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Learning from Hurricane Sandy Champions of Change

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How much of an impact can a small group of volunteers make after a disaster? 

Last Wednesday, I had the honor of addressing the Hurricane Sandy Champions of Change – a group of “ordinary” people who did (and are still doing) extraordinary things to help those who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  Many of them suffered damage to their homes and businesses as a result of the storm, but continued to fulfill the needs they saw in their communities.

champions of change at table

CAPTION: Washington, D.C., April 24, 2013 – The White House Champions of Change event which honored people and organizations directly involved in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy. These hidden heroes implemented innovative, collaborative solutions to meet the unique needs of communities and neighborhoods as they worked to rebuild after the devastating effects of this disaster.

The exceptional work of these Champions of Change reminds us that every disaster, big and small, brings out champions in our communities.  It’s our job as government leaders to recognize this and support their success. This impressive group showed us what it takes to be a champion:

  1. Champions aren’t afraid to act – When people hear the term “first responder”, they often think of fire engines and search and rescue teams.  And that’s right.  But many times, the “first responders” after a disaster are neighbors and those within the community.  They’re the ones immediately knocking on doors, checking on friends and loved ones, and seeing if people’s basic needs are being met.  And neighbors are the ones who know the community best. What makes the Champions of Change a special group was that they were able to identify the unique needs of their own communities and respond to them.

    As the Champions shared their individual stories, a few of them said “Do what you’re good at.”  That’s a great perspective, and that’s exactly what they did –they took it upon themselves to help their neighbors— applying their skill set to solving real problems.  If they knew how to cook, they prepared meals. If they could gut and pump homes, they got to work. If they could set up wireless networks for internet access, they made it happen.  Having an impact during and after emergencies can be as simple as focusing on what you’re good at and taking action.
  2. Seeing the public as a resource, not a liability – Within government, there’s often been a tendency to rely on government alone to respond to emergencies.  This top-down approach, assumed people needed to be taken care of and have their needs met for them. 

    What the Champions of Change demonstrate is that this way of thinking is shortsighted – individuals and communities often rise up and solve problems on their own.   We have to look to all of us to solve problems and bring our best.  The best approach by government is to work with the public as a valuable partner— a resource that helps after a disaster, not a liability that needs to be taken care of.  Those impacted by disasters aren’t “victims”, they are “survivors”.  Those of us in government should be continually looking for ways to work alongside impacted individuals and communities so we can bring every possible resource to bear in helping their neighborhoods recover. 
  3. Solutions built around government are too small – Another reality that the Champions of Change brings to light is how big disasters can be.  If we only build solutions or systems that work within the capabilities of government, communities will suffer.  What happens to that system when the disaster is bigger than the government’s scale?  What happens to those impacted by the disaster when that system doesn’t do what it’s supposed to?  Government by itself does not have all the answers – the team responding to disasters must be much bigger than that.

    We can’t fall into the trap of government having the answers because disasters hit communities and families.  That’s why we need to build our response and recovery systems around the public first.  Members of the community need to be at the planning table alongside government, businesses, and non-profit organizations because they’re the ones that best know the needs of the community and they’re the ones who are often the first responders. That’s what the Champions of Change did – they identified people’s needs in the community and scaled their solutions to meet those needs.

champions of change at table

During the event, the Champions were also asked to give their advice to others on how to prepare for emergencies, and our FEMAlive Twitter account captured what a few of them shared:

Without the tireless efforts and countless hours of volunteers, we would not be as far along as we are after Hurricane Sandy.  There is still a lot of work to be done for every community to fully recover.  The purpose of Wednesday’s event at the White House wasn’t just to recognize the impact of the 17 Champions of Change – it was also to inspire others to act.  I hope you will follow the lead of what these Champions of Change are doing in their communities and take action to make your family, street, town, neighborhood, or city more resilient.

For more on the White House Champions of Change, visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions.

What We’re Watching: 4/26/13

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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.

Monitoring Flooding in Midwest

We continue to closely monitor the impacts of severe weather and current and possible flooding conditions in several Central U.S. and Midwest states. We encourage all residents in potentially affected areas to follow the direction of local officials and keep informed of local conditions by monitoring local radio or TV stations for updated weather and emergency information.  And remember, if local authorities order an evacuation, leave immediately; follow evacuation routes announced by officials, and stay away from coastal areas, river banks and streams.

