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What We’re Watching: 2/14/14

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Germantown, MD, February 13, 2014 -- David Cavell, Sr. uses a snowblower to dig out after a winter storm dropped over a foot of snow on the Washington, DC area. FEMA/Aaron Skolnik Germantown, MD, February 13, 2014 -- David Cavell, Sr. uses a snowblower to dig out after a winter storm dropped over a foot of snow on the Washington, DC area. FEMA/Aaron Skolnik

FEMA, through its regional offices in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Denton, TX, and its National Watch Center in Washington, D.C. as well as its federal partners, including the National Weather Service continues to monitor the winter storm that made its way up the East Coast. It brought as much as 18 inches of snow to some areas and over an inch of ice.

Conditions have continued to improve as the storm moves northward into Canada; however the effects of the storm are still being felt along the coast. Earlier this week, President Obama declared emergencies for 91 counties in the State of Georgia and all counties in the State of South Carolina, at the request of the governors.  A FEMA Incident Management Assistance Team is located at the Georgia Emergency Operations Center and another team has deployed to the South Carolina Emergency Operations Center. Additional teams are on alert for deployment as needed.

Our friends at the National Weather Service forecast the potential for a new winter system to bring additional snow to parts of the East and Ohio Valley Friday into Saturday. With the potential for more snow, we want to encourage you to take time to ensure you and your family are prepared.

Your emergency supply kit should include a three-day supply of food and water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio and extra flashlights and batteries.  It should also include items specific for your family’s needs such as medication, pet supplies and anything else you may need. Thoroughly check and update your family's emergency supply kit and add the following supplies in preparation for winter weather:

  • Rock salt to melt ice on walkways;
  • Sand to improve traction;
  • Snow shovels and other snow removal equipment; and
  • Adequate clothing and blankets to help keep you warm.

Some other winter tips to keep in mind:

  • Put a few winter supplies in your car – An extra blanket, rock salt, a shovel, and some food and water will come in handy should you have car trouble or become stranded in your vehicle.
  • Keep your phone charged – This is a good tip regardless of the type of severe weather. Cell phones can be lifelines during an emergency or a power outage, so have a plan for keeping your device charged up so you can connect with loved ones and call for help, if needed.
  • 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.

For more winter tips, check out Ready.gov/winter on your computer or phone.

Opportunities to Serve on National Councils

National Advisory Council

Earlier this week, we announced pportunities to serve on the National Advisory Council.  The NAC was established by the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, to ensure effective and ongoing coordination of federal preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation for both natural and man-made disasters. The NAC consists of up to 35 members, all of whom are experts and leaders in their respective fields.  Appointments are for three-year terms, unless otherwise noted.  The Administrator may also appoint additional candidates to serve as a FEMA Administrator Selection for three-year terms.   Applications and nominations will be accepted through March 14, 2014.

Visit the National Advisory Council page for more information on the NAC or for instructions on how to submit an application.

 

National Youth Preparedness Council

FEMA is also accepting applications from young leaders dedicated to public service and interested in making a difference in their communities 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.

These young 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.

Individuals aged 12 to 17 who are engaged in individual and community preparedness or who have experienced a disaster motivating them to help their community, are encouraged to apply to serve on the Youth Preparedness Council.

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.

Visit the National Youth Preparedness Council page for more information on the National Youth Preparedness Council or to download the application.

Have a great and safe weekend!

What We’re Watching: 2/7/14

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generator on truckHorsham Township, Pa., February 6, 2014 -- FEMA generators arrive in Pennsylvania after President Obama made emergency federal aid available to support the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in response to this week’s extreme winter.

Pennsylvania emergency assistance

Yesterday, President Obama made emergency federal aid available to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in response to conditions from the extreme winter weather earlier this week.  We’re working closely with our partners at the state to meet any needs, such as powering critical facilities that protect life and property.  To that end, we’ve moved and readied generators to support the Commonwealth as needed.  

Winter Comes Out West

The Rockies and Pacific Northwest must have felt left out.  Not to be outdone by all the snow we’ve seen in the Midwest and East Coast, many portions of the western U.S. will be dealing with snow and cold temperatures this weekend. 

