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Prepare. Stay Safe. Rebuild.

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Philadelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Photo of the game field used to challenge robots teams have built. Objects in the photo include various obstacles that are designed for teams and their robots to overcome. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMAPhiladelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Photo of the game field used to challenge robots teams have built. Objects in the photo include various obstacles that are designed for teams and their robots to overcome. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMA

Sounds like it could be a new Ready Campaign, doesn’t it?  But, actually, it’s the tag line for this year’s FIRST Lego League (FLL) Competition challenge: “Nature’s Fury.” 

Here’s the background: In early fall of each year, FLL releases their challenge, based on a real-world scientific topic. Teams of up to ten children, along with an adult coach, enter the challenge and compete by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field (Robot Game) and developing a solution to a problem they have identified (The Project Presentation) guided by FLL Core Values during an official tournament.

In the 2013 Nature’s Fury Challenge, 200,000 children ages 9 to 16 from over 70 countries explored the awe-inspiring storms, quakes, waves and more that we call natural disasters. Teams discovered what can be done when intense natural events meet the places people live, work, and play.

Given the topic of this year’s challenge, FLL reached out to FEMA Region III to see if any emergency management experts would be interested in volunteering as judges for a Qualifying Tournament scheduled for Saturday January 11 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA. 

Interested? Of course I was! Legos and Emergency Management are two of my all-time favorite things. I quickly submitted my name, attended training, and excitedly awaited the opportunity to see what the teams had devised.  Our Regional Administrator, MaryAnn Tierney, had also planned to participate but couldn’t do so that weekend since Region III was activated in response to a chemical spill into the Elk River in West Virginia.

When I arrived at the Franklin Institute I could immediately feel the energy and boundless enthusiasm of the teams, their coaches and the volunteers.  We paused for the Opening Ceremony and Pledge of Allegiance after an initial round of project, robot design and core values judging.  Judging continued until just after lunch and then the focus shifted to the robot competition tournament.  The robot tournament room was sheer pandemonium—teams, coaches and volunteers all cheered wildly and encouraged the teams as they participated in the competition round.  The action paused at the end of the robot competition so that the final tournament results could be tallied but the energy in the room continued.   The teams laughed, clapped and line-danced as music blared over the speakers. I haven’t had that much fun in a long time. 

Philadelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Members of the Moravian Academy Team assemble their robot prior to the completion of the competition. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMAPhiladelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Members of the Moravian Academy Team assemble their robot prior to the completion of the competition. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMA

The Qualifying Tournament champions were That Other Team: Laura Dodds, Matt Lebermann, Charles Cote, Ian Beazley, CJ Stiles, and Kaity O'Hanlon. The team is from the University Scholars Program in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and is part of the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School.  That Other Team’s project proposal was for a mobile app that would use the barometric pressure sensors now being included in many smartphones to improve and localize tornado warnings now broadcast by other sources.  The team had clearly done their homework and done it well.  They understood the tornado threat, had looked at how tornado warnings were issued and explored current and emerging technologies.  Best of all, they started off their presentation with a light-hearted skit with characters from the Wizard of Oz.  Their project proposal was extremely impressive while still being fun (an FLL core value).  We wish That Other Team and all the other qualifying teams the best of luck as they continue the competition.

I can’t imagine a better winter Saturday than spending time with a young people who were really excited to find creative solutions for real world emergency management problems caused by nature.  The exposure and experience they gained by working through these issues in their teams allowed them to not only learn more about the science and engineering needed to devise such solutions, but they also were able to gain valuable insight and feedback from professionals in the field  for which they were improvising these solutions. 

It was a great experience for me--a judge—too. It was a chance to have a positive impact on potential future emergency managers, and the solutions they proposed for real world problems reminded me that there is a younger generation out there looking up to us, wanting to be just like us one day. That’s pretty cool. As were the Legos!

(Editor's note: We are providing links and references to third party sites and organizations for your reference. FEMA does not endorse any non-government entities, organizations or services.)

What We’re Watching: 1/17/14

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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.

Update on West Virginia Response

FEMA is continuing to support the ongoing response efforts following a chemical spill in Charleston, W.Va..

Charleston, W. Va., January 11, 2014 -- Trucks full of water arrive in Charleston, W. Va., for distribution to residents affected by the chemical spill.Charleston, W. Va., January 11, 2014 -- Trucks full of water arrive in Charleston, W. Va., for distribution to residents affected by the chemical spill.

The first trucks full of water for tomorrow have begun arriving in Charleston. #WVwater pic.twitter.com/Uo0fp4eNoz

— FEMA Region 3 (@FEMAregion3) January 12, 2014

At the request of the state, FEMA has been delivering water to a staging area in Charleston, W.Va., where it is turned over to the state for distribution. The trucks started rolling in last Friday evening, and since then, more than 4 million liters of water have been delivered to the state. Bottled water continues to be distributed to affected residents by the state in coordination with the local officials of affected counties. 

Residents in affected areas are encouraged to continue to listen to state and local officials for guidance on water quality and the location of water distribution areas. For more information and continued updates, visit the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management website and Facebook page.

Monitoring the Colby Fire in California

Yesterday, FEMA authorized the use of federal funds to assist the state of California in fighting the Colby Fire currently burning in Los Angeles County. This authorization made FEMA funding available to reimburse up to 75 percent of the eligible firefighting costs.

At the time of the request, the fire was threatening 500 homes in the areas of Glendora and San Dimas with a combined population of 100,000.  Mandatory evacuations have been issued by local officials for approximately 7,000 people.  As of yesterday, the fire had burned an excess of 1700 acres of State and private land. 

Residents in the path or potential path of the wildfire should continue listen to state and local officials for updates and guidance.

Also check out our Social Hub for updates and information from trusted government sources in the area. You can also find tips on how to be prepared for wildfires over at www.ready.gov/wildfires.

Know a Young Person with a Passion for Preparedness?

FEMA is looking for youth leaders dedicated to public service and making a difference in their community to serve on FEMA’s National Youth Preparedness Council.  The Youth Preparedness Council is a unique opportunity for young leaders to serve on a highly distinguished national council and participate in the Youth Preparedness Council Summit.

Additionally, these youth leaders have the opportunity to complete a self-selected preparedness project and to share their opinions, experiences, ideas, solutions and questions regarding youth disaster preparedness with the leadership of FEMA and other national youth preparedness organizations.

Any individual between the ages of 12 and 17 who is engaged in individual and community preparedness or who has experienced a disaster motivating them to make a positive difference in their community, may apply to serve on the Youth Preparedness Council. Individuals who applied last year are highly encouraged to apply again.

We encourage you to share the application with young people who might be interested in applying. All applicants must submit a completed application form and two letters of recommendation. All applications and supporting materials must be received no later than February 24, 2014, 11:59 p.m. EST in order to be eligible. New Youth Preparedness Council members will be announced in May.

Favorite Tweets of the Week

Finally, here are some of our favorite tweets shared our partners across the country:

Stay connected in an emergency with these tips for your mobile device. #Virginia #rva #hrva #northernva #swva pic.twitter.com/pOc3FsnzoU

— VDEM (@VDEM) January 14, 2014

"If you can pack a gym bag, you can pack a disaster bag." Infographic from @AnaheimFire: http://t.co/r5NcTfesy4 pic.twitter.com/fm1RJnOXUj

— Readygov (@Readygov) January 13, 2014

Get the new all-in-one tool to help you be safe during disasters. Download the FREE! #ReadyNC app. Available in... http://t.co/T0ezrPr4Dj

— NC Emergency Managem (@NCEmergency) January 17, 2014

Have a great weekend and stay safe!

College Football Championship + Campus Safety = Social Media Success

 Aurburn, Ala., January 3, 2014 -- Auburn University Mascot, Aubie, holds a sign with the Auburn vs. Florida State campus preparedness social media competition during an Auburn Basketball. Aurburn, Ala., January 3, 2014 -- Auburn University Mascot, Aubie, holds a sign with the Auburn vs. Florida State campus preparedness social media competition during an Auburn Basketball.

When Florida State University (FSU) and Auburn University (AU) met on January 6th for the BCS National Championship Game, it wasn’t just the football teams that went to battle.  For several weeks, the emergency management offices at both universities had been engaged in a fierce competition on another field – social media.

Created in the competitive spirit of the BCS Championship Game, the BCS Social Media in Emergency Management (#SMEM) Challenge between FSU and AU was launched on December 16, 2013.  The competition was designed to engage students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the local community, in the universities’ emergency management programs, with the underlying goal of promoting the culture of preparedness and safety on both campuses.  For three weeks, the programs competed in 11 different categories based on factors such as the overall increase in Twitter followers and Facebook likes, number of engagements on Twitter and Facebook, and submissions and votes in a photo contest, all tracked on a daily leader board.

 Tallahassee, Fla., December 10, 2013 -- Florida State University students and fans participate in the Florida State University v. Auburn Social Media in Emergency Management Challenge. Tallahassee, Fla., December 10, 2013 -- Florida State University students and fans participate in the Florida State University v. Auburn Social Media in Emergency Management Challenge.

