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AARP & FEMA: Building resilience through partnerships

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signing ceremony

Effectively responding to disasters requires a team, but not just any team.  This team needs to be as diverse, multi-faceted, and as talented as the fabric of America itself.  Because of this, FEMA is always looking for opportunities to strengthen the team that prepares for, responds to, and recovers from emergencies.   

I’m proud that last week FEMA took a step in bolstering this collection of partners by signing a partnership agreement with the AARP.  Here’s Administrator Fugate and AARP CEO Barry Rand at the signing ceremony:

As Administrator Fugate and Mr. Rand said, the partnership between FEMA and AARP is all about building resilience in homes, neighborhoods, and communities around the U.S.  That could mean providing information so people understand the disaster risks in their area, ensuring Americans are aware of assistance and services that are available after a disaster, or sharing best practices so people rebuild their homes and communities to make more resilient after a disaster strikes.

I hope the partnership inspires you to take action to make your family, home, business, or neighborhood better prepared for a disaster.  Since we’re in the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, now is a great time to review your family’s emergency plan and ensure your emergency supply kit is stocked and ready, just in case.   In addition to FEMA’s Ready.gov/hurricanes page, another great place for information on preparing for hurricanes or tropical storms is the AARP “Operation Hurricane Prepare”. It has a handy checklist and videos that put preparedness actions at the forefront.

Finally, check out the the AARP blog for their take on the partnership and details on how AARP members are already lending a helping hand in disaster response. One way is through Createthegood.org, which pulls together volunteering opportunities and stories on how volunteering is making a positive impact in communities around the country.

Partnerships are so critical to emergency management – I’m glad to welcome AARP as FEMA’s newest formal partner!

Law Enforcement’s Role in Responding to Disasters

If you have ever had the chance to speak with Administrator Fugate or listen to him discuss the role of first responders in disasters… you will know he views their work with a revered appreciation.  They are an intricate part of the emergency/disaster response team.  As a former Police Chief, I can attest to their hard work and dedication and agree whole heartedly with Administrator Fugate.

In my 30 year career I have witnessed heroic efforts by my officers and colleagues, including during times of disasters.  While serving Prince George’s County, we responded to 9/11, Hurricane Isabel, snowstorms, and multiple tornadoes.  Specifically, I recall one of the tornadoes that impacted my county.  An EF-3 tornado impacted the nearby college campus and devastated neighborhoods and infrastructure.  Emergency services were stretched to the max.  Our officers worked relentless hours, 48 hours straight in some cases, setting up and supporting emergency response and rescue operations.  The scene was chaotic with debris and terrified college students, but the right training helped officers maintain public safety and conduct lifesaving missions. 

Over the last two years I have had the distinct privilege of sharing the Administrator’s views with the law enforcement community and recently, he reflected on Law Enforcement’s Role in Responding to Disasters in an article in Police Chief Magazine

We ask a tremendous amount of our first responders during disasters and emergencies. They are the first line of defense; they are the first helping hand extended to survivors. Every police officer knows emergencies can happen without notice. Our ability to respond to and recover from disasters is directly influenced by how well prepared our first responders are and how well we all work together as a team before, during, and after a crisis. 

The role of law enforcement in responding to a disaster is very similar to the day-to-day role of public safety and supporting the community. In preparing for a disaster, police officers trust in their training and capitalize on their knowledge of a community. Exercises portraying the situations (large- and small-scale events) help better prepare officers and allow them to fully understand the resources needed for each event and apply that information to each community’s needs. Law enforcement officials know their communities best and interact with residents on a daily basis. This knowledge gives them the ability to provide valuable situational awareness to response and recovery groups coming in to help. For example, where will there be language barriers? Does the community have unique challenges? Law enforcement can help communicate this information to the emergency management team and can offer support to other members of the team by simply being a presence in the neighborhoods.

During a disaster, police officers play a key role in many operations including: search and rescue, evacuations, door-to-door checks, and maintaining overall public safety within the community. These are critical actions that support not only their own communities but neighboring towns as well. 

As the Administrator explained in the article, the law enforcement community has two vital roles in responding to disasters:

  • As first responders during times of crisis, and
  • Providing for the safety and security of the community. 

