airport. Families and individuals traveling with medically necessary liquids this holiday season will be able to take advantage of TSA’s popular family lanes. Designed to let families take their time and ask questions without feeling rushed.
  • In this TSA blog post, they cover lots of holiday travel reminders and provide great tips for traveling this holiday season, including what to expect with wrapped packages; whether or not pies are allowed (along with this important note: additional screening of pies does not include TSA officers tasting the pie, no matter what they tell you… AND if you want to bring a live turkey, you might want to have a word with the airline first); and information on the type of razors that are allowed and how to pack makeup.

If you’re traveling by train:

  • Have a personal emergency kit in your bags that includes items such as a small first aid kit, bottled water, snacks, medication, cell phone charger, and a flashlight.
  • Bring activities to keep yourself and family entertained during the trip.

And for those of you who are hitting the open road:

  • Mother nature has a way of closing down and clogging the roads during severe weather. So besides the holiday gifts and goodies you transport this holiday season, be sure to have an emergency kit in your car with water and food, prescription medicines, blankets, and items unique to your family.
  • Plan your trip ahead of time - whether you’re using a GPS system or a traditional map, plan your travel route in advance, and let friends and family know the route and your anticipated time of arrival.
  • Cut down on the number of times you hear “Are we there yet?” Bring activities, games, and books to keep the little ones entertained so you can focus on arriving at your destination safely.

No matter how you are traveling, stay up to date on the latest local forecast at or  For more information from TSA on your phone, download the TSA App for iPhone and visit

Have a great, safe weekend!

FEMA Corps, Expanding Opportunities for Young Adults

Last August FEMA rolled out a program with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) called FEMA Corps.  It’s made up of young people between the ages of 18-24, many of whom are interested in a career in emergency management. As part of our response to Hurricane Sandy, we deployed members of FEMA Corps to assist with our operation.  In the story below, 22-year-old Elizabeth McSherry shares her experience working in New York.

New York, N.Y., Dec. 1, 2012 -- Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, right, talks to FEMA Corps members aboard the Training Ship Empire State VI, docked on the East River at the foot of the Throgs Neck Bridge. The ship has provided accommodations for volunteers from FEMA Corps and Federal Surge groups who have come to assist in the recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy.

New York, N.Y., Dec. 1, 2012 -- Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, right, talks to FEMA Corps members aboard the Training Ship Empire State VI, docked on the East River at the foot of the Throgs Neck Bridge. The ship has provided accommodations for volunteers from FEMA Corps and Federal Surge groups who have come to assist in the recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy.

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to live a different experience than most. My parents were treasure hunters and I spent a majority of my childhood on their boat traveling in the Bahamas. Looking back, I almost feel as if I took those years a bit for granted; I never would have thought that the very boat I grew up on would be lifted and dropped in someone else’s yard. But when Hurricane George came through in 1998, that’s what happened. Little did I know, 14 years later, I would be on the other side of disaster recovery.

My FEMA Corps journey began in Vicksburg, Mississippi and Anniston, Alabama, where I completed my training for Americorps and FEMA, respectively. From there, my team and I were deployed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to support the Hurricane Isaac response.

In Baton Rouge, my assignment was to make a series of courtesy calls to let survivors know we were actively working to find resources for them. After dialing page after page of phone numbers, I ended up speaking with an older lady who suffered extensive damages as a result the storm. I was incredibly nervous that she would be frustrated, but rather than an angry tone on the other end of the line, a voice came through that was so appreciative to even hear someone was still working to help her. A simple phone call can make a difference.

Lincroft, N.J., Nov. 29, 2012 -- FEMA Corps members have been deployed in every department to support the recovery effort during Hurricane Sandy.

Lincroft, N.J., Nov. 29, 2012 -- FEMA Corps members have been deployed in every department to support the recovery effort during Hurricane Sandy.

