Editor's Note: This post was updated May 18, 8:45 a.m.
Over the past few days, as we have continued working with our other federal partners to support Louisiana and other states impacted by the Mississippi River flooding, we have gotten questions about whether or not flood insurance protects against intentional flooding actions, like the U.S. Army Corps' decision to open the Morganza Spillway, and what other forms of aid are available to people currently being impacted by these events.
These are great – and important – questions and we thought it would be helpful to share some of the answers with all of you.
If I live near the Spillway, how does flood insurance apply to me?
Under current law, as passed by Congress, if you live in a high-risk flood zone and have a mortgage from a federally regulated lender, you are required by your lender to purchase a flood insurance policy, which can be through the National Flood Insurance Program, which offers flood insurance at affordable rates to homeowners and businesses. In terms of the areas in Louisiana currently being impacted by the Morganza Spillway, some communities may be in a high-risk flood zone, and some may not. If you're not sure of your current flood risk, go to www.floodsmart.gov and type in your address to easily determine your flood risk. Anyone can purchase flood insurance as long as your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, regardless of your flood risk. Remember – under current law, in most cases, there is a 30 day waiting period between when you purchase flood insurance and your policy takes effect.
If you already have flood insurance, policies under the National Flood Insurance Program cover flood damages to insured buildings and contents, whether caused by an intentional opening of spillways or breaching of levees (or other actions taken to mitigate the impact of flooding), or whether simply caused by a natural flooding event. We suggest locating your policy and proactively contacting your insurance agent to find out what information you may need to have on hand if you need to file a claim. For general flood insurance questions, a step-by-step guide to filing a flood claim, and more information about flood insurance, visit www.floodsmart.gov or call 1-800-427-4661.
Supporting Louisiana's Flood Efforts
In Louisiana, it is still too soon to tell what the total scope of the damages from this flooding will be. As many of you may remember from our previous posts on how the disaster declarations process works, any requests for federal disaster assistance, whether for individual home repair or replacement funds, or for public infrastructure, begin with the governor. In Louisiana, we are currently working with Governor Jindal and his team to support their initial efforts to prepare for and respond to the flooding – and will continue to work closely with them as this flooding event continues. Our Federal Coordinating Officer on the ground, Gerry Stolar, is embedded with the state’s emergency management team, and he and other FEMA staff on the ground continue to stand ready to assist as needed.
And as we always say, we aren't alone – we're part of a much larger team, including other federal agencies. You can read more about how our partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are supporting the farmers impacted by the flooding events in Louisiana.
What other types of aid are available to help people being impacted?
We’re also continuing to closely monitor the ongoing flood fight in areas along the Mississippi River where the crest has past, such as Missouri and Tennessee, and in Mississippi, where waters are forecast to crest in the next few days. At the request of the governors, President Obama has declared major disasters for the states of Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi, including individual assistance in many areas.
We continue to urge everyone who sustained losses due to flooding in designated counties to begin applying for assistance today by registering online at www.disasterassistance.gov, by web enabled mobile device at m.fema.gov, or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired.
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Editor's Note: This post was updated May 18, 8:45 a.m.
Welasco,TX, July 23, 2008 -- Streets flood and power is out in Hidalgo County as Hurricane Dolly moves through Texas.
As you probably know, we’re big on personal preparedness and with only a few weeks until the start of hurricane season, we’ve been using our blog to encourage those in hurricane prone areas to get ready for this season. We wanted to share another place for you and your family to find information on hurricane preparedness – the Great Hurricane Blowout.
An exciting part of this year’s Blowout are corresponding events to promote getting prepared throughout the season. One such event is the “National Hurricane Emergency Kit Party Day” on June 18, where individuals and groups pledge to host “kit parties” where hurricane emergency kits are built for neighbors in need. Act now! You can pledge to donate a kit by visiting the Great Hurricane Blowout website.
Check out the Blowout on the web, Facebook or Twitter for updates on Kit Party Day and other preparedness events. For a full list of items to include in a hurricane emergency kit (and other tips on getting prepared for hurricanes), we encourage you to visit Ready.gov. And if you have a smartphone, check out http://m.fema.gov for tips on your phone.
While we don’t know what the season may hold, we can take steps today to reduce the negative impacts of a hurricane.
The Blowout is sponsored by a collection of partners and presented by the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.
On Saturday, we shared how the emergency management team stood ready to support Louisiana as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the decision to open the Morganza Spillway. We continue to closely coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to ensure the safety and recovery of the people and communities we serve.
