(Updated with a video, 8am EST)
FEMA is closely monitoring the effects of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan early this morning, and through our regional offices in the West Coast and in the pacific area, we are in close contact and coordination with state and local officials and stand ready to support them in any way needed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this tragedy.
Tsunami warnings and watches have been issued for the U.S. territories of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, as well as portions of coastal areas in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington.
Our immediate priority is the safety of the people and communities in the affected areas. We remind everyone who lives in the region to monitor their local news for instructions from their state and local officials and if told to evacuate - evacuate.
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(Updated with a video, 8am EST)
For the last few weeks, we’ve worked with our partners to raise awareness of children’s fire safety. We wanted to highlight this story on ClintonNews.com (Mississippi), showing how one community is helping to spread the word.
Have you shared fire safety tips with your children, or those that you come into contact with? Ready.gov/kidsfiresafety has some great tips on getting children prepared so they know what to do in case of a fire. And if you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #kidsfiresafety to share how you’ve been getting children engaged.
Also, check out some of our recent blog posts on kids fire safety:
Cell phones are becoming more and more valuable to our lives – providing internet access, the latest weather forecast, and access to our favorite social networking sites. While cell phones can be a great convenience, they can also be a lifeline after an emergency.
As Administrator Fugate often says, a cell phone is a data center, with the ability to store and access a large amount of information quickly. So why not tap into the power of your cell phone, whether it's the latest-and-greatest model, or a phone that’s been around a while, and be ready to use it in case a disaster strikes?
In recent disasters, like the aftermath of the devastating Haiti earthquake in 2010, cell phones have been an invaluable resource for disaster survivors. I sincerely hope no one finds themselves in the dire situation that many Haitians did following the earthquake, but we can all take steps to make our cell phones a handy resource before, during, and after an emergency.
Here are some tips to making your cell phone an emergency resource:
- Store useful phone numbers – Check the numbers for your emergency contacts to make sure they’re up to date. Be sure to save the contact information for your local police and fire departments, as well as your utility companies. That way, you’ll be able to quickly report any service or power outages following an emergency.
- Create a group for your emergency contacts – Some cell phones allow you to create contact groups or lists, making it easy to send a single text message to a group to let them know your status after an emergency. Many social networking sites allow you to create a list or group of contacts as well, making it easy to share your status with your emergency contacts following a disaster.
- Stay up to date via Twitter without an account – Twitter is becoming an important vehicle for information before, during and after a disaster. One of the common misconceptions is that people need a Twitter account to receive updates. In fact, you can receive updates from Twitter simply by utilizing your phone's text messaging capability (normal text message rates apply). For example, if you wanted to follow Administrator Fugate, text follow craigatfema to 40404 (Twitter’s text message number).
I encourage you to receive updates from the local/state emergency management agencies in your area, along with any other accounts that could provide you with meaningful information before, during, and after a disaster.
- Bookmark useful mobile sites – If your cell phone has internet access, take advantage of mobile websites that are formatted to display information within a mobile browser. The National Weather Service (http://mobile.weather.gov), Center for Disease Control (http://m.cdc.gov), and FEMA (http://m.fema.gov) are mobile sites you can bookmark today.
- Backup your battery – This may not be a tip for using your cell phone, but having an extra battery for your phone (or a solar charger) in your emergency kit will ensure you can use your device if the power stays out for an extended period of time.
The items outlined above are a great place to start, but let me know if you have other tips for using your cell phone or other mobile sites that you have found useful.
- For information on creating your emergency plan, getting an emergency kit, or becoming informed about potential disasters in your area, visit Ready.gov.
When the blog started a few months ago, I encouraged everyone to use it as a place to have conversations about the current and important topics in emergency management.
Since my first blog, we've featured posts from leaders within FEMA, as well as insights from other members across the emergency management team. Now with the spring season upon us, which has already brought flooding, wildfires and tornadoes, I wanted to jump back into the blogosphere and give another opportunity for you to directly ask me some ask questions.
So what would you like to know - either about FEMA or emergency management in general?
You can leave your question on the blog, or send it via Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail. I'll provide video answers to some of the questions next week. For those I can't get to myself, look for future blog posts from other FEMA leadership if the question falls within their area.
I'm looking forward to keeping the conversation going.
Getting prepared for spring flooding is one of the topics driving our attention this time of year. In previous blog posts, we’ve highlighted two approaches to getting prepared - learning from past disasters and sharing your preparedness tips with your neighbor.
While many preparedness tips focus on individuals taking action, businesses also play a vital role in helping an affected community come back to full strength after a disaster.
One way businesses (as well as residents) can protect their property from the financial damages of flooding is by purchasing flood insurance. See this couple’s story to learn how flood insurance helped their business come back faster after a flood:
Protecting your business’s assets with flood insurance is one part of getting prepared - employees can use tips on Ready.gov to make their family emergency plan and build their emergency kit, so they can return to normalcy faster as well.