In New York, on the Hurricane Sandy response, I continue to come across inspiring people. As an anthropology major, I love culture and I'm particularly enthralled with the diversity you find in New York. In the Rockaways, where I’ve spent most of my time, I’ve met people from all different geographic, economic, professional and religious backgrounds. Just by walking through the streets and knocking on their doors, I’ve become so much more aware of the incredible culture here in New York. And the way the different communities unite together as a city is unbelievable.

During my first few days, we were assigned to canvass neighborhoods in Broad Channel in Rockaway. We ran into a few survivors that told us about a man who lived nearby in a wheelchair. Upon reaching his house, we were shocked to find that not only was he safe and in good health, he had in fact been providing food, water and beds to his neighbors who had lost everything. Despite his own home being severely flooded and damaged, the fact that this man, clearly undeterred by his limited mobility, opened his own home so unselfishly and without any hesitation rendered us all completely speechless.

In Breezy Point, again, I felt a strong sense of community. Many were appreciative to see us and relieved to have someone just to talk to. One man I came across was this big, tough guy who was venting about what he and others in the community had been through, but when asked if he had applied for assistance, he insisted he wasn’t interested. I think a sense of pride was what may have discouraged him. But later that day, when we went to work at one of the Disaster Recovery Centers, I saw that same gentleman waiting. Not only was he there to get information for himself, but he had a list names of people in the community he was looking into potential assistance for as well.

In the month and a half my team was in New York, the progress I witnessed was absolutely incredible. Although we all were frequently exhausted by the various assignments we had been given each day, it truly makes it all worth it when you can step back and realize that you’ve played even a small part in such a huge recovery effort.

Silver Linings and Silver Bells, Paying it Forward


Editor’s Note: FEMA does not endorse any non-government entities, organizations, or services.

The one silver lining of disasters is they can bring out the best in humanity. The world becomes connected – people in countries from across the oceans send food, money, blankets and other supplies. And neighbors help neighbors, paying it forward, and continuing to do so for as long as it takes. With the holidays approaching, the desire to pay it forward is even more heightened.

To me, nothing illustrates how kindness begets more kindness in times of crisis than the story of 87-year-old Patsy Roberts, someone who has been described as “the matriarch” of her block – a strong, faithful friend and neighbor in the Belle Harbor community of Rockaway. She never forgot the mailman’s birthday, passed by a tossed trashcan without returning it to its place, or hesitated to cook a meal for someone in need. She performed random acts of kindness as routinely as she walked along the beach each morning and went to church every Sunday.

After Hurricane Sandy, she was forced to leave her home of 50 years. Much of her personal property was destroyed, including thousands of cards she had saved over the years from friends and family. She told her daughter, Virginia, and son-in-law, Cristian, that she was saving them “to read when my time came to remember everyone I love.”


 N.Y., Nov. 4, 2012 -- Rockaway Sandy Survivor hugs her great grand niece Jasmine.

Patsy gave the family strength the night of the storm. “At first, she didn’t want to leave her home,” says Virginia. “But she agreed to come to our house, a few blocks away from the ocean.” At about 11:00 p.m., the Dobles home was surrounded by five feet of floodwater. “Telephone poles and cars were coursing through that water,” says Virginia. “I’m not being melodramatic when I say I have never been so scared in my life. My brother-in-law called and told us a fire was heading toward us. Then we saw flames leaping 13 feet high.”

When Virginia told her mother they would have to flee the house and go out into the water, she said, “Okay, if that’s what we have to do, we’ll do it.’”

“She went upstairs and put her slicker on – the one she’d wear for her morning walks – and was stoic,” says Virginia. “Living through WWII and the depression made her that way. Meanwhile, I was hysterical. But my mother’s calmness helped me.”

As Virginia’s husband was inflating trash bags to use as flotation devices, the family saw a black vehicle drive through the waters in front of their home. “It was like a mirage,” she says. “Eight guys with a raft on top…they yelled to us, ‘Stay in your home. The wind has shifted!”

