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Emergency Managers Practice for Emergencies, and So Can You

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If you work in the emergency management field, you’ve probably heard about the 2014 Capstone National Exercise.

For those who haven’t, it’s a complex activity comprised of five distinct, but linked, component events: Alaska Shield , Ardent Sentry 14, Nuclear Weapon Accident/Incident Exercise, Eagle Horizon and Silver Phoenix. Together, these activities help us examine the core capabilities described in the National Preparedness Goal.

More specifically, the events and participants include the following:

  • Alaska Shield: State emergency management agencies and FEMA will commemorate the anniversary of the 1964 9.2 magnitude Great Alaskan Earthquake with an exercise that tests response, recovery and mass casualty care.
  • Ardent Sentry 14: In conjunction with Alaska Shield and other exercise sponsors, the Department of Defense will exercise its Defense Support to Civilian Authorities’ mission.
  • Nuclear Weapon Accident/Incident Exercise: The Department of Energy will participate in the Capstone with a scenario that tests response and recovery following an accident during secure transport convoy of nuclear weapons.
  • Eagle Horizon 2014: During this exercise, many federal departments and agencies will activate their continuity of operations and reconstitution planning to test their continuity plans and ensure that primary mission essential functions can take place from alternate facilities.
  • Silver Phoenix 2014: This recovery focused event is threaded across the entire Capstone and explores challenges associated with prioritizing, and conducting recovery activities involving multiple geographically-dispersed and competing events using the National Disaster Recovery Framework.

We plan activities like Capstone to help our participants think through how to respond to and recover from a catastrophe. Many different people play a role in how our nation responds to disasters, so these exercises include not only FEMA but also our partners in federal, state, tribal and local government, the private sector, and non-profit and faith-based-organizations.

Exercises are facilitated by FEMA’s National Exercise Division, which is where I work.  Just like FEMA’s role with coordinating these exercises, everyone has a part to play in building our nation’s reliance to disasters. For example, you can visit Ready.gov right now for simple steps to prepare yourself, your family and your community for whatever emergency may come.

This April you can also participate in America's PrepareAthon! It’s a chance to hold your own exercise or participate in one in your community—almost like what FEMA is doing right now.

While we can’t prevent disasters, it’s important we all do what we can to prepare for them. Everyone can do their part, so I encourage you to learn more about America's PrepareAthon! and consider how you and your community might get involved.

Got five minutes? Get the flood safety 101

Quick trivia question: what’s the most common disaster in the U.S. that impacts the most people year after year?  The answer: Flooding.  This week, we’re focused on flood safety as part of National Flood Awareness Week.  I went back through the video archives and pulled out two stories that demonstrate our key themes for this week.  If you’ve got five minutes, these two videos are worth your time.

The first one is from Hurricane Irene in 2011.  It profiles a town in Vermont that dealt with significant flooding and shows many of the ways flooding can disrupt our lives. 

View in FEMA Multimedia Library

The take a way: have a plan so you know what to do in case of a flood.  Think through questions like:

  • What roads in my community tend to flood first?  Will this impact my travel around town?
  • How will I stay in touch with family/friends if flooding knocks out cell phone service?
  • Where would I go if local officials tell me to evacuate the area due to flooding?
  • What’s the risk of flooding for my area?

If you haven’t thought about these questions before, don’t worry.  Ready.gov is a great resource for making your plan today.

The second video is especially relevant for homeowners and builders.  Here’s how two homeowners in Sea Bright, New Jersey minimized the impact of flooding from Hurricane Sandy by taking deliberate steps in and around their homes.  It all starts with knowing your neighborhood’s risk for flooding, then taking the appropriate steps.

You may not need to put in flood vents or raise critical parts of your home over a certain elevation level, but steps like these may be right for those who live in flood prone areas.  The quote that makes the video for me is: "Will we ever see another storm like that? I don't think so, but who knows?"  The homeowners recognize that while some disasters are unlikely, that shouldn’t stop them from being prepared, just in case.

All week long we’ll be sharing flood safety information on Twitter, Facebook, and on Ready.gov.  I hope you’ll join us this week in learning more about what flooding can do and how you can take steps to get prepared.

What we're Watching: 3/14/14

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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.