Below is a video of Col. Ed Fleming, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Gerard Stolar, FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer, talking about ongoing federal support efforts as the spillway was opened:
For continued updates on the flooding in the Southern U.S., visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “Operation Watershed” page on Facebook. We will also continue to provide updates on this blog.
Today, FEMA, along with other federal, state, local, private sector and other partners will kick off a week-long functional exercise, the capstone event of National Level Exercise 2011 (NLE 11), a White House-directed, Congressionally mandated cycle of planning and preparedness events.
The NLE 11 functional exercise, which will simulate a catastrophic earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, is scheduled to take place at venues in the national capital region and throughout the central U.S. These exercise activities are being carefully balanced with the current flooding and tornado-related disasters that FEMA and its partners are responding to, and adjustments have been made to exercise plans accordingly.
For weeks, we have been monitoring the potential for significant flooding in Louisiana, along with the other states currently being impacted by the Mississippi River flooding and historic water levels. And similar to their actions to mitigate the impacts of flooding in Missouri several weeks ago, today the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana to help minimize damage to property, structures, and to protect millions of people from historic flood levels.
Our thoughts are with all of those affected by the breach of the Morganza Spillway. While the Army Corps is responsible for levee maintenance and control and the decision to breach this Spillway, FEMA, the USDA and the rest of the federal family are focused on ensuring the safety and recovery of the people and communities we serve, and at the direction of President Obama, we have been working with the state of Louisiana for quite some time to prepare for this event.
USDA wants to assure all farmers who purchased crop insurance and whose crops have been damage by the flooding that you will be eligible for crop insurance indemnities in accordance with the provisions of your crop insurance policy. To all of those producers who are unable to plant, but have purchased crop insurance, you will be eligible for prevented planting payments in accordance with your policy.
In preparation for this action, under the leadership of Secretary Napolitano, FEMA has already deployed staff, including a Federal Coordinating Officer, on the ground in Louisiana. These staff, along with our Regional Administrator, Tony Russell, are in constant contact with the governor and his emergency management team, and are working side by side in the state’s emergency operations center. In addition to personnel on the ground, we’ve identified a staging area in the Baton Rouge area, to ensure the needed supplies, such as water, meals, and blankets, are located close to the affected areas, should they be needed.
In the past two weeks since historic floods have affected the Mississippi River Basin, both of our agencies have been providing updates on the situation and working closely with state and local officials to assist impacted communities and help get people back on their feet. This will continue to be a team effort. Working together, in support of all of our state partners being impacted by this flooding, we will do everything we can to help mitigate this damage and protect the families, farmland and communities we serve.
Back in March, I blogged about two documents that will shape FEMA’s future - our strategic plan and "Publication 1". There is no doubt that as the world continues to change, these changes will have profound effects on the emergency management profession.
In addition to the two guiding documents I shared in my previous blog post, we’re also helping the emergency management profession better plan for the future through our Strategic Foresight Initiative. The initiative is an effort from a cross-section of the emergency community to consider questions like these:
- How should the effects of climate change be considered as investments are made in mitigation?
- What capabilities will emergency managers need as America’s population ages and becomes more diverse?
- How can emergency managers leverage social networking to become more effective?
- What events and circumstances have the potential to transform the field of emergency management, similar to September 11 or Hurricane Katrina?
The SFI community identified nine drivers that will affect the future of emergency management:
- the changing role of the individual in disaster preparedness,
- climate change,
- critical infrastructure,
- the evolving terrorist threat,
- global interdependencies and globalization,
- government budgets,
- technological innovation and dependency,
- universal access to and use of information, and
- U.S. demographic shifts.
The next step for the SFI community is to explore key trends in each of these issue areas, with the goal of helping emergency managers across the country to be better prepared for changes in their profession. (Read our summary of findings PDF or TXT.)
Over the next few months, I’ll write additional blog posts that analyze each of the key drivers identified by the Strategic Foresight Initiative community. I invite you to post any comments, thoughts, or suggestions you may have on the nine drivers above and how they may impact emergency management. I look forward to sharing the initiative’s findings in future blog posts.
It might sound counterintuitive - if people’s cell phones are out, what are the chances they will be able to register themselves on a website? That’s what makes the American Red Cross’s approach to family reunification so special. Our dedicated volunteers are present on the ground after a disaster strikes to provide supported registration on the Safe and Well Website (www.redcross.org/safeandwell). They help people register on the site and capture registrations any way they can.