The fire did indeed turn in the other direction. “I don’t know who they were, but they saved our lives,” says Virginia.

The family is now waiting to hear how much Patsy’s flood insurance will cover before making plans to repair and move back in to her lifelong home. In the meantime, her son-in-law, Cristian, who calls each card she’s sent to people over the years a “little prayer,” initiated a letter writing campaign in the media for her.  So far, she’s received more than 1,500 cards.

“It’s wonderful,” says Virginia. “She was a very active woman and now she can’t really go out because of the damage and the air quality. These cards are therapy for her.”

 New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- Hurricane Sandy Survivor Patsy Roberts, in her daughter's guest room with the hundreds of letters she received from supportive friends, neighbors and strangers after she was displaced from her home in Belle Harbor in Rockaway, Queens.

It’s a good thing Virginia’s husband didn’t tell her ahead of time about his card campaign. “I’m kind of a Grinch,” she laughs. “I am so glad he didn’t tell me because I would have been like, ‘absolutely not!’ But this is the best thing for her. The outpouring of love and support is inspiring. And people are sharing personal details of their life, not just superficial things. They’re making a real connection. It restores your faith in the goodness of people.”

For those who are looking for ways of making a wonderful difference in a hurricane survivor’s life, here are some organizations that help Sandy survivors for the holidays as well as beyond:

  • Toys for Tots: This organization, run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, lost much of its inventory of toys in New York during the storm. 
  • Fashion Delivers: A non-profit organization which collects excess inventory from companies to distribute to those in need. This Saturday, Dec. 22, and Sunday, Dec. 23, the group is organizing free holiday shopping for Sandy survivors in Staten Island. Pre-registration with a FEMA number is required for admission. Staten Island residents who would like an invitation can contact Tony Navarino at Fashion Delivers’ partner agency Tunnel to Towers at 718-987-1931.  For more information visit
  • Believe in Belle Harbor: An organization founded by the Roberts family in partnership with Team Rubicon, a group of retired military veterans who volunteer their time to help at disaster sites For Team Rubicon:
  • Where to Turn: Organized a toy drive where families can pick out two toys per child at a former store located at 3948 Amboy Road in Great Kills, Staten Island, from noon to 7 p.m. until Christmas Eve. Families must show photo ID with proof of address as well as their FEMA number to qualify.
  • BrotherMelo: This youth program will be hosting families affected by Hurricane Sandy with a Holiday Party with donated toys, clothes and household supplies. Saturday, December 22 at the Community Center 110 West 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231, Red Hook, Brooklyn, from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information or volunteer opportunities, you can contact

A Commitment to Stay with New York, Its Hospitals and the Long Term Recovery


Ceiling panels missing. Wires dangling. Layers of dust. Floor tiles removed and concrete exposed. Five feet sections of walls cut from the ground up, and in some cases, completely removed. Flood lights and construction lights strung along corridors. The constant hum of fans.  Hard work. And determination.

These were all things that Mike Byrne and I witnessed on Friday after spending a few hours visiting with employees at Bellevue Hospital and Coney Island Hospital.  A few weeks ago I also visited NYU Hospital, and the reason for the visits – because I believe it’s important to get a firsthand look at the damage and hear directly from hospital staff about what they experienced, as well as what their thoughts and ideas are for moving forward.

It was important that Mike Byrne was with me on these visits. Not only is he a New Yorker, but he is also my point person in New York and is the one responsible for coordinating FEMA’s response and recovery efforts.  Our recovery effort is very personal to him.  Aside from his personal connection to New York, you should know he has worked on many recovery projects and is the right person for this job.

Before we walked around with staff at Bellevue Hospital and see the damage and recovery work, we had to put on yellow protective boots and wear face masks because the area was still being decontaminated and cleaned.  I saw the lower areas of the hospital where their equipment and mechanical systems are housed, which were completely inundated with saltwater and destroyed.  The orange paint on the wall indicated how high the water rose, a striking reminder even though the water is no longer visible.

