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What We’re Watching: 5/31/13


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 administrator fugate at podium
Miami, Fla., May 31, 2013 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate speaks at NOAA's annual Atlantic Hurricane press event discussing the upcoming hurricane season.

Kicking off the Atlantic hurricane season

We are coming to the end of National Hurricane Preparedness Week, which means the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season (June 1) is almost here. All week long we’ve been sharing hurricane safety tips on our website, Facebook and Twitter accounts.  There are lots of ways you can get prepared for hurricane season at – especially important if you live in a coastal area – but I will share two things you can do in the next five minutes to make sure your phone is ready for the start of hurricane season:

  • From your phone, text the word HURRICANE to 43362 - You’ll receive hurricane safety tips every two weeks from FEMA’s dedicated text message number.  It’s a great way to have regular reminders sent to you that can inspire action to staying safe.  (Standard message & data rates apply.)
  • Download the FEMA app – It’s filled with tips on what to do before, during, and after a hurricane – and other disasters, for that matter.  Should a storm hit, the app has maps of any open shelters or FEMA disaster recovery centers.  And one thing I really like about the app is that even if cell service is unavailable, you can still access all the safety tips since accessing them doesn’t require a data connection.  The app is available for Android, Apple, and Blackberry phones and tablets.

So start the 2013 hurricane season off on the right foot.  Have a plan for how you, your family, and your business will stay safe if a hurricane or tropical storm impacts your area. has all the info you need, so check it out today.

Hacking for good – National Day of Civic Hacking

Coming up this weekend, developers and technology enthusiasts will meet in 95 locations across the country to solve challenges relevant to our communities, states, and our country.  FEMA is one of the government agencies supporting the effort through our Fire Data Visualization challenge.   We’ve recently released the world’s largest fire-related dataset to inspire people to use the data and build an online data visualization that inspires fire awareness and safety at the local level.  There are lots of other great challenges from other agencies and organizations, so I encourage you to check them out and join the effort if you’re interested!

FEMA around the web

In addition to upcoming events, I wanted to share a few articles, as well.  Earlier this week, we launched new public service announcements about the Wireless Emergency Alert system.  The New York Times did a great write up about the alerts, how they are automatically enabled on many smartphone models, and how they can save lives.  If you haven’t seen the new public service announcements – here it is:

And related to the start of the Atlantic hurricane season, a few of our employees were featured on other blogs. Both are great perspectives and worth the read:

  • Microsoft Citizenship Blog – FEMA’s social media lead talks about the lessons he’s learned about using technology (and especially his phone) as a resource before, during, and after emergencies
  • Coast Guard Compass blog – One of the members of our External Affairs team talks about how right now is the ideal time to prepare and gives the key steps to doing so.

Photos of the week

To wrap up, here are some of the photos from our photo library this week.

oklahoma tornado damage
Moore, Okla., May 27, 2013 -- Disaster Survivor Assistance Team (DSAT) member, Kathleen King and FEMA Corps member, Ana Canizales canvas the Whispering Oaks area of Moore. They are providing disaster related information and taking FEMA disaster assistance registrations. The Moore area was struck by a F5 tornado on May 20, 2013. Andrea Booher/FEMA

dog check up
Oklahoma City, Okla., May 28, 2013 -- Local resident Elijah Meza is fitted for a pair of glasses by Vision Source volunteer optometrist Taylor Oliphant after an eye exam. Vision Source is providing local residents with eye care who were impacted by the recent tornado on May 20, 2013. The center is set up at the Graceway Baptist Church. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

With that, have a safe weekend!

Searching for Items for our Emergency Kit – Hurricane Week Edition

It’s National Hurricane Preparedness week and our friends at FEMA wanted us to do something fun to make sure Stella and I are prepared for the start of hurricane season, June 1. We’ve heard a lot about how it’s important to have an emergency kit – it is a collection of basic items your family may need in the event of an emergency.

So to help us get our kit together, we did a scavenger hunt for things already around the house that are also great things to use during an emergency.

 Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their emergency supplies kit.
Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their emergency supplies kit.

First we had to find our battery powered weather radio that sends out alert when severe weather is in our area.  We also found a basic first aid that we can add to our kit.

