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In the News: From Survivor to Survivor - Managing the stress after a disaster

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(The views expressed in the CNN story 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.)

With the great amount of devastation Sandy has brought upon states along the East Coast, I wanted to take a moment to share an article on CNN.com from Hurricane Katrina and Joplin survivors who felt the way many disaster survivors may feel at this point in time. Three days after Sandy’s landfall, millions of people remain without power and their homes and lives as they knew it, have completely changed.

Here’s an excerpt from storm survivors sharing their experiences and giving advice on how to move forward after experiencing a disaster:

Devastation is devastation, whether a hurricane rips up your home or a tornado takes the person you love most in the world. It's loss, shock and confusion. It's anger and sadness and resentment. It's being flustered like you've never been flustered before.

But it's going to be OK: Take it from the people who survived Hurricane Katrina and the Missourians from Joplin whose town was leveled by the worst tornado in U.S. history.

            They want Sandy survivors to know a few things:

You're probably on autopilot right now. You're moving through it. Stand in the ruins of the life you had before the disaster. Understand that was before. The after is when you're good and ready.

Hours will still go by though. Days will happen. You might not remember to eat because you're filling out paperwork and talking to insurance operators. You will get put on hold.

            Your life will feel forever on hold.

At some point, when you think you're handling it, you will stumble on something that reminds you of that old life, maybe it's a thing or it's a memory. Maybe this will happen when you finally get the sleep you've gone without since the disaster. You're going to feel really, really awful again for awhile.

Eileen Romero, Hurricane Katrina Survivor, “Understand that the life you had before something like this isn't coming back, and that's not always a bad thing. Discover and make yourself anew."

Read the rest of the story from CNN.

As we continue to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we remain committed to bringing the resources of the federal family together to support disaster survivors. We are and will continue to work side by side in close coordination with state, local and tribal emergency management officials, voluntary and faith-based communities, and private sector to support response and recovery efforts in affected states.

President Obama in New Jersey: "We Are Here for You"

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Editor's note: This was originally posted on the White House blog October 31, 2012.

president obama air force one

CAPTION: President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talk as they fly over the coast of New Jersey on Marine One, Oct. 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Two days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in southern New Jersey, President Obama was on hand to witness the devastation, comfort residents, and pledge the full support of the federal government in the recovery effort.

Across the state, the storm damaged homes, flooded communities, and left more than 2 million people without power. The President and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie surveyed the effects of the hurricane from Marine One, then walked the streets of Brigantine, a town near Atlantic City. The two leaders also visited a community center now serving as a shelter for displaced residents.

"One of our challenges now is to get back to normalcy," said Gov. Christie. "And so the things we need to do is to make sure that we get power restored as quickly as possible; make sure that people have clean drinking water, and waste water treatment plants are working; hospitals are taken care of the way they need to; and that we get kids back to school. And so, I discussed all those issues today with the President, and I’m pleased to report that he has sprung into action immediately to help get us those things."

President Obama outlined the steps being taken by federal emergency responders. Even before the storm hit, FEMA and other groups were able to preposition supplies like water, food, and power generators. Now more than 2,000 FEMA personnel are on the ground in the state, and the President promised that the recovery effort would continue. 

"Number one, and most important, our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones," he said. "For those like the people I just had the chance to meet on this block and throughout New Jersey and throughout the region whose lives have been upended, my second message is we are here for you, and we will not forget; we will follow up to make sure that you get all the help that you need until you've rebuilt."

Sandy update 4: Staying safe & how to help

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Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. While the worst of the weather is beyond some areas on the East Coast, Sandy remains a very large storm system that continues to pose life-threatening hazards for coastal and inland areas including high winds, heavy rains, dangerous storm surge and flash flooding, and snow and cold weather hazards in some areas.