Responding to disasters is a shared responsibility, and those in law enforcement are aware that emergency management planning is for all hazards and that it takes a team effort to keep our communities safe.  I’m proud to represent the law enforcement community at FEMA as we continue to strengthen the coordination among the entire emergency management team.

Editor’s Note: Police Chief Magazine is a publication from the International Association of Chiefs of Police and serves as the professional voice of law enforcement and supports programs and research, as well as training and other professional services for the law enforcement community.

What We’re Watching: 8/9/13

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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.

Weather Outlook

According to our friends at the National Weather Service, heavy rainfall with the potential for flooding is expected to continue across Northern Oklahoma and Arkansas.  Additionally, some rainfall with thunderstorms is possible from the Mid-Mississippi valley across the Mid-South, Carolinas, and Virginia. For folks in these areas here are some flood safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Driving through a flooded area can be extremely hazardous. Almost half of all flash flood deaths happen in vehicles. When in your car, look out for flooding in low lying areas, at bridges, and at highway dips. As little as six inches of water may cause you to lose control of your vehicle.  Remember – turn around, don’t drown.
  • Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.

Severe weather watches and warnings may happen quickly, so be familiar with flood terminology, like:

  • Flood Watch - Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information. 
  • Flood Warning - Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately. 
  • Flash Flood Watch - Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information. 
  • Flash Flood Warning - A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately. 

We encourage everyone to monitor weather conditions in your area as the weather can quickly change. Visit www.weather.gov on your computer or http://mobile.weather.gov on your mobile device.

In Case You Missed It

In case you missed it, last week our digital team launched a few new tools to help the public prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.  Shayne Adamski, FEMA’s Senior Manager for Digital Engagement blogged about these new digital tools to help better connect people with the tools and resources you may need before, during and after a disaster. Here’s a short video from Administrator Fugate explaining how the new tools work:

It’s Almost National Preparedness Month

September is right around the corner, so you know what that means – it’s National Preparedness Month. The goal of National Preparedness Month is to encourage individuals, businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations to learn about the local hazards in your community, make a family communication plan, build an emergency kit, then get involved in your local community preparedness efforts. And we’re doing just that, take some time this weekend to pledge to prepare your family and neighbors for emergencies by joining the National Preparedness Community!

As a Community Member, you’ll have access to exclusive resources and be able to collaborate with thousands of other members across the country on ways to participate and get your community involved.  There’s no cost in signing up and it’s a great first step in preparing your home and family from an emergency.

We hope you’ll join us and participate this September!

Photos of the Week

And to wrap things up, here are a few of our favorite photos of the week. For more photos visit our Photo Library.

construction men working on a boardwalkOrtley Beach, N.J., Aug. 5, 2013 -- Damages are still visible nine months after Hurricane Sandy touched the coast last fall as workers rebuild Ortley Beach's boardwalk.

Anniston, Ala., Aug. 1, 2013 -- Healthcare workers, representing 23 Native American tribes respond to an emergency at the Center for Domestic Prep...Anniston, Ala., Aug. 1, 2013 -- Healthcare workers, representing 23 Native American tribes respond to an emergency at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) Noble Training Facility. More than 50 tribal members, representing 10 states came together at the CDP for the Healthcare Leadership for Mass Casualty Incidents course. During the four-day class the tribal members trained to provide a realistic medical response in an actual treatment facility.

contractors assemble tubingHarvey Cedars, N.J., July 31, 2013 -- Pipes are assembled as part of the dredging operation is underway to replenish the beaches and the dunes of Long Beach Island after Hurricane Sandy eroded them last fall. The project is part of the Army Corps of Engineers' Flood and Coastal Damage Reduction Program, funded by the Sandy Relief Act.

Have a great and safe weekend!

Crowdsourcing Disasters and Social Engagement Multiplied

Crowdsourcing disasters. New social media sites. Centralized places to get info. Our digital team at FEMA has been busy launching a number of new tools to help the public and our partners to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. Here’s a quick rundown of the new resources:

  1. FEMA App with the Disaster Reporter feature
  2. FEMA’s Social Hub
  3. FEMA LinkedIn
  4. U.S. Fire Administration Facebook

How does this help you be a part of the emergency management team? Watch this demo from Administrator Fugate as he walks through all the new tools and resources you can take advantage of:

Before a disaster, you can download the FEMA App and use the interactive emergency kit checklist and learn what to do during specific hazards. And if you find yourself in a situation, where you need a refresher, you can still pull up the safety info in the app, even if you don’t have a cellular or wifi connection.