If your area typically doesn’t deal with a wintry mix falling from the sky, here are a few simple things to remember:

  • Put a few winter supplies in your car – An extra blanket, rock salt, a shovel, and some food and water will come in handy should you have car trouble or become stranded in your vehicle.
  • Keep your phone – This is a good tip regardless of the type of severe weather. Cell phones can be lifelines during an emergency or a power outage, so have a plan for keeping your device charged up so you can connect with loved ones and call for help, if needed.
  • Drive slowly and carefully – If you’re not used to driving on snowy or icy roads, take extra caution when traveling.  If local officials advise you to stay home and not travel, it’s best to heed their advice and stay off the roads.   

For more winter tips, check out Ready.gov/winter on your computer or phone.

With that, have a great and safe weekend!

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!

What We’re Watching: 12/20/13

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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.

A Potentially Stormy Holiday

According to our friends at the National Weather Service, a storm system is set to track across the nation this weekend, impacting states in a variety of ways and potentially disrupting holiday travel. Here’s the latest forecast from the NWS:

  • Heavy rain is forecast from the lower Mississippi River Valley to the Ohio Valley this weekend with a risk for flash flooding.
  • A wintry mix, including freezing rain and snow, is possible from the central Great Plains, through the Great Lakes and to northern New England this weekend.
  • The NWS Storm Prediction Center (SPC) has indicated a Moderate Risk of severe thunderstorms on Saturday, with possible tornadoes, for portions of the Lower Mississippi Valley.
  • Severe thunderstorms are possible from the Central Gulf Coast/Lower Mississippi Valley into the Ohio Valley Saturday.

As you travel to visit friends and loved ones for the holidays, we encourage you to exercise caution and monitor weather conditions as they change. Stay up-to-date on weather conditions in your area by visit weather.gov or mobile.weather.gov on your mobile device.  Also, visit Ready.gov for more winter weather safety tips and other great resources!

Be Prepared in 2014!

 who to call, where to meet and what to pack. User this image as your Facebook and Twitter cover photo graphics to get your community prepared in 2014. Resolve to be Ready campaign focuses on 'Family Connection' to reinforce the importance of parents including their children in preparedness conversations in advance of potential disasters.

With the New Year around the corner, it’s time to make our resolutions. Why not Resolve to be Ready for an emergency?

This year, we’re continuing our Resolve to be Ready campaign with an emphasis on 'Family Connections' – reinforcing the importance of getting kids involved in preparedness conversations in advance of an emergency. We’re making your emergency preparedness resolution easy to keep this year with three simple tips when making a plan: who to call, where to meet and what to pack.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Make a family communication plan that answers – who to call, where to meet and what to pack.
  • Join our Thunderclap on Facebook and Twitter and share a New Year's resolution of preparedness with your followers. How does Thunderclap work? Once you sign up, Thunderclap will sync your social media accounts to release an automatic Facebook post, Tweet or both on January, 1, 2014 at 12:30 PM reminding your friends and followers to make a family emergency plan.
  • Use #Prepared2014 in your social media messaging throughout 2014 to remind your friends and followers to be prepared for emergencies all year long.
  • Share preparedness messages from the Ready Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Visit ready.gov/prepared2014 for more information on how you can Resolve to be Ready in 2014!

Photos of the Week

Here are a few of our favorite photos that came into our Photo Library this week.

Forest Hills, N.Y., December 17, 2013 -- United States Marine Sgt. Nail, from the 6th Communications Battalion, is greeted by Federal Coordinating Officer Willie Nunn. The Marines came to FEMA's Joint Field Office in Queens to pick up toys donated by FEMA workers for the "Toys for Tots" charity. K.C.Wilsey/FEMAForest Hills, N.Y., December 17, 2013 -- United States Marine Sgt. Nail, from the 6th Communications Battalion, is greeted by Federal Coordinating Officer Willie Nunn. The Marines came to FEMA's Joint Field Office in Queens to pick up toys donated by FEMA workers for the "Toys for Tots" charity. K.C.Wilsey/FEMA


