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What We’re Watching: 6/27/13

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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.

Severe Weather Outlook
severe weather outlook mapSevere weather outlook, courtesy of the National Weather Service.

Over the next couple of days and into the weekend, our partners over at the National Weather Service expect above normal temperatures to continue across the Great Basin, Rockies, Southwest and California.  While those areas will be seeing a bit of a heat wave, flooding is possible in other places around the country.  Portions of Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota are expected to see high water levels, so make sure to follow your local conditions if you are near bodies of water. 

As always, weather conditions can drastically change in a short amount of time.  Remember to monitor weather conditions in your area on your mobile phone or computer.

Photo of the Week

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the past week. For more photos, head over to our Photo Library.

beach re-openingSeaside Heights, N.J., June 21, 2013 -- Children play in the sand at the Seaside Heights mega-beach bash, where families enjoy free access to the beach and other activities for the first day of summer. The beach party celebrates the completion of the new Seaside Heights boardwalk, partially funded by FEMA after Hurricane Sandy.

press conferenceStaten Island, N.Y., June 21, 2013 -- Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, FEMA NY Federal Coordinating Officer Willie Nunn, Staten Island University Hospital President Anthony Ferreri, and Director of Intergovernmental Relations for NY Senator Charles Schumer's office Nicholas Martin, on a tour of Staten Island University Hospital, discussed ways to improve the infrastructure in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

In Case You Missed It

We’ve seen an active wildfire season across the country.  I came across this great blog post from our friends at the U.S. Department of Agriculture about how homeowners can take steps to reduce the chances of a fire damaging your property.  The bottom line: individuals can make their home safer if they live in an area that’s susceptible to wildfires.  It’s a powerful message.  Here’s an excerpt:

“People who live in a wildland-urban interface often forget or disregard the wildland fire cycles and dangers” said Tom Harbour, Fire and Aviation Management director. “We need homeowners to understand that they can make a difference by making their homes defensible from wildfire.”

Matt Cyrus knows the personal and professional benefits of taking precautionary measures to protect a home before a fire. Ironically, Cyrus, a captain with the Cloverdale (Oregon) Fire Protection District, was the first responder on the scene of a fire on his property. But he felt he had less to worry about because he had prepared for many years to defend his property against fire. The fire burned as expected but did not harm his home.

So how did he do it?

Look closely at a firewise property such as Cyrus’ and you will see a common theme: defensible space stretching at least 100 feet from a structure and in some cases a couple of hundred feet. These firewise yards are surrounded by grass, rock or evergreen ground cover, and in some instances even dirt. This “empty space” creates an area of land where the high intensity heat has nothing to burn, compared to a home surrounded by trees, bushes, sheds and other combustible items.

Read the full post on the USDA website, and check out Ready.gov for a full list of wildfire safety tips.

Video of the Week

New York's beaches reopen for the 2013 summer season seven months after Hurricane Sandy.

Have a great and safe weekend!

StormReady: More than a name, a life-saving plan

What would you do if you found out there was a tornado headed right toward you, right now? On average, you get at least 13 minutes to respond.

The clock starts now:

Ask yourself, would you know it was coming?

How would you hear about the warning?

Where would you go to safely seek shelter?

What if you were asleep?

Are you ready?

That’s just minutes to hear about the tornado warning, figure out what is going on, make a decision about what you will do, and take action that could save your life.

Now consider this:

What if you were at work?

School?

A busy mall or dark movie theater?

What would you do? Where would you meet your family, friends or co-workers after the tornado hit?

Recently, my office asked those same questions.  In the FEMA Region IV area, we’re responsible for 350 employees who work in multiple buildings throughout the Atlanta area and what we call “in the field” – other joint field offices. 

We reviewed our own severe weather plan. Then, we exercised that plan as part of a campus-wide no-notice tornado drill. 

And we didn’t stop there!

I am proud to share that we went one step further, earning the official StormReady designation from the National Weather Service.

But, being StormReady is more than just a name, and more than having a NOAA Weather Radio (although we do have those)!  As recent weather events have shown, it is important to make sure we get it right when the danger is real. 

