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Leadership Lessons from Different Regions, Different Storms

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 07:05
Author:  Regional Administrator Thomas Von Essen (Region II) Regional Administrator MaryAnn Tierney (Region III) Regional Administrator Gracia Szczech (Region IV) Regional Administrator Tony Robinson (Region VI) Rear Admiral Keith Smith (Fifth Coast Guard District)

Every year, FEMA and the United States Coast Guard meet to discuss the past year’s hurricane response efforts and to plan for future storms. It may not sound extraordinary, but it’s not only one of the best opportunities for FEMA to engage with the Coast Guard on our joint mission to protect the homeland, but it also brings together multiple FEMA Regions (representing the states most at risk from hurricanes) to discuss how we can better prepare for future storms.


This annual gathering allows us to learn how the Coast Guard is securing and reconstituting U.S. ports, conducting maritime operations, and fulfilling requests for search and rescue both at sea and in response to a major storm. Most importantly, it provides us lessons in leadership to take back to our organizations on how to do better for future storms and improve our decision-making processes.


The 2019 Senior Leadership Seminar took place June 26 – 27, 2019 in Norfolk, VA. In addition to recapping our operational posture and response to Hurricanes Florence and Michael, we discussed our emergency support functions for hazardous materials and search and rescue. Each of these brings FEMA and the Coast Guard closer together, as we swap stories, experiences, and lessons learned from past storms.


We also looked at the mission, where FEMA has often partnered with the Coast Guard to respond to hazardous material and oil releases and conduct search and rescue operations during contingencies. Throughout the 2017 and 2018 Hurricane Seasons, we worked together to protect communities and carry out our mission. The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season is no different. By talking about the challenges facing our communities and the areas of opportunity for positive impacts in our response, FEMA and the Coast Guard are better prepared for the next hurricane.


The seminar allows us to collaborate even with the differences across our regions. Each response to hurricanes is unique, but they can inform how we do things and how to do them better. Lessons from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, Michael, Florence, and beyond are changing the way we train staff, engage our states, and build capabilities to respond to an emergency.  They impact every community differently, but our mission doesn’t change: helping people before, during, and after disasters. Each day, we’re making decisions to help prepare our communities and partners for the next storm, which is always different than yesterday’s response. It’s one of the most important aspects of our work with the Coast Guard, too, in that we can and continue to do better so we can serve our communities when they are most in need.


In each of our Regions and at the Coast Guard, we are identifying innovative approaches to future storms with the dual goals of reducing their impact on communities and improving our ability to respond to them.


In Region II, we are engaging industry partners to address our complex logistical challenges and improve supply chain redundancies, implementing a mentoring program to support capacity building, and collaborating with local partners to strengthen infrastructure resilience. In Region III, we are not only adapting our timelines for response but increasing our logistics capability, talking about debris missions, and expanding our FEMA Integration Team Program. In Region IV, we have instituted readiness visits with the region’s and states’ emergency management leadership where concerns specific to each state’s unique needs and capabilities are discussed transparently, effectively, and consistently during on-site visits. Each meeting has produced specific, measurable tasks and timelines which support the state’s training, staffing, logistics, and programmatic capabilities. In Region VI, we continue to hold regular exercises and quarterly Regional Interagency Steering Committee meetings to gather our state, local, federal and tribal partners in one room to discuss how our capabilities have changed and what to expect during the next disaster.


Following a storm, the Coast Guard supports FEMA and state agencies in a variety of missions, including search and rescue, and works with federal, state and local partners to reconstitute the Maritime Transportation System in the impacted port quickly to prevent disruption to the flow of commerce. 


We’re making decisions in support of these initiatives and more, knowing that our communities, states, and the public across the nation are counting on us. Our job, our responsibility, and our charge as leaders is to ensure we are ready. This seminar is one example of the steps we are taking to ready ourselves, our Region, and FEMA to respond to the next hurricane.


A Puerto Rican Community Rebuilds After Hurricane Maria

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 09:50
Author:  Nancy M. Piñero Vega

The Puerto Rican community of Toro Negro is located in the central, mountainous municipality of Ciales. The isolation and privacy of this small community has been cherished by its residents for over 100 years.  It was in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, however, that the remote nature of the community proved to be a challenge.  

Its seclusion—the closest town is a 35-minute drive—reduced access to basic services such as garbage pickup and mail delivery. As the hurricane’s aftermath worsened, the limited basic services created pollution and raised public health concerns.

