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Perspective on NLE: Amtrak

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As a partner with FEMA on emergency preparedness efforts, Amtrak works hard year around to keep passengers safe and secure, and has been active in events like past National Preparedness Month outreach.

This week, Amtrak is one of hundreds of companies participating in the National Level Exercise 2011, to test how the entire team would respond in the first 72 hours after a catastrophic earthquake hitting many states along the New Madrid Seismic Zone.  As we have seen in recent months, this scenario is based on very real threats.

Amtrak is participating as a member of the National Business Emergency Operations Center (NBEOC), as well as a general player.  Through daily calls with the NBEOC, Amtrak joins other business emergency operations center representatives from companies and states, to hear the latest on the exercise situation and work together to resolve issues that arise- such as road closures, access issues, critical needs, and more.  (For more on how a Business Emergency Operations Center works, see this past blog post.)

While we are still assessing lessons learned in this exercise, one thing we have seen is the incredible capability that various parts of the private sector can bring to bear in a disaster – either in a simulated environment or a real event.  We’ve learned that none of us can do it alone, and we all have a role in resolving issues, meeting needs, and sharing critical information that helps decision makers in both the public and private sectors.  We’re also seeing that the challenges and opportunities after a disaster are very complex, from the local to the national levels, and that it takes a coordinated effort to help individuals and communities recover quickly.

There are important lessons to be learned – but more importantly, it is good to know that we are all on the same team.

Editor's Note: Companies that missed out on this year's exercise can find information at http://www.ready.gov/nle2011, along with preparedness tips.

In Case You Missed It: Tuscaloosa Mayor In The Spotlight

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Since deadly tornadoes struck Alabama and much of the southeast last month, emergency management teams from every level of government have been working tirelessly to aid survivors and the impacted communities. Administrator Fugate always says that FEMA is one part of the team, and our state, local, tribal, private sector, voluntary and faith-based partners have been demonstrating the importance of working together as part of that team every day since the storms.

With that in mind, I wanted to highlight a story from the New York Times last week about the leadership and foresight of Mayor Walter Maddox of Tuscaloosa. Just after the storms passed, local first responders went to work on meeting survivors’ immediate needs in the damaged areas. The initial response was critical.

An hour after the tornado hit, [Mayor Maddox] realized the damage was worse than he could have imagined. Power was out. The emergency communication system was inoperable. He even thought the city might lose its water supply.

As he watched hundreds of hurt and stunned residents wandering out of the destruction, he said he thought, “How am I going to help all these people?”

Just before he drove into the deepest part of the destruction that night, he and a police chaplain stopped their car and bowed their heads.

“That 30 seconds of prayer renewed our focus,” he said in an interview in his office last week.

Prayer is not all he has in his arsenal. Two years ago, he sent 60 city workers for Federal Emergency Management Agency training, a stroke of foresight he said has done more to help Tuscaloosa handle the disaster than anything else.

It’s a good reminder that even as we support our state and local partners in the recovery from the last disaster, we need to be ready for the next disaster, too. Which is why we FEMA offers emergency preparedness courses and integrated programs through our Center for Domestic Preparedness, Emergency Management Institute, and National Training and Education Division. These facilities and programs serve as the national focal point for the development and delivery of emergency management training to enhance the capabilities of state, local, tribal and territorial government officials, volunteer organizations, and the public and private sectors to minimize the impact of disasters and emergencies on the American public.

In many cases, training for state, local, or tribal government emergency responder is offered at little to no cost to the local jurisdiction. More information on these training programs and courses can be found here: http://www.fema.gov/training.

Our prayers and the support of the federal government are with Governor Bentley, Mayor Maddox and the rest of the team in Alabama and other states in their ongoing recovery efforts.

Flood Protection Against Intentional or Natural Flooding

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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.

Great Hurricane Blowout: Get Engaged in Hurricane Preparedness

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Streets flood and power is out in Hidalgo County as Hurricane Dolly moves through Texas.
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.

Note:
The Blowout is sponsored by a collection of partners and presented by the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.

Video: Supporting The Team In Louisiana

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.

The National Level Exercise Kicks Off Today



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.

The Entire Team – Ready to Support Louisiana

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.

Preparing For The Future of Emergency Management

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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.

American Red Cross: Safe and Well in Alabama

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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.

Photos 4: Support Efforts for Southern U.S. Tornadoes and Flooding

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).

HS Secretary Janet Napolitano stopped in Cherokee Valley, Ga., near Ringgold, to see the destruction of the April 27, 2011 tornado.
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.


DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano meets with residents of Ringgold at the First Baptist Church.
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).

Janice Sawyer, Site Director for the Capitol River Chapter (Miss.) of the American Red Cross, points to a flooding home.
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.)

Officials with multiple agencies discuss plans for removal of the April tornado debris.
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.

Volunteers with the Salvation Army help unload a truck of home furnishings for disaster survivors.
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.


FEMA officials look at a map showing storm damage in the city.
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.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and State Senator Roger Bedford greet applicants for assistance at the FEMA/State Disaster Recovery Center.
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.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate speaks to State and local officials, the press, and others at the Phil Campbell Rescue Squad building.
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.

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