In order to participate and earn the StormReady designation from the National Weather Service, several criteria have to be met. Our specific plan includes:

  • A hazardous weather plan to include ice storms, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and flash floods.
  • Operating a 24-hour watch center to monitor local weather conditions.
  • Having multiple ways to: receive severe weather watches & warnings and alert our FEMA team.
  • Promoting severe weather readiness through a variety of training and outreach programs for our employees and partner agencies.

2,000 – that’s  the number of communities that have also achieved the StormReady status. That means those communities took the necessary steps to ensure their residents will be better prepared with severe weather threatens their area. So as you can see, earning the StormReady designation isn’t just for federal or even emergency management agencies. 

Having your community, business, or organization earn the StormReady designation isn’t an extensive process – the first step is contacting your local National Weather Service office. They will let you know how to complete the application, set up an in-person visit, and even hold an optional recognition ceremony once you’ve been labeled StormReady!

Altoona, PA: Reducing flood risk & saving money for policyholders

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While I couldn’t be there in person to present the Community Rating System plaque to the City of Altoona Commissioners during their recent meeting, I did want to recognize that as of October 1, 2012 the City of Altoona joined an elite group of communities across the country who are going above and beyond the minimum requirements to make their communities safer from flood risk.

For a bit of background, the National Flood Insurance Program's (NFIP) Community Rating System is a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum NFIP requirements. Communities that participate in Community Rating System have flood insurance premium rates discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk resulting from the community actions.  Throughout the United States, there are well over 20,000 communities voluntarily participating in FEMA's NFIP, with 2,469 of these communities located in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

Nationally, a relative handful (approximately 5%) of these communities choose to go above and beyond FEMA's minimum requirements for NFIP participation.  These communities make up the members of the Community Rating System; and their additional efforts and activities result in communities that are safer and better prepared for future flooding events. In joining the Community Rating System program, the City of Altoona joins an elite group of only 24 communities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (the top 1%) that have been recognized for surpassing the minimum requirements to make their communities safer.  I would like to recognize the achievements of the City of Altoona because, as of October 1 last year, they joined the community Rating System with a Class 8 rating.

Perhaps more tangible and more important to Altoona’s citizens, the Class 8 rating qualifies all flood insurance policies in Altoona for an automatic ten percent discount on their premiums.  Each NFIP policyholder in Altoona will save an average of $77.00 on their annual premium.  As of January 31, 2013, there were 218 flood insurance policies in Altoona protecting over $30 million in property for a total premium cost of $191,458. The ten percent reduction will save the flood policyholders in the City collectively approximately $16,697 annually. There is no need for policyholders to contact their insurance carriers as the ten percent discount is deducted automatically from their premiums.

Jane Beveridge, the Office Engineer/Floodplain Administrator for Altoona commented on the benefits the Community Rating System can bring a community:

While it was a two years process, most municipalities are already following/adopting procedures that can earn rating system points. It’s mostly a matter of gathering paperwork. The Community Rating System Specialist assigned to the City of Altoona was also very helpful. Our updated website has floodplain information/links that have earned us easy points toward the ranking system. Every community should take advantage of this, especially with the rising costs of insurance, our citizens are thankful.

The City of Altoona’s leadership, hard work and accomplishments are to be commended.  On behalf of FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program, welcome to elite status and thank you!

What We’re Watching: 6/21/13

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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.

Photo & video of the week

To kick things off, here are a few of my favorite video and photo of the week, courtesy of our photo and multimedia libraries.

Video: Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams register Illinois flood survivors for FEMA assistance

Photos:

debris removalMoore, Okla., June 15, 2013 -- FEMA Debris Deputy Task Force Leader Tony Furr speaks with a US Corps of Engineers Debris Subject Matter Expert. FEMA Public Assistance funds are reimbursing a portion of debris removal cost from the May tornadoes. George Armstrong/FEMA

rebuilding posterLong Beach Island, N.J., June 15, 2013 – FEMA representatives distribute information on home rebuilding at the Long Beach Island Thank You Fest. The celebration was dedicated to the first responders for their work during and after Hurricane Sandy hit the coast last fall. Rosanna Arias/FEMA

administrator fugate speaking eventAtlanta, Ga., June 18, 2013 -- Administrator Craig Fugate speaks about the financial and economic aspects of disaster recovery. The event was hosted by Operation HOPE, an organization that works to share financial literacy with underserved populations around the U.S.