Some important safety reminders if you’re in an area that has been, or is still being, impacted by this storm:

  • Continue to listen to your local officials – If you evacuated and are returning home, make sure local officials have deemed the area safe to return to.  If Sandy is still impacting your area and local officials give the order to evacuate, do so immediately.  
  • Stay off the roads - Emergency workers may be assisting people in flooded areas or cleaning up debris. You can help them by staying off the roads and out of the way.
  • If your power is out, safely use a generator or candles - Never use a generator inside a home, basement, shed or garage even if doors and windows are open. Keep generators outside and far away from windows, doors and vents. Read both the label on your generator and the owner's manual and follow the instructions.  If using candles, please use caution. If possible, use flashlights instead. If you must use candles, do not burn them on or near anything that can catch fire.
  • Avoid downed power or utility lines - They may be live with deadly voltage.  Stay away and report them immediately to your power or utility company.
  • Don’t drive or walk through flood waters – It only takes a small amount of water to move people or vehicles. If you encounter a flooded roadway, don’t attempt to pass through water – turn around, don’t drown.  And if your home has flood water inside or around it, don’t walk or wade in it.  The water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewage.

How to help those affected by Sandy

We’ve had a number of questions come in on our Facebook and Twitter accounts about how to help those who have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  A few pointers to remember:

  • Cash is the most efficient method of donating – Cash offers voluntary agencies the most flexibility in obtaining the most-needed resources and pumps money into the local economy to help businesses recover.
  • Volunteer or donate through a trusted organization – At the national level, many voluntary, faith-based and community-based organizations are active in disasters, and are trusted ways to donate to disaster survivors. In addition to the national members, each state has its own list of voluntary organizations active in disasters.

Numerous blood drives have been canceled as a result of the storm and the Red Cross has a need for blood donations. To schedule a blood donation or for more information about giving blood or platelets, visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Here’s a video from President Obama reminding everyone how we can help those in need after a disaster:

Latest update on FEMA’s activities

Last night, the President declared major disasters for New York and New Jersey, making disaster assistance available to those in the heaviest hit areas affected by the storm.  Individuals and business owners who sustained losses in the following counties in New York and New Jersey can begin applying for assistance by registering online or on your phone at www.DisasterAssistance.gov:

  • Declared counties in New York: Bronx, Kings, Nassau, New York, Richmond, Suffolk, & Queens.
  • Declared counties in New Jersey: Atlantic, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean & Union Counties

Those impacted can also apply by calling 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired.

In addition to federal disaster assistance being available in several counties, states and localities and the American Red Cross continue to operate emergency shelters in many states.  You can search for open shelters by visiting the Red Cross website, downloading the FEMA smartphone app, or by texting the word “shelter” and a zip code to 43362 (4FEMA).  For example, if you’re searching for a shelter in the 01234 zip code, you would text Shelter 01234.

Finally, we continue to work closely with our emergency management partners and are embedded with state teams to support response efforts and assess unmet needs. Our priority focus remains on life-saving and life-sustaining activities.  Currently, more than 1,500 FEMA personnel are positioned along the East Coast working to support disaster preparedness and response operations, including search and rescue, situational awareness, communications and logistical support.  Here are some details about our staff’s support:

  • Twenty-eight teams comprised of 294 FEMA Corps members are pre-staged to support Sandy.
  • Seven federal urban search and rescue task forces have been activated and are deploying in the Mid-Atlantic as needed and requested. 
  • Fourteen Incident Management Assistance Teams
  • Twelve liaison officers are positioned in state emergency operations centers along the East Coast supporting preparedness activities and ensure there are no unmet needs. 
  • Ten Disability Integration Advisors supporting emergency management in ten states on current alert and warning, evacuation and sheltering needs and preparing for potential post-storm operations.

Please share these important safety reminders and we hope you’re taking every precaution to stay safe.

Sandy update 3: follow the direction of local officials

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Washington, D.C., Oct. 28, 2012 -- President Barack Obama participates in a briefing with federal agency partners on preparations for Hurricane Sandy at FEMA's National Response Coordination Center. At right is FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. FEMA/Aaron Skolnik

Washington, D.C., Oct. 28, 2012 -- President Barack Obama participates in a briefing with federal agency partners on preparations for Hurricane Sandy at FEMA's National Response Coordination Center. At right is FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. More on the President's visit to FEMA on the White House blog.

Hurricane Sandy continues to swirl closer to the coast, with impacts already being felt in several states as of Sunday afternoon.  At the direction of President Obama, FEMA continues to coordinate the federal government’s assistance and preparations for Hurricane Sandy.  Today, the President visited FEMA headquarters and received a briefing from federal, state, and local officials coordinating the preparation efforts.  He continued to direct Administrator Fugate to ensure the federal partners continue to bring all available resources to bear in supporting potentially affected areas.