Driving through a flooded area can be extremely dangerous. When you are 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.

Those in areas affected by the heavy rains and/or in areas anticipating high river crests, familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a flood hazard and discuss with your family what to do if a flood watch or warning is issued.  Here are some terms to familiarize yourself with:

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

You can visit www.Ready.gov/floods for more information and safety tips on what to do before, during and after a flood.

In the News

FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino was on the ground in his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, last week during the bombing attacks at the Boston Marathon. Today, he shared his perspective on the community-wide effort to respond to last week's tragic bombings in an op-ed for the Boston Globe.

Here’s a little of what he had to say:

Growing up in Boston, you know that Patriot’s Day and the Boston Marathon come together to create a day like no other. We pause to celebrate our heritage, the city shines and our streets fill with millions of residents and visitors from around the block and around the world. For most of my life, I worked those same streets for Boston EMS, ending a 36-year career as chief of the department in 2009.

There were many nights I went home proud of the men and women of Boston EMS, but I was never more proud of them and the residents of my town, than I was last week.

While in one moment we saw terror and brutality, in the next we saw our community’s love and compassion. We saw our EMTs, paramedics, police officers, and firefighters spring into action and perform their jobs heroically.

Read the rest of Deputy Administrator’s Serino’s perspective.

In Case You Missed It

Inspiration was also on hand this week.  The White House held its Champions of Change ceremony honoring people and organizations directly involved in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy. These hidden heroes implemented innovative, collaborative solutions to meet the unique needs of communities and neighborhoods as they worked to rebuild after the devastating effects of this disaster.

Washington, D.C., April 24, 2013 -- White House Champions of Change event which honored people and organizations directly involved in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy. These hidden heroes implemented innovative, collaborative solutions to meet the unique needs of communities and neighborhoods as they worked to rebuild after the devastating effects of this disaster.

CAPTION: Washington, D.C., April 24, 2013 -- This White House Champions of Change event honored people and organizations involved in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy.
 

 Washington, D.C., April 24, 2013 -- This White House Champions of Change event honored people and organizations directly involved in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy. These hidden heroes implemented innovative, collaborative solutions to meet the unique needs of communities and neighborhoods as they worked to rebuild after the devastating effects of this disaster.

CAPTION: Washington, D.C., April 24, 2013 -- White House Champions of Change stand for a picture with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.
 

We also live-tweeted the event and I wanted to share two tweets that stuck out to me:

Congratulations to these men and women for their dedication and commitment to serve their fellow neighbors during their time of need.

Have a safe weekend!

What We’re Watching: 4/12/13

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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.

Monitoring Severe Weather

We continue to closely monitor the severe weather, including dangerous winds, tornadoes and severe winter weather that affected parts of the Central U.S., Midwest and Southeast, last night and Wednesday. We encourage those in affected areas to continue to monitor local radio or TV stations for updated emergency information, and to follow the instructions of state, tribal and local officials. 

If you haven’t already, now is the time to get prepared for severe weather.  Visit www.ready.gov to learn more about what to do before, during, and after severe weather.

Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind should severe weather occur in your area:

  • Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a tornado hazard.
    • A tornado watch means a tornado is possible in your area.
    • A tornado warning is when a tornado is actually occurring, take shelter immediately.
  • Ensure your family preparedness plan and contacts are up to date and exercise your plan.  Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state, tribal or local government, and ensure your home and car are prepared for the severe weather.
  • If you haven’t already, now is the time to get prepared for tornadoes and other disasters. Determine in advance where you will take shelter in case of a tornado warning:
    • Storm cellars or basements provide the best protection. If underground shelter is not available, go into an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
    • In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible. Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls. Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because they attract debris.
    • Vehicles, trailers and mobile homes are not good locations to ride out a tornado. Plan to go quickly to a building with a strong foundation, if possible.
    • If shelter is not available, lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area. Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.

We will continue to monitor weather conditions as these storm systems move across the East Coast and will provide updates as necessary.