At the Coney Island Hospital we saw the same items damaged – water pumps, electrical systems, computer networks – all of the things we need for our facilities to stay up and running.  When we walked around with staff, I was in a pump room that was completely filled with water, floor to ceiling.  The hospital shared that they are only handling urgent care walk-ins as they continue to get their hospital back to full working operations.

I made it a point to also thank the staff on the frontlines, and to thank them for all of the hard work they have done to get the doors to the hospital open again, because even if it’s incremental, it’s good for a community to see some services come back online.

It’s telling of the staff that serve their communities, because it’s their hard work and determination that has gotten them this far. What’s even more telling is that the staff are also storm survivors themselves, and they have their own personal recovery work to do, all the while they get the hospital back up and running.

I wanted to share some photos from both hospitals:


exploring hospital
CAPTION: New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- Bellevue Hospital Associate Executive Director of Facilities Management, Michael Rawlings, center, explains the damage incurred by Hurricane Sandy to Administrator Craig Fugate, left, and FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, right. Due to the continuing efforts of abatement, visitors are required to wear protective gear when going into areas where cleanup continues.

tour of the hospital

CAPTION: New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- Administrator Craig Fugate, left, and FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, right, get a tour of Bellevue Hospital in Manhatten, by Associate Executive Director of Facilities Management, Michael Rawlings, center. The orange line on the wall indicates how high the flood waters were after Hurricane Sandy. Due to due to the continuing efforts of abatement, visitors are required to wear a face mask and rubber boots.

Coney Island

inside hospital control room

CAPTION: New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, second from right, gets a tour of flood damaged areas of Coney Island Hospital by Director of Faciliites, Daniel Collins, right and Senior Vice President of Coney Island Hospital Arthur Wagner, second from right. FEMA officials and senior hospital staff joined the Administrator on the tour.

examining damaged floor

CAPTION: New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, center, listens to Senior Vice President of Coney Island Hospital Arthur Wagner second from left, along with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, second from right, during a tour of flood damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Flood waters damaged many of the operational components of the hospital.

inside damaged hospital

CAPTION: New York, N.Y., Dec. 14, 2012 -- Administrator Craig Fugate, right, along with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, left, get a tour of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy at the Coney Island Hospital. They were joined by hospital administration and were shown areas of the hospital impacted by Hurricane Sandy. This particular room has imaging equipment that was destroyed by the storm surge waters.

During my conversation with staff from both hospitals, I also discussed three items that I see as the way forward from Hurricane Sandy, which can be described as the now, the temporary and intermediate work, and the long term work and planning.

The first item, or the now, is helping the hospitals with the bills they have now, because of the extraordinary cost they have incurred from when the storm hit, up until this point.  We call these protective measures, and as part of the President’s major disaster declaration for counties in New York, we can reimburse them for their emergency work.

Building off of the first item, the second item is looking at how much temporary work can be done to get back to capacity, to get hospital units back up and running.  These are the intermediate steps, but it’s prioritizing and looking at the critical aspects of the hospital and the functions they need to serve their community – whether it’s a unit for trauma, psych or radiology.  These are not necessarily full term permanent solutions, but just like getting a clinic open, what’s next, and is there a function this hospital serves that other, surrounding hospitals don’t, meaning there is an even greater need.

And building off of the function theme, as the staff continue to think through long-term solutions, I encouraged them to look past just rebuilding and making changes based on the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  What I mean by that is, if we mitigate just against what occurred during Sandy, we’re not really mitigating against the worst case, because the next storm could be much worse.  I heard this from others, that after Hurricane Irene, they changed or improved their protection plans based on Hurricane Irene’s impact, but it didn’t help with Sandy because the storm surge was so more devastating then Irene.

This is what I mean, that all of us in the emergency management field need to do – we need to shift the way we’re thinking about making our communities stronger and better.   We can’t make them stronger and better just based off of the last storm, because next year or in 10 years, even if there’s one more foot of water then what we had with Sandy, then we’re back to the same problem – and what did we accomplish?