East Peoria, Ill., December 17, 2013 -- FEMA Public Information Officer Art Alejandre, does an interview in Spanish with Univision at a local Disaster Recovery Center to encourage local residents impacted by the November tornadoes to apply for FEMA assistance. Local residents who suffered damages or losses are encouraged to apply to FEMA for disaster assistance by calling (800) 621-3362, (TTY) (800) 462-7585, or by applying online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMAEast Peoria, Ill., December 17, 2013 -- FEMA Public Information Officer Art Alejandre, does an interview in Spanish with Univision at a local Disaster Recovery Center to encourage local residents impacted by the November tornadoes to apply for FEMA assistance. Local residents who suffered damages or losses are encouraged to apply to FEMA for disaster assistance by calling (800) 621-3362, (TTY) (800) 462-7585, or by applying online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Santa Clara, N.M., December 16, 2013 -- Deputy Tribal Coordinating Officer Michael Chavarria is charged with a project on restoration of the Santa Clara Pueblo’s ancient tribal lands, which were damaged after recent fires. Adam DuBrowa/ FEMASanta Clara, N.M., December 16, 2013 -- Deputy Tribal Coordinating Officer Michael Chavarria is charged with a project on restoration of the Santa Clara Pueblo’s ancient tribal lands, which were damaged after recent fires. Adam DuBrowa/ FEMA

New Topics on Our Online Collaboration Tool

We’ve recently launched a few new topics on our online collaboration tool and as always, we want to hear your thoughts and ideas. Head on over and share your ideas, comment on others ideas, and vote for your favorite.

That’s it for today’s What We’re Watching. On behalf of everyone at FEMA, we wish you and your family a wonderful and safe holiday!

History is a great teacher

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meeting with tornado survivor Washington, Ill., December 5, 2013 -- Rev. David Myers, left, Senior Advisor to the FEMA Administrator/Director Center of Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships, speaks to First Baptist Church Pastor Joshua Monda who is helping some of his parishioners with cleanup in areas impacted by the recent tornadoes. Myers met with Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster groups to discuss responses to the disaster and discuss coordination and collaboration between partners. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

History is a great teacher. 

Associate Pastor Ben Davidson of Bethany Community Church learned a valuable lesson during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that benefitted him and his congregation the morning of Nov. 17, 2013, when a powerful tornado tore through Washington IL. 

His quick thinking reminds me when disasters occur; having a plan can save lives and help pivot a community toward a strong recovery. I have learned this lesson many times through the faith leaders I’ve engaged as director of the DHS Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships.

On Sunday morning Pastor Davidson was preparing to begin his adult Sunday school class, when he received an emergency phone call.  A tornado had touched down and their church was in its path.

Immediately he and the staff worked to move the congregation --particularly the children -- to their designated shelter in the church location and they began to pray together as the storm passed through their community. 

The entire congregation comforted one another through what Pastor Davidson recalls as "the longest 45 minutes of my life." Once all congregants were accounted for and that families could leave the sheltered location Pastor Davidson immediately went home to confirm the safety of his children who were at home sick that morning.  

Immediately following the disaster, Bethany Community Church joined its fellow members of the Washington Ministerial Association, AmeriCorps and the Illinois Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster to help coordinate the community’s recovery efforts. 

meeting with pastor in washington illinoisWashington, Ill., December 5, 2013 -- Associate Pastor Ben Davidson, right, of Bethany Community Church shows Rev. David Myers, Senior Advisor to the FEMA Administrator/Director Center of Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships, supplies that have been donated to help local residents impacted by the recent tornadoes. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Since the devastating event, more than 4,000 community volunteers have registered with Bethany Community Church to help their loved ones and neighbors during disasters.  Their effort and commitment will help to increase the community’s resilience and ensure they are better prepared for emergencies.

The story of Washington, IL, and Bethany Community Church is a reminder of the care and compassion that faith-based organizations can provide all survivors in times of disaster. Their story reinforces the power of a whole community, “survivor centric” approach and the important role and responsibility of faith leaders in preparing their communities before disasters strike.

I encourage you to know what to do before disaster strikes by joining the thousands of faith-based and community members on the National Preparedness Coalition faith-based community of practice and connecting with faith and community leaders across the country working on preparedness.

Being prepared contributes to our national security, our nation’s resilience, and our personal readiness.

meeting volunteers around illinois tornado damageWashington, Ill., December 5, 2013 -- Rev. David Myers, Senior Advisor to the FEMA Administrator/Director Center of Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships, center, speaks with NECHAMA Jewish Response to Disaster operations manager Dan Hoeft, left, and All Hands Volunteers director of US Disaster Response Sherry Buresh, second from left, as well as other volunteers in a neighborhood where the groups are helping with volunteer support for cleanup. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

What We’re Watching: 12/13/13

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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.

