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"Don’t Make the Public Fit How We Do Business"

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On the heels of his trip to the West Coast to meet with representatives of Twitter, Apple, Facebook and Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist), yesterday Administrator Fugate made the keynote address at the 2011 ESRI Federal User Conference here in Washington, DC.

The Administrator talked about the importance of leveraging the tools that people use every day, specifically social media, so that FEMA can better communicate with our customers – the American people. We hope to have the full video of his remarks available soon (and will post it here on the blog).

After his remarks, Craig sat down with a few reporters to talk about where the agency is headed. You can check out those stories on InformationWeek and NextGov.

A quote from one of the stories really sums up Craig’s philosophy:

"Don't make the public fit how we do business," he said he tells his staff and other federal personnel. "It's a disaster. Your home's been destroyed. Do you need any more hassles?"

So at FEMA we continue to work to better fit how the public does things. If you have any suggestions on how we can better accomplish that goal, please leave a comment below.

And if you’re not already, you can follow FEMA on twitter (@fema) or you can follow Craig on twitter (@CraigatFEMA) – help us continue the conversation.

- Brad

Plaquemines Parish, La., schools are returning

Last week, I had the pleasure of celebrating a momentous event - a ribbon cutting for the first completed, FEMA-funded school in Plaquemines Parish, our Learning Center in Port Sulphur, La. Designed as a safe-haven for students with challenges, the Learning Center fulfills an important, state-mandated need for the residents of our Parish. 

Like much of the Gulf Coast, Plaquemines was hit hard by Katrina, and the hurricane destroyed not one, not two, but five of the schools we have here.  However, with the help of FEMA and the state, I can proudly say that we are building back better than before, creating elevated, storm-resistant buildings that will last us for generations.

Every day, people see the pilings being driven, and I receive phone calls from former residents saying they are returning to Plaquemines - they are bringing their children home. Our children will soon be learning in state-of-the-art schools. I cannot stress enough that this is the result of the greatest working relationship with FEMA I’ve ever known. They have worked unbelievably hard to help us rebuild something so critical to our community.

- Denis

Learn more about FEMA’s ongoing recovery efforts to hurricanes Katrina and Rita and our Louisiana Recovery Office.

Editor’s Note: As Administrator Fugate pointed out in his inaugural blog post, this blog is a way for us to directly communicate with other members of the emergency management team, a team that includes the local leaders.  The post above is from our first guest contributor, Denis Rousselle, the Plaquemines Parish School Board Superintendent. 

FEMA staff recently participated in the dedication of the newly rebuilt Plaquemines Parish School Board Learning Center.

Port Sulphur, LA, January 10, 2011 -- FEMA staff recently participated in the dedication of the newly rebuilt Plaquemines Parish School Board Learning Center. FEMA provided over $6.2 million in public assistance grants to rebuild this unique educational facility that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Ray Perez/FEMA.

Leveraging volunteer groups and technology

In case you missed it, I wanted to share a recent story by the Christian Science Monitor highlighting Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK). A Random Hacks of Kindness is where developers and tech-savvy volunteers come together for a weekend to develop software solutions for challenges facing humanity. Imagine that, hacking for good.

As the Christian Science Monitor article notes, last year, Administrator Fugate challenged the group to create a mobile phone application where disaster survivors could tell friends and relatives that they are OK – without overwhelming the cell phone service capacity needed for emergency responders. Earlier this winter, FEMA again challenged Random Hacks of Kindness to build off the Administrator’s idea and create a comprehensive mobile application that could update friends and family on a variety of channels simultaneously.

At FEMA, we often refer to the importance of engaging the entire "emergency management team" in building America’s ability to prepare, respond, and recover from disasters. Crisis Commons and Crisis Mappers are volunteer technology groups that come together to support crises and provide technology solutions. As volunteers focused on solving problems related to emergency management, they are a critical member of this team – and a great example of how we can leverage technology, collaboration, and creativity to strengthen our resiliency.