National Tribal Consultation Call

Over the past several weeks, we’ve hosted regional tribal consultation calls with tribal leadership, their organizations and stakeholders to present information regarding changes to how the federal government provides disaster assistance to tribes and how we can better meet the unique needs of Indian Country after disasters. We’ve gathered valuable comments and insights from our tribal partners related to declarations procedures and this process is culminating in a National Tribal Consultation call next week to further discuss improvements to the disaster assistance process.

Join us on Thursday, April 18 at 3:00 p.m. EDT for a National Tribal Consultation conference call and provide your comments on:

Here’s the call-in information:

  • Date & Time: Thursday, April 18 at 3:00 p.m. EDT
  • Number: 888-708-5699
  • Passcode: 1601121

You can also provide your ideas and comments by visiting FEMA’s online collaboration community, or by sending us an e-mail at tribalconsultation@fema.dhs.gov.  

In case you missed it, Administrator Fugate recently blogged:

When you're tackling a new and challenging topic, starting from a solid foundation is crucial to success.  Right now, there is an opportunity to change how the federal government provides disaster assistance and we’re looking for tribal leaders to help set a solid foundation for those changes…

We hope that you can take part in this opportunity to shape disaster assistance programs and processes more effectively.

Youth Preparedness Council

It’s not too late to submit an application or nominate a young leader in your community for our Youth Preparedness Council.  FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Council provides an opportunity for young leaders to share ideas and solutions to strengthen the nation against all types of disasters.

Here’s a short video from U.S. Senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island encouraging teenagers to apply to serve on the council.

Remember, the deadline to submit an application or nomination is next Friday, April 19.  So head over to Ready.gov/youth-preparedness for more information or to download an application today!

Getting it right for Indian Country

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When you're tackling a new and challenging topic, starting from a solid foundation is crucial to success.  Right now, there is an opportunity to change how the federal government provides disaster assistance and we’re looking for tribal leaders to help set a solid foundation for those changes.

When President Obama signed into law the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, he amended the Stafford Act to recognize the sovereignty of tribal governments, and this was a big step in the right direction to better meet the unique needs of Indian Country after disasters.   However, there's still work to be done to shape disaster assistance programs and processes most effectively.  That's where we are now -- we are consulting with tribal governments, tribal leaders, and tribal stakeholders to consider changes to a range of federal disaster assistance processes and topics:

  • Input on the major disaster declaration process, 
  • Criteria to declare a major disaster, 
  • Program delivery, and 
  • The unique aspects of Indian culture that might not be currently considered by the rules. 

I encourage our tribal partners to join us in developing rules through consultation.  You’re invited to join a series of upcoming tribal consultation calls, provide ideas to FEMA’s online collaboration community, or send an e-mail to tribalconsultation@fema.dhs.gov.  Now is a great time to make sure the unique needs of Indian Country are considered throughout the federal disaster assistance process.

Why are we looking for input from the community?  Up to this point, FEMA has established rules around the disaster declaration process, assistance programs, and other aspects of federal assistance to meet the needs of state governments and individuals in those states.  Now, with the recent amendment to the Stafford Act, we have an opportunity to change those rules with regards to the sovereignty of tribal nations. 

In a little more than two months since the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act became law, the President has already signed two disaster declarations directly for Indian Country. The new changes have already resulted in federal disaster assistance going directly to tribal communities.

But there’s still much to be done. That's why we're having these consultation calls, gathering feedback online, and asking for e-mails. Once the consultation concludes, FEMA will draft proposed rules. Learn more about how to join this discussion by visiting FEMA’s online collaboration community, or send us an e-mail at tribalconsultation@fema.dhs.gov.  

Hi - I’m Craig, KK4INZ

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Last week at FEMA HQ, I met with the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for Amateur Radio.  The ARRL is coming up on its Centennial Celebration next year and has been a valuable partner in emergency management through the decades.

amateur radio executives

CAPTION: Left to Right: ARRL General Counsel Christopher Imlay, W3KD; ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ; AARL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Mike Corey, W5MPC, ARRL President Kay Craigie, N3KN; FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, KK4INZ; FEMA Chief Technology Officer Ted Okada, K4HNL.

For those of you that are not familiar with Amateur radio, or ham radio as it is sometimes referred, it is the use of certain radio frequencies as a hobby, to exchange non-commercial messages, as a tool for education and experimentation and for public service community activities including assisting in emergency communications.

