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Severe Weather throughout the South & Midwest

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As the risk for severe weather conditions continue throughout parts of the Midwest and South, we wanted to take a second to remind everyone in areas expected to see severe weather to take necessary precautions now. We encourage all individuals in areas where severe weather is expected to listen to NOAA Weather Radio, especially as we head into the evening and overnight, and local news for severe weather updates and warnings and to always follow the direction provided by their local officials.

Here are a few severe weather terms you should familiarize yourself with now:

  • Severe Thunderstorm Watch - Tells you when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning - Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm. 
  • Tornado Watch - Tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information. 
  • Tornado Warning - A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately. 

As weather conditions often change quickly, it’s important to stay updated on your local forecast conditions at weather.gov (or mobile.weather.gov on your mobile device).

If severe weather is expected in your area, keep in mind these safety tips:

  • Continue to monitor your battery-powered radio or television for emergency information. 
  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report downed power lines and electrical hazards to the police and the utility company. 
  • Injury may result from the direct impact of a tornado or it may occur afterward when people walk among debris and enter damaged buildings. Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris. 
  • After a tornado, be aware of possible structural, electrical or gas-leak hazards in your home. Contact your local city or county building inspectors for information on structural safety codes and standards. They may also offer suggestions on finding a qualified contractor to do work for you.

Visit www.ready.gov/severe-weather  for more tips on what to do if severe weather is expected in your area. You can also visit http://m.fema.gov for safety tips on your mobile device.

Visiting FEMA’s New York Field Office

 Queens, N.Y., Jan. 4, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley visit the FEMA Joint Field Office (JFO) in Queens, NY to attend meetings with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, FEMA partners and associates.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 4, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley visit the FEMA Joint Field Office (JFO) in Queens, NY to attend meetings with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, FEMA partners and associates.

Stella and I went to the FEMA Field Office in New York City.

We met the man in charge, a former firefighter who was quite busy.

He and his staff said, “be prepared and stay smart.”

They all reminded us “everyone must do their part.”

When disasters hit, the whole community stays aware.

In other words, there are a lot of people who care.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 4, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley visit the FEMA Joint Field Office (JFO) in Queens, NY to attend meetings with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, FEMA partners and associates.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 4, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley visit the FEMA Joint Field Office (JFO) in Queens, NY to attend meetings with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, FEMA partners and associates.

The next stop was the Disaster Recovery Center.

Where people affected by the storm can enter.

They get information on how to rebuild homes.

And can talk face-to-face about money and loans.

People can talk about something called Mitigation.

Which means building a safer and stronger nation.

New York, N.Y., Dec. 15, 2012 -- Flat Stanley and Flat Stella visit a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) specialist who is discussing mitigation best practices with Hurricane Sandy survivors.

New York, N.Y., Dec. 15, 2012 -- Flat Stanley and Flat Stella visit a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) specialist who is discussing mitigation best practices with Hurricane Sandy survivors.

We also went to a school in Far Rockaway, Queens.

Where teachers make preparedness part of their routines.

We learned that the next time a storm is coming.

We should not wait, we must get going.

We learned not to panic, but it’s important to prepare

With a kit that holds supplies packed with care.

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

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

Other things we have to face:

Disasters can happen any time, any place.

And floods just don’t happen at the ocean;

Water can rise with much rain and quick motion. 

So make sure you know a safe place to go,

A place high and dry, where the water won’t flow.

Practice beforehand till you know the route.

Like you do with fire drills so it all works out. 

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

Don’t drive through standing water, please tell mom and dad

Find another way around and you will be glad

Always be safe, always be sure

Turn around, don’t drown, find the next detour.

 

We were glad to learn these things in order to be ready

For the next disaster that may come our way

We’ll have the best chance of being okay.

What We’re Watching: 1/25/13

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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.

Winter temperatures

Cold temperatures, snow, and ice have impacted millions across the U.S., especially in the last few weeks.  I have been sharing winter safety tips on a weekly basis in each What We’re Watching post, but it never hurts to have a few more.  If any of these look familiar, it’s because these tips were shared on many of FEMA’s social media accounts this week, too!

  • During winter months, keep your car's gas tank at least half full for emergencies. This should keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Winter storms & blizzards can knock out power. Make sure your home emergency kit is stocked up with extra blankets, gloves, and hats – and that you also have a plan to stay warm if power cannot be quickly restored.
  • Some great emergency kit items for your car during the winter months: a shovel, flashlights, water, matches, blankets, booster cables & emergency flares.
  • If winter weather is expected in your area, listen to a NOAA weather radio & follow local news for the latest forecast and conditions.