An encouraging trend in emergency management is the formation of volunteer technology communities where tech folks come together in their community before a disaster and discuss their skill sets, needs, and possible projects. This way if a disaster occurs in their community, they can get to work right away because the relationships and networks have already been established ahead of time.

If you're part of your local volunteer tech community or you’re thinking of starting a group near you, what challenges and successes have you experienced?

- Shayne

What we’re watching: 1/14/11

Pacific Northwest severe weather

The Pacific Northwest is experiencing heavy precipitation as severe weather rolls through the area. In areas of lower elevation, heavy rain is expected through the weekend, with the possibility of localized flooding. Higher elevations may experience significant levels of snowfall.

Our regional office in Seattle, Washington is in close contact with state and local officials in case any needs arise. Throughout the weekend, we urge residents in affected areas to track local news and weather reports and follow the guidance of local officials.

Northeast cleanup efforts

After this week’s blizzard in the Southeast and Northeast parts of the country, our regional offices in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Atlanta are closely coordinating with state and local officials as the snow removal efforts continue. No requests for federal assistance have been made at this time – learn more about FEMA’s role in winter weather in this blog post.

National Hurricane Center on Facebook

If you’re a Facebook user, check out one of the newest pages out there: the National Hurricane Center. They are a close partner, especially during hurricane season (June 1 – November 30). The page currently features some photos from a FEMA training course held this week, so check it out.

Portland rescue shows importance of fire escape plan

Home fires are more prevalent in winter than any other season. After responding to a fire call on Wednesday evening, Portland Fire & Rescue (Oregon) put out the following on Twitter:

Thanks to the family making a fire escape plan, and practicing it frequently, the fire only caused minor injuries and some household damage. Take time with your family this weekend and practice your fire escape plan. If you don’t have one, visit the United States Fire Administration website (or their kids’ site) to get started.

In a tragic fire-related story, three people died in a home fire in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but reports indicate the home did not have smoke alarms. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

For winter fire safety tips, visit the U.S. Fire Administration’s website.

Social Media + Emergency Management: Talking with Tech Leaders on the West Coast

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Yesterday I had a very productive day in California talking about social media, technology, emergency management, and ways to assist the public in getting prepared, by using the tools they use on a daily basis. Check out this short video to see who I met with:



In addition to meeting with fellow “Craig”, Craig Newmark (the founder of Craigslist), I also met with editors from Wired Magazine, Twitter, Apple and Facebook.

Some of the things we discussed included:

  • The need to provide information to the public as data feeds, because they are a key member of our emergency management team;
  • The importance of referring to people impacted by a disaster as survivors and utilizing them as a resource; 
  • The importance of providing good customer service; and 
  • How we, as emergency managers, need to stop trying to have the public fit into our way of doing things and receiving information, but that we should fit the way the public gets, receives and seeks out information.

There are a lot of discussions and conversations taking place about social media, text messaging, etc, and how these tools can be used before, during, and after a disaster. 

There’s no question that these tools have already changed the field of emergency management – and will continue to. As emergency managers, we will have to be flexible and agile and quickly adapt as new technologies and communications tools emerge. What’s exciting is that these new tools, if we embrace them and leverage them effectively, will continue to help us better serve our customers – the public.

As the conversation continues, and as you use these tools on a daily basis, there are things that you can today do to prepare yourself, your family members, and your colleagues at work. 

Communicating during or after an emergency
How are you communicating with each other if a disaster or emergency occurs?  Are you going to call each other, send an email, text message, or update each other via a social network site? The disaster or emergency could be something like a blackout in your city or a school closure; all disasters aren’t large earthquakes or hurricanes.

Receiving updates on your phone
How are you receiving updates from local officials? Have you signed up for text message or email alerts?  If you’re on Facebook, did you know that you can signup to receive text message updates from Facebook pages you follow?  If you are a fan of FEMA on Facebook or your local emergency management agency, you can receive our update as a text message right on your phone (and just like with any text message, standard rates apply).