Has your business seen the benefit of flood insurance? Share your story below.
- For more information on commercial and residential flood insurance, visit FloodSmart.gov.
- For more information on getting your business prepared before a disaster strikes, visit Ready.gov/Business.
As you may have read on this blog and in the news, spring flood season is upon us.
At the end of last year, we did a post on FEMA’s role in winter weather, and thought we would share what the disaster declaration process looks like when it comes to flooding.
The bottom line is that – as with all disasters – FEMA is not the team, FEMA is only part of the team.
When natural disasters, such as flooding, occur, first responders are the first ones on the ground, providing the emergency assistance that protects the public’s health and safety, while meeting immediate human needs. These first responders include local emergency and public works personnel, volunteers, humanitarian organizations, and numerous private interest groups in each community.
In many, if not most, flood events, that part of the team, along with state and local emergency management officials, has the resources that are needed to respond and recover from the event.
What if they need federal help?
In cases where a flood event overwhelms the resources of state, territory, tribal, local government, and voluntary agencies, a governor may request an emergency declaration or a major disaster declaration. Both declaration types authorize the president to provide supplemental federal disaster assistance. However, the event related to the disaster declaration, as well as the type and amount of assistance may differ.
- Emergency Declarations: An emergency declaration can be declared for any occasion or instance when the president determines federal assistance is needed. Emergency declarations supplement state and local efforts in providing emergency services, such as the protection of lives, property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States. The total amount of assistance provided for a single emergency may not exceed $5 million. If this amount is exceeded, the president shall report to Congress.
- The president can declare a major disaster declaration for any natural event, including any hurricane, tornado, storm, high water, wind-driven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm, or drought, or, regardless of cause, fire, flood, or explosion, that the president believes has caused damage of such severity that it is beyond the combined capabilities of state, territory, tribal, local government, and voluntary agencies to respond. A major disaster declaration provides a wide range of federal assistance programs for individuals and public infrastructure, including funds for both emergency and permanent work.
When does a governor make a request?
Sometimes – like the floods in Tennessee last year – the governor makes a request before or soon after the storm ends, and in other cases, a governor may wait until after the flood waters recede, in order to get a full assessment of the damage, before requesting a disaster declaration.
And what exactly do you mean by “assistance”?
A major disaster declaration request will also include a request for assistance under one or two broad categories of assistance, which we refer to as public assistance (PA) and individual assistance (IA). Public assistance is financial assistance for repairing public infrastructure, like roads, schools, fire stations, etc.
Individual assistance can be provided to eligible individuals and households who are uninsured, or under-insured, and suffered losses due to disaster damage. It’s important to remember that by law, the amount of individual assistance a person or household can receive is capped (just over $30,000 for this year), and may not cover losses to the extent that a flood insurance policy would, which is why we are often encouraging families to purchase insurance. This assistance is also intended to support only necessary and serious needs that resulted from the disaster. The best way to make sure you and your family are protected against the devastating impacts of flooding is to have flood insurance.
FEMA is also able to provide assistance by serving as a coordinator for the federal agencies that can help support response and recovery efforts. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses its engineering and contracting capabilities to support FEMA and other federal, state and local government agencies in a wide variety of missions during natural and man-made disasters. Learn more here.
But isn’t this all complicated?
This is the formal process, but in reality, every day, through our 10 regional offices we are working hand in hand with our state counterparts to plan for whatever the next emergency may be.
But as with most things, Administrator Fugate puts it best. Below is a video of when Administrator Fugate explained the process to the White House press corps, following the floods that devastated Tennessee a little less than a year ago.
Stormy, wet weekend for many
Forecasts from the National Weather Service are calling for rain and thunderstorms across much of the Midwest for the next few days. Large portions of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee are under flood watches or warnings due to rapidly melting snow and rainfall, so make sure you’re aware of local conditions. We’re closely monitoring the severe weather through our regional offices in Chicago and Atlanta, and working closely with our state partners, as well as the National Weather Service.
The Northeast is also expected to experience rainy, stormy conditions through the weekend, so make sure you're taking steps to get prepared. To view your local forecast and outlook on severe weather, visit www.weather.gov.
Wildfires around the U.S.
Parts of Florida have been fighting a round of wildfires this week. Our Regional office in Atlanta is in close coordination with State, local and first response agencies as they respond to the wildfires. We stand ready to support them if assistance is requested.
Planning for real, not easy
We came across this article with some great emergency preparedness tips for persons with disabilities and their service animals. As Federal, State, and local agencies, businesses and individuals plan for emergencies, it is imperative we plan for every member of the community, not just some. For more on emergency planning for people with disabilities, visit Ready.gov.