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

Fire safety for the winter months

We all know winter means colder days and nights, but did you know the number of home fires tends to increase during the winter months, too?  This is due in part to an increase in cooking and heating fires, as well as people using alternative heating sources for their home.

So take a few minutes this weekend to check your home’s smoke alarms and review your family’s fire escape plan – those are two small things that can make all the difference if a fire occurs.  For more winter fire safety tips, visit the U.S. Fire Administration’s website, or check out this video:

Upcoming events
We are also watching a few upcoming events, so mark these on your calendar!

  • Great Central U.S. ShakeOut - On February 7 at 10:15 a.m. Central time, over 2 million people will stop what they’re doing to participate in an earthquake drill and "Drop. Cover. Hold on." Signup today to participate and then check out Ready.gov/earthquakes to learn how you can prepare your home, workplace or school for an earthquake.

ShakeOut Poster

  • Think Tank - The next FEMA Think Tank Conference Call is scheduled for Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 12:00 PM EST. The call is open to anyone, and the theme for the discussion is innovative solutions in emergency management.  Here’s a summary of the upcoming call, and you can learn more at fema.gov/thinktank:

    Innovation is often thought of as something for the tech or design world, not for government or bureaucracy. The model of connecting government with outside networks has been around for a long time, but FEMA is has successfully taken it to the next level.  Soon after Sandy made landfall, FEMA deployed an Innovation Team--a multi-sector, cross functional group with the mission of working with the whole community: government, non-profit and international organizations, volunteer groups, businesses, and concerned citizens. More information on the Innovation Team is available on the recent blog post.

Photo of the Week

Debris from Hurricane Sandy is processed at the Jacob Riis Park where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers works to clean and sort it into piles for recycling. Trash separated from the debris is put into trucks to be hauled to landfills.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 18, 2013 -- Debris from Hurricane Sandy is processed at the Jacob Riis Park where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers works to clean and sort it into piles for recycling. Trash separated from the debris is put into trucks to be hauled to landfills.

For more photos, visit the FEMA Photo Library.

A Fond Farewell

Saying good-bye is always hard, and last Friday was a hard day as FEMA said good-bye to William L. Carwile, III, Administrator for Disaster Operations. After over 40 years of cumulative federal service, Bill retired from the agency.  The entire FEMA family wishes Bill all the best and a long and healthy retirement.

Have a safe weekend!

Supporting our partners for 2013 Inauguration

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As you might guess, it takes a high level of coordination and skill to pull off an event where hundreds of thousands of people converge on a small area to watch many of the nation’s political leaders.  Yesterday during President Obama’s public Inauguration ceremony, I jotted down some thoughts about FEMA’s role supporting our emergency management partners:

The President’s Inauguration is on the televisions at the front and along the sides of the room as 25 government employees watch attentively and monitor the situation. We’re here in the FEMA Region III Regional Response Coordination Center (RRCC) in Philadelphia, PA supporting the Inauguration and the surrounding events. The RRCC is where we monitor situations, work with our partners, and coordinate our response efforts.

 Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2013 -- FEMA staff monitor the Presidential Inauguration in the Regional Response Coordination Center.

There were employees here from several government agencies to support the Inauguration.

 Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2013 -- FEMA staff monitor the Presidential Inauguration in the Regional Response Coordination Center.

Staff members have been communicating with their federal and state partners and other FEMA employees throughout the day so they know what’s happening in DC and if there are any unmet needs.  They’re talking to coworkers who are in the Washington, DC Emergency Operations Center, with the Secret Service, and with the FBI.  They’ve spent months planning for this, for any scenario that could pop up, whether it includes consequence management, food, water, transportation, security or a myriad of other factors and scenarios. Team members include logisticians, planners, response, finance, media monitors and more. Because we train and plan together, serving together is easier.

Now that the preparations have all been made, everyone is able to pay attention to the televisions and listen in as the President is inaugurated and begins his address.  One thing that seems to really hit home for everyone here is the President’s quote, “Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune.”

It’s a statement that resonates throughout this room because that, too, is why we’re all here; to care for the vulnerable and protect the population from life’s worst hazards. A lot of people here have only recently returned home, many were deployed to help respond to Hurricane Sandy. These are staff members that have just returned from assisting the people of the affected states.

 Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2013 -- FEMA staff monitor the Presidential Inauguration in the Regional Response Coordination Center.

Upon hearing the President’s statement, we’re reminded that the sacrifices we make, the long hours we work, and the time away from home is worth it; we are here for the disaster survivors, not for ourselves, and we do it together. We have so many of our partners working with us today:  federal agencies, state and local emergency management agencies, and all of our citizens.  We truly are working to protect our citizens together.

What We’re Watching: 1/18/13

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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.

Not too late for a resolution

Even though we’re mid-way through January, it’s not too late to update your list of New Year’s resolutions.  Losing weight, learning a new language, exercising more, or picking up a new hobby are all great – but you can also Resolve to be Ready in 2013, and compared with the others, it may be the easiest resolution to follow up on! 

We’re asking people to take steps to better prepare their families, homes, businesses, or neighborhoods for emergencies.  There are lots of ways to start, but visiting Ready.gov is a great way to become more familiar with the risks in your area.  The site also has simple, straight-forward steps you can take today to keep you, your family, and your community safer in 2013.

And if it still seems like too much to handle, you may want to check this out:

Do 1 thing

This is a web-based preparedness program that encourages participants to become better prepared by tackling one topic each month.  The topic for January was “Make a Plan”, something that is near and dear to us at FEMA.  The Do 1 thing campaign was recently featured on the CDC Public Health Matters Blog, and I wanted to share a section of it:

For January, the first Do 1 Thing step is to “Make a Plan.”  When disaster strikes, having a family communication plan can help you and your loved ones know what to do and where to go.  In most emergency situations, you must react quickly and having a plan will help everyone stay calm and clear-headed.  

"When there is a fire at my house, I have to run to the swingset in the backyard and wait for Mama and Daddy." - Brianna, 6
 

house picture

There are many different ways that you can check this month off your list.  Think about what kinds of disasters can impact the area where you live and talk to your family about what you would do if you have to evacuate.  Are you in a hurricane zone? Are you affected by winter weather, tornadoes or extreme heat?  And don’t forget  the lesser expected, but also important event such as flu outbreaks and accidents.

You can also discuss your evacuation plan with your family. A friend of mine  in Kentucky sat down with her 6 year old, Brianna, to tackle the basics: where to go if there is a fire.  They talked about  different ways to get out of the house in an emergency and where to meet the rest of the family outside.  Brianna chose the swingset in the backyard as the safe spot, and drew a picture of the meeting point.

To solidify your evacuation plan, you can hold evacuation drills at home and practice getting out quickly.  The more practice you have, the more confident you will be in a real emergency.  This applies to everyone in your family, young and old.  Amanda, my oldest friend, talked to her kids about home emergencies and set up a practice fire drill at the house.  Sean and Mia met up at the telephone poll in their neighbor’s yard.  They also learned different ways to escape in each room of their house, and who to call in an emergency.

As part of your planning, sit down and come up with a list of resources that you would need in an emergency. List out the important phone numbers, medical information, insurance information, and utilities information relevant for your family.  Keep this list with your emergency kit so that you can find it quickly if you need it.   FEMA offers a handy printable family emergency plan to help get you started. 

I hope you’ll join me bringing in the New Year by making a similar resolution!  Have a safe and enjoyable weekend.

Does a Pink Wig Belong In a Disaster Supply Kit?

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

“Does a flashlight and extra batteries belong in an emergency kit?”

“Yes!” the room full of students, between the ages of 6 and 11, shout!

Suffern, N.Y., Jan. 10, 2013 -- FEMA For Kids promotes emergency preparedness at Lime Kiln Elementary in Suffern, NY by teaching students how to create an emergency supply kit. In addition, emergency safety related books, pamphlets websites are provided to students and staff during the safety preparedness question and answer session.

Suffern, N.Y., Jan. 10, 2013 -- FEMA For Kids promotes emergency preparedness at Lime Kiln Elementary in Suffern, NY by teaching students how to create an emergency supply kit. In addition, emergency safety related books, pamphlets websites are provided to students and staff during the safety preparedness question and answer session.

“How about a pink wig?”

“No!” they shout.

On a recent morning, Nina Coleman took various items out of a disaster supply kit, held them up and asked students at Public School 215 in Far Rockaway, NY what supplies do and don’t belong. Weather Radio elicited a resounding “Yes!”

“First Aid Kit?”

“You bet.”

“A high-heeled boot?”

Giggles. “I don’t think so.” 