Leverage Twitter without creating an account
And here’s another small tip: if you are thinking about using Twitter, did you know you can receive text messages updates from someone you’re following without having to create an account?  For example, if you wanted to receive our updates as a text message to your phone, just text FOLLOW FEMA to 40404 (this is Twitter’s text message number and of course, standard text message rates apply --- the lawyers require me to repeat this).  You can do the same for your local emergency management agency.

Our meetings in California generated great discussions and ideas and I’m excited to explore how we can move forward on them. In the meantime, I’d like to hear how you use these and other social network sites to communicate with friends and family before or during an emergency, so we can all utilize these tools to fullest capability, so please leave a comment below, or visit our ongoing challenge at www.challenge.gov/fema and submit your ideas.

- Craig

How can communities build resiliency? We want to hear from you

Feeling creative and interested in emergency preparedness?  Want to participate in our ongoing challenge?  We’ve got just the thing for you. 

As part of Administrator Fugate's challenge, we're looking for ideas on how your family, school, workplace or community can be better prepared before a disaster strikes.  Maybe your idea is about the best way to start a Community Emergency Response Team in your community.  Or perhaps you’d like to see preparedness information passed out in your local school system.

If you have an idea on preparedness, we’d love to hear about it.  And while you have your thinking cap on, we wanted to provide a few of the 100+ submissions that we’ve received so far (in no particular order):

I encourage you to submit your idea on Challenge.gov or send it in an e-mail.  All the submissions will be judged by FEMA leadership and the winning idea will be featured on fema.gov

So be creative, and best of luck!

And even though our Challenge is still open, maybe someone submitted an idea that you think can be implemented in your community today, so I encourage you to look at all of the submissions and share them with others.

- Shayne

About the Challenge
The deadline is January 29, 2010 and all submissions will be judged based on originality, level of community engagement, and ease of implementation.  Challenge submissions are moderated before posting to the site.

Expertise on loan: A Virgin Islands success story

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As several blog posts have pointed out, strengthening the emergency management team is vital to how well communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from, disasters.  After two and a half years as the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) Director, I would like to welcome back Mark Walters to our regional office in New York, NY.

Mark's career with FEMA can be directly attributed to his personal experience with Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  Born and raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), he was working in St. Thomas when his employer's entire fleet of seaplanes were lost due to Hurricane Hugo's devastation.  Out of work, Mark became a FEMA local hire, and he's never looked back. 

In 2008, when he was asked by USVI Governor John de Jongh Jr. to consider coming back and taking over VITEMA, Mark seized the opportunity.  Through an Interagency Personnel Agreement, FEMA Region II loaned Mark to the USVI in June 2008.  During his tenure, Mark has tackled extensive personnel and fund management issues, reorganized VITEMA, and overhauled the territory's 911 system.  He was also instrumental in acquiring 42 generators for the territory's critical facilities. 

Mark's hard work and leadership has strengthened the emergency management team.  Read more about Mark’s story in the Virgin Island Daily News.

- Lynn

FEMA and U.S. Virgin Island representatives meet in Puerto Rico.
February 9, 2010 -- FEMA and U.S. Virgin Island representatives meet in Puerto Rico. Pictured from left to right: Alejandro DeLaCampa (Director, Caribbean Area Division, Region II), Mark Walters (former Director, VITEMA), USVI Governor John de Jongh, Jr, Lynn Canton (FEMA Region II Administrator), and Michael Moriarty (FEMA Region II Deputy Administrator).

From Japan: Sharing international lessons learned to strengthen pre-disaster recovery planning


Beth Zimmerman and counterparts from Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam share information on pre-recovery disaster planning.

Kobe, Japan, January 12, 2011 -- Beth Zimmerman (second from left), Deputy Associate Administrator, Response and Recovery, and counterparts from Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam share information on pre-recovery disaster planning. The International Recovery Platform 2011 Forum hosted 26 countries, 150 participants and 10 international organizations to share best practices and lessons learned on pre- and post- disaster planning. 