After a disaster, if you’re not placing yourself in harm’s way, you can use the Disaster Reporter feature in the FEMA App and take a photo of the disaster area and upload it to us (just make sure the GPS function is turned on).  This includes all types of disasters, not just Federal disasters.

We’ll review the photo submissions to ensure: (1) it is disaster-related, (2) not spam, and (3) there are no privacy issues.  And then all approved content is posted on a public map. It’s pretty simple.

We’re really excited about this new feature, because it gives all stakeholders in a disaster area the ability to upload information to a centralized place, allowing all emergency managers to view the information.  Since we’re using the FEMA GeoPlatform for our mapping interface the content can be shared on other maps and sites, using what techies refer to as an API (Application Programming Interface).

Speaking of centralized places to view information, the Social Hub is where all stakeholders can go to view tweets from trusted emergency managers.  The great thing about the Social Hub is we can change the information we’re displaying on the fly.  When we launched the Social Hub on Monday, July 29, we were displaying tweets from accounts in Hawaii, because we were monitoring Tropical Storm Flossie. 

When the storm dissipated, we transitioned to displaying local National Weather Service tweets, both in a scrolling format and on a map.  As we know, more and more people are going mobile with their devices (phones and tablets), so we also created a Social Hub on our mobile site.

Finally, we recently launched two new channels to better engage FEMA’s digital audience: the FEMA LinkedIn page and the U.S. Fire Administration Facebook page.  On LinkedIn, look for job listings, stories about what a “day in the life” looks like at FEMA, and other training resources.  And if you “Like” the U.S. Fire Administration Facebook page, you’ll receive lots of stories, resources, and tips for assisting fire departments or firefighters.

When I testified on Capitol Hill on Social Media and Emergency Management last month, I said that we’re always looking at how we can expand our existing digital and social products. As you can imagine, we’re excited about these new tools and we’re looking forward to feedback.

Kick the tires as they say and let us know what you think.

What We’re Watching: 8/2/13

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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.

Photos of the Week

Here are a few of our favorite photos from the past week. Check out our Photo Library for more.

Moore, Okla., July 29, 2013 -- The American flag stands as a sign of strength in the foreground of the devastation left in the wake of the May 20th EF-5 tornado.Moore, Okla., July 29, 2013 -- The American flag stands as a sign of strength in the foreground of the devastation left in the wake of the May 20th EF-5 tornado.

Old Bridge, N.J., July 27, 2013 -- FEMA Mitigation specialist Jenai Jordan and External Affairs representative Susan Langhoff provide information on mitigating disasters like Hurricane Sandy at the Home Depot Hurricane Workshop in Old Bridge, New Jersey.Old Bridge, N.J., July 27, 2013 -- FEMA Mitigation specialist Jenai Jordan and External Affairs representative Susan Langhoff provide information on mitigating disasters like Hurricane Sandy at the Home Depot Hurricane Workshop in Old Bridge, New Jersey.

White River, Mich., July 30, 2013 -- Muskegon County Road Maintenance Superintendent Laurie Peterson, views this very dangerous road washout. FEMA Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation Grants become available following application and inspection and cover a significant portion of the cost of repair.White River, Mich., July 30, 2013 -- Muskegon County Road Maintenance Superintendent Laurie Peterson, views this very dangerous road washout. FEMA Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation Grants become available following application and inspection and cover a significant portion of the cost of repair.

Weather Outlook

According to the National Weather Service, it doesn’t appear there will be any severe weather threats this weekend.  While there aren’t any significant weather threats at this time, weather conditions can change rapidly. We encourage everyone to monitor their local weather conditions online at www.weather.gov or on their mobile device at http://mobile.weather.gov

While you’re out and about this weekend, take a few moments to make sure your family’s emergency kit is fully stocked as we head into the peak of hurricane season.  Last week we saw two Tropical Storms -- Dorian in the Caribbean and Flossie in the Pacific. These storms are great reminders that the time to prepare for tropical weather is now. Visit Ready.gov for a list of items that should be in your emergency kit and for safety tips on what to do before, during and after a hurricane.

Public-Private Partnership Conference

This week the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, in association with the United States Northern Command and the American Red Cross, hosted the “Building Resilience through Public-Private Partnerships” conference. 

The conference highlighted successful public-private partnerships, identified coordination gaps between public-private organizations, and engaged both sectors to determine how to further promote teamwork to make our communities and nation more resilient.

Here are a few tweets from the @FEMALive account, which covered live the conference live on Twitter:

Thanks to everyone who was able to participate and follow the discussion online!

For more information on how FEMA engages with the Private Sector, visit www.fema.gov/private-sector.

Have a safe weekend!

What We’re Watching: 7/26/13

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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.

Tropical Storms Dorian & Flossie

We continue to closely watch both Tropical Storm Dorian in the Atlantic and Topical Storm Flossie in the Pacific.  Although at this time there are no watches and warnings in effect for either storms, we encourage residents in projected paths to take action now and prepare.  Tropical storms still present dangerous hazards such as winds over 70mph, tornadoes, heavy rain and flooding.  We urge everyone to closely monitor your local weather conditions and follow the instructions of local officials.  Make sure your emergency kit is fully stocked with the things your family may need.  Head over to Ready.gov on your computer or m.fema.gov/hurricanes on your phone for hurricane safety tips and information on tailoring your family’s emergency kit.

We will continue to provide updates on both storms as necessary, especially through our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Public-Private Partnership Conference

As part of our continued efforts to better engage with the private sector, the Department of Homeland Security, in partnership with FEMA, U.S. Northern Command and American Red Cross, are hosting the Third Annual Building Resilience through Public-Private Partnerships Conference next week on July 30-31, 2013. 

The conference attracts participants from the public and private sectors to promote innovation in furthering public-private partnerships to make our neighborhoods and country more resilient.  We’ll be live tweeting from @FEMALive during the conference, so if you’re on Twitter you can follow the conversation by using #PPPconf

Visit FEMA’s Private Sector page for more information on the conference and how we engage our private sector partners.

Photos of the Week

Here’s a few of my favorite photos from the past week. For more photos, head over to our Photo Library.

Union Beach, N.J., July 24, 2013 -- A King Street United Brethren Church volunteer prepares the substructure of a storm battered home before installing insulation. This is a coordinated effort from various non-profit organizations to aid homeowners to rebuild their damaged homes after Hurricane Sandy. Union Beach, N.J., July 24, 2013 -- A King Street United Brethren Church volunteer prepares the substructure of a storm battered home before installing insulation. This is a coordinated effort from various non-profit organizations to aid homeowners to rebuild their damaged homes after Hurricane Sandy.

 

Lyons, Mich., July 25, 2013 --Susan Craft, DPW Maintenance Superintendent, points out to FEMA Project Specialist Ron Hamilton how the bridge is endangered by the loss of riprap during the flooding of the river. FEMA Public Assistance Grants are available following application and inspection, to cover at least 75% of the cost of repair.Lyons, Mich., July 25, 2013 -- Susan Craft, DPW Maintenance Superintendent, points out to FEMA Project Specialist Ron Hamilton how the bridge is endangered by the loss of riprap during the flooding of the river. FEMA Public Assistance Grants are available following application and inspection, to cover at least 75% of the cost of repair.

Have a great (and safe) weekend!

Celebrating the 23rd Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act

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As we celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 2013, I recall a quote by Justin Dart Jr., the man described as the Father of the ADA.  Dart said, “The vision of justice is an eternal long march to the promised land of the good life for all." 

Now for those that may not know, the ADA is a landmark civil rights law passed in 1990 with bipartisan congressional support and signed by President George H.W. Bush.  The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in areas like employment, participation in State and local government programs, and in most private businesses (public accommodations).  Transportation and effective communication are also addressed in the law.  Many people also don’t realize that for the past 40 years, all Federal agencies and any program that receives even one dollar of federal funding have had similar non-discrimination and inclusion obligations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, specifically Section 504.  Together the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA provide far reaching civil rights protections for people with disabilities.

The intent of the ADA was to establish a level playing field, a point where we can be equal, active participants in “the system.”  After 23 years, people with disabilities know our ADA rights and more and more often, we are exercising them.  Thanks to the promises and protections of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, people with disabilities are no longer content to just sit on the sidelines or be included as an afterthought as other people decide what is best for us.  There is a saying used by people with disabilities, “Nothing about us, without us.”  We want to participate and be involved in making those decisions that affect us. 

The ADA has made incredible progress for the civil rights of people with disabilities but yes, we are still on that “eternal long march to the promised land.”  We continue to break down barriers - physical barriers, programmatic barriers, transportation barriers, communication barriers, employment barriers, technology barriers, and yes, sadly, there are still attitudinal barriers as well.  But things are changing.

In emergency management for example there is a renewed effort across the country to not just “plan for” people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs but instead to “plan with” the whole community.  FEMA, FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, and our Regional Disability Integration Specialists are working with State and local governments, Tribal governments, non-profit groups, and private businesses by providing guidance, resources, and encouragement to include people with disabilities in all aspects of emergency management from planning and exercises to response, recovery, and mitigation.  People with disabilities are getting involved in our communities.  We are now a part of many emergency planning committees, citizen emergency response teams (CERT) and other first responder organizations.

So on this anniversary, we can look back on 23 years of hard earned progress and look to the future with hope of what is yet to come as we “march to the promised land of the good life for all."  

What We’re Watching: 7/19/13

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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.

Weather Outlook

For many parts of the U.S. it’s been a scorcher all week long, but it looks as though things are finally going to cool off as slightly lower temperatures are expected next week. In the meantime, here are some extreme heat safety tips to keep in mind until the cool down arrives:

  • Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings, or louvers. (Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat that enters a home by up to 80 percent.)
  • Know those in your neighborhood who are elderly, young, sick or overweight. They are more likely to become victims of excessive heat and may need help
  • Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun.
  • Consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and other community facilities. Circulating air can cool the body by increasing the perspiration rate of evaporation.
  • Eat well-balanced, light, and regular meals. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
  • Drink plenty of water; even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine and limit intake of alcoholic beverages.
  • Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays. Protect your face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day. Use a buddy system when working in extreme heat, and take frequent breaks.

For more extreme heat safety tips and information, visit www.Ready.gov/heat.

Our friends at the National Weather Service don’t expect any other severe weather over the next couple of days, but as we know weather conditions can rapidly change.  We encourage everyone to monitor your local weather conditions at www.weather.gov or on your mobile phone at http://mobile.weather.gov.

Photos of Week

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the week. You can find more photos at the FEMA Photo Library.


San Francisco, Calif., July 18, 2013 -- Attendees and participants of the 11th FEMA Think Tank listen and contribute to the discussion facilitated by Deputy Administrator Rich Serino at the San Francisco Tech Shop.San Francisco, Calif., July 18, 2013 -- Attendees and participants of the 11th FEMA Think Tank listen and contribute to the discussion facilitated by Deputy Administrator Rich Serino at the San Francisco Tech Shop.

Alakanuk, Alaska, July 16, 2013 -- The Alaska State Coordinating Officer Sam Walton and Federal Coordinating Officer Dolph A. Diemont meet with City Manager James Blowe to discuss the FEMA programs.Alakanuk, Alaska, July 16, 2013 -- The Alaska State Coordinating Officer Sam Walton and Federal Coordinating Officer Dolph A. Diemont meet with City Manager James Blowe to discuss the FEMA programs which will assist in the recovery efforts after severe flooding crippled the entire infrastructure. Federal funding in the form of Public Assistance (PA) is available to state, tribal and eligible local governments and certain nonprofit organizations on a cost sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the flooding in the Alaska Gateway Regional Educational Attendance Area (REAA), Copper River REAA, Lower Yukon REAA, Yukon Flats REAA, and the Yukon-Koyukuk REAA.

FEMA & NAACP: Partnering to Empower Preparedness for All


 Orlando, Fla., July 12, 2013 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President and CEO Benjamin Jealous signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) at the NAACP’s 104th Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. Orlando, Fla., July 12, 2013 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President and CEO Benjamin Jealous signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) at the NAACP’s 104th Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Last Friday Administrator Craig Fugate sat alongside Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization to sign a memorandum of agreement between FEMA and the NAACP. This agreement builds on a long-standing partnership between FEMA and the NAACP, and leverages both institutions’ resources and networks to improve the whole community throughout the disaster cycle. For years the NAACP has been on the front lines in communities meeting the need of disaster survivors and we are thrilled to formalize this partnership. We are humbled to be one of many employees working to help strengthen and sustain strategic partnerships like the one with the NAACP in an effort to fulfill the agency’s mission to support our citizens and first responders.