These kids are residents of a neighborhood battered by Hurricane Sandy and they listen carefully to the FEMA for Kids (Ready Kids) presentation, an interactive program designed to teach children about emergency preparedness through hands-on activities, lively question and answer sessions and storytelling.

Coleman is a natural with kids. She ought to be. She’s the mother of three daughters, ages 2, 3 and 6.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Coleman, Assistant Manager of FEMA for Kids Community Relations Strike Team, has been conducting outreach to schools, after-school programs and youth organizations throughout New York City to inform students and teachers about disaster preparedness. With a background as an instructor of mortgage loan software, she is comfortable in front of a classroom.  She has also come equipped with a banner she has hung in front of the room showcasing the children’s book characters Flat Stanley and Stella, FEMA’s new ambassadors for FEMA for Kids.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 4, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley visit the FEMA Joint Field Office (JFO) in Queens, NY to attend meetings with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, FEMA partners and associates.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 4, 2013 -- Flat Stella and Flat Stanley visit the FEMA Joint Field Office (JFO) in Queens, NY to attend meetings with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne, FEMA partners and associates.

At Far Rockaway’s P.S. 215, approximately 70 percent of the students (and a majority of the teachers) had been affected by the hurricane. At times, children may be left out when it comes to the recovery process of a disaster and often they have several questions regarding storms. Informing children how to prepare for a disaster helps to alleviate their fears and increases the chance that they will stay safe during a disaster. 

Their questions can range from the serious, “What do you do if your car goes into floodwater?” to the head-scratchers: “What happens to the fish when there’s a hurricane?”

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

Bronx, N.Y., Jan. 11, 2013 -- Students in the Bronx, New York, take part in learning about natural disasters and preparedness during a FEMA For Kids presentation at MARC Academy and Family Center. FEMA plays a vital role supporting State, Tribal and local governments as they respond to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

While our FEMA for Kids instructors cannot determine the fate of the fish, the answer to the first questions is: you never try to drive through floodwater, especially because the depth may be deceiving. The mantra is: “turn around, don’t drown.”

Our instructors use every opportunity to reinforce how important it is to be prepared.

She tells the children to learn about the different types of disasters, to make a communication plan (knowing your family’s contact information) and to know their evacuation route. 

The students are reminded that they should practice their evacuation route just like fire drills at school. And when a storm is predicted, Coleman tells the children to be sure to listen to the news or weather radio to find out if an evacuation is being ordered. The children are encouraged to visit www.ready.gov/kids where they can download the Flats and take them on their journey to learning and teaching the family about disaster preparedness.

Much of this advice is something the children will speak to their parents about, which is another plus of the program. “It helps us spread the preparedness message,” says Coleman. 

Coleman does whatever it takes to make sure this message gets across, even if it means putting on a silly fluorescent pink wig and doing a little dance. It really gets their attention, but that’s the idea. 

Judging by the positive response from the children – most of them said they were going to go home and put together a disaster supplies kit (minus the pink wig and high heel boot) -- readiness has come to Rockaway.

For more information and games for kids on disaster preparedness, visit www.Ready.gov/kids.

Lessons from Sandy: A Word on Innovation

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When people think of innovation, they usually think that it is something for the tech or design world—they don’t associate it with government or bureaucracy.  But, FEMA sees the role of innovation differently.  We recognize the value of innovation—that through innovation we can develop new and creative solutions—and deliver these solutions to those that need them the most- survivors.    We have been working on a number of fronts to incorporate innovation into our program and process.  And during our ongoing response and recovery efforts in Hurricane Sandy, we have been taking our approach to innovation one step further.

Soon after Sandy made landfall, FEMA deployed an Innovation Team-- a multi-sector, cross functional group made up of people in government, non-profit and international organizations, volunteer groups, businesses, and concerned citizens: the whole community.  At the most basic level, this team is all about creatively solving problems by receiving individual input from a diverse spectrum of stakeholders. They are about obtaining a perspective that is broader than just one sector, yet are agile and nimble enough to be a catalyst for real, impactful change to real world challenges.   The team collides networks of people together and leverages the amazing resourcefulness of the many organizations that have an interest in serving individuals and communities impacted by disasters.

The Innovation Team is by no means FEMA’s first experience with innovation.  We innovate on a regular basis, throughout our programs by valuing a forward leaning survivor centric approach to problem solving.  However, it is the first time that an entire team was dedicated to developing solutions to real time problems.