If you are in the potentially impacted area, here are the key reminders right now:

  • Follow the direction of local officials – if told to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Make final preparations – If you’re further inland, now is the time to make final preparations.  Be ready for power outages and stock up on emergency supplies of food, water, medications, and other supplies.
  • Know the forecast for your area – Sandy is a large storm with potential impacts from wind, coastal flooding, inland flooding, rain, and snow.  Listen to your NOAA weather radio and local news reports, or visit weather.gov for the conditions in your area.
  • Check on your neighbor – make sure they’re ready too.

Key FEMA activities today

Earlier today, the President declared an emergency for the State of Maryland.  The President’s action authorizes FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts to provide assistance for required emergency measures to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety in the City of Baltimore and all counties in the State of Maryland.

Along with our federal partners, we remain in close coordination with states and tribal governments and continue to coordinate resources to provide support as needed. FEMA Incident Management Assistance Teams and liaison officers have been deployed to potentially affected states along the East Coast.  Mobile Emergency Response Support (MERS) personnel and teams are in place or are en route to Delaware, the District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania to support the states with secure and non-secure voice, video, and information services, operations, and logistics support to state response operations, and with any potential requests for assistance.

Here’s a brief recap of what FEMA and our federal partners have been doing:

  • The American Red Cross mobilized hundreds of disaster workers, readying shelters and coordinating efforts with community partners in potentially affected states.  To find an open Red Cross shelter, download the Red Cross Hurricane app or visit www.redcross.org/find-help/shelter.
  • To support potential pre- and post storm hospital evacuations, in coordination with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through Emergency Support Function 8, FEMA has the capability to activate ambulance contracts to support state requirements to evacuate patients if needed and requested.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deployed temporary emergency power teams, consisting of planning and response teams and resource support staff to assist with critical infrastructure. 
  • The Department of Energy continues to work with states and local partners to pre-mobilize storm and field personnel to assist in power restoration efforts. 
  • FEMA and the Department of Defense are establishing Incident Support Bases in Westover, Mass. and Lakehurst, New Jersey to position supplies including water, meals, blankets and other resources closer to potentially impacted areas, should they be needed.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is monitoring the storm and will take steps to prepare and protect FAA facilities and equipment that are in the projected path of the storm, including control towers, radars and navigational aids. The FAA's top operational priority is to quickly re-establish air traffic service to support disaster relief efforts.

We will continue to provide updates on this blog about FEMA and the federal family’s preparations and response to Hurricane Sandy, and don’t forget to download the FEMA smartphone app for safety tips and open shelters.

Seeing teamwork before Hurricane Sandy

Washington, D.C., June 27, 2012 -- Flat Stanley and Flat Stella tour the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. FEMA Photo

A lot of activity has been happening around FEMA lately as we get ready for Hurricane Sandy to come into land.  Today, we visited a very busy place called the National Response Coordination Center, or NRCC, where lots of people come together to work on helping those who may get rain, wind, or lose power from Hurricane Sandy.

The workers get help to states and people that may be affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Right now, everyone is focused on getting prepared before the storm may hit.  Here is a picture from inside the big room showing all the workers.

Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2012 -- FEMA's National Response Coordination Center is activated in preparation for Hurricane Sandy's landfall.

During times of emergency, people from FEMA and many other government agencies work in the NRCC to make sure people and supplies are being used in the best way.  These people work on many different things, but they all come together as a team to ensure everything is covered. They help set up safe places for people to go during and after a storm and make sure things like water & food are moved into the right areas so people can get them after an emergency.  Some of the voluntary organizations we’re working with are the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army USA, the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  These organizations and many more are working together to make sure everyone is prepared for Hurricane Sandy.

This shows some of the agencies that work with FEMA in the NRCC – We are standing next to a few of their “seals” or symbols:

Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2012 -- FEMA Flat Stanley and Flat Stella visited FEMA's National Response Coordination Center and learned about the teamwork that happens there.

And we even got to sit in the NRCC for a few minutes and wear the same vests worn by the people who work there.  The vests help to show who everyone is and what they’re working on!

Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2012 -- FEMA Flat Stanley and Flat Stella visited FEMA's National Response Coordination Center and learned about the teamwork that happens there during times of emergency.