 Alexandria, Va., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stella participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their scavenger hunt.
Alexandria, Va., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stella participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their scavenger hunt.

Next we needed to find something to help us see in the dark in case the power goes out… our clue says it would be under the sofa… it’s a flashlight!

 Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their emergency supplies kit.
Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley participate in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for their emergency supplies kit.

We’ve got a good start so far, but there’s more we can add to our kit. Our next clue says to head to the kitchen pantry for something to quench our thirst. We found bottled water....

 Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella participates in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for her emergency supplies kit.
Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stella participates in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for her emergency supplies kit.

Our final clue says to look under the sink for something to help our radio and flashlight work.

 Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stanley participates in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for his emergency supplies kit.
Bowie, Md., May 30, 2013 -- Flat Stanley participates in a scavenger hunt to find supplies for his emergency supplies kit.

We found batteries!

The scavenger hunt was a fun and easy way to help us get prepared! We used simple items around the house to get our kit started. And you can do the same. Getting prepared doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Take items from around your house and start your emergency kit today!

Visit to learn how you can prepare for the upcoming hurricane season!

National Dam Safety Awareness Day: Dam Safety is a Shared Responsibility


May 31 is National Dam Safety Awareness Day, established to encourage and promote individual and community responsibility and best practices for dam safety, and to highlight the steps people can take to prevent future catastrophic dam failures or lessen the impact of a potential failure.  FEMA recognizes National Dam Safety Awareness Day in order to help promote the benefits that dams can offer to communities nationwide.

This commemoration serves as an important national initiative for FEMA at both the national level as well as through several local events this year in Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Virginia. One of the events happening in Henrico County, Virginia is the Virginia Dam First Aid Program.  It’s aimed at helping Virginia dam owners with routine and emergency repairs that will be demonstrated at Echo Lake Park by Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.

National Dam Safety Awareness Day commemorates the tragic failure of the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on May 31, 1889, which resulted in the loss of over 2,200 lives, and was the worst dam failure in the history of the United States.

damage after Johnstown flood
Destruction after the South Fork Dam failure in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: National Park Service

Dams are a vital part of the American infrastructure and provide economic, environmental, and social benefits. Anyone who has enjoyed an artificial lake knows some of these social benefits firsthand.  The benefits of dams, however, can be countered by the risks they sometimes present. The failure of even a small dam is capable of causing significant property and environmental damage, as well as the loss of life.

For 30 years, FEMA and its federal partners have worked to reduce the impacts of dam failures across the nation through the National Dam Safety Program. The program, led by FEMA, is a partnership of States, Federal agencies, and other stakeholders encouraging individual and community responsibility for dam safety. Reducing the risk of dam failure is the driving force of the National Dam Safety Program, central to the mission of ensuring that the public and property owners downstream of dams are informed of the risk of dam failure.

Here’s a snapshot of what the National Dam Safety Program is all about:

  • Raising public awareness of dam safety,
  • Lessening the impacts of dam failure by assisting States in establishing and maintaining dam safety programs,
  • Providing technical training to state and federal dam safety staff, and
  • Supporting research and the development of guidance to advance the practice of dam safety to improve public safety.

States have the responsibility for regulating about 80 percent of the dams in the United States. With support by the National Dam Safety Program, state dam safety programs have been raising dam safety awareness with the goal of preventing a dam failure like the one experienced in Johnstown over a century ago.  The program serves as a real investment in preventing dam failures and reducing the impacts of such failures on lives and property.

A great example of the National Dam Safety Program in action is in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  With funding from a National Dam Safety Program grant, the Commonwealth developed a process for estimating costs and prioritizing dam safety rehabilitation needs across the state.  In 2012, the Virginia legislature approved $14 million for the repair of State-owned high hazard  dams in need  of repair throughout Virginia, largely as a result of the research and analysis from this program.

So take a look at the resources below and learn more about dam safety.  On this National Dam Safety Awareness Day, or any day that you’re enjoying the benefits of a dam in your community, remember that a team effort goes into making them as safe as possible.

Other resources

Take Action & Pledge this National Hurricane Preparedness Week


hurricane winds

We’re kicking off National Hurricane Preparedness Week! Once again, we’ve teamed up with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to encourage all Americans to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season, which officially starts this Saturday, June 1 and lasts until November 30. Above all, hurricanes are powerful forces of nature that not only cause damage to coastlines, but also hundreds of miles inland as well because of flooding.  