Mike Byrne has the right people on his team who know hospitals, and we’re going to get this done.  I don’t want missed opportunities and I want to get it right the first time, so I’ve told the team the mantra is speed, not haste.  The goal is to do it once, and then it’s done, and it’s done right.

The recovery work individuals, families, businesses, and hospitals have in front of them won’t happen overnight, the recovery will take time, but we’re not going anywhere.  Our commitment at FEMA is to stay with New York – and all of the impacted states for that matter – until the job is done.  FEMA staff (community relations specialists and registration assistance specialists) continue to work in the impacted neighborhoods to talk with survivors, and I know Mike is continuing to attend town hall meetings, so he can personally talk with survivors, because just like we talked firsthand with hospital staff, he likes to talk firsthand with survivors to have a conversation with them and answer their questions directly.

Secretary Donovan, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is tasked with working directly with communities as they come together, to map out what their new community looks like, and they aren’t going anywhere either.  Mike and the rest of the FEMA team in New York, in support of the State and affected communities, will continue to work closely with Secretary Donovan’s team.

Again, and I can’t say this enough – FEMA will stay with New York until the job is done.

What We’re Watching: 12/14/12


Sandy recovery continues

It’s been a month and a half since Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast, and the recovery effort continues at full speed.  Thousands of employees from FEMA and other federal agencies remain on the ground working to meet the needs of disaster survivors and offer assistance.  Here’s a quick look at how massive the recovery operation is: to date, over $1.09 billion in federal assistance has been approved for affected individuals and families across New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

For state-specific updates on Sandy recovery, visit:

Finally, here are a few photos from this week showing FEMA and our partners in action:

debris removal

CAPTION: Far Rockaway, N.Y., Dec. 12, 2012 -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is removing debris from Far Rockaway, Long Island beaches boardwalk. Using a fleet of front-end loaders, crawler excavators and dump trucks, the Army Corps is working block by block to clear debris and make way for new sand. Replenishing the beach falls under the New York Department of Parks and Recreation authority


CAPTION: Sea Bright, N.J., Dec. 12, 2012 -- Frank Bain (r), owner of Bain Hardware, is interviewed by Steve Zumwalt (l), FEMA Videographer on the opening day of his business. Bain's Hardware was damaged when the town was flooded when Hurricane Sandy swept through the area. The hardware store was one of the first business to re-open in Sea Bright, N.J.

disaster recovery center interview

CAPTION: New York City, N.Y., Dec. 11, 2012 -- Residents of the Borough of Brooklyn in New York City apply for assistance at FEMA's Red Hook Disaster Recovery Center.

Holiday gift ideas

Gift-giving is in the air this time of year as many people around the country are celebrating holiday traditions.  Over the past few weeks on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, we’ve been sharing ideas on gifts that will make your loved ones smile and be useful before, during, or after emergencies.  Gifts like:

  • An emergency kit for your car: Include windshield scraper, booster cables, hat & mittens, blanket, snack food & flares.
  • A solar-powered or hand-crank cell phone charger.
  • Enrollment in a CPR or first-aid class. You take the class as a couple or with the family!
  • Travel-size games to include in an emergency kit; that way kids are entertained if you lose power or need to evacuate.
  • A NOAA weather radio to ensure friends and family always have the latest on severe weather conditions in their area.
  • A sleeping bag or a warm blanket. They can prove especially useful if friends/family loses power during the cold winter months.

Visit for more holiday gift ideas.

Upcoming training

Finally, I wanted to share a few of the upcoming training classes being offered by FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.  Some courses are designed for anyone to take, while others are intended for professionals in specific areas such as emergency management, healthcare, or education.  Here are a few of the courses coming up:

  • For higher-education professionals – Integrating Emergency Management Education into your Institution
  • For emergency management professionals – Social Media in Emergency Management
  • For anyone interested – A Citizen’s Guide to Disaster Assistance

If you’re interested in more training courses you can take online at your own pace, check out our independent study course list.