Newly minted FEMA Youth Preparedness Council members

In case you missed it from earlier in the week, the FEMA Youth Preparedness Council just added five new members for 2013.  The Youth Preparedness Council is brings together youth leaders from across the country who are working in their communities to move the needle on getting America’s youth better prepared for emergencies.  Through regular meetings, idea sharing, and networking, the council provides a great way for FEMA to bring in their energy and enthusiasm, while sharing the agency’s successful approaches to spreading emergency preparedness.

Join me in welcoming the newest members:

  • Sophie Friedfeld-Gebaide (New York)
  • Alex Pasculle (Pennsylvania)
  • Louyankkah Justilien (Florida)
  • Daniel Wernsman (Wisconsin)
  • Emily Rosenblum (Missouri)

All of the members of the Youth Preparedness Council are doing great work – from holding health and wellness fairs, organizing emergency safety drills, to participating in their local Community Emergency Response Team.  I encourage you to check out their bios and learn more about the program at Ready.gov/youth-preparedness-council.

From around the web

There were lots of great stories from the week, but here are three of my favorites:

  • Administrator Fugate visited with The Weather Channel earlier in the week and talked about lessons from Hurricane Sandy, as well as the 2013 hurricane season.  You can check out the full Q & A session on weather.com.
  • This next one is a must-read for those in the emergency management field.  FEMA’s Mike Byrne, our lead in New York after Hurricane Sandy, provided his perspective in Emergency Management Magazine.  Mike has tons of disaster experience so he talked about how events the size of Hurricane Sandy are different from other types of disasters.  The three main differentiators he talks about in the article: scale, velocity, and ambiguity.
  • All right, this one is also a must-read for those in emergency management.  The Mid-American Regional Council posted a great story this week about inclusive emergency planning.  For those that don’t know, the Mid-American Regional Council brings together city and county governments in the Kansas City metro area to advance social, economic, and environmental progress.  Justin Sorg, their Emergency Services Planner, wrote about how incorporating a community’s needs into emergency plans doesn’t take rocket science – it just takes bringing the right people together to solve problems. 

With that, have a safe weekend!

Simulating working relationships during a disaster - the students' perspective

How well a community responds to a disaster or emergency depends, in large part, on how connected the community is.  The first step to meeting the needs of those impacted by a disaster is knowing what the needs are and what resources are available locally to meet those needs.  This disaster-related interconnectedness of a community can happen two ways: during a crisis where everyone is forced to work together towards a common goal, or by aggressively making the connections before a disaster through training and workshops. 

One of the courses taught at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute, the Integrated Emergency Management Course, focuses on building the relationships and connections necessary to effectively respond to crises.  The course is a four-day, exercise-based training activity that puts local officials through simulated crisis scenarios so they develop the right procedures, practices, and plans to protect life and property.

Last week, we conducted the course for a group of 65 emergency responders, emergency managers, elected officials, and other local leaders from Volusia County, Florida.  The county is no stranger to disasters. Since 2004, Volusia County has been affected by four hurricanes, a tropical storm, two major tornadoes and several heavy rain storms that produced severe regional flooding.  Fortunately, this community has made disaster preparedness a priority.

Rather than trying to explain each portion of the course, we’ll let the feedback from students tell the story.  Here’s what a few participants said about the focus on making connections with other community leaders:

Ponce Inlet Police Chief Frank Fabrizio:

Bringing together many different organizations and disciplines from throughout Volusia County gave me a greater understanding of their needs and concerns and the resources they can provide for law enforcement. I found this training to be very beneficial and I believe it helped prepare Volusia County to better serve its citizens during an emergency.

Bob Mandarino, Fire Chief for the city of Ormond Beach:

The course and exercises had most participants playing their real-life roles and exposed them to areas of planning and communication where there could be room for improvement. The opportunity to network with fellow community participants and understand their perspective on how events should be managed will lead to the enhancement of processes for our community.

It was great to see a diverse group from our community learning and working together while preparing and handling the exercises.

DeLand Commissioner Leigh Matusik:

In addition to participating in training and planning exercises, this course helped all participants work together in a simulated emergency which makes us more prepared when we are put in a real world disaster situation.

training classHere's a shot of the students before the simulated Emergency Operations Center and Joint Information scenario.