The impact of Hurricane Sandy was felt in Puerto Rico, Florida and other parts of the East Coast, and this video shows just how much damage Hurricane Sandy caused in the Northeast:

All week long we’ll be posting hurricane safety resources and information, encouraging everyone to take two simple actions:

  • Pledge to prepare – It’s an easy step as you take action to prepare your home, family, and business against hurricanes and other severe weather. By taking this pledge, you’re taking the first step in ensuring you’re ready for severe weather.
  • Share your pledge with someone you know - Once you pledge, encourage other family members, friends, and neighbors to take the pledge and prepare for hurricane season. We hope you join us in spreading the word this week and encouraging everyone you know to prepare. Having a plan and being prepared for can make a world of difference during an emergency and severe weather.

And in case you missed it, you can also receive hurricane safety tips directly to your phone, by texting HURRICANE to 43362 (4FEMA).  And of course, standard message and data rates apply.

I hope you’ll join us in sharing hurricane safety this week!

All that Stuff Called Debris


As you have seen on TV, a tornado leaves behind large amounts of wreckage and debris.  Unfortunately, that debris is generally made up of people’s homes, community buildings, cars, trees, and all sorts of things that a tornado may destroy with winds that can exceed 200 MPH. In order for disaster survivors to even think about rebuilding their homes or their schools or hospitals the debris needs to be picked up and removed.  FEMA and the federal government can assist by helping to pay debris removal costs.

tornado debris
Moore, Okla., May 22, 2013 -- Residents look at the place their home stood after a tornado struck the community of Moore, Oklahoma on May 20th. Andrea Booher/FEMA

Local and tribal officials such as mayors, county commissioners, school superintendents, and emergency management officials ultimately make the decisions about how debris gets picked up, where it goes, and who does the work. Generally speaking, they have several options. They can have their own employees do the work, local volunteers and organizations can help, the town could hire a company with heavy equipment, or they could request assistance from the state who can ask the federal government to help if necessary. At this point local officials in Oklahoma are deciding which of these options they will use to go about getting all the debris picked up.

At FEMA, our role is very much a support role by joining the whole community team of local, state and tribal officials, disaster relief organizations, volunteers, and disaster survivors. One of our most valuable contributions to the mission is in the form of funding. As the debris left by the storm is being picked up, FEMA works with the state, local, and tribal officials to provide federal reimbursement for the removal costs. If you’re interested in what FEMA can fund, you can look at our Debris Management Guide.

search and rescue in tornado debris
Moore, Okla., May 22, 2013 -- FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (Nebraska Task Force 1) team members search house to house for survivors in a tornado devastated neighborhood. Andrea Booher/FEMA

We can also assist the state with technical experts from FEMA or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who can offer assistance to local and tribal officials on debris management. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may also provide guidance on how to safely handle hazardous waste debris. In Oklahoma, FEMA will be providing additional funding above our normal 75 percent cost share funding for debris that is quickly picked up through a new pilot program.  Remember, the quicker the debris is picked up, the faster people can rebuild their homes.

Local and tribal officials may ask disaster survivors to help with debris removal by bringing debris from their property to the curb or by helping to sort the debris into different categories. If you try to move debris please be careful. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality published guidance on debris management for residents, including how to handle chemicals and other hazardous debris.

All of the debris typically doesn’t just end up in the landfill. It is often sorted before being picked up or taken to a staging site where it is sorted. Just like taking your garbage out on a normal day, items should be recycled and used again helping the environment and in some cases being sold, such as precious metals like cooper, for money.  With FEMA’s new pilot program, your local or tribal government may be able to use proceeds they earn from the recycling of debris for other debris removal or emergency management needs. 

The removal of debris is a big job, but FEMA remains committed to assisting state, tribal and local officials and helping their communities in the recovery effort. If you would like to join the team and help those who were affected by the Oklahoma tornado, we have some information on our website, or you can visit the Oklahoma Strong webpage.

tornado debris damaged car
Moore, Okla., May 22, 2013 -- Moore resident looks at home destruction caused by an F5 tornado that struck on May 20. Andrea Booher/FEMA

Oklahoma Tornadoes – Update & Photos from the Ground


meeting fema staff at disaster recovery center
Moore, Okla., May 22, 2013 -- Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, center, and FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino, left visit a Disaster Recovery Center that is set up to help residents impacted by the recent tornado that swept through the area on May 20, 2013.

Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and communities affected by the tornadoes in Central Oklahoma.  We continue to coordinate the federal response efforts in supporting our state, local, and tribal partners on the ground.  Here are a few quick updates on what’s happening now:

  • We’re encouraging those impacted by the storms to apply for FEMA assistance at on their computer or phone, or by calling 800-621-3362.  So far, over 2,200 Oklahomans have applied for disaster assistance.
  • Three Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams are on the ground helping survivors register for FEMA assistance.  These teams are using internet-enabled tablets to register people as quickly as possible, as well as to record any unmet needs that affected individuals or communities are experiencing.
  • Two disaster recovery centers are open near damaged areas so those affected by the tornadoes can speak face-to-face to staff from FEMA and the state.  At the centers, staff answer questions about the disaster assistance process or what help may be available. 

In addition to the items above, more than 127,000 liters of water and nearly 30,000 meals have been delivered to the state at a Federal Staging Area in Oklahoma City in support of the local response efforts.  There are many other actions our federal, state, local, and tribal partners are taking and you can find the latest at

We’ve seen an outpouring of support for those impacted by the deadly storms, so if you’re outside of the impacted area and are looking for ways to help those that have been affected, check out  It has information on donating and volunteering responsibly – by doing things like donating only through trusted organizations, volunteering through established channels, and sending cash (not goods) to organizations providing relief. 

As we often say at FEMA, responding to emergencies takes a team effort.  Minutes after the tornadoes struck, this team moved into action, including first responders, federal, state, local, and tribal governments, first responders, non-profit organizations, volunteer groups, and members of the public.  There have been a lot of stories of heroism amidst this tragic tornado, so I wanted to share a few visuals and updates from how the emergency management team is helping on the ground. 

Texas Task Force 1, Urban Search and Rescue

rescuers pull out dog in cage
While conducting a rubble pile search yesterday, Squad 2 members came across a void space with two dogs in a crate. After freeing the dogs, the crew carried them down the pile to safety. (Photo credit: Texas Task Force One)


Nebraska Task Force 1

rescuers remove debris
Moore, Okla., May 22, 2013 --Federal Urban Search and Rescue Team Nebraska Task Force 1 work with local fire fighters in searching a ravine for potential survivors of the recent tornado. A tornado destroyed many parts of the community on May 20, 2013. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

rescuers remove debris
CAPTION: Moore, Okla., May 22, 2013 -- FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (NE TF1) team members search house to house for survivors in tornado devastated neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma. Andrea Booher/FEMA

Oklahoma National Guard

national guard in damaged street
Oklahoma National Guardsmen conduct search and rescue operations in Moore, Okla., May 21, 2013, after a devastating tornado killed dozens of people there, May 20. The guardsmen are assigned to the 63rd Civil Support Team. (Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James)

American Red Cross

american red cross supplies
May 21, 2013, Moore, Oklahoma. Red Cross volunteers Doris Baker (left) and Tiffany Stuhr (right) from Oklahoma help distribute supplies in the affected communities. (Photo credit: Jason Colston/American Red Cross.)

red cross volunteer
A volunteer for the American Red Cross cleans a photo that was recovered from the damaged area. (Photo credit: American Red Cross)

Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services

salvation army disaster supplies
May 22, 2013, Salvation Army staff unload supplies for those impacted by the Oklahoma tornadoes. (Photo credit: Salavation Army Emergency Disaster Services)

Feed the Children

Oklahoma Humane Society

humane society check up
May 21, 2013, Staff and volunteers work intake as animals come in. We've had 70 animals come in, and expect to have about 200 come through our doors. (Photo credit: Central Oklahoma Humane Society)

Oklahoma Tornado Response & How to Help


Yesterday evening a large tornado touched down near Moore, Oklahoma, leaving massive destruction in its path. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and communities affected by the tornadoes.

presidential briefing
Washington, D.C., May 21, 2013 -- President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the ongoing response to the devastating tornadoes and severe weather that impacted Oklahoma, in the State Dining Room of the White House, May 21, 2013. Vice President Joe Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino accompany the President. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

At the direction of the President, Administrator Fugate is in Oklahoma to ensure all Federal resources are supporting our state, local, and tribal partners in life saving and safety operations, including ongoing search and rescue.  Yesterday, President Obama declared a major disaster for the State of Oklahoma, making federal funding available to support affected individuals and families in the counties of Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma, and Pottawatomie. 