Have a great weekend, and stay safe!

Holiday safety in my house

Each year Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season in my home.  As soon as the meal is over and we settle in for the football game, we begin to create our holiday to-do lists.  Because of my two grandsons, decorating our home has become a very special tradition. 

Whether sorting through yards of twinkling bulbs, hanging ornaments on the tree, lighting the menorah, or displaying the seven symbols of Kwanzaa, many citizens across the United States cherish this time of year.  Unfortunately, these traditions may also increase the chance of a fire in our homes.  Approximately 240 home fires occur each year because of Christmas trees and another 150 home fires occur due to holiday and other decorative lighting. There are a few things we do in my home to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a fire.

First, we make sure our real Christmas tree is fresh.  A fresh tree’s needles will bounce back when you touch the limb.  If they fall off, chances are the tree is already too dry.  The stump of the tree should be sticky with sap. We also make sure all other live greens are very fresh.

When you bring your tree home, make sure you water it regularly.  Check the water each day.  Then, make sure you don’t dry the tree out prematurely by placing it too close to a heat source like a vent or fireplace. 

As you unwind those yards of lights, make sure there aren’t any frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation or broken/cracked sockets.  In my family, we check the lights each year as we take them off the tree and discard the faulty ones.  If we have a doubt—out it goes.  We are careful not to link more than three light strands as is recommended by national testing organizations, and plug the end directly into a wall outlet or high quality power strip. 

Over the years I’m sure you accumulate those old decorations with sentimental value and special memories.  Unfortunately, they could be very dangerous and flammable.   The rule in my home is: use only nonflammable or flame retardant decorations or don’t use them at all.  And no matter how wonderful the tree looks in that special place in the room, we never block exits or the furniture with the tree —that has sparked some interesting home décor discussions over the years!

Candles are beautiful and make the house feel warm and inviting.  But, candles can definitely be dangerous.  Consider using battery-operated flameless candles in your decorations.  If you must use real candles, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be knocked over easily.  Never leave a room or go to bed with candles burning. The flameless candles coming out this year are really life-like.  And some operate on remote control—very convenient and safe!

As an example, here are some battery operated candles:

Photos of battery operated candles

Holiday fire safety does not have to be another big to-do on your growing holiday list.  Just follow a few safety tips while decorating and you will be giving your family one of the greatest gifts this year—safety!

For more information on ways to make your holidays safer, go to Holiday Fire Safety at the U.S. Fire Administration’s web site.  From everyone at the United States Fire Administration, let me wish you a happy and safe holiday season.

A Maverick Way of Staying Calm


When Jack Zenkel, 10, was in the hospital with a serious head injury six years ago, his mother, Michele, stood vigil. She was worried, but determined to remain hopeful. While Jack was resting in his hospital bed, a woman with a small, furry therapy dog entered his room. Upon seeing the dog, Jack’s face immediately lit up.  For the next few minutes, Jack petted and snuggled with the dog.  “I was amazed at the wonderful effect the dog had on my son. The dog made a huge difference,” says Michele.

As Jack’s condition began to improve in the hospital, Michele started thinking about the family’s golden retriever, Maverick, back at home. They had adopted him as a puppy and he had always had a gentle, patient disposition. Maverick had begun life as a trainee in the Guiding Eyes for the Blind guide dog school, but, “he didn’t finish,” says Michele. Maverick flinched during one of the tests so he was “released,” explains Michele. “They don’t like to say that a dog has been rejected.”

Although he wasn’t quite guide dog material, Maverick, was accepted by the Good Dog Foundation, a non-profit organization based in New York City dedicated to “dogs helping humans heal.” Good Dogs and their handlers regularly visit children and adults in hospitals, nursing homes, group homes, schools and libraries.