During the Alabama disaster response, registrations have been collected mostly via paper forms for back-data entry, but we have many strategies for getting the job done. The presence of Safe and Well volunteers in a disaster-affected community helps people connect with their loved ones, but it also allows those volunteers to be eyes and ears on the ground for operation headquarters. As they travel in outlying areas, they are in a position to gather information about unmet needs. They can bring that information back to the disaster relief operation headquarters and make sure it receives the attention it deserves.
The inquiries coming in from the public have made their way to me via our call centers and local Red Cross chapters. We have even had two requests from prison chaplains looking to give peace of mind to men serving time far from their tornado-ravaged hometowns. I work in the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center, and each morning I receive a consolidated report from our call centers with new cases for our field teams.
Looking through those call logs gives me a glimpse of the conversations our tireless Red Cross call agents have had with those in the affected areas. I have seen many call records indicating that the agent helped a worried family member conduct a search on the Safe and Well website for a missing loved one. It gives me such joy to see that someone’s fears were alleviated in a moment when they heard that a note was posted on Safe and Well saying their loved one was okay.
There are times, however, when the person’s name is not found in our registry. If the sought person has a serious, pre-existing health or mental health condition, Safe and Well volunteers can conduct a search for that person in the community. My role at national headquarters is to speak with the people seeking their loved ones, gather as much information as I can, and send the cases down to the teams we have working on the ground. Field teams drive for hours and hours through affected communities. They knock on doors, speak with neighbors, and check local shelters for information about missing people. So far our determined and passionate teams have resolved 62 of our 64 cases. If you have not been able to locate a loved one on the Safe and Well Website, and if that person had a pre-existing medical condition, know that you can initiate a search request by contacting your local American Red Cross chapter.
Editor’s Note: You can also access Safe and Well on your mobile phone, at www.redcross.org/safeandwell. The American Red Cross is one of the many voluntary agencies that help in times of disasters. For information on other organizations active during disasters, visit www.nvoad.org.
Here's a look at some of the photos from this week. For our latest updates, stay tuned to this blog.
If you or someone you know has sustained losses in a county that is designated for federal assistance, apply for assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov, on your phone at http://m.fema.gov, by calling (800) 621-3362 / TTY (800) 462-7585, or by visiting a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) near you (find DRC’s on your phone).
Ringgold, Ga., May 8, 2011 -- DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano stopped in Cherokee Valley, Ga., near Ringgold, to see the destruction of the April 27, 2011 tornado. She met with residents who lived through the tragic event. She was joined by Charley English, Director of Georgia's Emergency Management Agency.
Ringgold, Ga., May 8, 2011 -- DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano meets with residents of Ringgold at the First Baptist Church during her visit to the tornado ravaged area. With her are Tom Stufano (Left) Chief of Staff of the Georgia disaster, and FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer, Gracia Szczech (Right).
Vicksburg, Miss., May 11, 2011 -- Janice Sawyer, Site Director for the Capitol River Chapter (Miss.) of the American Red Cross, points to a flooding home in Vicksburg, Miss. The Red Cross is assisting in the ongoing response and recovery efforts. (Photo courtesy of the American Red Cross. See more photos, videos, and updates from the Red Cross.)
Birmingham, Ala., May 11, 2011 -- FEMA Region IV Administrator Phillip May (left); US Army Corps of Engineers Commander, MG Todd T. Semonite; FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) Mike Byrne; Alabama Emergency Management Agency Executive Officer Jeff Bayard; FEMA Deputy FCO, Joe M. Girot, and other staff, discuss plans for removal of the April tornado debris. FEMA Public Assistance funds can pay a portion of debris removal cost.
Raleigh, N.C., May 12, 2011 -- The Salvation Army staff partner with the Green Chair Project to help disaster survivors in North Carolina re-furnish their homes. The Green Chair Project makes donated home furnishings available at a low cost to individuals and families identified and referred to Green Chair by its partner agencies. FEMA is responding to severe storms and deadly tornadoes that damaged or destroyed homes and businesses across North Carolina on April 16, 2011.
Pleasant Grove, Ala., May 6, 2011 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate (right), Alabama Emergency Management Executive Officer Jeff Byard, Mayor Jerry Brasseale, and FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael F. Byrne look at a map showing storm damage in the city. State and local officials are partners wth FEMA in disaster response and recovery.
Hackleburg, Ala., May 6, 2011 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate (center) and State Senator Roger Bedford (right) greet applicants for assistance at the FEMA/State Disaster Recovery Center. FEMA is here to assist storm affected residents recovery from the deadly April tornado.