As a radio amateur, I enjoyed talking with them about the contributions that Hams can make in times of disaster “when all else fails.”

We’re looking forward to their annual Field Day, coming up in June, where I will test my own field gear. It is a great event to encourage first responders and citizens to think about how to prepare for disasters and how to develop a plan for themselves and their communities. And perhaps it will inspire more to consider this great hobby that also has a long and legendary history of public service to the nation.

We’re grateful to our friends at ARRL and look forward to partnering with them in exercises and efforts to plan, prepare, respond and recover from future events that we may face.

-Craig, KK4INZ

What We’re Watching: 3/29/13

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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.

Hurricane Sandy Updates

bulldozer picking up debris

CAPTION: Breezy Point, N.Y., March 22, 2013 -- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to work with local communities to remove debris from houses destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. More than 5.5 million cubic yards have been removed so far.

Recovery efforts continue at full speed in areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  If you or someone you know wants to know the latest on the recovery, here are a few online resources from FEMA and the impacted states:

In case you missed it…

  • We’re looking for young leaders interested in making a change and serving on FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Council. Youth leaders (ages 12-17) from across the U.S. who are dedicated to public service, who are making a difference in their communities, and who want to expand their impact as national advocates for youth disaster preparedness are encouraged to apply. You can also nominate someone you think deserves to serve on this distinguished council.

    The deadline to submit an application or nomination is April 19, 2013.  Visit Ready.gov/youth-preparedness for more information or to download an application today!
  • As part of the Department of Homeland Security’s 10-year anniversary, Administrator Fugate discussed a few of the milestones at FEMA and the agency’s priorities moving forward.  In part one, he answers “How has FEMA changed in the last few years?” and “What are a few of the milestones that mark those changes?”  Part two talks about building capacity at a national scale and the agency’s future priorities. If you’re an emergency manager or have an interest in public safety, both posts are a great read!

One volunteer’s story

Earlier this week, an AmeriCorps volunteer wrote about her experience helping those affected by Sandy; it’s a great short story that shows how disasters can leave an impact long after the event has passed.  Here’s a small section from her full story:

In weeks of mucking and gutting, I met homeowners who are ready to let it all go and move on and I’ve also met homeowners who are trying so hard to salvage even the moldiest items. There are residents who cannot even express the magnitude of their appreciation for our services.  We have worked with hoarders, do-it-yourselfers, first-time homeowners and one woman living in a house passed down from the 40’s. Through it all, we have spent long hours and many days working with one major goal in mind - bringing families home.

With that, have a great and safe weekend!

What We're Watching: 3/22/13

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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.

Flood Safety Awareness Week Recap

All week long we’ve shared flood safety tips, stories about the dangers of flooding, and reminders of the importance of being prepared for all types of floods as part of Flood Safety Awareness Week.  Flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster in the U.S. and just a few inches of water can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage.  So be sure your family is prepared for the different types of flooding and know what to do by visiting Ready.gov/floods for safety tips and more information on preparing for floods.

It’s equally important to make sure your home is protected against flooding, even if you don’t live in a flood zone. Remember, it typically takes 30 days for a flood insurance policy to take effect – so get flood insurance before you need it! For more information on the ins and outs of flood insurance, visit FloodSmart.gov.

And in case you didn’t get a chance to read them, here are our blogs from the week:

Take a look at the Spring Flood Outlook published by our friends at NOAA.

Looking for youth to serve on our Youth Preparedness Council

Our Individual and Community Preparedness Division is looking for youth leaders to serve on FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Council. The council is comprised of youth leaders from across the U.S. who are dedicated to public service, who are making a difference in their communities, and who want to expand their impact as national advocates for youth disaster preparedness. This is a unique opportunity for young leaders to serve on this highly distinguished national council; to complete a self-selected youth preparedness project; to voice their opinions, experiences, ideas, solutions, and questions on youth disaster preparedness with the leadership of FEMA and national organizations working on youth preparedness; and to participate in the Youth Preparedness Council Summit.

If you know someone between the ages of 12 and 17 who wants to make a difference in their community, have contributed to youth disaster preparedness in their community or have lived through a disaster and wants to share their experiences, nominate them for the Youth Preparedness Council today!