In order to identify the real time challenges, the team co-located alongside FEMA employees in one of our disaster field offices in New York City.  In doing so, they were able to work within FEMA and outside FEMA to identify challenges and fill gaps where necessary.  There, they could tap into their networks, be a “fresh set of eyes”, and question underlying assumptions.  The team is able to accomplish innovation in a number of ways: First and foremost, through always keeping the disaster survivor in mind when working towards and delivering solutions.  Second, is by looking for ways to connect government with external groups. And third, is making time to talk regularly and brainstorming without restraint.

Providing internet connectivity in Red Hook

Hurricane Sandy affected hundreds of thousands of people in varying degrees- from leaving them with no electricity or running water, to damaging or even destroying their homes, to causing injuries.  And with all of this devastation, there are many forms of assistance potentially available to help.  It is our job to make sure that everyone affected by the storm knows about what assistance is available and how they can apply for that assistance.  One way that we provide that information and assistance to survivors is by setting up disaster recovery centers in impacted locations—places where disaster survivors can talk face-to-face with staff from the state and FEMA about what assistance options are available.  Soon after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, FEMA needed to set up over 40 of these disaster recovery centers in New York alone.

As is often the case, these disaster recovery centers are set up in neighborhoods hit hard by a disaster – and in Red Hook, New York, this was no exception.  After the Innovation Team arrived at the center in Red Hook and spoke with the staff and disaster survivors, they realized there was a great need for internet connectivity.  There were “hard lines” set up and a very weak Wi-Fi network—but this not enough.  In this world of smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers—only having the options to sit at a hard lined computer is not going to fit the bill.

So the Innovation team sprang into action – they tapped into their network and linked up with IT volunteer organizations and highly skilled community volunteers.  Within two days, not only had the Wi-Fi network area doubled, but it had also become accessible in a popular neighborhood courtyard and several of the surrounding buildings, providing hundreds of residents the ability to use the internet-- access information, check in with family and friends, and apply for disaster assistance online. 

But we didn’t just make people come to us in Red Hook. We sent the internet to them.  Teams from our Community Relations group were already going door-to-door in damaged neighborhoods, ensuring that word got out about the assistance that was available.  We gave these teams iPads with internet connectivity—internet connectivity that came from a new satellite link up that the Innovation Team established.  As a result, the internet was traveling door-to-door in neighborhoods throughout the city, allowing survivors to register for assistance from their own homes that were still without power, and allowing our teams to stay better informed of the changing needs on the ground. 

This example of the Innovation Team’s work in Red Hook is just one story, one way we are trying to assist disaster survivors through the approach of connecting government with businesses and non-profit organizations.  Why are we doing this?  Because no one group has all the answers and FEMA is just one part of a large team.  Government agencies need to tap into the vast amounts of knowledge and expertise that thrive outside our walls.  And the same holds true for companies and volunteer-led groups. Government can be an invaluable partner; we have resources, networks, and experience that can contribute to solutions.  The innovation team is one way for us to continue to partner with the whole community.

What we’ve learned so far

  • The most valuable innovations often produce both tangible and intangible benefits:

While the Innovation Team was at Miller Park in Staten Island, NY they realized that there weren’t enough generators to provide service to the tents set up to provide assistance to disaster survivors.  The dropping temperatures created a challenge in keeping the area heated.  To solve this problem- the innovation team worked with local officials to move a spare generator onto the hitch of a FEMA truck and bring it to the site.  With the additional generator, both tents warmed up and the survivors were served that evening in comfort and security.

             New York, N.Y., Nov. 17, 2012 -- FEMA Innovation Team assists with connectivity enhancements at FEMA Disaster Recovery Center.

            New York, N.Y., Nov. 15, 2012 -- Innovation Team meets with partners to assist in Hurricane Sandy recovery.

            New York, N.Y., Nov. 12, 2012 -- Members of the Innovation team meet with partners to assist Hurricane Sandy operations.

Much of the way the Innovation Team adds value is through localized solutions like these– where they look at a situation objectively, identify a problem, suggest a solution, and contribute to its success.  In this case, the team worked across organizational boundaries for electrical power, light, tents, communications, transportation, and different levels of government.  Ultimately, their work helped keep disaster survivors warm – people who were already under a great deal of stress.

  • Innovations that come with cost savings can be doubly sweet.