On day two of the course, we discuss the role of the local emergency operations center, how to communicate effectively during an emergency, and work with Public Information Officers on media relations simulations.  Here’s what Adam Barringer, Mayor New Smyrna Beach, Florida said about his experience:

This is my first visit to the Emergency Management Institute, participating in the Integrated Emergency Management Course.  The information presented is timely as our county has encountered natural disasters and “terrorists” actions threatening our nation’s safety.  The on-camera training, which I believe will become the most applicable to my role as mayor, was very valuable to me, as well as learning about the Volusia/Flagler Public Information Network; the Incident Command System organizational chart and levels of responsibility. 

My role as mayor will allow me to share this information with our city council, while my role as Chairman of Volusia Council of Governments will allow me to share this information with all mayors in Volusia County and the executive director of the Volusia League of Cities. 

interview trainingOne of the Public Information Officers in a mock interview during the Integrated Emergency Management Course. 

The Integrated Emergency Management Course also provides information on the role of a Joint Information Center and how it can provide the media and the public with the most up-to-date, trusted information after a disaster.  Here are a few insights into the media and communications aspect of the training:

George Recktenwald, Director of Public Protection Volusia County Fla.

I learned working with the media to give out information can definitely help in an emergency. Social media is also important, since it can help build a network for the media and citizens to use during an event. The most valuable aspect of the training was the emphasis on making sure all of our websites and social media sites are relevant.

Loretta Moisio, Ormond Beach, Florida:

The training was beneficial as I have never been involved in a JIC and didn’t know how it would work. The information will be very valuable when I need to work in a similar situation because anything can happen anywhere at any time.  During training I learned that every detail in a news conference should be carefully planned as it can help to maintain calm during stressful situations and get the right information to the audience to assure their safety.

One thing we particularly like about the Integrated Emergency Management Course is that it is community-specific.  It’s tailored to the needs of the local community; so the Volusia County course was designed to provide a joint education and training package focused on the interaction of the Emergency Operations Center and the Joint Information Center.

The students’ reactions demonstrate why this kind of exercise-based, hands-on training is so important for emergency responders at all levels.  The more we can plan and practice, the better our communities and neighborhoods will be able to respond to emergencies when they happen. 

Last week’s course was particularly beneficial for everyone and we’d like to give a special “thank you” to the instructors and class participants.  If you’re an emergency manager or first responder and want to learn more about exercise-based training and Integrated Emergency Management Courses, visit www.training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IEMC/ .  To learn more about other training courses that FEMA offers training.fema.gov.  We hope to see you in a future class!

What We're Watching: 6/14/13

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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.

Severe weather threat continues

Millions around the country dealt with a series of severe storms this week – and forecasts from the National Weather Service are calling for a potential for storms over the Great Plains, stretching from North Dakota to Kansas today.  As this week’s storms remind us, keeping up with your local forecast and having a plan are two key steps to stay safe.  What are the best ways to do that?  Well, you can follow the weather in your area through local TV/radio, but you can also do so on your phone through the National Weather Service mobile site at mobile.weather.gov.  And if you don’t have a NOAA Weather Radio, it’s definitely worth the investment.  It can alert you of severe weather conditions in your area 24/7, while providing specific actions for staying safe.  You can pick them up at most big box stores, and hardware stores are a good place to look, too.

As for making a plan for severe weather, Ready.gov has you covered.  You can visit the site on your computer or mobile device for a full list tips on staying safe before, during, or after severe weather.

Come Join our Team

Here at FEMA, we’re always looking to expand our team and recruit highly motivated people interested in a rewarding career in emergency management. Here are a few open positions within different departments of the agency:

Visit our Careers page to learn more about FEMA and browse through other opportunities that are available.

