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Do you know an individual or group who made an impact after Sandy? Recognize them!

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At FEMA and across the federal government, we recognize that in order to successfully support disaster survivors and meet the needs of the community, the whole community must work together as a team. A month ago, I wrote about some of the successes of bringing together government and non-government partners to solve challenges we faced in responding to Hurricane Sandy.  Recognizing our community partners is critical to the efforts to rebuild and recover. The White House is hosting a Champions of Change event to recognize individuals and organizations that provided truly remarkable and creative contributions to support the response and ongoing recovery of Hurricane Sandy.   Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to listen to many survivors and speak with a number of FEMA’s partners.  During these conversations, I heard time and time again about the outstanding people and groups that have made a real and tangible difference. 

We now want to recognize these contributions, but need you to identify the champions!  If you or someone you know demonstrated outstanding leadership (or was more of a hidden hero) after Sandy, I strongly encourage you complete a White House Champions of Change application. 

Here are some quick details about the process and next steps:

  • You may nominate individuals, groups or organizations for their work related to Hurricane Sandy.  We encourage nominations from all individuals and organizations involved in Hurricane Sandy response and recovery.
  • Individuals wishing to submit a nomination must complete the form and return it by Wednesday, March 6.  To submit a nomination, please e-mail the form to FEMA-Sandy-Champions@fema.dhs.gov with the subject line “WH Champions of Change.”
  • Once the nomination period has closed, a panel of FEMA leaders will evaluate and select finalists.  The White House will then consider the list of finalists and make final selections. Final selections will be announced in early April 2013.
  • The White House will host a Champions of Change event April 24, 2013 to recognize those who made a positive impact following Hurricane Sandy.

So take the time to complete the short application and spread the word. The best solutions to the issues we face come from the people and the communities that are closest to the challenges of disaster response and recovery. I know that to be the case because I’ve seen it in action.

What We’re Watching: 2/22/13

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Winter weather continues

March may be right around the corner, but winter weather is still taking center stage.  We continue to closely monitor the impacts of the severe winter storm that’s affected much of the Central and Southern Plains for the last few days.  As the storm system moves further east, forecasts from the National Weather Service are calling for snow, sleet, and rain to impact much of the East Coast this weekend.  If you are in the path of the storm, make sure to stay up to date on your latest forecast at weather.gov or at mobile.weather.gov on your phone, and visit Ready.gov for tips on getting prepared.

u.s. map of severe weather watches and warnings

CAPTION: Current severe weather watches and warnings, courtesy of the National Weather Service.  This image updates automatically from weather.gov.

And if you or someone you know will be spending today or much of the weekend digging out from snow, remember to do so safely.  Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow and wear lots of warm layers of clothing!  Ready.gov/winter-weather has lots more winter safety tips for before, during, and after “Old Man Winter” blows your way.

Our favorite blog post of the week…

Comes from our friends at the Corporation for National and Community Service.  It’s a story about how FEMA Corps team leader Cassie Murray was able to help Hurricane Sandy survivors learn about disaster assistance by making time to listen.  Here’s a section of the blog post on Serve.gov:

Murray and her team were sent to New Jersey's Long Beach Island as part of the FEMA Community Relations team soon after the area reopened to residents. As she walked up to one home on the island, the resident saw her FEMA gear and declared, “I don't want you here, FEMA. I don't want to talk to you,” believing the agency had denied his assistance claim.

She convinced the man to show her a letter he received from FEMA and explained that it wasn't a rejection but a request for more information before the process could continue. At that point he told Murray that she needed to explain this to his neighbors, too.

Before she was done, Murray spent two hours explaining what the letters meant to a group of community residents and how they could get help. When she finished, one of the men listening put his hands on her shoulders and said, “I had no idea when I woke up today that an angel was going to walk through my door.”

The experience showed Murray the power of active listening and how important information is to people recovering from a disaster.

And if you’re not familiar with FEMA Corps, it’s a program run in cooperation with CNCS for young people between the ages of 18-24.  They serve a one-year term working directly to support those impacted by disasters.  (More on FEMA Corps)

Video of the week

A Mantoloking, N.J., homeowner took precautions 30 years ago and decided to build his home on pilings. Those measures helped his home withstand the surge from Hurricane Sandy.

