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Administrator Fugate on one year anniversary of Haiti earthquake

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A year ago today, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, destroying infrastructure, homes, businesses, schools, and claiming tens of thousands of lives.  The entire emergency management team responded  (including a number of federal agencies, led by our partners at the U.S. Agency for International Development, other countries, as well as international organizations, volunteer groups, the private sector, and over $1 billion in donations), helping thousands of Haitians meet their immediate needs following the earthquake.  The recovery is ongoing and not yet complete.

Today, as our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the earthquake, we're urging Americans to be prepared for emergencies.  While we won’t be able to prevent natural disasters from happening, we can mitigate their affects by having an emergency kit, making an emergency plan, and being informed of the risks in your area

This video from Administrator Fugate says it best:



What lessons has the Haitian earthquake taught you or your community?

Severe weather moves its way up the east coast

As winter weather moves out of the Southeast, those along the east coast should take precautions for potentially severe weather.  As the storm system moves through, we’re continuing to stay in close touch with all of the affected states through our regional offices. 


Many businesses, government offices, schools and roads have been closed in many of the affected states.  Flights coming in and out of Atlanta have continued to be canceled and there have been a number of weather-related traffic accidents, including reports of several deaths.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family members of those who have died as a result of the winter weather. 

The dangerous effects of snow and ice storms demonstrate the importance of being prepared.  If you live in an affected area:

  • follow the direction of local officials
  • keep travel to a minimum during severe winter weather (if you need to travel, be sure to have an emergency kit in your vehicle)
  • follow local news and weather reports on conditions in your area (visit the National Weather Service for official severe weather updates)

Stay safe.

- Rachel

Other links
- Find your state emergency management agency online for localized information
- National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center

Training and building relationships in Texas

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I started my year by addressing participants at a tabletop exercise last week at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.  The exercise brought together federal agencies, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to focus on two main areas:

  • Managing the capabilities of the Emergency Operations Center management
  • The transition from crisis management to consequence management

This exercise helped us refine our procedures and allowed all the players to strengthen our working relationships before an emergency. We were also able to take a look at “best practices” revealed during the exercise and to network with our federal and state partners. Pre-disaster exercises like this are ongoing events across the FEMA Regions.

In emergency management, there is a constant focus on improving preparedness so we can respond better during an emergency.  Tabletop exercises, like the one hosted last week, are a great way to form relationships with other members of the emergency management team as we work to identify and solve issues before a disaster strikes.

It was an honor to address the participants of the training and meet newly elected officials across all levels of government.  What training experiences have made an impression on you?  Table top exercises are only “a piece of the whole pie” of emergency management training.  Leave a comment and share some of your memorable preparedness training moments.

- Tony

Strengthening emergency management through public-private partnerships

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Our team has the great fortune to work with many private sector partners in the field of emergency management. It has been an enriching experience to listen to and learn from those partners as they have helped us to promote public-private partnerships and open new doors that will help all of us – at all levels of government and in the private sector – better serve disaster survivors and communities.  Most recently, we created a private sector seat in FEMA's National Response Coordination Center (NRCC), the monitoring and operations center we use to coordinate all of our emergency response efforts, with all of our partners, during a disaster.

This new position is a big deal for several reasons – it’s the first time we have had a member of the private sector embedded directly with our staff and it is another critical step that will help improve communication and coordination with the private sector before, during, and after emergencies. This position will be staffed with different representatives from the private sector, on a rotating basis. Katie Dempsey from Target Corporation is serving as our inaugural representative. Thank you Katie and Target for leading the way.

Katie has achieved much in her short time here. She has a "seat at the table" working with governmental officials to enhance information sharing and collaboration with the private sector.  She has worked with FEMA on numerous major initiatives to include the "National Level Exercise 2011".  In addition, Katie has received valuable emergency management training which will benefit her, her team members and Target.

We hope that Katie's experience as a private sector representative here at FEMA is the first of many to come in 2011. We already have candidates lined up for the next few rotations and are working to get more representatives in place for the rest of this calendar year. Like much of our work at FEMA, this new NRCC seat will continue to be successful if we work together as a team, leveraging the resources of our many private sector partners and bringing more to the table.  Let’s make it work and do amazing things!

If you or someone you know is interested in being a candidate, please click here. Our private sector team is available 24/7 and ready to work with you.