Weather Outlook

According to the National Weather Service, this weekend from the Upper Midwest to New England, you can expect cooler temperatures than we’d expect for this time of year. A low pressure system off the coast of Texas is also expected to strengthen and move into the Southeast, bringing heavy rain and high winds from the Florida Panhandle to Eastern North Carolina.

As the system moves farther North, the precipitation has the potential to bring some late season snow. It’s expected to bring 3-6 inches of snow to the Mid-Atlantic region beginning on Sunday evening and going into Monday.

The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang summed up the fluctuating weather we've been experiencing in Washington, D.C. well with this tweet:



Stay up-to-date with the weather forecast in your area by visiting www.weather.gov and mobile.weather.gov on your mobile device.

Thawing into Flood Season

While it might not seem like it everywhere yet, spring is right around the corner. And with spring comes an increased chance of flooding, as we see heavier rainfall and melting snow.

Next week, we’re teaming up with NOAA for National Flood Safety Awareness Week. All week long (March 16-22), we’ll be sharing flood safety information and tips along with the steps you can take to protect your family and home from flooding.

You don’t have to wait until next week to start learning how to protect your family and home from flooding – you can visit Ready.gov/floods today for information on flood safety, and check out FloodSmart.gov for information on the benefits of flood insurance.

We hope you’ll join us in spreading the word. Have a great weekend!

Editor's Note: FEMA is providing this information about third party events as a reference. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

What We’re Watching: 3/7/14

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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.

Weather Outlook

According to the National Weather Service, there’s a mix of winter weather in store for parts of the country this weekend. Parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes should expect cold temperatures this weekend, particularly Sunday. Heavy rain and mountain snow is also expected for parts of Oregon, Northern California and Northern Idaho. Heavy rain is forecasted for parts of Central and Southern Texas through Monday and lastly, high winds for the down-sloping regions of the Northern High Plains on Sunday.

Stay up-to-date with the weather in your area by visiting weather.gov or http://mobile.weather.gov on your mobile device. 

Spring Forward and Check Your Smoke Alarm

This Sunday, it’s time to change the clocks for Daylight Savings Time and spring forward. While you’re fixing the time on the clocks in your house, take the opportunity to check that the batteries are working on your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

Remember, a properly installed and maintained smoke alarm is the only thing in your home that can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Learn more smoke alarm tips from the U.S. Fire Administration.

Severe Weather Preparedness Week Wrap-Up

All week long, we’ve been sharing severe weather stories, preparedness information, safety tips, and encouraging everyone to learn the severe weather hazards that affect your area and take steps to ensure you’re prepared against them.

One of the stories we shared came from Shane Cohea, Director of Safety, Security, and Emergency Preparedness for the Norman Regional Health System, who shared his experience from last May when EF-4 and an EF-5 tornadoes struck his hometown of Moore, Okla. As the Director of Safety, Security, and Emergency Preparedness, it was Shane’s responsibility to ensure the hospital had an emergency plan in place and on May 20, 2013 with an EF-5 tornado was headed directly towards the hospital, his plan was put to the test.

Here’s a piece of his story:

For the past 15 years, I have been coaching, leading, and requiring Norman Regional Health System’s 2,500 employees to have a plan to protect themselves and our patients. At the time we had 3 hospitals: Moore Medical Center (MMC) in Moore, Okla. and 2 hospitals 8 miles south in Norman, Okla.  Normally, my family travels the 20 miles with me to the hospital command center. This was not the case on that day in May. As I sat alone in the quiet hospital command center, dreadful words came from the live weather updates on TV. A massive, deadly tornado touches down in Norman, Okla., only a couple of miles east of our main hospital (Norman Regional Hospital), where I am working.

You can read all of Shane’s story on our blog.

We want to thank everyone who helped us spread the word and encourage severe weather preparedness this week. Just because the week is almost over, it doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to share your severe weather stories or photos and inspire others to change. Be a force of nature and continue encouraging your family, friends, neighbor, and coworkers about the importance of preparing for severe weather.

Visit Ready.gov/severe-weather for more information on preparing for severe weather.

Video of the Week

Here’s a great video from Chelsey Smith about her experience surviving tornado. It’s a reminder of how preparedness can save lives. Chelsey established a response plan at a young age in Alabama at the encouragement of her parents. When a tornado passed through her neighborhood, her family remained safe and unharmed.

 

View in FEMA Multimedia Library

Join the FEMA Team

Do you have an interest in technology and disaster response and recovery? Then you’re in luck – we’re looking to add a Tech Corps Specialist to our National IMAT team.