Finally, workers in the NRCC told us the simple things people can do now to get prepared for Hurricane Sandy. They can be sure to have an emergency kit with a flashlight, batteries, food, water, and more!  Here’s a picture with us and an emergency kit – ask your parents if your family has one!

Washington, D.C., Aug. 24, 2012 -- FEMA Flat Stanley and Flat Stella learn about items to go into a family emergency kit.

We had fun learning about the teamwork that happens in the NRCC and we hope everyone who may be affected by Hurricane Sandy is getting prepared like we are!

Sandy update 2: Tips for getting prepared

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We are closely monitoring Hurricane Sandy and continue to prepare to support potentially affected state and tribal governments.  Forecasts from the National Hurricane Center show a large area may be impacted by high winds, heavy rains, storm surge, and snow.  These hazardous conditions may be compounded by the likelihood of widespread power outages.  

If you or someone you know may be impacted by Hurricane Sandy, here are a few things to do today and tomorrow to get ready:

  • Get some extra cash out at the ATM today. If the power goes out, banks/ATMs may be offline for some time.
  • Make a plan for how you’ll keep your cell phone charged if you lose power for several days. Picking up a solar or hand-crank charger for your phone is a good idea.
  • Take steps to protect your home/business from high winds – cover windows, clean gutters, trim trees.
  • Get to the store today for emergency supplies such as water, nonperishable food, batteries, flashlight, etc.
  • Make sure you have what you need in case the power goes out and cold weather moves in. Double check that you have a safe, warm place you can go, blankets in your home/car, and winter items like snow shovels and rock salt.
  • Employers: make sure your employees are prepared and review your continuity and tele-work plans.
  • More information for your emergency kit

The President has directed Administrator Fugate to ensure that all available federal resources are being brought to bear to support state and local responders in potentially affected areas along the East Coast as they prepare for the severe weather.   To increase coordination between Federal partners, the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) has been activated, a multi-agency center based at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C.  The NRCC provides overall coordination of the federal response by bringing together federal departments and agencies to assist in the preparations for and response to disasters.  

While we continue busy preparing to support Hurricane Sandy response, so are a collection of voluntary organizations like the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army USA, the Humane Society of the United States, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and other National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters. Check out President Obama's video on how you can support the great work of these organizations.
 
president obama sandy briefing
CAPTION: President Barack Obama receives an update on the ongoing response to Hurricane Sandy during a conference call with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Dr. Rick Knabb, Director of the National Hurricane Center, and John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, in the Oval Office, Oct. 26, 2012. Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, and Richard Reed, Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, are seated at right. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Continue to visit our blog for the latest updates on FEMA’s role in preparing to respond to Hurricane Sandy.
 

What We’re Watching: 10/26/12

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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.

Hurricane Sandy

rainfall forecast for Hurricane Sandy (map)

CAPTION: Forecast image from NOAA’s Hydrological Prediction Center, showing possible rainfall amounts over the next five days. This graphic is automatically updated by the Hydrological Prediction Center.

We continue to closely monitor the progress of Hurricane Sandy as it makes its way north in the Atlantic Ocean.  At this point in Sandy’s progression, the key message remains that now is the time to get prepared.   From the most recent National Weather Service forecasts, it’s clear the impacts of the storm will be felt across a wide area.  These impacts could include heavy rains and snowfall, flooding, high winds, storm surge and power outages.  As the image shows above, forecasters are calling for significant rainfall, which may result in flooding in some areas.  We recommend you check the items in your family emergency kit and make sure you have supplies that can sustain you and your family for at least 72 hours:

  • canned food,
  • a can opener,
  • water,
  • batteries,
  • a flashlight,
  • radio & pet food/medicine

In advance of any potential impacts from the storm, FEMA is deploying Incident Management Assistance Teams to North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine to assist states, should emergency response assistance be needed.  In addition, we’re sending staff to emergency operations centers in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey to coordinate if additional support is needed.

Ready.gov/hurricanes has more information on how to get your family, home, or business prepared for the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  Follow updates from the National Hurricane Center at hurricanes.gov for the latest forecast on Hurricane Sandy and weather.gov for your local weather forecasts.