We understand not all private sector entities have the latitude to dedicate an employee for 90 days. For those who cannot, there are other ways to take action. Let’s all work together to be part of the emergency management team.

- Dan

If you are a member of the private sector, and want more information on how we can partner together, please visit www.FEMA.gov/privatesector.

Update on severe weather

Another severe winter storm is bringing significant snowfall and ice storms across the Southeast, and is expected to move into the Mid-Atlantic by tomorrow and up toward the Northeast by Wednesday.

So far there have been reports of heavy snow and ice causing downed trees and power lines, and many flights are continuing to get canceled.

Our regional offices in Denton, Texas; Atlanta, GA; Philadelphia, PA; New York City, NY and Boston, MA, remain in close contact with our state and local partners in all of the areas that could be impacted, and stand ready to assist if a request is made.

As the winter storm season continues in much of the country, we urge all individuals in the region to listen to NOAA Weather Radio and local news to monitor for severe weather updates and warnings and follow the direction provided by their local officials.

Follow your latest local forecast at weather.gov, and get prepared for winter weather at Ready.gov.  And please remember as you stay inside to avoid the storm, residential fires become more common in the winter.  Be smart and be safe.

- Rachel

Webinar on Collaborative Planning and Engaging the Whole Community

On behalf of FEMA, I’d like to invite emergency managers, community leaders and the public to participate in a live webinar on the topic of collaborative emergency planning. My colleague Doc Lumpkins and I would love to share newly revised guidance from FEMA's Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101 and explain how this planning guidance can enhance your community’s ability to respond to and recover from disasters. We hope this webinar will provide the information you need to help build more inclusive, collaborative, and comprehensive plans that strengthen and prepare your community.  If you’d like to learn more about how emergency management agencies can build a collaborative preparedness team in their community, please join the webinar:

Date: January 11, 2011
Time: 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Join: Signup for the webinar

The Community Preparedness Webinar Series is hosted by FEMA's Citizen Corps Program and offers up-to-date information on community preparedness topics and resources available to emergency managers, community organizations, and the general public.

The webinar will accept the first 500 participants that log in so we hope you’ll join us. If you’re unable to join, each webinar will be recorded and posted on CitizenCorps.gov for your viewing at any time.

We look forward to your participation!

- Paulette

It's Never Too Late to Resolve to Be Ready

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As we move into 2011 and start trying to make progress on our various new year’s resolutions, we at FEMA will continue encouraging all of our partners – and that includes you – to take steps now to be prepared for emergencies. As many of you know, throughout the holiday season, we urged folks to join us in making a resolution to be ready for disasters. But as we said then, disasters aren’t limited to one time of year – and neither is our need to be prepared for them. It’s never too late to Resolve to be Ready for disasters. 

On this blog, we’ve written a lot about the three simple steps you can take to make good on a pledge to prepare for emergencies in this New Year. But for those of you who want to go the extra mile, you can also sign up to participate in preparedness training.  Consider linking up with a Community Response Team in your local area, or visit CitizenCorps.gov to learn about other opportunities in your community.

When more people are able to take care of themselves after a disaster strikes, emergency responders can concentrate on helping those who are most vulnerable in our communities, whether it's infants and children, seniors, or people with disabilities, to name a few.  Visit Ready.gov to learn about creating an emergency plan that fits the needs of you and your family.

- Tony

What we're watching: 1/7/11

The first full weekend of 2011 is upon us.  Here’s what we’re watching:

Severe weather
Meteorologists are calling for a storm system to bring snow to the Great Lakes, parts of New York (including New York City), and some of the east coast into next Tuesday.  Forecasts are also calling for potentially icy conditions in much of the Southeast this weekend, so be sure to track your local forecast at weather.gov and visit Ready.gov to get prepared. As always, we’re continuing to monitor the coming weather closely, and through our regional offices, will remain in close contact with our state and local partners to ensure they have all the support they need throughout the weekend.

(For the weather-watchers among us, check out this forecast map of the precipitation expected across the U.S. in the next five days.)

A few press hits
MaryAnn Tierney, FEMA Region III Regional Administrator, encourages readers of the Sentinel Newspaper to consider a New Year's resolution (Prince George and Montgomery counties, MD).