Setting up a disaster recovery center or an office in the field requires a basic level of telecommunications. At the very least, the site should have telephone, power, and, ideally, internet.  This can be a tall order in areas with little to no infrastructure remaining after an emergency.  In some cases, FEMA will bring vehicles or equipment, such as a Mobile Communications Operations Vehicle or MCOV, to establish the basic level of communications needed to provide assistance.

             Milford, Conn., Nov. 8, 2012 -- A Nor'easter dumped a foot of snow in the hard-hit town of Milford. A Mobile Communications Office Vehicle (MCOV ) is supporting a Disaster Recovery Center operation in this hard-hit coastal town

These vehicles help FEMA and our partners operate in areas with telecommunications in areas we otherwise may not be able to, which is a great thing.  But these vehicles are a scarce resource, and after an event like Hurricane Sandy, they are in high demand in many locations that need help to get up and running.  And one of these locations was the Rockaways. 

As FEMA staff and the Innovation Team worked to set up a disaster recovery center in a Rockaways neighborhood, they needed an MCOV in the area to support the limited telecommunications infrastructure.  However, instead of increasing demand on the limited supply—they developed an alternate solution.  The team, through a combination of government, industry, academia and volunteer sources, set up equipment and services to create a communication network capable of supporting FEMA’s mission.  Ultimately, they used an existing internet connection to enhance connectivity, allowing an MCOV to be used elsewhere.

The model of connecting government with outside networks has been around for a long time, but FEMA is putting a new spin on it through the Innovation Team.  The work done before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy has inspired several new partnerships.  FEMA is now assessing the lessons from Hurricane Sandy and evaluating new potential projects.

These past success stories and ongoing projects will only continue to be successful if we take the lessons learned from the Innovation Team and Hurricane Sandy and continue to focus on delivering solutions to disaster survivors.  We need to keep collaborating—bringing groups together, challenging our commonly held perceptions, and relentlessly pursuing solutions that can offer a much needed ray of hope to those in need.

FEMA will continue this conversation during our next FEMA Think Tank Conference Call being held at the White House on February 6, 2013.  This call is open to the public – it is a forum to bring the whole community into this conversation about incorporating innovation into emergency management.  To learn more about the FEMA Think Tank and get information on the call, please visit www.fema.gov/thinktank.

What We're Watching: 1/11/13

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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.

Cold Weather Next Week

Although some areas across the U.S. are experiencing abnormally high temperatures for January, the National Weather Service is expecting much cooler temperatures throughout several parts of the U.S. over the next week.  Here are some winter weather safety tips to keep in mind if cold weather is expected in your area:

  • Limit travel during a storm – only venture out on the roads if it’s absolutely necessary.
  • 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.
  • 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.

As the weather continues to get colder and with cases of the flu on the rise, make sure you and your family are taking the proper precautions to stay healthy this winter. Visit the Center for Disease Control website for more information on the flu or download the American Red Cross app for tips on how to stay healthy.

New Mobile Site

Our mobile site has been renovated! Not only have we given the site a new look and feel, we’ve made it more user-friendly and easier to navigate on your smart phones. In addition to the new look and feel of the site, some other changes include:

  • Both graphic and text version of the website – If your phone is not compatible with the graphic version, you will automatically get redirected to the text only version.
  • Easier to navigate menu – The new accordion style menu allows for easier navigation to content and previous pages visited.
  • Updated content – We’ve added information on making a family communication plan, building your emergency kit, information on how to donate and volunteer responsibly, and links to our state and local partners mobile sites.

So if you haven’t done so, bookmark our mobile site on your phone so no matter where you may be when a disaster strikes, you’ll be able to access important life-saving information that can be the difference in the event of an emergency.

Hurricane Sandy Update

As of today, over 525,000 storm survivors have applied for assistance and $1.19 billion in federal aid has been approved.  As we continue to support Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts across states affected by the storm, I wanted to highlight some great resources and information available to disaster survivors:

Here are a few photos of our ongoing recovery efforts. For more photos or videos on Hurricane Sandy, visit our Hurricane Sandy Collection.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 8, 2013 -- Community Relations Specialist Jean Ones Austin distributes flyers to Haitian small businesses about recovery information following Hurricane Sandy. FEMA provides assistance information to everyone that was impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 8, 2013 -- Community Relations Specialist Jean Ones Austin distributes flyers to Haitian small businesses about recovery information following Hurricane Sandy. FEMA provides assistance information to everyone that was impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Fort Monmouth, N.J., Jan. 8, 2013 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino tours a Temporary Housing Unit (THU) community at Fort Monmmouth with a U.S. Army Corps Housing Task Force leader. As part of an ongoing effort to ensure families and individuals impacted by Hurricane Sandy get the support they need, FEMA licensed THU's from the Department of Defense for eligible disaster survivors as part of an Individual Assistance function.