Today representatives from Japan, the Republic of Haiti, the Union of Myanmar, the Philippines and the Asian Development Bank will share their recent experiences on the importance of pre-disaster planning for better post disaster recovery and rehabilitation at the International Recovery Forum 2011 being held this week in Kobe, Japan. 

I will be speaking about FEMA's ongoing efforts regarding the coordination and development of the Disaster Recovery Framework. The Forum’s host, the International Recovery Platform (IRP), works to determine the gaps in the recovery process and develops solutions to address those gaps. Today I will hear from many international experts about the benefits and options of pre-disaster recovery planning; key lessons from recent recovery operations and the application of those lessons for the next disaster; other nations' plans for recovery and an update from Yves Robert Jean, Director General in the Republic of Haiti's Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation.

This meeting emphasizes the fact that there is a wealth of experience and expertise that governments and organizations can share to improve how we prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. The IRP is working to document, compile and share deliverables from the forum on its website: Recoveryplatform.org. Check it out.

- Beth

Tracking the Northeast Blizzard

As the severe winter storm moves through the Northeast, the National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts the major winter storm will continue to bring heavy snow to portions of the area through Wednesday night. 

At FEMA, we’re continuing to keep a close eye on the storm, as we have been all week, and staying in close touch with all the states that have been impacted up and down the East Coast and in the Southeast. At the request of the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Georgia and the commonwealth of Massachusetts, we have deployed regional “liaison” offices to those states’ emergency operations centers, where they are supporting our state and local partners with their operations, coordination, and other efforts.

To date, there has not been a request for federal disaster assistance. If you’re curious about FEMA’s role in snow storms and other kinds of severe winter weather, check out our recent blog post.

With snow currently on the ground in 49 of our 50 states – and in many regions that don’t typically get significant snowfall – we continue to urge everyone to take simple steps to protect your families and homes during winter weather.

And if you live in an area affected by the storm, continue to follow the National Weather Service forecast for your area and listen to the direction of local officials. Stay warm and stay safe.

- Rachel

Emergency Management Institute Training: 30 years strong and counting…

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Training is a key component in emergency preparedness, whether it's on a national or individual level.  Today marks an important milestone in preparedness training at FEMA: the Emergency Management Institute (EMI), the agency’s largest training facility, is celebrating its 30th year in operation.  EMI has established a legacy of developing and delivering the necessary all-hazards training that strengthens our nation’s capability to meet emergency management challenges. 

To get a sense of EMI's scope, consider that over the past 30 years, nearly 15 million independent study courses have been completed online, including almost 2 million during fiscal year 2010 alone. And since 1981, nearly 73,000 on-campus and offsite classroom-based trainings have been conducted.

Individuals play a key role in the overall team effort of helping our nation prepare for, protect, mitigate, respond to and recovering from disasters.  EMI offers a number of online training opportunities to individuals and members of the public who wish to learn more about preparedness and emergency management. And if you’re an emergency management professional or an expert in the field, EMI and FEMA's Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) host a number of advanced courses.

Thirty years ago, in its first year of operation, EMI offered 40 courses.  The need for training and importance of preparedness has grown over the years, so much so that EMI offered 270 courses in 2010.  And while EMI has hosted FEMA training courses for the last 30 years in Emmitsburg, Maryland, its legacy spans back much farther - beginning with courses at the National Civil Defense Training Center in 1951.

I hope you will take this opportunity to participate in one of the courses this year. Whether you are a private citizen or a seasoned emergency manager, we are sure to offer a course that will keep you engaged as a member of the emergency management team. 

- Tim

Other links
FEMA's Center for Domestic Preparedness offers 55 advanced training courses for emergency response providers, emergency managers, and other government officials. The center is the nation’s only Congressionally-charted federal training facility that features training for civilian responders in a toxic environment using chemical agents. For more information on the CDP's specialized programs and courses, please visit their web site at: http://cdp.dhs.gov.

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