 

Think Tank Call on October 30 – Postponed

The FEMA Think Tank scheduled on Tuesday, October 30 in Orlando, Florida has been postponed to allow FEMA leadership and participating emergency management experts to focus on response preparations involving Hurricane Sandy.

We will reschedule the Think Tank titled, “Looking Back, Looking Forward - FEMA Think Tank 2.0” in the near future. The collaborative forum will look at various solutions-based models that have been identified on previous calls and implemented in local communities to advance emergency management. In the looking forward portion of the forum, FEMA will look at the future of the Think Tank and explore new collaborative web tools the emergency management community can use to share resources and best practices.

We encourage you to visit the online forum at www.fema.gov/thinktank to comment on the ideas we will be discussing in the future or submit your own ideas and comment on others. 

Halloween safety tips

While much of the East Coast closely watches Hurricane Sandy, the rest of the country is looking forward to a spooky Halloween next Wednesday, October 31.  In addition to the spookiest time of the year, Halloween is historically a time when there is an increase in fires, especially fires related to the use of candles. So as you’re partaking in Halloween preparations, decorating, and trick-or-treating, remember these safety tips from the U.S. Fire Administration to stay fire safe:

  • Avoid using candles inside and out, as they are the most common fire hazard around Halloween.  Use a flameless candle in your Jack-O-Lantern – they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Pick a few up when you’re at the store this weekend
  • When creating a costume, choose materials that will not easily ignite if it comes in contact with heat or flame.
  • Wear light-colored, flame retardant, costumes decorated with retro-reflective tape or stickers. 
  • When purchasing items, make sure that all costumes, wigs and props are labeled flame-resistant or flame-retardant.

 

From the Photo Library

FEMA Corps in West Virginia

Charleston, W.Va., Oct. 2, 2012 -- WV Federal Coordinating Officer, Dolph Diemont, addresses the newly arrived FEMA Corps teams, Bayou 6 and Summit 3, at the Charleston, WV Joint Field Office (JFO). The 20 members and leaders received a JFO orientation briefing outlining all JFO disaster assistance program areas as background for their assignments at the JFO and the four West Virginia Disaster Recovery Offices.

Charleston, W.Va., Oct. 2, 2012 -- WV Federal Coordinating Officer, Dolph Diemont, addresses the newly arrived FEMA Corps teams, Bayou 6 and Summit 3, at the Charleston, WV Joint Field Office (JFO). The 20 members and leaders received a JFO orientation briefing outlining all JFO disaster assistance program areas as background for their assignments at the JFO and the four West Virginia Disaster Recovery Offices.

California Shakeout

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 18, 2012 -- FEMA Region IX Administrator Nancy Ward, Lucy Jones of USGS, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa demonstrates the Drop, Cover, Hold On process at ShakeOut LA.

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 18, 2012 -- FEMA Region IX Administrator Nancy Ward, Lucy Jones of USGS, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa demonstrates the Drop, Cover, Hold On process at ShakeOut LA.

 

San Francisco, Calif., Oct. 17, 2012 -- FEMA Region IX Earthquake Specialist Jennifer Lynette provides earthquake tips to a reporter from KTSF television, a Cantonese speaking station, during a pre-ShakeOut event in San Francisco's Union Square. FEMA is a supporter of ShakeOut, the largest earthquake drill in the nation.

San Francisco, Calif., Oct. 17, 2012 -- FEMA Region IX Earthquake Specialist Jennifer Lynette provides earthquake tips to a reporter from KTSF television, a Cantonese speaking station, during a pre-ShakeOut event in San Francisco's Union Square. FEMA is a supporter of ShakeOut, the largest earthquake drill in the nation.

For those on the East Coast, use the weekend to continue to prepare for Hurricane Sandy and have a safe weekend.

Closely Monitoring Hurricane Sandy

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Through our regional offices in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, we continue to closely monitor Hurricane Sandy as it moves north in the Atlantic Ocean. We remain in close coordination with state and tribal emergency management partners in Florida and the potentially affected southeast, Mid-Atlantic and New England states. Administrator Craig Fugate provided some important reminders earlier today.