Upcoming Events

Here are a few events happening next week:

  • Small Business Week – It’s important for everyone to be prepared for an emergency, even businesses. As part of Small Business Week, we’re encouraging all business owners and employees to take the time to make sure your business is prepared for an emergency and employees/coworkers know what to do in the event of an emergency. Visit the Small Business Administration’s website and Ready.gov for tips and resources on preparing your business for an emergency.
  • Operation Hope – If you’re in the Atlanta, Georgia area, on Tuesday June 18 at 12:30 p.m. EDT Administrator Craig Fugate will be participating on the Operation Hope Forum titled Financial and Economic Disaster Recovery: People, Preparedness and the Price.  To learn more about the event or to register, visit the Operation Hope Website, follow @OpHOPE_ATL and follow the conversation using #HOPEforum.

Video of the Week

FEMA's Private Sector forged a relationship with the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore, the state of New Jersey Department of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the Lakewood BlueClaws minor league baseball team to raise donations of preparedness items and increased awareness of the importance of preparedness.

Photos of the Week

And finally, here are a few of my favorite photos that came into our Photo Library this week:


Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, stops at the memorial set up at Plaza Towers Elementary School to pay her respects during a tour with federal, state and local officials.Moore, Okla., June 12, 2013 -- Governor Mary Fallin, stops at the memorial set up at Plaza Towers Elementary School to pay her respects during a tour with federal, state and local officials. Residents are encouraged to register with FEMA if they sustained damage during this storm. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA


FEMA Corps members Lorna Parish, center, and Eloy Arguello, right, register a local resident at a Vietnamese Survivor Event held at the Saigon Taipei Market.Moore, Okla., June 8, 2013 -- FEMA Corps members Lorna Parish, center, and Eloy Arguello, right, register a local resident at a Vietnamese Survivor Event held at the Saigon Taipei Market Residents impacted by the May 20th tornado are still encouraged to register with FEMA. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Have a safe weekend!

Lessons for business resiliency in 140 characters or less

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Hurricane Sandy, the recent, deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma and the Boston Marathon bombing are stark reminders that businesses and commercial and industrial properties are susceptible to a wide variety of emergencies.  Hurricanes, extensive flooding, blizzards, ice storms, fires and utility disruptions are just some of the emergencies that can impact a business’ operations, bringing fresh urgency to the need for business preparedness and resiliency efforts.

Such emergencies and disasters have the potential to cripple or even destroy businesses – of all sizes and scope – that are unprepared for such events; studies show that 40% of businesses that do not have emergency plans in place do not re-open after a major incident.

Having businesses that are resilient to emergencies ultimately helps local communities and citizens recover from disasters faster – which is why business resilience is so important to FEMA.   Engaging an entire community in disaster preparedness, response and recovery activities is a main responsibility of FEMA’s Private Sector Liaisons, who work in all ten FEMA regions across the country.  As the Private Sector Liaison for FEMA Region I (which covers six states and 10 Indian Tribes in New England), I arranged for our regional office to participate in the “Weathering the Storm: How Properties Can Prepare and Respond” event that NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, hosted on May 31, 2013. 

The event focused on the important steps commercial property owners should take to prepare their properties and protect their tenants – a great topic that doesn’t get talked about enough. It also featured a variety of experts who discussed topics including the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, developing a storm preparedness plan, insurance impacts and legal challenges, and “preparing buildings for tomorrow.”  

With support from NAIOP Massachusetts executives, FEMA Region I Acting Administrator Paul Ford and the directors of our National Preparedness, Hazard Mitigation and External Affairs divisions, a team of FEMA experts spent several hours at the event, sharing literature with and talking to attendees interested in learning how FEMA can help them protect their business, property and tenants. 

To help capture the insights from the speakers, we live tweeted the event from the Region 1 Twitter account (@femaregion1).  So rather than rehashing all of the lessons they shared, here are the bite-sized messages posted during the event – some great tips for businesses: 

  • Vivien Li, President, The Boston Harbor Association:
  • Alfred Scaramelli, Senior Vice President, Beacon Capital Partners, LLC:
  • John Brandstetter, Managing Director, The Brandstetter Group:
  • Peter See, Boston Properties

The event in Boston last week is a great model for other communities to follow. It was successful because it provided a platform for business owners to share their stories from disasters in a way that others could apply to their own companies.  Preparing for emergencies makes good business sense. The better prepared your business and employees are and the more resilient your business is, the faster your operations can recover – helping not only your business but your community as well.

I’m thankful that NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, allowed FEMA to participate. I hope other communities will learn from this event and business owners who weren’t there will take the lessons to heart!