Within 48 hours of landfall of Hurricane Sandy, Michele traveled with Maverick from her home in Westchester County to the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in Long Beach, NY, where the storm had swept through the beach community. “Having a dog onsite not only helps reduce stress levels for some, but it’s great for the parents with kids who need to take care of paperwork,” says Michele.

therapy dog

This is especially true for those families who were displaced and whose pets are at shelters. When survivor Anna Park walked into the DRC one day in December, her two daughters ran squealing over to the gentle sandy-colored canine. The family’s home, a few blocks from the beach, had been inundated with water, waist-deep on the night of the storm. Anna grabbed her two daughters, Eliana, 6 and Jessica, 5, and their three Chihuahuas and escaped through the rushing water.

Because their first floor apartment had to be gutted, Anna and her children are staying with her mother nearby. But with no room for their dogs, the pets have been boarding at an animal shelter.

The young girls spent the next hour petting and chatting with Maverick, giving their mother much needed time to speak with disaster recovery officials. Park was receiving rental assistance from FEMA, but her job at the local library was recently cut from full-time to part-time. She is looking for a full-time position and a new place to live, and wanted to learn more about other assistance she might qualify for.

“You’re not like our puppies,” Eliana told Maverick. “They’re wild. My grandma won’t let them in the house.”

therapy dog

“We like you almost as much,” her sister Jessica added.

Maverick did not seem offended at all.

When it was time to leave, they hugged him, finding it hard to let go of the puppy who was released from guide dog school, but who still grew up to live a life of service. 

Emergency response training through a county administrator’s eyes

I am the County Administrator for a county approximately the size of Rhode Island.  With over 4,000 square miles, Lane County extends from the Pacific Ocean to the mountains, and includes dunes, wetlands, oceans, rivers, lakes, ski resorts, a large university, and a major north-south interstate.  The question of a large-scale disaster, man-made or natural, is not if it will occur, but when.

training student
CAPTION: Anniston, Ala., Oct. 25, 2012 -- Liane Richardson recently graduated the Technical Emergency Response Training for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive Incidents (TERT) course at FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Ala. The TERT course is multidisciplinary and a keystone training program at the CDP. TERT provides a foundation for all emergency responders, to include government officials. 

I recently had the opportunity to attend resident training at the CDP, in Anniston, Alabama. As a fairly new administrator, I am attempting to immerse myself into every aspect of the services we provide.  A large share of those services involves emergency response.  When I learned about the training opportunities at the CDP, I jumped at the chance to attend.

As County Administrator, I have specific roles related to the overall running of a full-service county.  However, I am also very interested in emergency management.  I am in charge of ensuring our county continues to operate during the worst disasters possible, while at the same time responds appropriately to the disaster itself.   The CDP training, without a doubt, makes a difference in the leadership decisions I make; whether in the office, or in an emergency management situation.

I recently attended the Technical Emergency Response Training (TERT) course. This training allowed me to experience first-hand what would be required should a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive (CBRNE) incident occur.   I have a better understanding as to what our employees will be facing, what training and resources they need, and what I can provide to them to ensure they respond appropriately, regardless of the situation.   I appreciate the fact FEMA provides the opportunity to receive CDP training, at no cost to the jurisdiction. The training is fully funded for state, local, and tribal employees.  Funding, such as this, is greatly appreciated, and a huge bonus for Lane County.

I whole-heartedly recommend that elected, appointed, and senior employees of government take this training for a better understanding of what it is their first responders do, as well as show them the benefits of CDP training. I feel more prepared, and I believe it all starts at the top. If senior management places priority in certain areas then so will the entire organization. Emergency management, planning and preparedness, is very important. The more prepared Lane County can be for any type of incident, the better off we all will be. I am better prepared thanks to my CDP training, and encourage more government leadership to attend the wonderful training environment that is the Center for Domestic Preparedness. Thank you CDP and FEMA!

training next to fire engine

CAPTION: Anniston, Ala., Oct. 25, 2012 -- Liane Richardson (front left), Lane County, Oregon, county administrator, simulates the initial decontamination of a disaster survivor at FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, Ala. recently. Richardson attended the Technical Emergency Response Training for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive Incidents (TERT) course.

A Rockaway survivor looks at a “new normal”


As we hit the one month mark after Hurricane Sandy, Mike Byrne, the Federal Coordinating Officer here in New York and my boss, reflected on the work that has been done and the work that remains.  In his blog, he made a note that we would be sharing stories and updates, and I wanted to share this story from Rita M., a disaster survivor in Rockaway, Queens:

A lot of us in Rockaway evacuated during Hurricane Irene last year. And then nothing happened. So of course when we heard about Sandy, we stayed home.

Never again. We learned that each storm is different – with a different outcome.

At about 6 p.m., before the storm, I walked down to the beach with my three children and saw how huge the waves were – water was pouring over the boardwalk into the streets, and it wasn’t even high tide yet. We passed  a man on the street who told us that he’s lived here over 50 years and he’s never seen anything like that before.

I think I slept about 20 minutes that whole night. Our power went out about 7:30, when the water reached about three feet, it must have started getting into the electronics of the cars, because car alarms were going off and trunks and windows were opening on the street. The sky was lit up pink from fires nearby. Later, I learned that homes were burning a few blocks away. One neighbor stood outside his home with a flashlight waving people inside who were fleeing their burning houses. When they got in his house, he realized he didn’t know any of them! Some people were coming down the block with kayaks and boogie boards.

The next morning we had over five feet of water in our home. It filled up the basement, which was our son’s bedroom. All his books, clothes, furniture and our water heater and boiler were destroyed, covered in mud and sewage. When I opened our front door, there was debris and sand everywhere.

I automatically started shoveling, trying to create a path to get out.  I had to do something; my husband has pulmonary fibrosis and should not over exert himself. I could just have easily curled myself up into a ball and said, “I’m not going to deal with this.”  I chose to keep shoveling. When my kids saw me shoveling, they figured it was the thing to do, and joined in.

We really didn’t know what to do. There’s a lot of information about preparing for a storm, but not so much about what to do after.* Two days later, we started running out of food and information started trickling in – what churches and temples were open, where we could go for food. We contacted our insurance agent and we contacted FEMA.

We weren’t the only ones in our family affected three of my siblings were displaced. If just one of us got hit, we would have been able to help, but we were all going through the same thing. My husband and four children went to my sister’s house in Brooklyn where we stayed in her converted garage – all of us in one room with air mattresses.

With the exception of one family (who was going to move anyway), we all plan on returning to our homes in Rockaway. Our insurance only covers wind damage, not flooding. We received about $2,000 from FEMA for temporary housing and $7,700 to replace our water heater and boiler and other damaged property. We got our FEMA money the same day our insurance company denied us. Now we have to fax FEMA our insurance information to see if we’re eligible for other assistance.** We still have to clean out everything and replace a lot of sheetrock – and our cars.

Almost every day it seems we’re at Lowe’s or Home Depot. My husband and I are looking into ways of building back to protect ourselves if this happens again.

My kids ask when things will go back to normal. I tell them I’m not sure if it will go back. We’ll definitely have a new outlook – we’ll be taking any future storm threats a lot more seriously. And we’re no longer going to keep so much stuff in the basement. We’re not going to be able to drive the kids everywhere like we used to for a while. I think it’s going to be a long time before things are normal again. We’ll just have a new normal.


disaster survivors in front of their house

CAPTION: Coney Island, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Rita and her family pose in front of the house they are restoring after major storm damage.

* For reference, this page on has information on how to recover after a disaster.  There is also great information there on making a family communication plan and building an emergency kit.

** FEMA encourages all survivors, both with or without insurance, to get into the assistance pipeline by registering with FEMA as soon as possible. While FEMA cannot duplicate benefits, those affected may be eligible for some types of assistance while waiting for an insurance settlement.



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