Federal assistance has been made available to support immediate response and recovery efforts, including:

  • Preliminary damage assessment teams, comprised of representatives from the state, FEMA and the Small Business Administration, are on the ground and will begin assessments today, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed.
  • Three national Urban Search and Rescue Teams (Texas Task Force 1, Nebraska Task Force 1 and Tennessee Task Force 1) and an Incident Support Team have been deployed to support the immediate response efforts.
  • One national and two regional Incident Management Assistance Teams are deployed to the state emergency operations center in Oklahoma City to coordinate with state and local officials in support of recovery operations.
  • Two Mobile Emergency Response Support Teams are in Oklahoma to provide self-sustaining telecommunications, logistics, and operations support elements, to assist in the immediate response needs and additional teams are being deployed.
  • Three Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams are scheduled to arrive later today into communities to perform the Assess, Inform, and Report (AIR) Missions, a tool to help federal, state, local, tribal and territorial partners gather detailed information on the affected areas during the critical first hours, days and weeks after a disaster strikes. DSATs will address immediate and emerging needs of disaster survivors including: on-site registration, applicant status checks, on-the-spot needs assessments, and access to partners offering survivor services.
  • FEMA activated the National Response Coordination Center in Washington, D.C., a multi-agency coordination center that provides overall coordination of the federal response to natural disasters and emergencies, to support state requests for assistance, and FEMA’s Region VI Response Coordination Centers (RRCC) located in Denton, Texas remains activated.

In addition to sharing the role of FEMA and our federal partners, I also wanted to share tips for those in the Oklahoma City area or looking to help survivors:

  • If you’re in the affected area: We encourage residents in declared counties to register for FEMA assistance online or on your smartphone at or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).  Disaster applicants with a speech disability or hearing loss but use a TTY device, should instead call 1-800-462-7585 directly.

    Follow the instructions from local officials and take the recommended protective measures to safeguard life and property while response efforts continue. Roads are very likely to be damaged or blocked by debris, and traffic jams slow emergency managers and first responders as they attempt to reach hard-hit areas.
  • If you’re trying to get in touch with friends/family in the impacted area: Use the American Red Cross Safe & Well website (or mobile site), text messaging, and social media accounts to check-in with friends & family.  After a disaster, phone lines may be congested, so using other communication methods can be more successful.
  • If you’re not in the affected area, but are looking to help: For those looking for ways to help tornado survivors, remember: go through trusted organizations and only send goods that have been requested by local authorities.  If you’re considering donating money, cash donations are often the best way to help. The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters has a list of organizations that you can feel confident in making a donation to. You can also follow NVOAD on Facebook and on Twitter @NationalVOAD.

    For more information on helping survivors after a disaster, visit and

As President Obama said this morning, we will continue to bring all available resources to bear as we support those impacted by the deadly tornado. For ongoing updates on FEMA’s response efforts, follow @FEMA and @FEMAregion6 on Twitter or visit the Oklahoma tornado disaster page.

What We’re Watching: 5/17/13


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.

Severe weather forecast

For those of you in the Plains and the Midwest, the National Weather Service is forecasting potentially severe weather over the weekend and possibly into next week.  The storm system may bring large, damaging hail and strong winds, with tornadoes possible on Sunday and Monday.  Here’s a piece of the forecast from the National Weather Service: “It is important to note that due to the slow moving nature of this system, the areas affected through Monday may include locations that already had severe weather occur earlier in the period.

If severe weather is possible in your area, remember to:

  • Closely follow your local forecast through the National Weather Service website, mobile site, or through local TV & radio reports
  • Listen to the direction of local officials.  If they advise people to find shelter because of an upcoming storm, do so immediately
  • Double check your family’s emergency kit to make sure you have supplies to sustain you and your family for at least 72 hours
  • Make sure your family knows what to do in case severe weather strikes – talk about where to take shelter at home, or how you can stay safe if you’re traveling

For more tips on staying safe before, during, and after severe weather, check out or FEMA’s mobile site.