Phil Campbell, Ala., May 6, 2011 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate speaks to State and local officials, the press, and others at the Phil Campbell Rescue Squad building which is being used as a disaster service center. Administrator Fugate is touring some centers to assess needs and meet with officials in areas affected by the April deadly tornado.
Tuesday’s joint launch of PLAN (Personal Localized Alert Network) with the FCC and the New York City Mayor’s Office marks another major milestone in the deployment of FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert Warning System. PLAN is the more user friendly public naming for the CMAS (Commercial Mobile Alert System). The launch in New York City is just that, a launch of the capability, not a pilot. The system is another tool that allows emergency managers at all levels to communicate alerts and warnings to the public.
With the cooperation of the cellular industry, PLAN will enable citizens to receive alerts about imminent threats on their mobile devices. So what’s new about this?
- The messages incorporate broadcast delivery technology and will not be impacted by cellular network congestion – a fancy way of saying the alerts will get through even if cellular networks are swamped. As we all know, traditional text messages and telephone calls get stuck during heavy cell traffic, so these critical and potentially life-saving alerts will always get through.
- The messages are location based and will provide alerts to you about threats where you are currently located. For example, if you are visiting New York City, you will receive the same alerts as people who live in New York City. And let’s say you moved to Los Angeles but didn’t change your cell phone number, you would still receive the alerts because you’re in the warning area.
- And as far as cost, the service comes at no expense to the emergency managers who send the messages.
PLAN and the Emergency Alert System (alerts via TV and radio) are components of FEMA’s IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System) program. Through IPAWS, we are focused on modernizing our public alerting system, so alerts can be transmitted to the public on as many channels as possible, and PLAN is a major step forward as we enhance our nation’s emergency alert systems. As we always say at FEMA, we are just one part of a larger emergency management team – and getting PLAN to this stage has been and will continue to be a great team effort.
To help explain where PLAN fits into the overall design of an alerting system and how it affects our key stakeholders – especially the public – I wanted to take a minute to answer some of the most common questions we’ve been hearing.
What was FEMA’s role in PLAN?
As part of our responsibility to ensure the President can communicate with the American public under all conditions, FEMA instituted and maintains the Emergency Alert System (EAS). As I mentioned above, EAS are the tests and alerts you receive over radio and TV. With the public’s reliance on ever evolving technologies, we’ve broadened our approach to include a host of other alert disseminators, including Internet Services, NOAA radios, and state and local unique alerting systems.
We’ve been working with the FCC and the cellular industry on PLAN for several years, when we came up with the vision for technology that will actually transmit the alerts to cell phones. And if you’ve heard the term Commercial Mobile Alerting System, that’s the term that is more commonly know within the cellular industry.
As part of the IPAWS system, we developed what we call “an aggregator” which takes the original message, puts it into a language that mobile phones carriers can use, and then distributes it over their networks to their customers.
Is PLAN different from CMAS or a change in FEMA’s approach to mobile alerting?
No – for all of our stakeholders in the wireless and other technical communities, PLAN is CMAS, just with a different, more user-friendly name. You can think of PLAN as the public label for CMAS.
So where does the FCC come in?
The FCC, along with other federal agencies like the National Weather Service, is our partner in all things related to IPAWS, including PLAN. The FCC is the governing body for anything that broadcasts and in this case, they wrote the rules for how the cell companies should use and install the equipment, and they have been a great partner in implementing PLAN.
We know there are a lot of players in PLAN, but to break it down simply:
- A committee of wireless industry representatives, public safety officials, and experts from the alert and warning community recommended the requirements for establishing a mobile alerting system.
- Wireless carriers choose to voluntarily participate in this program in accordance with rules and recommendations adopted by the FCC.
- Wireless carriers are responsible for making their networks and mobile phones compatible with the new system.
- Public safety officials who want to use the new capability are responsible for being able to communicate emergency alerts for transmission to the cellular networks. Remember that only authorized federal, state or local authorities can issue emergency alerts, the same way they do through the radio and TV broadcast emergency alert system.
- FEMA is working with state and local officials and organizations to help them use the technology and develop best practices and procedures for sending emergency alerts to their specific area or region.
Why was New York City announced early?
Several of our wireless partners – AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile and US Cellular – were able to work with New York City to get the technology ready to implement early, by the end of 2011. This was an exciting development – but it in no way means that we are limiting PLAN to only New York City.
The technology for delivering these messages is available now, and the development and distribution of the phones will make the system ready for everyone to use by April, 2012.