As a nation, our resiliency depends on our ability to work together to empower individuals and communities to be a part of the emergency management team before, during and after a disaster. We are committed to ensuring we keep a direct line of communication open to organizations and community leaders that focus on improving the lives of vulnerable communities every day. As Administrator Fugate shared in his Champion of Change blog post, the real first responder is usually a neighbor or friend. We recognize and respect the value of forming strategic partnerships with voluntary and community-based organizations, like this one with the NAACP, because when it comes to the government response, we can’t fix what we don’t know.

It’s important that those of us in the emergency management field continue to partner with organizations with direct ties to communities to make our nation stronger, better and more resilient. This includes strengthening our efforts to proactively engage with our community partners. We’re grateful to our friends at NAACP, old and new, and look forward to working with them.

Using Mitigation to Save Lives: Alabama Reaches A Milestone

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There is no question that April 27, 2011 changed the lives of Alabamians. On that one day, our state experienced more than 60 confirmed tornadoes causing widespread devastation. Soon after, we decided to do all we could to make our state safer in the future.

In the days, weeks and months following the tornadoes, Governor Bentley and I toured the state and heard the personal stories of disaster survivors.  Many of them told us how they only had moments to find safety while praying for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

They were the lucky ones that day.  No matter how much they had lost, they were grateful to still be here, and live through one of the state’s most devastating disasters.  Unfortunately, more than 250 people lost their lives during that 24-hour span of tornadoes.

Once my staff and I grasped the sheer magnitude of what had just happened, we all knew we had to do something to prevent this from happening again.


Pratt City, Ala., May 11, 2011 -- Blue tarps dot the landscape of a section of Pratt City hit by the April 27th tornado. Tarps are used to try and protect contents from further damage in homes not completely destroyed. FEMA has provided thousands of tarps to Alabama residents since the storms. Pratt City, Ala., May 11, 2011 -- Blue tarps dot the landscape of a section of Pratt City hit by the April 27th tornado. Tarps are used to try and protect contents from further damage in homes not completely destroyed. FEMA has provided thousands of tarps to Alabama residents since the storms.

The weeks following the disaster, Governor Bentley made it his priority to utilize a FEMA program known as the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.  This program is based on a percentage of the federal disaster cost from the tornadoes, with FEMA paying as much as 75 percent of the costs for families and communities to install safe rooms to prevent or minimize the effects of future disasters.

Having this program available to us was only one part of the equation; the next part was ensuring the public and community leaders understood how this program would benefit them.

In June 2011, a joint effort with FEMA, private and public sector partners, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency hosted the Safer Alabama Summit. This event discussed future mitigation projects that would help our communities rebuild safer and stronger.

Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 13, 2011 -- Federal Coordinating Officer Albie Lewis leads a panel discussion at the Safer Alabama Summit on mitigation. Mitigation helps reduce the loss of life and property in the event of a disaster. Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 13, 2011 -- Federal Coordinating Officer Albie Lewis leads a panel discussion at the Safer Alabama Summit on mitigation. Mitigation helps reduce the loss of life and property in the event of a disaster.

After that event, what I call the “real” work began and that included our mitigation staff working with FEMA’s staff and the sub-applicants to receive, process and review more than 4,500 applications for safe rooms. They also processed applications for generators, alert notification systems and the hardening of portions of Druid City Hospital in Tuscaloosa.

In just over two years, or 26 months to be exact, I’m proud to say Governor Bentley awarded and the mitigation staff obligated approximately $77 million to the great citizens of Alabama. This was unprecedented for our state and, possibly for any state in the U.S.

I attribute the success in which we distributed the grant so quickly to the leadership of Governor Bentley and the relationship we have built with our local and federal partners. The way my staff devoted countless hours to working with the necessary parties to get the applications completed showed their unwavering dedication to the people of Alabama, but it also echoed the sentiment of my entire staff—April 27, 2011 is a day we will never forget!

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