The 32-household community quickly realized they needed to become more self-sufficient in order to recover from the hurricane.  They began to take initiatives to expand infrastructure and minimize dependency on outside services.

Toro Negro installed donated solar panels and battery storage system to generate its own electricity. They rebuilt roads and bridges to improve the basic services they had lacked following the storm. They even made plans to create a community aqueduct.

Another Toro Negro community project that has started to take shape is the “Mapa Madre,” or “Mother Map” in English. This project identifies archaeological sites, garbage collection points and ongoing reforestation efforts in bodies of water that cross the municipalities of Barceloneta, Barranquitas, Ciales, Corozal, Florida, Jayuya, Manatí, Morovis and Orocovis. Once all the information is gathered, the “Mapa Madre” will be the ideal mechanism to develop strategies to protect the area’s watershed.

As of July 5, 2019, FEMA has obligated about $2.5 million through its Public Assistance program to the Municipality of Ciales, where the community of Toro Negro resides. The funds have reimbursed disaster-related expenses for emergency protective measures and debris removal. These emergency protective measures are actions taken to eliminate or lessen immediate threats either to lives, public health or safety, or significant additional damage to public or private property in a cost-effective manner.  

While this type of aid is essential to recovery, it is communities like Toro Negro that have proven that disasters like Hurricane Maria are no match for empowered community members. 

FEMA Funded Grant Program Teaches Kids Fire Safety

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 10:19
Author:  Jessica Geraci

When the flames started in an LA family’s kitchen, two parents were able to extinguish it with baking soda.  It was a technique their 11-year-old son had taught them only weeks before, after his second MySafe: LA class.  These classes are funded by the Assistance to Firefighters Grants, specifically the Fire Prevention & Safety Grant. 


MySafe: LA was awarded in part to help fund a 3-part fire and life safety training.  The training is intended to spread fire safety awareness, as well as to inspire kids to want to grow up and become firefighters.  When younger students graduate from the training they receive Junior Fire Inspector I.D. cards. 


Another key component to this FEMA funded program is installation of fire alarms.  In just the first 6 months of the program, 5,000 new 10-year fire alarms were installed in houses.  On average, 4 alarms were installed in each 3-bedroom home. More than half of inspected houses had no working alarms, and in those that did, the alarms were more than 10 years old and no longer reliable. 


When the public officers are in homes to conduct inspections and install new 10-year smoke alarms, they also take time to teach any children in the home about basic fire safety steps, including evacuation.  Public officers will get down on their hands and knees and practice the “Get low and go” drill with kids. 


Programs such as these, help to significantly reduce fatalities and injuries caused by fire, especially in the wildfire prone areas of California. 


For more information on Assistance to Firefighters Grants, visit the FEMA website


Pet Preparedness: 10 Items you’ll Need for your Pets Hurricane Emergency Kit

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 09:08
Author:  Jessica Geraci

Amid rushed evacuations, strong winds, and approaching floodwaters of a disaster, chaos often ensues, forcing families to make impossible decisions about the animals that are part of their families.  It’s never easy to leave a pet behind but often, there is no choice. 

These situations may not always be preventable but having a plan in place can give your pets their best chance.  Keep that plan, and the tools needed to implement it, within an emergency kit tailored specifically to your pet. 

Here’s the top 10 items recommended for your kit:

  1. Food. At least a three-day supply in an airtight, waterproof container.
  2. Water. At least three days of water specifically for your pets.
  3. Medicines and medical records.  Most boarding kennels, veterinarians and animal shelters will need your pet's medical records to make sure all vaccinations are current. 
  4. Important documents. Registration information, adoption papers and vaccination documents. Talk to your veterinarian about microchipping and enrolling your pet in a recovery database. 
  5. First aid kit. Cotton bandage rolls, bandage tape and scissors; antibiotic ointment; flea and tick prevention; latex gloves, isopropyl alcohol and saline solution. Including a pet first aid reference book is a good idea too.
  6. Collar or harness with ID tag, rabies tag and a leash.
  7. Crate or pet carrier. Have a sturdy, safe crate or carrier in case you need to evacuate. The carrier should be large enough for your pet to stand, turn around and lie down. 
  8. Sanitation. Pet litter and litter box if appropriate, newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags and household chlorine bleach.
  9. A picture of you and your pet together. If you become separated, a picture of you and your pet together will help you document ownership and allow others to assist you. Add species, breed, age, sex, color and distinguishing characteristics.
  10. Familiar items. Familiar items, such as treats, toys and bedding can help reduce stress for your pet. 

Visit’s Pets and Animals Preparedness page for more information.