The Bel Air (MD) Patch highlighted the Harford County Division of Emergency Operations’ receipt of the 2010 FEMA Region III Leading by Example Award for the work of the Citizen Corps Council.  Across the U.S. many Citizen Corps Councils volunteer to prepare individuals and their communities before a disaster strikes.  In Hartford County, the council developed and executed an impressive 37 separate preparedness initiatives.

Accepting the challenge
We’re also watching our challenge on Challenge.gov, where you can share your idea on preparing before a disaster strikes. There have been a lot of great submissions - we would love to hear your idea, too!  The deadline for submitting ideas is January 29, 2011.

"Ready"-made content for public officials

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The start of 2011 means newly-elected lawmakers, appointed officials and staff are beginning their terms, both in Washington D.C., in our state capitals and communities across the country. These new officials are another important member of our nation’s emergency management team.

A great way elected officials can help their constituents is to make sure individuals and communities have the resources they need to be prepared for the hazards in their communities. Back when newly-elected members of Congress went through orientation in November, we encouraged them to share emergency preparedness tips back home.

At FEMA, we look forward to working with these newly elected and appointed officials. Below are some resources they can use and easily share to encourage emergency preparedness:

  • Ready.gov – Getting prepared is broken down into three simple steps: get a kit, make a plan and be informed.
  • FEMA Widgets – Web tools that can be added to your website that explain how constituents can apply for disaster assistance.
  • FEMA Mobile site – Encourage constituents to bookmark FEMA’s mobile site, packed with preparedness and disaster information. Those eligible for assistance after a disaster strikes can also apply via the mobile site.

- Brent


 


Improving the Recoupment Process

Recently, you may have heard about or read a report issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General (IG) saying FEMA has identified approximately 160,000 applicants that may have received improper disaster assistance payments totaling approximately $643 million.

Unfortunately, whether through fraud, human or accounting errors, or for other reasons, assistance sometimes goes to individuals who are not eligible for it during the response to any disaster.

The payments in question were made through our Individuals and Households Program during the response and recovery to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and after. The program is intended to help uninsured disaster survivors with temporary housing or to repair damage to their home or for other disaster-related needs. The large scale of the disasters (over $7 billion has been disbursed to help those in need), coupled with safeguards and protections that simply weren’t strong enough at the time, led to a large number of potentially improper payments.

So why haven’t we tried to get the money back?

The recoupment process used under previous administrations was in need of critical improvements.

A 2007 court order from a lawsuit challenging FEMA’s recoupment efforts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, along with regulations established by the Department of Homeland Security in 2007, led us to suspend our recoupment process.

Plain and simple, the process needed a lot of changes.

So what are we doing about it?

In the years since, we have been working to rectify these problems. The bottom line is we are committed to being responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, and not only do we agree with the Inspector General’s recommendation that we recoup improper payments, but independent of this report we have been working to finalize plans to recoup improperly awarded funds, while continuing to support Gulf Coast communities as they continue to recover.

We have not been taking this task lightly, as we have also been taking another look at all our documents and information for the over 160,000 disaster survivors, to ensure that we are recouping funds from the right individuals. The survivors of these disasters have been through a lot, and they deserve an open and transparent process.

Since President Obama came into office, FEMA, working closely with our state and local partners in Louisiana and Mississippi, has been able to free up over $5 billion in backlogged projects to restore community infrastructure and services, including $1.8 billion for New Orleans schools. For far too long these projects had been deemed too hard to deal with, or were just simply ignored, and it was slowing the recovery of the Gulf Coast.

We are proud that we’ve been able to cut through the red tape, but realize there is much more work to be done, including finalizing the new recoupment process. We are well underway – and had been well before this IG report was released - in taking the steps we need to finalize that new process so that it is fair and transparent for both disaster survivors and taxpayers.

And what are we doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

We have worked diligently to put protections in place that will safeguard against fraud and abuse in future disaster situations and significantly reduce the percentage of improper payments, while ensuring that those in need are receiving assistance as quickly as possible.

As a New Orleans Times-Picayune story from earlier this week points out,

"FEMA has also instituted other rules aimed at avoiding improper payments after disasters, including additional verification requirements for automated payments; the flagging of "high risk" addresses like check-cashing stores, mail drops, cemeteries and jails; and the flagging of duplicate rental payments."

We are proud of the work that has been done, but realize there is much more to do.

- Rachel

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