Assistance to those affected by Illinois flooding & storms

Last week, President Obama declared a major disaster for 11 counties in Illinois, making federal assistance available to individuals and families impacted by the recent flooding and severe storms.  We’ve been working hard to encourage impacted residents to apply for assistance.

FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams are in neighborhoods damaged by the storms and floods, going door-to-door letting people know how to apply for assistance and answering any questions about the application process.  We’ve also opened several disaster recovery centers in impacted areas. These centers provide a place for people to talk face-to-face with staff from FEMA and our emergency response partners about the assistance that is available.

For the latest information on FEMA’s role in Illinois, check out the disaster-specific webpage. And if you’re on Twitter, check out our Region 5 Twitter account – it’s been posting great updates like:

After a #disaster, be on guard against #fraud. @fema doesn’t charge for info or registration. Register at #IL

— femaregion5 (@femaregion5) May 16, 2013

Friday 5/17 from 10am-2pm @fema will be at the Des Plaines Library, 1501 Ellinwood St, to help people register for aid. #IL @readyillinois

— femaregion5 (@femaregion5) May 17, 2013

.@fema Disaster Recovery Center open in #Grundy @ Morris Fire Dept. 2301 Ashton Rd Morris, #IL 9am-7pm, 7 days a wk.…

— femaregion5 (@femaregion5) May 16, 2013

A challenge for “hackers”

I’m talking about hackers who hack for good!  I am very excited that FEMA is one of the 19 government partners for the National Civic Day of Hacking, coming up June 1-2. The event will bring together citizens, software developers, entrepreneurs and government agencies across the nation to solve challenges relevant to America’s neighborhoods, cities, and the country.  To give you a scale of the event, there are 87 locations across the U.S. that will participate and work on over 37 data sets and resources.  FEMA’s U.S. Fire Administration submitted its own challenge for the event – use our wealth of fire incident data and build an online visualization tool that brings the data to life

Check out the National Civic Day of Hacking website for more info and spread the word about our challenge!

Photos of the week

To round out the week, here's one of my favorite recent photos from the FEMA photo library:

Bay Head, N.J., May 14, 2013 --A construction crew rebuilds one of several concrete walkways for beach access in Bay Head as part of the rebuilding and recovery process following Hurricane Sandy.
Bay Head, N.J., May 14, 2013 --A construction crew rebuilds one of several concrete walkways for beach access in Bay Head as part of the rebuilding and recovery process following Hurricane Sandy.

Bay Head, N.J., May 14, 2013 -- A construction crew rebuilds one of several concrete walkways for beach access in Bay Head as part of the rebuilding and recovery process following Hurricane Sandy.

Have a safe weekend!

Turn Building Safety into Action During Building Safety Month


In my experience, people tend to think that making their home or business more resistant to disasters is a very complex process that requires many professionals.  However, in the majority of cases, a little do-it-yourself effort can go a long way.  Making your home safer can be as simple as clearing flammable materials around your home if you live in an area prone to wildfires – or as complex as using specialized techniques when rebuilding your home after a disaster.

This month has been designated by the President as National Building Safety Month to highlight the importance of disaster-resistant building codes and standards that can help build stronger and safer communities across the nation.

One way FEMA helps promote disaster-resilient communities is through our support of national building code and standards organizations like the International Code Council along with state and local building officials. FEMA strongly supports our partners who promote the importance of disaster-resistant building codes and standards that can help communities reduce the impacts of natural disasters, protect the environment and save energy.

These codes translate into tangible, actionable things you can do as a homeowner or business owner that will make any building more resilient. Things like:

  • Elevating your home or business property.
  • Using more resilient construction materials.
  • Employing safe and sustainable design methods. 

FEMA continually works with building officials, design professionals, scientists, and engineers from Federal, State, territorial, local, non-profit, tribal, and private sector organizations to develop disaster-resistant guidance and tools. Communities and individuals consult FEMA’s technical guidance publications every day  to protect homes and businesses from earthquakes, fires, floods, tornados, winds, and other hazards.