"As Hurricane Sandy proceeds closer toward southeast Florida, residents should listen to local officials for updates and follow their instructions. As the storm moves northward, it serves as a reminder that we all need to be prepared for severe weather.  Now is the time to update your family communication plans, check your supplies, and stay informed.  A hurricane isn't a point on a map - it's a big storm and its impact will be felt far from the center. FEMA is in contact with states and tribal governments and stands ready to support their preparedness efforts."

I’d like to emphasize the Administrator’s last point about the size of these storms.  The storm’s future path is still uncertain, but National Weather Service forecasts show that Hurricane Sandy may impact additional states throughout the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast into early next week.  This means millions along the East Coast should closely watch the progression of Hurricane Sandy as it moves northward.  Going into tonight and tomorrow, the Florida Keys, southeast and east-central Florida are expected to experience heavy rainfall and high winds.
 
As Hurricane Sandy moves northward and closer to Florida, we encourage residents to prepare now for tropical storm and hurricane conditions. Here are a few safety tips if you are in the potentially affected area:

  • For the severe weather forecast for your area, listen to your NOAA Weather Radio, local media and forecast reports.
  • Check on the items in your family’s emergency kit - Remember to include items like a flashlight, hand-crank radio, and a solar powered cell phone charger to your emergency kit.  Hurricanes often bring power outages, so be sure your emergency kit can sustain your family for at least 72 hours after the storm.
  • Make a plan for how you will contact friends and family in the event of an emergency.
  • Flooding is often the most significant threat from hurricanes and tropical storms - avoid walking or driving through flooded areas – it only takes six inches of fast-moving flood water to knock over an adult and two feet to move a vehicle. 
  • As always, follow the direction of local officials.  Don’t put yourself at risk, if they give the order to evacuate, do so immediately.

 Visit www.ready.gov/hurricanes for more tips on preparing your home and family for the effects of a hurricane or tropical storm.

Discussions with Isaac Survivors: Reliving the Storm & Looking to Recovery

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Roland Phillips, a leader of the French and Indian community called Grand Bayou in Plaquemines Parish, LA, had ridden out five hurricanes, including Katrina. So he decided to stay put for Hurricane Isaac, which hit land on Aug. 29, 2012. “I’ll never stay through a storm again,” Phillips told me. “It was the worst I ever experienced. It stayed on top of us for two days and two nights; it just ate us up.”

volunteers cover a roof with blue tarp
CAPTION: LaPlace, La., Sep. 13, 2012 -- Volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse International Relief install blue tarp to keep rain from a home damaged by Hurricane Isaac.

Hurricane Isaac may not have had the most powerful winds the Gulf Coast has ever known, but it moved so slowly through such a wide swath of communities over many states, including the northeast, that its force, for some, was more frightening than Hurricane Katrina.

No matter: faith-based and other voluntary groups responded during the storm and will be there for months, and perhaps years helping survivors recover. Volunteers staffed emergency shelters, served thousands of meals, delivered fresh water, chain-sawed fallen trees, “mudded out” homes and church sanctuaries, installed blue plastic tarps on torn roofs, fielded phone calls and provided emotional and spiritual care. In the future, they will rebuild homes and houses of worship and provide case management services that connect survivors to government and other benefits.

volunteers survey damaged home
CAPTION: Plaquemines Parish, La., Sep. 13, 2012 -- Volunteers from the Mennonite Disaster Service survey the work in progress at a home damaged by Hurricane Isaac.

The Rev. Michael Giles, pastor of Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Braithwaite, LA, knows about hurricanes. As president of Christian Ministers Missionary Baptist Association, he has been active in rebuilding homes destroyed by Katrina. With Hurricane Isaac, Rev. Giles moved from being a volunteer to being a survivor. His home and church were flooded by the storm. When I asked him about the faith-based volunteers he was working alongside to mud out his church, he said, “I’ve got one word to describe them: awesome.” He continued: “They never stop working. They work hard. They never complain.”

Eight-foot Water Line

Steven Bledsoe is the chair of the Committee for Plaquemines Rebuilding. This long-term recovery group started soon after Katrina. Like Rev. Giles, Bledsoe is not only a leader of volunteer and community groups helping the area recover from Katrina; he too is a survivor of Hurricane Isaac. “I had two feet of water in my home with Katrina. That’s why I got involved in long-term recovery.” He then showed me the eight-foot water line inside his home’s first floor left by flood waters from Hurricane Isaac. Faith-based volunteers from another group worked around us as we stood where his living room had been. They were tearing down molding sheetrock and shoveling muddy debris into wheelbarrows. “The volunteers?” he said. “I can’t say enough about them. They don’t say a lot about it, but I know their faith encourages them to volunteer.”

volunteer moves debris
CAPTION: Plaquemines Parish, La., Sep. 12, 2012 -- A volunteer from the Mennonite Disaster Service hauls debris from a home damaged by Hurricane Isaac.