Photo of the Week

Staten Island, N.Y., March 16, 2013 -- FEMA's Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) continue to register Hurricane Sandy survivors as the March 29th deadline for registration approaches. The DRC's offer information on repairing homes and businesses, financial, tax and legal help as well as other state and local advice.

CAPTION: Staten Island, N.Y., March 16, 2013 -- FEMA's Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) continue to register Hurricane Sandy survivors as the March 29th deadline for registration approaches. The DRC's offer information on repairing homes and businesses, financial, tax and legal help as well as other state and local advice.

 

My Time in the Water: Flood Safety Lessons Learned

As part of the Swift Water Rescue Team for Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in Virginia, I have been involved in swift water responses for the past decade. Over the course of these responses, I have learned much about the power of water and the damage that floods can create. Floods, caused by nature or man-made, can occur at any time and can affect anyone. Being prepared and heeding warnings and public safety announcements may be the only way to ensure your safety.  Let me discuss a few of the situations I’ve seen as a rescuer and how they tie back to some of the common phrases we hear about flood safety:

“Be Prepared”

Being prepared for a flood, especially in times of increased risk is paramount to remaining safe and secure when the flood occurs. Flood safety plans should include identifying areas of risk around your home and neighborhood, knowing evacuation routes and staying clear of streams, drainage channels and areas that are prone to flash flooding. Be ready, heed the warnings of the National Weather Service and seek out higher ground. If you become trapped in high water and cannot escape, contact 9-1-1 and follow the directions of the public safety officials.

One of the incidents I discuss when I teach water rescue is one in which the gentleman that we rescued was not prepared for the flood, nor did he follow the directions of his rescuers. At shift change on a particularly raining morning, my crew was discussing and preparing for what we eventually knew would come. The tones went off for a car in a flooded roadway and we were on the road. We arrived on the scene to find a gentlemen sitting on top of his car, with water up to the bottom of the windows. We prepared to evacuate him, and when we got to the side of the car, the gentlemen would not leave the car. He was not panicked, or distraught, but had been told by the dispatcher to seek higher ground and the top of the car was as high as he could find! We were there to rescue him and take him to safety, but he was going to listen to the dispatcher. After a lot of discussion and coaxing, we were finally able to ensure the gentleman that the safest place was the higher ground out of the water and not the higher ground of his vehicle.

 Fairfax, Va., Aug. 12, 2010 -- This swift water rescue team helps people stranded in a vehicle due to flooding.

CAPTION: Fairfax, Va., Aug. 12, 2010 -- This swift water rescue team helps people stranded in a vehicle due to flooding.

“Turn Around, Don’t Drown”

Since 2001 when NOAA’s National Weather Service first produced the “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” public information campaign the number of people that have heard the warning cannot be counted. This however, does not mean that the campaign is complete. On nearly all of the swift water rescues that I have run, those that we set out to rescue have not heeded the warning and made the conscious decision to enter the flood waters. When a vehicle is driven into the water, the occupants typically do not realize the peril that they have placed themselves in. People can be swept off their feet in as little as 6 inches of water --most cars float at 12 inches. It only takes minutes in the right conditions for a meandering stream to become a torrent that can sweep vehicles away.

 Fairfax, Va., June 1, 2012 -- Cars attempt to drive through these flooded streets. It is important to remember, turn around, don't drown.

CAPTION: Fairfax, Va., June 1, 2012 -- Cars attempt to drive through these flooded streets. It is important to remember, turn around, don't drown.

One of my most memorable swift water rescues occurred at a location that floods often and is familiar to many because of this. The incident was at the height of a long rain storm that had flooded many locations throughout the county. We had been at the intersection earlier in the storm and had evacuated a couple from their car before it was lifted and taken into the woods. The evacuation occurred quickly and was uneventful. After the incident, the police closed the road with cones, banner tape, and a police cruiser was standing by until a more significant barricade could be put in-place. A couple of hours had gone by since the first evacuation, when we were called back to the location for another vehicle stranded in the water. As we responded, we were all trying to determine if we were going back to check the car that we had evacuated earlier or if this was a new rescue. We arrived on the scene, saw a new car in the water and questioned the police officer as to what had happened. His response was that the car had driven around the cruiser, over the cones, stopped at the water’s edge, and then proceeded to try to cross the water. After evacuating the woman from the car, her response to why she did it was that “the water didn’t look that deep.” Little did she realize that her actions tied up numerous emergency response units, and put our lives in jeopardy as we evacuated her from the water that she should never have driven into.