Responsibilities include:

  • Integrating resources & expertise from the tech sector during disaster response and recovery operations;
  • Building a network of technology partners that are prepared, trained, and certified to engage in disaster response on a voluntary basis;
  • Leading the identification, assessment, and prioritization of technology related community and survivor disaster response and recovery needs that can appropriately be addressed by voluntary resources.

Learn more about this position & more about Tech Corps at www.fema.gov/tech-corps.

Have a great and safe weekend!

 

Two Days. Two May Tornadoes.

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On a typical Sunday in May, I enjoy attending Journey Church and spending time with the family. May 19, 2013 was not a typical Sunday.

 Damage Sustained at Moore Medical CenterOn May 20, 2013 an EF-5 tornado struck the town of Moore, Okla. The mile wide tornado caused extensive damage to the Moore Medical Center. In the photo, the exterior of the medical center show the exposed damage caused from the strong winds in excess of 200 mph. Photo courtesy of Norman Regional Health System

The National Weather Service had been reporting as early as May 16 that May 19 and 20 could be deadly.

For the past 15 years, I have been coaching, leading, and requiring Norman Regional Health System’s 2,500 employees to have a plan to protect themselves and our patients. At the time we had 3 hospitals: Moore Medical Center (MMC) in Moore, Okla. and 2 hospitals 8 miles south in Norman, Okla.  Normally, my family travels the 20 miles with me to the hospital command center. This was not the case on that day in May. As I sat alone in the quiet hospital command center, dreadful words came from the live weather updates on TV. A massive, deadly tornado touches down in Norman, Okla., only a couple of miles east of our main hospital (Norman Regional Hospital), where I am working. I suddenly realize our hospitals are no longer in danger and feel a sense of relief knowing staff and patients are safe.

Almost instantly it hits me that massive EF-4 tornado, with winds from 166-200 MPH is heading directly for my family.

Knowing the plan I had been working on for 15 years at the hospital was solid – it only took a split second to realize my plan for my family had failed. Although I protect more than 2,500 people daily, my wife, 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son are in the tornado’s direct path without a place to survive.

Immediately, I text my wife pleading for her to drive the 1/8 mile to a neighbor that has a tornado shelter. As expected my fears are realized. I cannot call or text my family, neighbors, or anyone in the area. The tornado has wiped out all communication between us. Watching the storm live from a safe command center was heart-wrenching, wondering the fate of my loving family. Minutes later, I arrive home to a battered car, home, shattered windows in both and smiling kids holding softball-sized hail. It was like an Easter egg hunt with large hail stones for the kids. They had survived in the neighbor’s shelter. Immediately, we implemented a new family plan for the predicted severe weather the following morning.

When I returned home I was wondering how to approach the subject of nearly losing my family, $11,000 home damage, and having to pay the car deductible by taking our best car out of the garage. Instead of addressing any of these topics my only statement to my wife was “There will be storms with high likelihood of tornadoes tomorrow”. She asked, “What time and what is the plan?” We decided she should be at my office by 1pm, since the NWS said storms could form any time after 1 pm. She arrived on May 20, at 1:01 pm and stayed in the safe area while I proceeded to incident command area.

Twelve hours later:

On May 20, 2013 I promised myself to never allow my family to not have a proven plan. My family was to meet me at 1 p.m. in my office. As I dropped my car off and called my insurance carrier to have the windows replaced, I was receiving terrible news. The National Weather Service predicted a chance for larger tornadoes and more super cells after 2 p.m. I emailed all management positions at all three Norman Regional hospitals and every physician clinic to inform them today could possibly be worse than yesterday. As I typically do, I find a quiet place to say a quick prayer asking for guidance and courage to make the correct decisions.

Moore Medical Center Destruction following TornadoPhoto of the destruction the May 20, 2013 EF-5 tornado caused the Moore Medical Center. The medical center took a direct hit from the tornado, fortunately those who sought shelter, patients, and employees were not injured. Photo courtesy of Norman Regional Health System

As fate would have it one nurse manager out of three hospitals called to verify her plan with me. Shortly after our conversation, things changed quickly. Our worst nightmare was about the test every emergency plan we have ever constructed. A deadly EF-5 tornado with winds over 200 MPH was on the ground. Schools were in session, a baby had just been born, and another mother was in active labor. Hundreds of motorists were speeding into the entrances of our hospital, looking for shelter, as our courageous employees pull and direct them to a safe area. All of these innocent people are in the direct path of this monster tornado.