For example, following Hurricane Isaac’s impact in August 2012, FEMA’s Hurricane Isaac Mitigation Assessment Team evaluated damage from the storm to the northern Gulf Coast of the United States, then developed recommendations for improvements in building design, construction, and code development and enforcement. The team also documented activities that made rebuilding easier, while increasing the safety of those structures.

And obviously, building safety continues to play a key part in the rebuilding effort after Hurricane Sandy.  Thousands of structures were damaged from the storm, some with foundational damage like this one:

damaged home
Norwalk, Conn., Nov. 10, 2012 -- This home's foundation was built with a break-away wall ocean-side several years ago after the home was storm damaged. In Hurricane Sandy, it collapsed - allowing the water to flow under the house, which was not damaged. FEMA mitigation specialists distribute information on up-to-date construction techniques to ensure a safer rebuilding of a home. Literature can also be requested through FEMA's website. Photo by Marilee Caliendo/FEMA

After disasters we make a substantial effort to make sure building back safer and stronger is top of mind.  We send “Mitigation Outreach Specialists” into impacted communities to speak directly with local homeowners and businesses looking to rebuild. Our primary location for these outreach specialists to visit is local home improvement stores.  That’s where people go to buy supplies or ask questions about repairing their home, so that’s where we focus our on-the-ground effort.  Here are a few of our outreach specialists in action after storms and flooding impacted Mississippi earlier this year:

fema help at home improvement store
Hattiesburg, Miss., Feb. 27, 2013 -- Hazard Mitigation Specialists are at Lowe's to distribute information and answer questions for customers. FEMA has Hazard Mitigation specialists working in Mississippi with training in building safe rooms. Photo by Marilee Caliendo/FEMA

fema staff at home improvement store
Hattiesburg, Miss., Feb. 23, 2013 -- Iris Fields, Hazard Mitigation Specialist, prepares a display illustrating construction elements of a safe room. FEMA has Hazard Mitigation specialists at Home Depot, distributing advice and information about making a safe room in your home. Photo by Marilee Caliendo/FEMA

In addition to the outreach in impacted communities, FEMA works very closely with state, local, and tribal officials to ensure they have the right tools to ensure a fully recovery.

This is just the “tip of the iceberg” about how FEMA supports building safety all year round.  To learn more about important steps you can take to help better prepare your home or business property  by building stronger, safer structures, visit or go to the Building Safety Month Website for additional information and resources.

Saying “Thank You” During National Police Week

As a retired police chief and member of FEMA’s team, I want to kick off National Police Week by personally thanking the law enforcement community.  Like many officers serving now, I became a police officer to serve and protect the rights, freedoms and privileges embraced by this great nation.  As FEMA’s Senior Law Enforcement Advisor I have the honor of continuing that service to our nation and strive to cultivate liaisons between law enforcement agencies, organizations and the community.

National Police Week occurs each year and recognizes the service and sacrifice of law enforcement officers nationwide.  This week, we pay special recognition to those law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others.

As a nation we rely on law enforcement officers every day to provide for the safety and security of our communities and during times of crisis or disaster.  The law enforcement community is an important member of the first responder and emergency management team and FEMA is committed to supporting our law enforcement officers as they support their communities during emergencies and disasters.  When disasters strike, an officer’s primary function is to make sure the community is safe to operate in and then to stabilize the community by supporting emergency operations including emergency communications, search and rescue operational support, and other lifesaving missions. This first mission is critical - it enables the rest of the emergency management team to do their jobs. Whether it’s responding to a hurricane, flood, or other disaster… police are often first on the scene and secure the areas so further help can arrive.

Responding to disasters requires a team and at FEMA we strive to provide opportunities to support first responders through things like training and grant programs:

  • One resource and tool to help emergency responders and first responders like police officers is the Responder Knowledge Base website that serves as a trusted online source of information on products, standards, certifications, grants, and other equipment-related information.  Specifically, the Law Enforcement Focus Area provides emergency responders with specific information related to law enforcement in a centralized location for standards, certifications, grants, training & education, publications, and other resources related to law enforcement. 

So join me in saying “thank you” to those in law enforcement. Stop by your local police station this week and share your appreciation.  The trip doesn’t have to be longer than a few minutes, but it would certainly make their day to know those in the community appreciate their efforts. 

For more info on National Police Week, visit


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