Other resources

What we’re watching: 6/7/13

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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.

map of projected rainfallImage of projected rainfall totals over the next 48 hours, courtesy of the National Hurricane Center.

Tropical storm Andrea & the threat of flooding

We’ve been closely monitoring Tropical Storm Andrea all week long, and forecasts from the National Weather Service are calling for a wet weekend for much of the East Coast.  While Andrea may not bring powerful winds, the main threat from the system will be localized flooding.  If you’re along the East Coast, remember to keep a close watch on your local weather conditions – especially if flooding could be a possibility.  A few flood safety reminders to keep in mind over the weekend:

  • Don’t walk or drive through flooded areas – the water depth can be misleading and the current can be unpredictable.  It only takes a small amount of standing water to make you lose control of your vehicle, so be prepared to take alternative routes if you drive upon flooded areas.
  • Avoid streams, storm drains, and other low-lying areas that can flood easily and quickly.  Flash flooding can occur very quickly and these areas can be very dangerous.
  • Listen to any directions given by local officials.  A NOAA Weather Radio is a great way to receive severe weather updates 24/7, and you can also tune in to local radio/TV for updates for your area.
  • Visit Ready.gov/floods on your computer and m.fema.gov/floods on your phone for a full list of flood safety tips.

“Hacking” to raise fire safety awareness

Last weekend’s National Day of Civic Hacking drummed up some great energy and enthusiasm around the country.  The event brought together technology enthusiasts, developers, and community organizers to solve problems and challenges in their neighborhoods by using technology.  As one of the government sponsors of the event, FEMA posed a challenge for developers to create an online visualization of fire incidents across the U.S. using data from the U.S. Fire Administration.

It was inspiring to see a few groups start to tackle our challenge - developers around the country came up with three prototypes after the weekend was over.  Here are the links - visualization one, visualization two, visualization three - you can see how each one has a unique approach to visualizing the data.

In addition to the prototypes using our fire data, there were other awesome initiatives focused on emergency preparedness.  One in particular was “Hack the Rock” – a citizen-driven group in Rockaways, NY who used Hurricane Sandy as the impetus for developing easy-to-use apps that could help keep residents safe.   One app they came up with is a checklist that customizes safety information based on the scenario you’re in.  (For more on the Hack the Rock group’s efforts, visit their project page)

Reflecting on Missouri Buy-Outs

Earlier this week, an event that didn’t receive much fanfare across the country demonstrated a success story for preventing flood damages.  A levee breach occurred in West Alton, Missouri, flooding the area around the levee.  However, due to property buyouts that have happened in recent years in the flood-prone areas around the levee, minimal flooding impacts were felt by homeowners and businesses.  Here’s what Beth Freeman, FEMA’s Regional Administrator in Region 7 (covering Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska) had to say about it:

Last spring, during our annual Bring Your Child to Work Day, a youngster asked me about the “feel good” in what I do, and the work of FEMA. As I left the office yesterday I had that “feel good” moment I think that young person was referring to.

Every time a state receives a federal disaster declaration, money is set aside for projects that will help to reduce the impact of future disasters. Sometimes it can be difficult to see the benefit these projects bring to a community, but yesterday, when news of the impending levee breech in West Alton came across my email, I knew the money the State of Missouri invested in flood mitigation in St. Charles County was paying a dividend.

Through the work of local emergency mangers, community planners, and Missouri’s State Emergency Management Agency, over 200 flood prone properties within West Alton have been acquired since 1994 through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).  And throughout St. Charles County 1,437 properties have been purchased.   

When the river goes below flood stage once again, we will have additional data to study the cost of these acquisition projects compared to the projected cost of disaster recovery that would have been needed over the years had the buy-outs not occurred. But today, the value of this work is much more personal. It is measured in the well-being of the families who are safe and not wondering what will be left of their homes and way of life once the floodwaters recede.

Visit fema.gov for more on FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Program, or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website for info on the ongoing flood fight efforts in Missouri.

Practicing emergency response

Practicing is an important part of emergency management.  It’s something FEMA and our federal, state, and local partners do on a regular basis to make sure we’re prepared to respond in the event of an emergency.  Over the past several months, we’ve been getting ready for the Atlantic hurricane season (which started June 1) by going through several simulated disaster scenarios.  These scenarios, or exercises as we call them, help us practice coordination, test our equipment’s capabilities, and ensure we have a thorough understanding of what works well and where we can improve. 

One exercise we participated in recently was called “Ardent Sentry”, hosted by our partners at NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command.  The exercise simulated a complex disaster scenario – multiple hurricanes that had cascading impacts.  Administrator Fugate and General Chuck Jacoby, of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, wrote up a summary of the exercise with details on how the federal family is getting prepared for an active 2013 hurricane season.

Photos of the week

Finally, here are a few of my favorite photos that came into our Photo Library this week:

therapy art after tornadoMoore, Okla., June 5, 2013 -- Plaza Towers Elementary School first grade teacher Sarah Tauscher, writes on a brick from the school during a healing arts project. The project called {HOPE} raisers is a group of individuals, businesses and causes that care about the community from all over the country. Together they use their time, talent and treasures to create community engagement and Raise Some Hope. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

tornado memorialMoore, Okla., May 30, 2013 -- A Moore resident visits the memorial shrine at Plaza Towers Elementary School. The area was struck by a F5 tornado on May 20, 2013. Andrea Booher/FEMA

Have a safe weekend!

The Big Picture: The role of mapping in assessing disaster damages

Almost two years to the day of the Joplin tornado anniversary, a devastating EF-5 tornado hit the town of Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, 2013. The path of the Moore tornado was 17 miles long and two miles wide.   After a devastating event like a tornado, assessing the damages and painting a picture of the affected community is of utmost importance.  The better information first responders and emergency managers have about damaged areas, the more effectively they can prioritize areas of needs and deliver services.

From the start of the response, geospatial teams from across multiple agencies and the private sector had a game plan and an expectation of deliverables needed to bring clarity to a complex situation.  Almost immediately after the tornado, our geospatial analysts began producing baseline information maps (i.e. demographics, population density, and economic statistics) to provide situational awareness to the response teams. 

map of tornado damagePublicly available aerial imagery was leveraged with demographic information to show the impact of the tornado’s path (Map Credit: ESRI)

Within the first few hours after the tornadoes struck Moore, Civil Air Patrol (CAP) was leveraged by the State of Oklahoma to collect aerial imagery along the tornado path. FEMA added to this effort via a Mission Assignment to collect ground photos of the devastation.  All of the images collected from the CAP team were geo-tagged and uploaded to the FEMA Geoplatform. In addition to the CAP imagery, FEMA leveraged a new DHS contract for high-resolution aerial imagery. Combined, this imagery assisted us in delivering house by house geospatial damage assessments of the affected area.  A major contributor to this effort was the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).  Collectively, the FEMA/NGA team was able to deliver highly accurate geospatial damage assessments within four days of the event. These assessments were leveraged by various response and recovery programs across all levels of government to focus their efforts on the most heavily impacted sites.

map of tornado damagePublicly available imagery was leveraged to see a before or after of the affected area. (Map Credit: ESRI)

One of the main goals of FEMA’s geospatial team is to provide the accurate, readily available, and timely information to support first responders and local officials.  By posting the data we collect and analyze publicly, private companies (such as Google’s Crisis Map of the Oklahoma Tornado) can leverage government provided information to reach a larger audience during times of crisis.  Survivors can use the interactive maps to check the affected areas, and more importantly their personal property from a remote location, without disrupting response efforts or putting themselves in dangerous conditions. 

The groundwork for the geospatial team’s response to Moore was laid two years earlier in response to the Joplin tornado of May 2011. After the Joplin tornado, a pilot project was launched to conduct house by house damage assessments using aerial imagery.  The initial pilot project produced over 8,000 detailed damage assessments which leveraged National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) imagery.  In addition to NOAA imagery, CAP was identified as having the capabilities to collect initial situation awareness aerial photos.  The assessments completed during the pilot program were done rapidly and proved to be very accurate. 

Timely, accurate information displayed on a map has always been useful to emergency responders – and I’m looking forward to continuing our work and contributing to the emergency management team’s response to emergencies.  For more on the efforts of FEMA’s geospatial team, visit our Geoplatform.