A gas station and convenience store located on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish near the Belle Chase Ferry landing had become a gathering place for survivors and volunteers. Yet a third faith-based group had set up a mobile feeding station in the store’s parking lot, as the store was closed due to flooding. It was lunch time and people were lined up for meals to be served. Survivors I met included Braithwaite fire chief Urban Treuil (who also owned the gas station and store) and Gregory Meyer, an ice-truck delivery man. Both men and their families had long months of recovery ahead of them. Meyer’s home, which was raised on stilts to prevent its flooding, had been built in 1721. Six generations of his family had lived there. Now it was drying out from 10 feet of floodwaters. I asked him what he was going to do. “I’m coming home, man. My family and I are going to come home. But we’re feeling alone. Don’t forget us.”

I promised him that we wouldn’t, that his story would be told. And I am confident, with the amazing commitment of thousands of volunteers yet to come to the area, he and the other survivors of Hurricane Isaac throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, numerous other states, will see another and better day.

Isaac Survivors Go Mobile for Assistance

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If anyone questions the value of smartphone devices, point them to Hurricane Isaac survivors. The disaster has helped us learn how survivors request and access assistance online during times of need. Fortunately, FEMA’s efforts prior to the storm, to put digital preparedness, response and recovery resources in the palms of peoples’ hands, have proven to be invaluable.

From August 31 to September 9, a record number of disaster survivors—primarily from Hurricane Isaac—used DisasterAssistance.gov to apply for assistance, update their information, and check the status of their application online. On September 4 alone, we received 55,752 visits to the site—the greatest volume of single-day traffic to the site since its launch in 2008, far surpassing the previous single-day high of 33,434 visitors from Tropical Storm Lee in September 2011. Also during this timeframe, 86,847 Hurricane Isaac survivors (combined total from web and mobile registrations) applied for assistance on DisasterAssistance.gov, 17,471 of whom applied using their smartphones. In addition, 57,480 status inquiries were made with the new mobile application inquiry feature, rolled-out in August, which gives survivors the ability to use their smartphones to check the status of their disaster assistance application.

DisasterAssistance.gov Hurricane Isaac Stats at a Glance: August 31 - September 9

  • 328,222 total web visits, 49,596 (18%) via a smartphone
  • 86,847 total online applications submitted, 17,471 (20%) via a smartphone
  • 160,637 total application inquiries, 57,480 (36%) via a smartphone

Not only can users submit and check the status of their application on a mobile device, they can also add or update contact information should they move or become displaced, as is common following disasters. On-the-go survivors can also add or update insurance and bank information, as well as find information and referrals on 72 forms of disaster assistance from the 17 federal agencies that participate in DisasterAssistance.gov, which the site makes easier through a new mobile questionnaire.

The questionnaire serves as a tool to help survivors quickly and anonymously get a personalized list of possible assistance. Recently upgraded on both the full and mobile versions of DisasterAssistance.gov, the questionnaire is now dynamic, meaning it tailors recommendations based on how survivors answer questions as they answer them. More than 8,500 Isaac survivors have used the questionnaire, which also enables users to sort, tag, and find more information on specific forms of assistance, as well as to print and email their results.

The mobile outreach effort is part of a much larger, ongoing initiative to simplify the process of identifying and applying for disaster assistance for survivors using DisasterAssistance.gov as the first stop for disaster relief. A product of the Disaster Assistance Improvement Program, the website enables survivors to apply for FEMA Individual Assistance and refers them to other forms of assistance, like loan applications from the Small Business Administration. The site also provides community resource information and disaster news feeds to help individuals, families and businesses prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

DisasterAssistance.gov reduces the time needed to apply for aid and check the status of claims while decreasing redundancy in application forms and processes. For more information, visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov on your computer or m.fema.gov on your smartphone device.

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