Tuscan, Ariz., July 23, 2007 -- A woman waits to be rescued by Tucson Fire Department firefighters from the roof of her car that was swept down the Rodeo Wash just south of East Irvington Road and west of South Park Avenue Monday July 23, 2007. Heavy rains hit Tucson in the early afternoon flooding washes and downing power lines across the city.

CAPTION: Tuscan, Ariz., July 23, 2007 -- A woman waits to be rescued by Tucson Fire Department firefighters from the roof of her car that was swept down the Rodeo Wash just south of East Irvington Road and west of South Park Avenue Monday July 23, 2007. Heavy rains hit Tucson in the early afternoon flooding washes and downing power lines across the city.

“Floods can occur anywhere, at any time”

All floods, including flash floods can occur anywhere, at any time. Although it has been related that “anywhere it rains, it can flood,” this does not accurately characterize the flood threat. Floods can be caused by a number of reasons, and not just precipitation. Snow can melt, and mechanical devices such as dams and pipes can break. When this happens, the potential for floods becomes a reality.

The weather on December 23, 2008 was frigidly cold and clear. Another day at the firehouse, my crew was thinking more of building fires due to space heaters, than water rescues. With no precipitation in the forecast there wouldn’t be a flood, and no one would dare go near the river in this cold. But, as has been proven time and again, floods can occur anywhere, any time. My rescue squad was dispatched to assist a neighboring county with a swift water rescue. The cause was a burst water pipe that at the height of the break was spewing 135 million gallons per minute down River Road. The torrent trapped a number of motorists and multiple rescues occurred through the quick actions of the numerous first responders on the scene. By the time the water was turned off and the incident stabilized all those trapped were rescued and we were once again reminded of the power of moving water.

I urge you to learn from my experience.  The three phrases we commonly hear about flooding - “be prepared”, “turn around, don’t drown”, and “floods can occur anywhere, at any time” – they all have valuable meaning behind them that can save lives.  Take the opportunity this week to learn about staying safe from flooding. 

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by Scott E. Schermerhorn do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

From Hermine to Heroes: Arlington, Texas Promotes Flood Safety with Unique Idea

The City of Arlington’s Flood Safety Awareness Campaign is an annual week long outreach campaign corresponding with National Flood Safety Awareness Week.  It is geared toward raising awareness about flood safety and preparedness.  This year, the week of March 18-22, 2013 is devoted to revealing how residents’ simple actions can help protect lives and property during a flood. 

In 2010, remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine caused widespread flooding in Arlington, submerging many low-lying pockets under several feet of water. Firefighters had to use ladders and boats to reach stranded residents and over twenty roadways, including several arterial streets, were flooded and closed due to hazardous conditions.  The flooding caused intermittent power outages, temporary road closures, evacuations, contaminated water supplies in some areas, and hazardous post flood conditions.   Approximately 250 homes were flooded or left uninhabitable throughout the city.  Residents were confused about why their homes flooded and why the city was unable to prevent the flooding.  Many did not have insurance or were unaware that their homeowner’s and renter’s policies did not cover flood damage. 

Each year, the city aims to create an all-inclusive flood safety outreach campaign, targeting youth, adults, and seniors because flooding affects everyone, regardless of age.  Given the size of the target audiences, it is important that our city utilize different methods to reach different age groups.  Thus the Flood Safety Awareness Campaign in 2013 is designed not only to use traditional outreach methods to reach local residents but more modern and creative methods as well during Flood Safety Awareness Week. 

Traditional outlets include newspaper advertisements, utility bill inserts, and local partnerships.  Specifically, newspaper advertisements promoting flood safety will run throughout the week and over 93, 000 households will receive information about flood preparedness in their water bills for the month of March.  The city is partnering with Arlington Independent School District high school science teachers to gear lessons toward flood and water related topics during the week, with activities culminating in a flood preparedness competition.  Five simple and short lessons created by the city, focusing on hydrology, soils, floodplains, forces in flowing water and preparedness were distributed to teachers to use in their classrooms during Flood Safety Awareness Week. 