Congratulations Intl Assoc of Emergency Managers Student Chapter at FSU for their winning #KeepFSUSafe fan sign photo pic.twitter.com/W4Hy4aDlBj

— FSU ALERT (@FSUAlert) January 7, 2014

“The concept of a SMEM competition actually began back in October between myself and Scott Burnotes, the Emergency Management Director at the University of Miami,” said Dave Bujak, the Emergency Management Coordinator at FSU.  “We just didn’t have enough time to put it together for our November annual rivalry matchup.  When Auburn popped into the BCS National Championship with us, I contacted Susan McCallister (AU’s Associate Director for Public Safety Information and Education), and we spent a week finalizing the details.”

Social media has become an important tool for both government and private sector organizations to communicate with key stakeholders before, during and after emergencies. Through platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, information about emergencies, and how to prepare for them, can be quickly and effectively communicated to a large audience.   The use of social media also helps create a dialogue between emergency managers and those directly affected by a crisis or disaster, providing greater insight into various aspects of preparing for and responding to emergency situations.

Follow @FSUAlert to help FSU beat out Auburn at the #SMEM challenge! Help #KeepFSUSafe and keep the #BCS spirit high!

— Florida State SGA (@FSUSGA) January 6, 2014

BEFORE 11AM CT!! Submit a photo to help us #BeatFSU. Take your pic with a #KeepAUSafe sign, tweet it with #KeepAUSafe. Simple as that.

— AU Emergency Mgmt (@AUEmergencyMgmt) January 6, 2014

When the SMEM competition began, AU’s emergency management office had just started its social media outreach program.  Through the challenge, the university’s Public Safety and Emergency Management Facebook page experienced a 2,004 percent growth in ‘likes’ in only three weeks, helping the school establish a social media audience that rivals several institutions with long-standing SMEM programs.

“This has been a great way for us to launch our new non-emergency social media sites,” said AU’s Susan McCallister.  “I highly recommend this type of friendly competition to others – it’s a great way to get your campus engaged.”

The challenge also highlighted the universities’ partnerships with local, city, and state emergency management organizations, and emphasized the important role the local community plays in their emergency preparedness efforts.  According to Bujak, “the campaign has given us the opportunity to thank and recognize our community partners who work with us to keep the FSU community safe.”

Although FSU emerged victorious by a very slim margin when the final results were tallied, both institutions agree that the program has gone a long way in promoting the importance of emergency preparedness, and hope that the challenge serves as an inspiration to other campuses. “Our #KeepFSUSafe or #KeepAUSafe social media posts were viewed over 2.7 million times by our respective audiences,” notes Bujak.  “If nothing else, that exposure alone has made all of this worthwhile.”

Other resources:

What We’re Watching: 1/3/14

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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.

Winter Storm Update

People across the country are being impacted by severe winter weather. According to our friends at the National Weather Service, another winter storm is expected to affect the Central and Eastern U.S soon. The storm is currently developing over the Northern Rockies and Plains with blizzard conditions forecast for many areas in the Northern Plains. Extreme low temperatures and dangerous wind chill are expected for many parts of the Central and Eastern U.S., and there’s a chance of heavy snow from the mid-Mississippi Valley to the Great Lakes on Saturday and into northern New England on Sunday.

If severe winter weather is expected in your area, here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Stay up to date with your latest forecast – visit weather.gov or mobile.weather.gov on your smartphone for the latest conditions in your area.
  • Listen to local officials – stay tuned to the news and listen to directions from local officials.
  • Limit travel during a storm – only venture out on the roads if it’s absolutely necessary. If you must travel, let someone know your destination, the route you plan to take and when you expect to arrive.
  • Have an emergency kit in your vehicle – if a winter storm develops suddenly, have supplies on hand in case you’re stranded in your vehicle.
  • Take precautions for power outages – winter storms often cause power outages, so be sure your family and home take steps to sustain yourselves for at least 72 hours

For more winter safety tips, visit Ready.gov/winter or http://m.fema.gov on your mobile device.

New Year – New Resolution

We’re three days into 2014 and it’s not too late to make your New Year’s Resolution! Why not make a resolution to ensure you and your loved ones are better prepared for an emergency?

Having a family communication plan is the first step to ensuring you and your family are prepared for an emergency. It’s also a great way to talk to your kids about emergency preparedness and incorporating them in getting prepared.

So this year, make a family communication plan that answers – who to call, where to meet and what to pack.  That’s it, a basic family communication plan that answers those three questions. Simple enough, right?

Keeping our New Year’s Resolutions can be tough, but making these plans to ensure you and your family members are prepared is simple and can make all the difference in an emergency.

Happy New Year!

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