Photos of the week

tornado damaged home

Oak Grove, Miss., Feb. 20, 2013 -- Oak Grove resident Erving Carr, sits in the remains of his home, thankful to have survived the EF-4 tornado. Mr. Carr and his wife survived without serious injury by hiding under the mattress in the bedroom. FEMA representatives are going door to door in these rural areas, offering assistance and information to help restore lives. Photo by Marilee Caliendo/FEMA

disaster recovery center

Petal, Miss., Feb. 18, 2013 -- Karrie Beardall, Disaster Recovery Center Manager, talks with an applicant and brings her a degree of comfort. FEMA's mission in a Recovery Center is not only to answer questions concerning applications, but to give survivors a place to talk with staff that cares and understands their stress. Photo by Marilee Caliendo/FEMA

Pledge to be ready for severe weather

We’re getting ready for National Severe Weather Preparedness Week - coming up on March 3-9.  Much of the emergency management community will be getting the word out about staying safe from the kinds of severe weather that impact their communities, whether the threats are tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, or wildfires.  You can also play an important role in spreading the message by taking the pledge to prepare at Ready.gov/pledge.  And if you’re looking for resources to use when reaching out those in your community about getting prepared, there is a great toolkit on Ready.gov/severe-weather under the “Talk About Severe Weather” tab with everything you’ll need.

New disaster-related data

Finally, I wanted to let you know about two new sources of information about FEMA’s response and recovery activity.  As part of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, we are providing regular updates about:

  • Mission assignment activity – FEMA uses mission assignments to task and reimburse other federal departments and agencies to provide direct assistance during emergencies and disasters.
  • Daily Public Assistance grant awards activity – The President can make Public Assistance available through FEMA to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations (on a cost-sharing basis).

For more about our other data sources, visit fema.gov/data-feeds.

Have a safe weekend!

Al Roker & Natalie Morales' family show preparing for disasters is easy

I recently got a chance to meet with Al Roker of the Today Show to talk about preparedness. Al reports on weather and disasters, so being prepared is something he often talks about.  He was getting ready to shoot a preparedness video for Ready.gov, and in case you haven’t seen it yet, take 30 seconds to check it out:

Before Al filmed that great video, we had a chance to walk through some of the communities damaged by Hurricane Sandy and talk about why most American’s aren’t prepared for the disasters that can happen in their community, and a few simple things folks can do to be better prepared.

Natalie Morales wanted her family to be better prepared for disasters, so the FEMA team met with the Morales family in Hoboken, New Jersey as they put together their emergency supply kit and practiced their emergency plan.  The TODAY Show crew followed us along, too, catching some of our conversation and Al helping the Morales family get prepared. 

As you can see in this video, Al is as funny and friendly as he seems on TV!  I’m also glad the video shows just how easy it is to get yourself and your family prepared for emergencies.  Really, preparedness is something we all do every day. At work and at home, we plan for ourselves and our families. We make lists, we gather supplies and we talk to each other.

As we were shooting the video with the Morales family, I got the sense that they were surprised how easy (and fun!) preparing for emergencies can be.  A few of the key points:

  • In the video, you’ll see Natalie Morales’ family doing a quick practice drill.  It took just a few minutes to teach her children how to get out of their house in case of emergency.  They also practiced what to do during an earthquake, which only took a few minutes to explain and only seconds to practice.
  • A kit may seem expensive, but it doesn’t have to be because most items you need for a basic emergency are already in your house – like flashlights and batteries!  Natalie and Al did a scavenger hunt with the kids and what were some of the things they grabbed?  Marshmallows. Their gaming system. Batteries. And a few more items.  You’ll have to watch the video to see their full list and what the kids learned.  
  • Making a plan takes less than 5 minutes: pick a meeting spot so you and your loved ones can meet up. Find a place in your neighborhood and some place further away in case you can't get home.
  • Just talking about preparedness can be a great and totally free way to start. You can discuss how you would get a hold of each other if phone lines are down. You can ask kids what they know about safety and being prepared.

I want to thank Al and Natalie for taking the time to talk about preparedness and I hope you will share Al’s video and Natalie’s video with your friends and family; but more importantly, I hope the key point gets across – preparing for emergencies can be as easy as getting started.  For ideas on starting the conversation with your family, visit Ready.gov.

Preparing for the Weather with the Flats

There has been some wacky weather in our neighborhood lately! One day it is cold and snowy, and the next day the weather is warm and stormy!   If you have seen our other blogs, you already know we’ve learned a lot about getting prepared for emergencies since coming to FEMA. Because the weather has been so unpredictable lately, we wanted to share some of the things we’ve done to get ready. 