Fort Monmouth, N.J., Jan. 8, 2013 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino tours a Temporary Housing Unit (THU) community at Fort Monmmouth with a U.S. Army Corps Housing Task Force leader. As part of an ongoing effort to ensure families and individuals impacted by Hurricane Sandy get the support they need, FEMA licensed THU's from the Department of Defense for eligible disaster survivors as part of an Individual Assistance function.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 7, 2013 -- External Affairs Report Specialist, Rebecca Eith and IT Specialist, Jerry Chan are two of the many FEMA local hires that are working in the Hurricane Sandy recovery process. In the aftermath of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, FEMA is hiring local employees to help with the recovery of many communities impacted by the storm.

Queens, N.Y., Jan. 7, 2013 -- External Affairs Report Specialist, Rebecca Eith and IT Specialist, Jerry Chan are two of the many FEMA local hires that are working in the Hurricane Sandy recovery process. In the aftermath of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, FEMA is hiring local employees to help with the recovery of many communities impacted by the storm.

For the latest Sandy recovery information, visit your state disaster page.

For a complete list of state disaster pages, visit www.fema.gov.

Have a great (and safe) weekend!

Saving $1 Million on the Waterfront

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Brian Robbins grandfather, Harry, started making paper bags with a folding machine in his garage in 1935. As a child, Robbins’ father would ride his bicycle to hand out flyers to promote business. In 1940, Harry had the good fortune to meet a wooden pail maker – someone who made wooden shipping crates – who introduced him to corrugated boxes.

Many years later, the family operation went on to become Cornell Paper & Box Company, a $14 million-a-year business located on Brooklyn’s historic waterfront in Red Hook. Even on a cloudy day, one can see the Statue of Liberty in the distance, raising her torch in the mist.

The company no longer manufactures paper products, but buys and distributes corrugated boxes throughout the U.S. Brian has been running the business for the last 15 years with his father and for much of that time has watched nervously as the water, which in some areas is about 15 feet from his 150-year-old brick warehouse, eroded the shoreline. In early 2000, the pier outside the warehouse finally collapsed.

Brian said he knew it was a matter of time before the erosion would make the building vulnerable to a huge storm, like a Nor’easter. He was concerned that one of the walls would easily be knocked right out with the force of a surge.

When Hurricane Sandy inundated Red Hook with floodwaters in October, Robbin’s warehouse took a huge hit – but not as bad as it might have been had he not initiated a major mitigation project. Four years earlier, trucking in 1,500 cubic yards of armored stone, Robbins spent half a million dollars to build riprap, an embankment of large stones to prevent erosion, and a retaining wall to protect his property. Even though the low-lying land was covered in about five feet of water after Sandy, flooding the warehouse, Robbins says things would have been a lot worse. He had no doubt the outer wall would have been knocked out had he not prevented the erosion from continuing.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a bulk head wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a bulk head wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a stone wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Brian Robbins, owner of Cornell Paper and Box Company, Inc., stands next to his business which abuts Upper New York Bay. Robbins took the initiative to mitigate his property by building a stone wall to protect his property from storm surge. Although Robbins building was flooded due to Hurricane Sandy, he said that without the mitigation steps, he would have lost his whole building.

Robbins started the project in early 2008 and finished by September of 2010. Robbins joked that he had to get approvals from every government agency in existence. In the middle of it, the financial markets crashed and he spoke with his father about whether it was the best time to go forward. But he decided it HAD to be done or he’d be in worse shape, if a major storm hit. 

Even with the mitigation effort, one wall of the warehouse sustained a huge crack that will cost about $270,000 to repair. Cleanup will run another $400,000. In addition, the flooding inundated about $900,000 worth of soggy boxes. His flood insurance will cover $500,000 to repair the building and another $500,000 for damaged inventory. (Flood insurance coverage for business is different than coverage for individual homeowners, which tops out at $250,000 for structures and $100,000 for contents).


Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Workers at local Red Hook business Cornell Paper and Box Company, continue cleanup of boxes inside the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Workers at local Red Hook business Cornell Paper and Box Company, continue cleanup of boxes inside the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Local Red Hook business, Cornell Paper and Box Company, continues cleanup of boxes at the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec. 4, 2012 -- Local Red Hook business, Cornell Paper and Box Company, continues cleanup of boxes at the warehouse that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Business impacted by the storm may contact the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest disaster loans at all New York State/FEMA disaster recovery centers and 18 SBA business recovery centers.

To make up the difference, he will have to take out a half a million dollar low-interest disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (which also provides low-interest loans to homeowners to repair disaster damage). It will take a few months for Cornell to be able to house the paper inventory needed to bring business back to the way it was. In the meantime, Robbins is trying to make up the loss by renting out emptied areas of his warehouse for storage space, (one client is storing his motorcycles where stacks of cardboard usually sit). 

Even so, Robbins estimates that if he had not taken the mitigation measures, it would have cost him another million dollars out of pocket. Now the plan is to bring in another 400 tons of armored stone to replace what Sandy took away.

Robbins says that after making the repairs he’ll be even better protected for another storm. And save another million dollars – or more.

After a presidentially declared disaster, FEMA provides funding to the state for mitigation grants. For more information on applying for one, here is a link to HMGP FAQs.

What We're Watching: 1/4/13

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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.

New Year – Get Prepared

With the start of a new year, many of us have once again made a resolution to live a more healthy life, shop less and save more, donate to a charitable organization, among many others. And although it’s sometimes difficult to keep the momentum after the first couple of weeks in the New Year, why not make a few small and simple changes to help you and your loved ones prepare for an emergency?


Disasters can strike anywhere, at any moment, so it’s important to make sure you and your families are prepared. Here are a few simple tips to help get you prepared should an emergency occur:

  • Set a monthly reminder in your calendar to test your home’s smoke alarms – the first of every month in your personal or work calendar can serve as a great reminder to test your smoke alarms. While you’re testing your smoke alarm, practice your emergency escape plan. After all, practice makes perfect.
  • Be Informed and Make a Plan - Not all communities in a state or territory share the same risks, so it’s important to learn what to do should a disaster strike in your area. Visit www.ready.gov for a list of tips on staying safe before, during and after a disaster. Once you’ve learned the facts, make a family emergency plan. Your family may not be together when a disaster strikes, so it's important to know how you will contact one another, where you will meet up and what you will do in case of an emergency.   Don’t forget about making plans for your pets – they are important members of the family too.
  • Pick up one item for your emergency kit on each of your shopping runs – building your family’s emergency kit doesn’t need to happen in one fell swoop. Pick up canned food, bottled water, a battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, and other recommended emergency items over the first month or two of the year, that way you spread the cost of building your emergency supply kit.

Keeping our New Year resolutions can be difficult, but taking these steps to help keep you and your family members safe can be fun and simple.

Winter Is Upon Us

As we move further into the winter months and old man winter continues to rear his (sometimes) ugly head, I wanted to take a moment to remind of some tips for staying safe this winter.

  • 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. Some items to include in your kit include:
    • Flashlight with extra batteries
    • Water
    • Blanket
    • Adequate clothing such as gloves, hat, scarf, and extra clothes
  • 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 and be sure you have winter weather supplies such as:
    • Rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways
    • Sand to improve traction on exterior walkways
    • Snow shovels and other snow removal equipment
  • Limit travel during a storm – only venture out on the roads if it’s absolutely necessary. If you have to travel, be sure to let someone know your destination, expected arrival time and the route you’re taking.
  • Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts).
  • Practice safe snow removal - moving snow can be strenuous, so take breaks and make sure to give your body a rest.  Overworking yourself in cold weather can put extra strain on your heart.

Familiarize yourself with winter weather terms often used to identify a winter storm hazard and discuss with your family what to do if a winter storm watch or warning is issued:

  • Freezing Rain creates a coating of ice on roads and walkways.
  • Sleet is rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Winter Weather Advisory means cold, ice and snow are expected.
  • Winter Storm Watch means severe weather such as heavy snow or ice is possible in the next day or two. Follow local news reports and be alert to changing weather conditions.
  • Winter Storm Warning means severe winter conditions have begun or will begin very soon. Stay indoors during the storm and avoid traveling.
  • Blizzard Warning means heavy snow and strong winds will produce a blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts and life-threatening wind chill.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning means below freezing temperatures are expected.

Visit www.ready.gov/winter-weather for a more complete list of what to do before, during and after winter weather and extreme cold.

Happy New Year!

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