Here's the current, clickable Oklahoma tornado situation map, along with other images from the May 20 tornado that struck Moore:


View Larger Map

map of tornado damageNational Geospatial-Intelligence Agency preliminary damage assessments displayed on FEMA'’s GeoPlatform. (Map credit: FEMA)

map of tornado damageTornado situation map with ground and aerial imagery. The viewer can click on any symbol to display data and photos associated with that particular location. (Map credit: FEMA)

‘Prepare for the worst, hope for the best’

Editor's Note: This blog originally appeared on the U.S. Coast Guard Blog.

Petty Officer 2nd Class James Hockenberry, a flight mechanic at Air Station New Orleans, with his family. Photo courtesy of the Hockenberry family.Petty Officer 2nd Class James Hockenberry, a flight mechanic at Air Station New Orleans, with his family. Photo courtesy of the Hockenberry family.

With contributions from Susanna Marking, Office of External Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As Hurricane Isaac inched towards the Gulf Coast in August 2012, Petty Officer 2nd Class James Hockenberry was assigned to an aircrew tasked with relocating a Coast Guard helicopter outside of the storm’s path. Left behind were his wife and two boys.

A flight mechanic at Air Station Orleans, Hockenberry’s duty to respond doesn’t stop when there is a storm on its way and he ensures his family is prepared well in advance of the storm first and foremost.

A Coast Guard aircrew flies over flooded Louisiana during Hurricane Isaac, Aug. 11, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo.A Coast Guard aircrew flies over flooded Louisiana during Hurricane Isaac, Aug. 11, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Stationed in New Orleans for the past three years, Hockenberry and his family have seen firsthand the very real danger tropical storms and hurricanes pose. Together, the family ensures they are ready before, during and after a storm. The Hockenberry’s summarize their hurricane preparedness plan into one simple mantra – “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

“Even if the news is predicting a small hurricane or a large tropical storm, you never know what can happen,” said Hockenberry. “I’ve noticed that the smaller hurricanes can quicker upgrade to a major hurricane right before they make landfall.”

Communities all along the Gulf Coast count on Hockenberry and his fellow lifesavers to take action during a storm, but his family is counting on him as well. He is a lifesaver but he is also a dad.

“At the beginning of Hurricane season our command briefs us on the expectations for the upcoming season. From there I go home and I talk with my wife and my in-laws – who live only 30 minutes away – about what to expect,” said Hockenberry. “We discuss our evacuation routes…depending on the path the hurricane might take.”

Locating an additional place for shelter, identifying key evacuation routes and communicating with those around you are all critical in staying safe before a storm hits. During Isaac, his family stuck with the plan, allowing him to focus on the mission at hand – saving lives.

“I’m glad my family went to [my wife's] parent’s house because it was one less thing I had to worry about,” recalled Hockenberry. “I’m also glad they decided to go to Mobile even though no evacuation order had been given for the same reasons.”

Coast Guard helicopters from air stations Mobile, New Orleans and Houston inside the Air Station Houston hanger for protection and routine maintenance as they wait for Hurricane Isaac to make landfall, Aug. 28, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard Brahm.Coast Guard helicopters from air stations Mobile, New Orleans and Houston inside the Air Station Houston hanger for protection and routine maintenance as they wait for Hurricane Isaac to make landfall, Aug. 28, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard Brahm.

Along with discussing plans, the Hockenberry family prepares an emergency kit. Filled with food that won’t spoil, gallons of water, flashlights, batteries and extra diapers, the kit is ready regardless of what is forecasted. They also fill up a propane container – to have something to cook with, buy extra ice and top off all vehicles early since gas lines fill up hours before a hurricane makes landfall.

Discussing emergency plans and having the necessary tools is an annual reality for Hockenberry and his family. But despite the frequency, they never let their guard down.

“Isaac was only a Category 1 however it caused widespread flooding because it was so slow moving and power was out around the city for about five days after the storm had passed and base didn’t get power back until eight days after the storm had passed,” recalled Hockenberry.

The Hockenberry family’s preparedness was put to the test during Isaac but they stuck to their plan and everyone stayed safe. We encourage you and your family to stay ready as well. You are the first line of defense to make sure you and your loved ones stay safe during a hurricane. The time to prepare is now.

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