Red Cross Month
March also marks Red Cross Month, as proclaimed by President Obama. As a valuable part of the emergency management team, we’d like to recognize this special month. Even if you aren’t an active Red Cross supporter, donor, or volunteer, we encourage you to look for opportunities to volunteer in your community, especially with a member of the National Voluntary Agencies Active in Disasters (NVOAD). This collection of organizations, which includes the American Red Cross, shares knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle - preparation, response and recovery - to help disaster survivors and their communities.
Many times, the most useful and memorable advice comes from people sharing their experiences and that holds especially true when it comes to advice on how to prepare before disaster strikes.
Check out this video from a couple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and how they are taking steps to protect their home from flooding:
If you live in an area that has a risk of flooding the tips in the video above are great places to start getting prepared. Here are some other ways you can prepare your family, home, or business for flooding:
- Visit Ready.gov – for details on getting an emergency kit, making your family emergency plan, and being informed about the dangers of floods
- Purchase flood insurance – flood insurance policies typically take 30 days to become effective, so make sure to purchase flood insurance as a way to prepare before potential flooding
- Share what you’re doing with a neighbor – each of us can play a role in helping our communities become more resilient by sharing our own preparedness tips with each other
How are you preparing for this flood season? Share your tips below.
Voluntary agencies are a vital part of a community’s ability to prepare for, respond to and recovery from disasters. Before a disaster, voluntary agencies help communities and families get prepared by providing disaster training, raising awareness regarding vital health and safety issues. After a disaster strikes, voluntary and faith-based organizations respond alongside state and local emergency responders, helping to address immediate needs of survivors.
At FEMA, we engage the vitally important voluntary agency sector through Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VALs). VALs act as a bridge between the community and the government.
To better understand the roles of a VAL, here is a quick Q&A on the work that they do before, during and after a disaster.
What is the role of a VAL before a disaster?
Like most jobs in emergency management, one of the most important roles for a VAL is as a preparedness advocate. VALs support state and local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs), assisting with planning, preparation, training and exercises.
VALs work closely with these organizations to deliver updates on FEMA programs and initiatives, challenge them to be prepared for disasters and encourage non-profits to be a part of VOAD. A strong VOAD will promote disaster networking, training, program development, and exercises to help build the necessary disaster resiliency in communities, and speed a community’s recovery.
Once a disaster strikes, what role does a VAL play in the response?
When disaster strikes, VALs become a critical avenue to make sure voluntary agencies and the federal government are sharing information and working together as a team to help disaster survivors.
VALs also give guidance to voluntary agencies on federal assistance programs including eligibility requirements, program deadlines, and emphasize the importance of avoiding duplication of benefits to survivors. They provide guidance to newer voluntary agencies interested in getting involved in relief operations, and they assist States with the management of volunteers not associated with a specific voluntary agency, and the use of unsolicited donated goods.
How do VALs work with voluntary agencies to assist in the Long Term Recovery?
After the immediate, short term needs of the community have been met, the emphasis of the emergency management team shifts to addressing the long term recovery needs of the community. Survivors may need extensive help to recover and for some, the assistance that FEMA is able to provide under law, is simply not enough. Through Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRGs), local communities take control in the recovery process and empower volunteers to make a difference in the lives of disaster survivors. Check out this video for more on LTRGs:
VALs work with the LTRGs to identify possible LTRG participants based on previous disasters, help with disaster training, and assist in identifying any unmet needs. VALs also provide resources for LTRG formation and function, as well as information on mitigation measures and connections to mitigation specialists to help the community rebuild using mitigation best practices. These help the community build or repair homes and structures in a way that will reduce vulnerabilities, help prevent future losses and make the community more resilient and sustainable.
The National Weather Service has issued forecasts indicating communities in the Dakotas and Minnesota are at a significant risk for major flooding this spring, and Ohio and other states are already dealing with significant floods. Indeed, disaster season 2011 is upon us, and we are working together to coordinate closely with states in the impacted regions as they respond to or prepare for flooding, and stand ready to assist them any way we can.
Our regional offices in Chicago and in Denver continue to monitor forecasts, plan for extreme flooding, and anticipate the commodities and resources that might be requested by the states of North and South Dakota, and Minnesota. In fact, since last year, we have been working closely with our state partners to incorporate lessons learned from past flood seasons into our emergency planning for this year, and continue to communicate with them to discuss emergency planning, and encourage personal preparations such as purchasing insurance, pre-assembling emergency supplies and creating a personal plan of action.
In February, our offices met with our respective federal, state and local officials, emergency managers, and representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Guard and NOAA. These meetings allowed us to hear directly from many of our response partners on coordinating efforts for this year’s flood season.
The shared borders of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota hold a rich history, common to all residents. These areas also share some challenges, particularly flooding, and potentially this year more than ever. FEMA is committed to supporting all three states with emergency assistance should they suffer severe impacts to overland and river flooding.
One final note: before flood waters rise, it’s important that residents and business owners become involved and prepared. Check out this blog post from Deputy Administrator Tim Manning about how you can prepare for flooding.
- Andrew and Robin