The city will use social media (Facebook, Twitter, RSS Feeds, & blogs) to reach residents through more technological conduits rather than the more traditional methods of outreach.  For example, throughout Flood Safety Awareness Week, daily flood tips will appear on the city’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, with links to more information on flood safety and awareness.  The city is also highlighting flood safety and preparedness on its RSS (Rich Site Summary) Feed – its constantly updated news blog.  Articles covering different flood related topics will appear throughout the week. 

Most significantly, with the help of a group of commissioned graphic artists, 133 ART Inc., the City of Arlington created, The Rescue League Academy:  Sink or Swim, a flood safety novella (comic book or graphic novel).  This is an effort to create something that would appeal to a younger audience (middle school through generation Xers) that may ignore traditional outreach materials, and was inspired by the Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic graphic novel created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The city’s 40-page flood safety graphic novel reveals how the simple actions of residents, regardless of age, can help protect lives and property during a flood.  Readers follow Bianca, Shawn, Sonny, Sam, and their families as they experience a major Texas flash flood.  Bianca, the aspiring superhero undergoing her final test, helps a group of citizens during a flood.  As she helps them make smart decisions and saves them from dangerous situations created by their ill-informed actions, citizens learn about what they should do before, during, and after a flood. 

flood safety comic book

CAPTION: With the help of a group of commissioned graphic artists, the City of Arlington created "The Rescue League Academy:  Sink or Swim", a flood safety comic book designed to share flood safety with a younger audience that may ignore traditional outreach materials.

Included in the graphic novel is a Flood Safety Checklist so that readers can get their family, home, workplace, or school ready before disaster strikes.  The project is available online at www.arlingtontx.gov/stormwater and in print form to increase accessibility.  Print copies are available for free at several City of Arlington locations and will be distributed to individuals, schools, and businesses throughout the year as well as at local events.  In all, the graphic novel is a unique, creative, and effective public education tool to communicate the importance of flood safety and preparedness to all, including the historically underserved younger audience. 

Simply, our goal in the City of Arlington is to create an informed citizenry with the tools to take action in the face of potential hazards. We want people, if or when confronted with flood waters, to know what to do and how to prepare.

How I am helping my Russian-speaking community in New York

Three months ago, if someone had told me I’d spend my first job out of college being interviewed by a Russian news channel in Manhattan, I’d probably think they were confusing me with somebody else.  But now, as a local hire supporting Hurricane Sandy recovery in New York, I’m fully engaged with media and spreading information about disaster assistance.

russian media outreach

CAPTION: Samantha Shokin being interviewed by Russian Television International at the Sheepshead Bay disaster recovery center.

When Sandy struck Brighton Beach, New York’s Russian enclave where I live with my family, it felt like fate was against us.  Fortunately, just a few weeks after the disaster, I found a job through FEMA that turned out to be Sandy’s silver lining for me.

My role as a Russian-speaking media relations specialist enables me to couple my passion for media and communications with my strong ties to the Russian community.  I was born in New York City and raised by immigrant parents who maintained a strong Russian presence in the home.  My family instilled in me a love for the language and culture, which was reflected in my coursework in college.  At New York University, along with journalism and creative writing, I took a number of Russian literature courses to study the great writers and to learn more about my heritage.

Using my knowledge of local Russian media, with guidance from experienced mentors in FEMA External Affairs, I was able to organize meetings with editors and producers at Davidzon Radio, Russian Television International, and Reporter, a Russian-language daily.  We talked about registration, housing assistance, the importance of returning the SBA disaster loan application form, and other disaster assistance-related topics.

These meetings allowed us to reach out to the Russian-speaking community devastated by Sandy. Gregory Davidzon, owner and talk show host of Davidzon Radio, was especially receptive to our outreach efforts and invited me and my colleagues to speak on his program a number of times. 

As a media relations specialist, my job involves making contact with assigned media and spreading the word about disaster assistance. Working with Russian media is just one aspect of that job, and it’s an important one. It allows me to work with the community where I grew up, and help it get back on its feet.

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