Don’t forget, winter is only half over, and it will continue to be cold for a while.  We keep some winter things around at home and in the trunk of the car during these cold months – things like gloves, a hat & scarf, a flashlight, salt (to melt ice on walkways), an extra blanket, and extra water.

flats with winter supplies

And whether your neighborhood resembles the chilly north pole or a warm and sunny Florida Beach, having a nifty weather radio is handy for any emergency.  Here is Stella with her radio – it can be powered by batteries, sunlight, and even by turning the crank around and around. A radio like this can be very useful if the power goes out, so be sure to have extra batteries ready for it -- just in case!

flat stella with noaa weather radio

One thing we have been learning recently is that, as the outside temperatures increase, so do the chances for storms and tornadoes happening.  Those storms can be scary, but there are ways that every family can be better prepared if your areas has a stormy spring.  Think about what you and your family might need – even things for your pets like extra water, food, and medicines!

pet photo

And if you are like us, you like playing games.  If the power is out, having some games around helps keep us kids busy with something we enjoy.  So double check that your favorite games are part of your family’s emergency kit, too.  Maybe you have a few of these!

Finally, we want you to know there are a lot of resources to help get ready for emergencies before they happen.  One of our favorite sites is Ready.gov/kids – there, you can find games, activities, and quizzes that will let you show what you know!  

ready kids site

And for parents, we recommend going to Ready.gov or m.fema.gov on your cell phone or tablet.  Here’s what m.fema.gov looks like, in case you haven’t been there, yet!

screenshot of mobile website

Stay safe!

What We’re Watching: 2/15/13

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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.

Assistance available for Mississippi storms and tornadoes

On Wednesday, President Obama made federal assistance available to individuals and families affected by the Feb. 10 Mississippi storms, tornadoes, and flooding in Forrest and Lamar counties.  This assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. 

Individuals and business owners who sustained losses in Forrest and Lamar counties can register for assistance online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).  Disaster assistance applicants, who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, should call 1-800-462-7585 directly; for those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.  (Additional damage assessments are ongoing, so keep an eye on the Mississippi disaster page for any updates.)

Taxes and disaster assistance

Tax season is upon us, so I wanted to address the impact federal disaster assistance has on taxes.  If you received FEMA assistance in the last year, it is not considered taxable income.  I’ll say it again: those who received FEMA assistance will not pay additional federal taxes or lose Social Security or other government benefits.  For more information, check out the IRS website, which has specific sections for those who received disaster assistance in 2012.

Photos of the week

elevated homes

CAPTION: Holgate, N.J., Feb. 6, 2013 -- While these homes may look bad, they received little hurricane damage to the actual living spaces due to their elevation above base flood elevation prior to the storm. Check out this publication for more details about protecting your home from flood damage.


new home construction

CAPTION: Beach Haven, N.J., Feb. 6, 2013 -- Signs of recovery in the form of new construction, elevated to the new standards, are seen in Beach Haven and elsewhere in Long Beach Island.

Videos of the week

It’s been over 100 days since Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, but response and recovery efforts are still going at full speed.  Here’s a look at some of the key points to recovery in New Jersey, where over 58,000 applicants have been approved for federal disaster assistance, resulting in over $358 million going to impacted individuals and families.

 

The TODAY Show’s Al Roker has been in some of the most powerful storms Mother Nature can produce, so he knows the importance of getting prepared before severe weather.  He recently teamed up with FEMA’s Ready campaign and the Ad Council to show just how unpredictable the weather can be:

If you’re interested in learning more about how the video was made, here’s a behind the scenes look.  And as the video said, check out Ready.gov for information on getting your home, family, or business prepared for any emergency.

Mark your calendars; Promote severe weather safety

For those emergency managers and community leaders among us, I’d like to remind you that National Severe Weather Awareness Week is March 3-9.  FEMA and our partners will be spreading the word about how people can get prepared for the severe weather threats in their community.  I encourage you to check out Ready.gov/severe-weather and click on the “Talk about Severe Weather” tab.  You’ll find a toolkit to help you share severe weather preparedness with your audience, wherever they are. 

Have a safe weekend!

What We’re Watching: 2/8/13

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Severe winter weather

As we head into the weekend, we continue to monitor the impacts of the winter storm affecting millions along the northeast and east coast of the U.S.  FEMA’s regional offices in Boston and New York City are working closely with state emergency management counterparts and have staff working alongside the states at each of their emergency operations centers.

We will continue to hold operational briefings with our regional and federal partners as the severe weather advances and as impacts are felt through the overnight hours into Saturday.  While FEMA stands ready to support its federal, state, local, and tribal partners, we want to make sure you, your family, and your business are taking the right steps to stay safe if you’re impacted by this serious winter storm.  A few reminders:

  • Follow the direction of local officials – if they advise against traveling, please stay off the roads unless driving is absolutely necessary.  That way you’re staying safe while keeping the roads clear for snow plows, emergency crews, and first responders.  If you do need to travel, remember to pack some basic emergency supplies in your car, such as extra blankets, gloves, ice scraper, water, and a portable radio.
  • Keep up with local conditions – the National Weather Service is how FEMA gets its information on severe weather conditions, and you can too. From your computer, visit weather.gov, or go to mobile.weather.gov from your phone. If you have a NOAA weather radio, tune in for the latest updates on severe weather in your area.  And finally, local radio and TV are normally good places to find information on what’s happening in your area.
  • Have a plan in case the power goes out – in addition to heavy snowfall, National Weather Service forecasts are calling for high winds over a large area, which may cause power outages.  Make sure you have a plan to stay warm should the power go out.  Have extra blankets on hand, have an alternative place to go, and use the “buddy system” so you and your neighbors check on one another.  
  • Check on friends, family, and neighbors – Even if you’re not in the path of this winter storm, you may know someone who is.  If so, send them a quick text, e-mail, or phone call to make sure they are OK and staying safe.

For more safety tips on staying safe during and after winter storms, visit Ready.gov from your computer or m.fema.gov from your mobile device.  

Photo of the week

assistive technology in disaster recovery center

CAPTION: Breezy Point, N.Y., Feb. 5, 2013 -- Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, Ms. Polly Trottenberg, visits the Disaster Recovery Center at Fort Tilden and gets a demonstration on assistive communications equipment. Several FEMA partners, including the Small Business Administration, Housing & Urban Development, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and the US Post Office are stationed at Fort Tilden to provide one-stop assistance to residents affected by Hurricane Sandy and the fires at Breezy Point.

For more photos, visit our photo library.

Job openings

There are several job vacancies at FEMA, but I’d like to highlight the openings for our Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) pilot program.  IMATs are critical to the FEMA disaster workforce, capable of being on scene within hours of a disaster in support of our local, tribal, territorial, and state partners. The pilot program will create three new IMATs – two national teams in Sacramento, Ca. and Washington, D.C. and one new regional team in Oakland, Ca.  Openings are currently available in a variety of fields, including:  Operations Section Chief, Attorney Advisor, Situation Unit Leader, Documentation Unit Leader, External Affairs Officer, Disability Integration Manager, and Logistics Section Chief. 

Video of the week

A Connecticut homeowner discovers the installation of "engineered openings" or "engineered flood vents" saved his home from severe foundation damage during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.  For more information about protecting your home against flood damage, check out this guide.

Have a safe weekend!

What We’re Watching: 2/1/13

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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.

FEMA Think Tank Conference Call

Join Deputy Administrator Rich Serino as he hosts the next FEMA Think Tank Conference Call Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 12:00 p.m. EST. Over one year ago, Deputy Administrator Serino created the FEMA Think Tank to bring together people across all sectors of emergency management to discuss real-life solutions and ideas to present and future emerging challenges within the emergency management field. This month’s call will focus on innovative solutions in emergency management and is open to everyone.

Here’s the call-in information:

Call-in Number: 888-324-6998

Passcode: ThinkTank

Captioning: http://fedrcc.us//Enter.aspx?EventID=2090240&CustomerID=321

Twitter: #femathinktank

We hope that you can join us for this month’s call. Even if you can’t join the call, you can follow and participate in the conversation on Twitter. We’ll be live tweeting from the event from our @FEMAlive account.

Great ShakeOut

On Thursday, Feb. 7 at 10:15 a.m. CST, millions of people will stop what they’re doing and "Drop. Cover. Hold on." Join over 2 million people across the U.S. who plan to participate in the largest earthquake drill in the U.S.

shakeout graphic

Taking part in the ShakeOut is a great first step towards knowing what to do in the event of an earthquake. It’s not too late to register your family, business, or school. After the ShakeOut, visit Ready.gov/earthquakes for more information on preparing your home, workplace or school for an earthquake.

We hope you will join us for these events.

Photo of the Week

Mitigation expert Bill McDonnell spoke at an informational meeting to help residents in Toms Rivers, N.J., affected by Hurricane Sandy. Survivors were able to learn about individual assistance, mitigation, flood insurance, and many other topics. 

public assistance program meeting

For more photos, visit the FEMA Photo Library.

Video of the Week

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Debris Collection

More than 90 percent of the debris left in New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, has been collected in just 90 days by the Army Corps of Engineers. Much of it is being cleaned, repurposed and recycled.

In Case You Missed It…

  • Earlier this week, President Obama signed the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013. In addition to providing assistance to individuals, families, and communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy, the act also included an amendment to the Stafford Act, giving Tribal nations the same status as states when requesting federal disaster assistance. Federally recognized tribal governments can now make a request directly to the President for an emergency or major disaster declaration to receive assistance, whereas in the past, Tribes had to make the request through a State.

Read more about this new legislation on our blog and visit our Tribal page.

  • As winter storms and weather continue to impact many parts of the U.S., be sure you are prepared for winter weather. Visit Ready.gov/winter-weather for tips on what to do before, during and after winter weather.

Have a safe weekend!