It only takes one storm, one flash flood, or one inch of water to cause significant damage to a home or business. September marks National Preparedness Month – a reminder to all of us that we need to be prepared for unexpected disasters and emergencies that can strike at any time. One of the most important steps you can take to prepare for the next storm is to purchase flood insurance.
One year ago, this month, Hurricane Florence released record-breaking rain on the Carolinas and much of the Southeastern United States. The powerful storm dropped up to 35 inches of rain on eastern North Carolina alone, causing flash floods throughout the region. Florence survivors Tony and Rita Morello of New Bern, North Carolina lost everything, but they were prepared with flood insurance.
After the storm, it took Tony and Rita Morello days to get back to their home from a family reunion in Georgia. When the couple finally arrived, they discovered that everything in their home had been destroyed. The Morellos were left with nothing but the items in their suitcases and the clothes on their backs. The realization was devastating, yet the Morellos knew they had a flood insurance policy that would allow them to recover, rebuild, and get back to their routine.
As we know all too well at FEMA, disasters happen every day. National Preparedness Month is an opportunity for all residents to take simple steps today to reduce the impact of storms tomorrow:
- Create a family emergency plan and talk to your children about what to do during a disaster.
- Get involved with community preparedness efforts and sign up for alerts and warnings in your area.
- Learn your evacuation zone.
- Build a preparedness kit or “go-bag” with water, food, medications, clothing, and critical financial, medical, and legal documents.
- Speak with your insurance agent to renew your policy or visit FloodSmart.gov to purchase a new flood insurance policy.
Flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States. Purchasing or renewing flood insurance is one of the most important steps you can take to financially prepare for a disaster. Most homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies do not cover flood damage, and just one inch of water in the average-sized home can cause more than $25,000 in damage. Insured residents, like the Morellos, can recover quicker and more fully from a flood than their uninsured neighbors.
Preparedness makes us more resilient as a nation, and it starts with you: individuals, families, and communities, taking the right steps to protect the life you’ve built.
National Preparedness Month is every September when we focus on preparing ourselves, our families, and our communities for the disasters and emergencies that can happen where we live, work, and visit. This month we encourage everyone to take actions that will make us better prepared to reduce the impact of disasters. The 2019 theme is: “Prepared, Not Scared,” and focuses on teaching children the importance of preparedness.
Over the last two years, emergencies and natural disasters have tested us as a nation. We have responded to unprecedented hurricanes and wildfires as well as flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other unexpected, perilous events. As emergency managers we know that our efforts will be most successful if the public is prepared.
Disasters affect everyone, so it takes everyone to help prepare. This includes making sure our children are prepared. Ask your child’s school and child care providers about how you’ll be reconnected with your children in the event of an evacuation. Talk to your kids about what to do in a disaster. This can be a tricky conversation to navigate but using the resources available on Ready.gov/kids can make it easier to talk through the topic.
Preparedness starts with having an emergency plan. An essential part of this is ensuring you are financially prepared. To start, keep emergency cash at home to have on hand if you need to leave your home quickly. Start an emergency or rainy-day fund to cover unexpected disaster costs that include food, water, hotel, gas, and insurance deductibles; this can help stem the impact of lost income. Sticking to a budget can be hard but saving even a small amount can make the difference during recovery. Also, take steps to protect your personal finances. By collecting, copying, and storing your financial information now, it could help you avoid problems and recover faster after a disaster. Use and share this checklist with friends and loved ones to make sure you have the information and documents you need.
Before a disaster occurs, be sure to check your homeowner’s or renter’s policies to ensure adequate coverage. This includes making sure you have flood insurance, which is typically not covered by homeowner’s insurance. Just an inch of water can cause more than $25,000 of damage to your home.
Another important step is developing a family emergency communications plan, designating an out-of-town person to serve as a contact for all family members to reconnect. Establish a family meeting place that’s familiar and easy to find. And sign up for First Aid and CPR training so that you know what to do if a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker needs your help. Life-threatening emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye, and emergency responders may be minutes away, when seconds count. You may be able to save a life by taking simple actions immediately.
While we may not know when or where a disaster could strike, taking steps to be prepared can reduce the impacts to you and your family. Go to Ready.gov to learn more.
As the storm track and severity of Hurricane Dorian changes, it’s important for those in its forecasted path to stay alert to the dangers it could bring.
Pay attention to the forecast in your area, and be prepared to follow guidance from local officials. You may be ordered to evacuate with little notice. Be ready to leave, have a plan for where you will go.
Areas in the storm’s path include Florida, southeastern Georgia and the Carolinas. Impacted areas could experience life-threatening storm surge, dangerous winds and significant infrastructure damage in the coming days. This could include damage to power, water and road systems.
The window of time to prepare is rapidly closing, so don’t wait to finalize your storm preparations.
- In Florida, download the FL511 mobile app for updated road and traffic conditions on evacuation routes. You can visit floridadisaster.org for information on emergency preparedness, shelters, road closures and evacuation routes. In Georgia, visit GEMA.Georgia.gov for evacuation or storm updates. In South Carolina, download the SC Emergency Manager mobile app. In North Carolina download the ReadyNC mobile app.
- Download the FEMA app (in English or Spanish) for directions to open shelters, a customizable checklist of emergency supplies, disaster survival tips, and weather alerts from the National Weather Service.
- Visit Ready.gov for more information on what you can do ahead of this dangerous storm.
FEMA and its federal, state, local, tribal partners will continue to dedicate resources and staff until this storm is no longer a threat to our country.
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.
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.
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.