Practicing Fire Safety this Holiday Season

The holidays are here – a time to be with family and friends. Unfortunately, it’s also a time when we see an increased chance of home fires.

Following a few simple fire safety tips can help ensure that you and your loved ones have a fire-safe holiday season:

  • Holiday Lighting -
    • Inspect you holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up.
    • Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord directly into the outlet.
  • Candle Care -
    • Consider using battery-operated, flameless candles, which can look, smell and feel like real candles.
    • If you do use lit candles, make sure they are in stable holders, and place them where they cannot be knocked down easily.
    • Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that burns.
  • Christmas Tree -
    • If you use a fresh tree, make sure you water it regularly.  Check the water each day.  Then, make sure you don’t dry the tree out prematurely by placing it too close to a heat source like a vent or fireplace.
    • Make sure your tree is at least 3 feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, candles or heat vents.
    • Get rid of your tree after Christmas or when it is dry.
    • Connect no more than three strands of mini light sets and no more than 50 bulbs for screw-in light sets.

Practice these few tips to ensure you have a festive, bright and safe holiday season!

Video in Focus

Volunteers from MTV University and United Way are working together to help communities in the recovery process following Hurricane Sandy. In this video, members from the partnering organizations remove damaged materials and debris for homeowners in need.

Illinois Tornado Recovery

Here are a few photos from the ongoing recovery efforts in Illinois. Individuals impacted by the November 17 tornado are encouraged to register with FEMA by calling (800)-621-3362 or (TTY) (800) 462-7585 or online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.  Visit the Illinois disaster page for more information and updates.

repair to damaged homeDiamond, Ill., Dec. 10, 2013 -- Crews work to repair a wall damaged by the recent tornado that impacted the area on November 17, 2013. Residents impacted by the tornado are encouraged to call and register with FEMA by calling (800) 621-3362, (TTY) (800) 462-7585, or by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

tornado debris and homesWashington, Ill., December 7, 2013 -- Debris from the Nov. 17, 2013 tornado remain in neighborhoods throughout the city. Residents impacted by the tornado are encouraged to register for disaster assistance with FEMA. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

video interviewBrookport, Ill., Dec. 12, 2013 -- FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Donald Keldsen, right, speaks to media at a Disaster Recovery Center set up at the library. Residents impacted by the Nov. 17, 2013 tornado are encouraged to apply to FEMA for assistance by calling (800) 621-3362, (TTY) (800) 462-7585, or by applying online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Have a safe weekend!

 

Our Poem: Making Your Season Bright & Festive… Safely

 Washington, D.C., December 12, 2013 -- Flat Stanley and Stella Prepare for a holiday party. Washington, D.C., December 12, 2013 -- Flat Stanley and Stella Prepare for a holiday party.

This holiday season, Flat Stanley and I are here,

To share safety tips as the fun draws near!

We love holiday parties, we’re the first to agree,

That there’s nothing like time with friends and family,

So remember these facts on how to have a safe time,

And join us in sharing this holiday rhyme.

 

Remind your parents as they make food each night,

To keep what they’re cooking in their sight,

Because being safe in the kitchen is always polite,

And the last thing you want is for your food to ignite!

 Bowie, Md., December 11, 2013 -- Flat Stella reminds everyone to stay in the kitchen while cooking to help reduce fire. Bowie, Md., December 11, 2013 -- Flat Stella reminds everyone to stay in the kitchen while cooking to help reduce fire.

Only keep candles lit if someone is in the room,

Otherwise they could fall and cause a fire, it is safe to assume.

Better yet you can use electric lights instead!

They come in all colors, from blue to yellow to red!

Image of electric candle.Image of an electric candle.

If your family likes to have a Christmas tree,

Make sure you water it frequently,

Otherwise it could dry out easily,

And set fire accidentally!

 

Your family may like to use plug in heaters this season,

Just make sure not to overload power outlets, and for good reason:

It could blow out a circuit or cause fires, and we ain’t teasin!

 Bowie, Md., December 12, 2013 -- Flat Stanley reminds everyone to keep furnishings at least 3 ft. away from space heaters. Bowie, Md., December 12, 2013 -- Flat Stanley reminds everyone to keep furnishings at least 3 ft. away from space heaters.

But our most important tip for any holiday get-together,

Is to have fun! And be prepared for the weather!

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