Will PLAN track mobile phone users?
No. PLAN is used only to deliver emergency alerts. In the same way that emergency alerts do not track individual homes when they are displayed on TV sets, PLAN will not be used to monitor wireless device usage or monitor consumers’ locations.
Will I be swamped with messages I don’t want?
No. PLAN is a technology that will be incorporated into the phone itself. Consumers do not need to sign up for this service. You will not be able to turn off a Presidential alert, but you will be able to turn off other alerts. Don’t worry, the President isn’t going to flood you with running commentary on your local events. Just like with sending alerts to your radio and tv, it’s our insurance that the President can always communicate with the public even if they aren’t by a TV or radio.
How much will consumers pay to receive PLAN alerts?
Participating carriers will not charge consumers a fee to receive PLAN alerts.
How much will it cost states and localities to participate in PLAN?
We anticipate that any costs will be minimal. State and local authorities will only need a compatible software program to access the system to send alerts and warnings. Many emergency managers already use programs that are compatible with the system.
Does PLAN replace the Emergency Alert System?
Absolutely not. As I mentioned above, the Emergency Alert System is for notifications via the TV and radio and PLAN is for notifications via your smartphone. PLAN and the Emergency Alert System are components of IPAWS.
PLAN was never intended to serve as the only way to alert the public of an emergency. Just like we use multiple digital channels to communicate with the public (full website, mobile site, Twitter or Facebook), PLAN is another tool that will complement the Emergency Alert System and state and local alerting systems.
Will PLAN be available everywhere?
Participation in PLAN by wireless carriers is voluntary. Some carriers will offer PLAN over their entire networks and all of their devices, while others will offer it over parts of their service areas. Ultimately, we expect that PLAN will be available in most of the country. Consumers should check with their wireless carriers to determine the extent to which they are offering PLAN.
How will subscribers know if their carrier offers PLAN?
Under FCC rules, wireless carriers that have limited participation in PLAN will be required to notify existing and new customers of this fact. Consumers should check with their wireless carriers to determine the extent to which they are offering PLAN.
Will consumers need a new phone or a smart phone to receive alerts?
That depends. Some phones may require only software upgrades to receive alerts, while in other cases, a subscriber may need to purchase a new PLAN-capable phone. Consumers should check with their wireless carrier regarding the availability of PLAN-capable phones.
What is the incentive for a consumer to upgrade to a PLAN-capable phone?
This one is easy – PLAN will help us save lives. We hope that everyone will be able to benefit from this tool when it is fully available.
We know there will continue to be a lot of questions about PLAN, and we will do our best to answer them here. In that spirit, I wanted to share another article that gives a good sense of how PLAN is just one part of our work.
If there are other questions I can help answer, please leave a comment below.
As some frequent blog readers may remember, back in January, we first explained on this blog that FEMA, along with other federal agencies government wide, is required by law to identify any potential improper payments of federal disaster aid, and to take steps to recover those funds.
I also testified before the Senate on this same matter back in March.
Recoupment is not a new process that only FEMA is required to engage in. Our agency recently reinitiated the process after placing it on hold in 2007. And like FEMA, other federal agencies are also required to recoup improper payments that they may have made. But with the recent severe storms and flooding, we understand that this process raises many concerns, especially among current disaster survivors applying for federal assistance.
Our priority is to make sure that people and communities impacted by the tornadoes are getting the aid they need, and we continue to encourage everyone in eligible states and counties to apply for federal assistance.
Overpayments sometimes occur because FEMA provides Individual Assistance in advance of insurance coverage - and later receipt of that coverage by an individual creates a duplication. In addition, after most disasters there is a small percentage of funds that are disbursed because of processing and human error, largely resulting from the speed by which we distribute assistance.
In recent years, strong protections have been put in place to reduce the number of errors that typically lead to improper disaster assistance payments. These protections are designed to better serve disaster survivors and reduce the number of recoupments for current and future disasters. And as result of these changes, we have already seen our error rate for assistance payments drop from 14 percent during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to about two percent on average for disasters last year.
Recoupment is a difficult process and one that FEMA, under legal requirements passed by Congress, has worked hard to make as fair as possible for both disaster survivors and taxpayers. We continue to focus on making sure that everyone – whether previous, current or future disaster survivors – has clear and complete information about the recoupment process.
And, we continue to encourage all survivors of the tornadoes, flooding and other recent disasters to contact FEMA to apply for federal disaster aid.
You have most likely seen this information, but in case you may have missed it, there are three easy ways for disaster survivors to apply: