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Tribal Governments and Organizations are asking Congress to Amend the Stafford Act

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Last month I re-emphasized my support for amending the Stafford Act to allow federally recognized tribal governments to make a request directly to the President for a federal emergency or major disaster declaration.  I specifically recommended to Congress that they take swift action to pass this legislation.  If Congress passes and the President signs such legislation into law, my office will act promptly in the development of appropriate regulations and policies for implementation.

Today, I note the efforts Tribal leadership and organizations representing more than 300 tribes have made to actively engage with Congress.  At this time, the following tribal organizations have written letters to Congress asking them to consider and pass the legislation that acknowledges the sovereignty of federally recognized tribes, the trust responsibility of the United States, enhances FEMA’s working relationship with tribal governments and improves emergency and disaster responsiveness throughout Indian Country. 

  • Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation
  • Hopland Band of Pomo Indians
  • Inter Tribal Emergency Response Commission
  • Inter Tribal Council of Arizona
  • Inter Tribal Council of Nevada
  • Inter Tribal Long Term Recovery Foundation
  • Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes
  • National Congress for Indian Americans
  • Northwest Tribal Emergency Management Council
  • Pueblo of Acoma
  • Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of The Duck Valley Indians Reservation
  • Snoqualmie Indian Tribe
  • Southern California Tribal Chairmen Association
  • Sovereign Nation of Chitimacha
  • Susanville Indian Rancheria
  • The Navajo Nation
  • Tuolumne Me-Wuk Tribal Council
  • United South and Eastern Tribes

Meanwhile at FEMA, we will continue to reach out to stakeholders, both on and off Capitol Hill.  We will continue with the purpose of educating decision makers on the importance passing this bill has to tribal communities, leaders, our government-to-government relationship and the emergency management team.  More information is available at www.fema.gov/tribal.

Keep coming back to FEMA’s blog and I will keep you posted on the progress we make in these efforts.

 

What We're Watching: 8/3/12

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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.

Weather Outlook

Tropical Storm Ernesto is currently located in the Atlantic off the island of St. Lucia but at this time is not expected to impact U.S. territories.  Although there are currently no coastal watches or warnings in effect for the U.S., we will continue to monitor the storm as it develops over the weekend and early next week.

History has taught us that storm tracks can change quickly and unexpectedly, so we encourage coastal residents to monitor weather conditions and take steps now to get prepared for potential severe tropical weather.  Tropical storms can bring heavy rains and high winds, so it’s important that you take steps to prepare your property and family.   

Elsewhere across the U.S., the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center has forecasted severe weather for parts of the Mid-Atlantic and New England on Sunday, August 5.  If severe weather is expected in your area, visit www.ready.gov/natural-disasters/severe-weather for information on what to do before, during and after severe weather.

Additionally, excessive heat is expected to continue throughout parts of the Southern Plains over the weekend.

Here are some tropical storm and hurricane terms you should be familiar with:

  • A hurricane watch means sustained winds of 74 mph or greater are possible within the specified area in the next 48 hours. Be prepared to evacuate. Monitor local radio and television news outlets or listen to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest developments.
  • A hurricane warning means sustained winds of 74 mph or greater are expected within the specified area in the next 36 hours. If local authorities advise you to evacuate, leave immediately.
  • A tropical storm watch means that tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible within the specified area within 48 hours. Be prepared to evacuate. Monitor local radio and television news outlets or listen to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest developments.
  • A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are expected somewhere within the specified area within 36 hours. If local authorities advise you to evacuate, leave immediately.

Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Avoid walking or driving through flooded areas – it only takes six inches of fast-moving flood water to knock over an adult and two feet to move a vehicle.
  • Be aware that flash flooding can occur. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.
  • Don’t put yourself at risk, follow the instructions of local officials, and if they give the order to evacuate - evacuate. 

Here’s a short video reminding everyone about the importance of being prepared for hurricanes. Although it references Florida residents, all coastal state residents should take steps to prepare today.

Visit www.ready.gov or www.listo.gov to learn how to prepare your home and family for a hurricane or tropical storm and for tips on creating your family emergency plan and putting together an emergency supply kit. 

Weather conditions can quickly change, so we encourage everyone to monitor your area's local forecast by visiting www.weather.gov  or  mobile.weather.gov on your mobile device.       

Have a safe and enjoyable weekend!

Marlene Phillips: How being deployed changed my perception of my job

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On July 3, 2012, President Obama declared a major disaster in the state of Florida, making federal disaster assistance available in many counties for those affected by Tropical Storm Debby.  Among the many FEMA staff who deployed to support our state and local partners’ response and recovery efforts was Marlene Phillips. Marlene’s day-to-day job is serving at FEMA headquarters as a Public Affairs Specialist, whose primary responsibility does not include regular deployments to the field.

The account below is from Marlene’s experience working as a Community Relations Specialist in the areas affected by Tropical Storm Debby.  If her story inspires you to help people before, during, or after disasters, I encourage you to visit fema.gov for ways you can make a difference.  And if you’re interested in becoming a FEMA employee and serving on a similar team, visit fema.gov/careers.
 

Last month, I volunteered to go to Tallahassee on my first FEMA deployment after Tropical Storm Debby dumped more than 27 inches of rain on Florida leaving a path of destruction.  I left my office cubicle, stepped out of my comfort zone and was instantly reminded of the challenges FEMA faces in a disaster.  It was a hectic, fast-paced, eye-opening and humbling experience. 

I packed some basic preparedness tools for field work such as comfortable clothing, sturdy walking boots, a hat, bug spray, and my blue FEMA shirts that provided instant identity.  But to help people in the disaster, other tools were necessary to accomplish the mission including boatloads of compassion and tons of understanding.  I learned this practice in my lifetime as the Golden Rule: “treating others as you would want to be treated.”  Remember, this could be you standing in your front yard helplessly watching your home fill with flood waters.    

flooded road

Live Oaks, Fla., July 3, 2012 -- Several weeks after Tropical Storm Debby, sections of Rt. 90 outside of Live Oak, Fla., remain closed from flood waters that resulted from the 25 inches of rain in the area. FEMA conducted Preliminary Damage Assessments of the area to help determine if federal disaster assistance can be available to help residents in the area. Marlene Phillips/FEMA

Sound impossible that you could be a disaster survivor?  Not really.  I talked with several FEMA co-workers in Florida and learned that some of them had been disaster victims years ago.  Their own past experiences drive these FEMA employees to passionately help those people whose lives have been changed forever. 

It didn’t take me long to realize that the disaster mission is the heart and soul of FEMA.  I saw houses damaged by a tornado.  There was one bare lot where a house once stood where a young mother had been blown out of her house into the woods.  Tragically, she died clutching her three year-old baby in her arms.  Her love was not in vain as the mother’s embrace saved her baby’s life.  

Reaching out to survivors

As a part of FEMA’s Community Relations teams, I helped to provide information to survivors about federal disaster assistance.  But I learned FEMA Community Relations is certainly more than just handing out flyers door-to-door as if one were advertising the weekly supermarket specials.  Community Relations in Florida was an important mission that had a huge impact on the public. Sometimes, we were the first “boots on the ground” to help in some neighborhoods. 

I heard people say, “Thank God, FEMA is here!”  For some, our presence showed we cared.  Listening to their frustrations and understanding their loss and tears was like throwing them a lifeline; it was a ray of hope to help them turn around their nightmare.  By treating others as I would want to be treated, it wasn’t hard to dig down into my own human nature to reach out to those who were hurting.  It’s the human thing to do.  By mixing a ton of compassion with pounds of concern, our teams showed we cared.  All I had to do was to look directly into the eyes of someone whose life had been turned upside down, and I could feel the impact of our mission. 

Assistance from the federal government won’t make people whole again or completely restore their lives back the way they were before; however, having someone there who cares and can explain any assistance that may be available certainly helps.

It was clear to me.  We have inherited a massive responsibility.  How we approach these storm-weary folks—how we act and what we say while wearing our FEMA shirts has a lasting impact.  It’s how FEMA will be remembered by people in all walks of life.  I experienced this first-hand.  One official thanked a FEMA team who spent three hours with an elderly resident to help them navigate through the disaster registration process.  Whether we talked with hotel employees impacted by the storm or walked through a public parking, FEMA employees were stopped by people with anxious eyes and broken hearts seeking information.

To my FEMA colleagues who normally work supporting the field operations, I challenge you to volunteer to serve on a FEMA disaster response team.  It’s an experience that will change your thinking, it will change your priorities, and it just may change your life.  I know it has changed mine.

FEMA Mitigation Assessment Team Report on Spring 2011 Tornadoes

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A little over a year ago, hundreds of tornadoes touched down in the Southeastern and Midwestern portions of the United States between April 25 and April 28, 2011.  On May 22, only a few weeks later, a powerful 0.75-mile-wide tornado cut a 6-mile path through Joplin, MO.  These tornado events resulted in the tragic loss of life, destruction of thousands of homes and billions of dollars in building and infrastructure damage.  FEMA’s Building Science Branch responded by deploying a Mitigation Assessment Team of specialists to assess building damage across a five-state area comprised of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Missouri.

Because every individual loss is a community loss, our primary goal was to assist recovery efforts by distributing timely and applicable guidance for recovery and reconstruction. We assessed the performance of the buildings and various infrastructure affected by the tornadoes, document selected safe room and storm shelter performance in the affected areas, and describe the lessons learned that could reduce future loss of life and damage to buildings and infrastructure from tornado events.  A report with the results of our observations, conclusions and strategic actionable recommendations to help reduce future building damage and loss of life from tornadoes was recently published.

In the first months following the tornadoes, the MAT published eight Recovery Advisories, participated in the Safer Alabama Summit in June 2011, and held numerous public training sessions in affected areas in the summer of 2011 and spring of 2012. The report with the details of the MAT field observations, conclusions, and recommendations is now published and available to be downloaded as FEMA P-908, Mitigation Assessment Team Report – Spring 2011 Tornadoes: April 25-28 and May 22; Building Performance Observations, Recommendations, and Technical Guidance (May 2012). FEMA P-908 was released to the public on May 22, 2012, the one-year anniversary of the tornado event in Joplin.

The report was developed and reviewed by a team of over 200 design and construction experts from various industry groups, academic institutions, nonprofit associations, government agencies, and small and large businesses. FEMA P-908 presents the MAT’s observations, 47 conclusions, and 49 actionable recommendations directed at strategically improving public safety and building performance during tornado events through defining research needs, proposing national code and standard changes, and providing  local governments, individuals, design professionals, building owners and key federal agencies with actions they can take. FEMA P-908 also describes in detail the historic storms and building codes in the affected areas and includes an appendix with prescriptive guidance for enhanced construction techniques to improve the performance of wood-frame residential structures when impacted by tornadoes rated EF2 or less.

The MAT’s recommendations addressed a range of building and life-safety issues. Several of the recommendations are already being implemented: 

  • FEMA submitted a proposal in January 2012 to the International Code Council for the 2015 update of the International Building Code to require that a safe room or storm shelter be included when new schools and critical facilities meeting certain criteria are built; this proposal passed in the April 2012 committee hearings. 
  • A change to the risk category and addition of extensive commentary on tornado loads is being planned for submission to the American Society of Civil Engineer’s Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures (ASCE 7).
  • This publication combined with FEMA's technical guidance for the construction of Individual and Community Safe Rooms, provides individual residents, community planners and emergency managers with the information necessary to get started on projects and plans that will better prepare them for next year.
  • FEMA is planning additional outreach activities to highlight the MAT’s observations, conclusions, recommendations, and reporting efforts.

 

What MAT means for the future

The MAT serves several purposes for future disasters and future mitigation activities. Future disasters with similar impacts will have the published MAT Reports and Recovery Advisories available to them immediately as an expert source of how buildings fail or resist extreme winds. As soon as the recovery starts, organizations involved in the recovery could use this existing pool of standards, best practices, and guidance to build back safer, stronger and more resilient.

The MATs work also helps FEMA continually validate the design and construction guidance it produces for the public, the success of FEMA funded Mitigation projects and the documentation needed to strengthen and update the voluntary, private sector, consensus building codes and standards in this county that the public relies on.

Visit www.fema.gov/rebuild/buildingscience for more information on the FEMA Building Science Branch.

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