As I sit in the command center, instincts and experience took over. Some of the actions I remember clearly, others not so much. I immediately called for all leadership to join me in the command center at 3:04. It had been 24 minutes since I had put Moore Medical Center (our hospital in the tornado’s path) on alert. Typically, I place all three hospitals on alert when conditions and wind shear are this severe. This was not a typical day.

Now a mile-wide tornado was devastating the city of Moore. Watching live on TV, I informed our CEO that we will have massive amounts of injuries and causalities present to all three of our Emergency Departments from a storm of this magnitude. Our decision was tough – do we call a disaster code while the tornado is in our town and risk employees traveling back to work to save lives?

We did make the decision to call a Code Yellow (disaster code) to prepare staff for the huge influx of patients we will be receiving.  Now with a command center congested with Leaders, it was evident this was as severe as the 1999 or the 2003 tornadoes. We are working diligently to protect lives and save those that are injured. We establish an incident commander and command staff. I quickly remember the lessons learned from Joplin, Missouri after taking two trips to that facility in hopes of better preparing our health system. A majority of our patients, staff and visitors have sought shelter in Moore Medical Center’s designated safe area with the exception of the single Nurse Manager who called me earlier. She was with a physician and another nurse assisting the mother who was in active labor. There were positioned on the second and highest floor.

Photo of the Tornado that Struck the Moore Medical CenterThis photo shows the mile wide tornado that struck the town of Moore, Okla. on May 20, 2013. The EF-5 tornado caused massive damage to several hospitals, schools, and hundreds of homes and businesses. Photo courtesy of Chance Coldiron

3:21 p.m.:

About 48 minutes after I called the alert for this hospital (MMC) the EF-5 tornado has already wiped out two elementary schools, hundreds of homes, and killed way too many children and innocent citizens. Then, it slams into Moore Medical Center. The 200-mile-per-hour winds threw a Nissan Altima onto the second story roof above the laboring mother. More than 30 cars have been rolled onto the first floor rooftop. The winds also lifted a commercial dumpster from over 300 yards away and slammed it into the building. The winds ripped parts of the roof off the structure. Horrifyingly, the winds pulled the wall off the second floor surgery suite being used to deliver the baby. It ripped the wall apart like removing the lid off a can. With a 10-foot-by-10-foot hole in the wall, the staff put the patient in another room to protect the mother and unborn child.

Damage Sustained to Moore Medical CenterAn EF-5 struck the town of Moore, Okla. in May 2013, causing extensive damage to the Moore Medical Center. This surgery suite shows the extensive amount of damage the tornado caused. This room was being used as a delivery room, before it had to be evacuated. Photo courtesy of Norman Regional Health System

3:30 p.m.:

Working in our command center we hear our extended work family, brothers, sisters, took a direct strike by the deadly tornado. Our command center full of busy command staff, preparing to care for what ended up being 140 patients, fell silent. Ten miles seemed like ten states away. Not a sound could be heard. No one in that room has ever shared what their thoughts were for that 1-2 minute period, but mine were of prayer and hope. Jumping back into action I immediately informed the CEO that we will have a huge loss of life in our hospital structure. We need to send the convoy we assembled 10 miles south of the storm to rescue our work family and patients. We start getting calls from the news media including CNN, and eventually those inside the building reach our command center requesting appropriate actions to take. Staff from Moore Medical Center informed me that they all survived and without injury. My response was that of disbelief and denial.  It would be impossible. I’ve been in this business too long to know that is not how these situations end.

Damage at Moore Medical Center following TornadoThis used to be a welcome/reception area for the Moore Medical Center. An EF-5 tornado with wind gusts in excess of 200 mph, struck the medical center and caused extensive damage to the facility. Photo courtesy of Norman Regional Health System

On a typical day a good plan can save some lives. On days that are not typical, facing two tornadoes with a focus on preparedness, a great plan can save every life in the building, including my family, and our work family.

On May 20, 2013 there were zero injured and zero killed at Moore Medical Center. I will be forever grateful for those that had the heart and courage to execute the plan, the first responders, those that delivered food and water, and every single person that assisted Norman Regional Health System.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed by Shane Cohea do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

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