20 07 2014

A project of the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management was noted in the June 2014 issue of the Fort Bend/Katy Business Journal magazine.  The Office recently received an award from the Emergency Management Association of Texas (EMAT); the Community Service Award in conjunction with the Arc of Fort Bend County.  EMAT recognized Fort Bend OEM for a project a public outreach tool; “Ready Bingo.”

Kathy Renfrow, Cheryl SewellReady Bingo is a fun and engaging way to teach emergency preparedness using a picture-driven bingo game. Ready Bingo targets a variety of audiences including seniors, children, persons with limited English language proficiency, and individuals with functional and access needs. The Community Service Award honors those who have provided leadership, guidance, facilities, equipment, or support to an emergency management program, a community, or the profession in the furtherance of mitigation, preparedness, response, or recovery activities in the past calendar year.

The Fort Bend County OEM is very proud that Cheryl Sewell and Kathy Renfrow developed the idea for Ready Bingo project which is now utilized across the Houston metropolitan area.  Inquiries about Ready Bingo have been received from other regions of the country also. This really is a result of great cooperation between Kathy and the folks at Ready Houston. Without that partnership and the close working relationships this idea would not have been implemented as successfully.

The Office is committed to communicating with the public in a timely, accurate, and accessible manner.  In particular, Ready Bingo provides an innovative method for sharing preparedness information with the whole Fort Bend County community.





Drought Continues in Texas

18 05 2014
Michael Norris, file/AP  Bottom of Pond near Amarillo Texas

Michael Norris, file/AP Bottom of Pond near Amarillo Texas

We have been fortunate in the Houston region when it comes to rainfall; just recently it was noted that Lake Conroe is finally full for the first time in four years.  However, we are still below the “average” for the year.  So, additional rainfall will be welcome, not only across the State, but in our region also.

How bad is the drought in the southern United States?  The National Weather Service (NWS) and its NOAA partners have released the May 2014 Southern Plains Drought Outlook Summary.  Drought conditions now cover 70% of Texas; and also 70% of Oklahoma and 90% of New Mexico.  Over two-thirds of the region’s winter weather crop is in poor to very poor condition.  Oklahoma’s harvest is project to be the worst since the fifties.

And, here is some good news.  The likelihood of an El Nino event bringing potential drought relief is always a possibility for us in the southern United States.  Experimental guidance from NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences pegs the odds of an El Nino occurring at 80%.

Strategies for drought preparedness focus mainly on water conservation.  Even though we don’t have severe drought issues in Fort Bend County, making water conservation practices a part of your daily life is always a good idea.  Here are some good practices designed to preserve water:

  • Never pour water down the drain when there may be another use for it. For example, use it to water your indoor plants or garden.
  • Repair dripping faucets by replacing washers. One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year.
  • Check all plumbing for leaks and have any leaks repaired by a plumber.
  • Retrofit all household faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors.
  • Install a toilet displacement device to cut down on the amount of water needed to flush. Place a one-gallon plastic jug of water into the tank to displace toilet flow (do not use a brick, it may dissolve and loose pieces may cause damage to the internal parts). Be sure installation does not interfere with the operating parts.
  • Position sprinklers so water lands on the lawn and shrubs and not on paved areas.
    Repair sprinklers that spray a fine mist. Most misting issues result from a pressure problem, properly regulating pressure in an irrigation system will prevent misting.
  • Check sprinkler systems and timing devices regularly to be sure they operate properly.
  • Raise the lawn mower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system, and holds soil moisture.




San Francisco Jet Crash Puts Focus on Rescue Perils

9 08 2013

Fire-AirportsThis item is reprinted from the August 8th edition of the New York Times.  The article was written by Matthew L. Wald and gives a glimpse of the challenges fighting fires at airports.  The recent crash of the Asiana Boeing 777 at San Francisco International Airport on July 6th brought much attention to airport firefighting and rescue operations, especially after the facts seemed to point to one of the passengers being run over by a responding airport fire truck.  As in much of today’s firefighting, approximately 70% of the calls handled by airport fire crews are for medical-related calls for assistance.  But, in addition to being emergency medical technicians, airport firefighting crews also spend time being drilled on the proper firefighting techniques for each of the many models of airplanes.  In the article below, Mr. Wald gives you a glimpse into some of the complexities of emergency response at airports.

The firehouse near the end of Logan Airport’s Runway 14 is home to the pride and joy of the airport’s rescue and firefighting team: Engine 3, a 1,000-horsepower, four-wheel-drive behemoth with thermal imaging and a radar screen, its body painted a special color, Boston Lime Green.

Acquired in 2010 for $1.3 million, Engine 3 will soon be joined by two more high-tech trucks as Logan plays catch-up with the challenges of fighting fires on today’s bigger and more sophisticated planes.

“When the bell rings, you’ve got to be ready,” said Edward C. Freni, Logan’s director of aviation.

But fire trucks can present their own dangers, fire experts say. The crash of a Boeing 777 at San Francisco International on July 6, and the fact that one of the three passengers who died was run over by a fire truck, has drawn new attention to airport firefighting like the kind at Logan.

Although there will not be a definitive explanation of how the passenger died until an investigation is completed by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is reviewing onboard videos, reports circulating among firefighters indicate that at San Francisco, one fire truck pulled up near the airplane’s nose and started spraying foam. A second truck arrived later, forward of the right wing, and ran over the passenger, who was likely covered in foam.

“They’re responding with very large trucks capable of delivering 3,000 gallons of water with fire suppressant in a matter of a few seconds,” said George Doughty, a former airport manager and former official at the Federal Aviation Administration. A passenger flat on the pavement could quickly be obscured by foam, he said, and “the risk of hitting a survivor is very real.” A passenger could even be drowned, he said.

Officials in San Francisco have not said whether the passenger, a 16-year-old Chinese girl, was still living at the time she was struck. Two other passengers on that Asiana flight were also killed.

Presuming that trucks reach a burning plane without mishap, there are other snap judgments to be made, firefighters said. For example, some trucks carry a boom with a tip resembling a giant hypodermic needle that can penetrate the fuselage and squirt the fire-suppressing foam. The most likely use is on a cargo plane, but they could be used on a passenger plane, perhaps even before firefighters are sure that all the passengers have gotten out. Firefighters are trained to punch a hole near the crown of the fuselage, avoiding the overhead luggage bins and entering at an angle to reduce the chance of spearing a passenger.

Quick action is essential, fire experts say, because modern planes like the Boeing 787 are increasingly made of carbon fiber, which burns faster than the traditional aluminum and produces more toxic smoke.

In big crashes, firefighters have to handle multiple levels of chaos. “There is an active fire, debris on the runway and persons evacuating the aircraft,” said Duane Kann, the fire chief at the Orlando airport. The driver might be alone, and the trucks have extra equipment, including a Forward-Looking Infra-Red camera, known as Flir, for finding fires in poor visibility.

“There’s the Flir, looking for hot spots, and he’s listening to the radio,” Chief Kann said. “There’s a lot of things happening in the cab of that vehicle.”

Airport firefighters are drilled on different models of airplanes and sometimes travel to distant airports to do so. Manufacturers like Boeing issue special instructions for each model and give the locations of critical items like batteries.

Firefighting strategies also differ by the size of the plane. Larger aircraft are usually taller, with longer evacuation slides, so firefighters are trained to park their trucks further away to avoid interference.

The F.A.A. requires fire equipment appropriate to the types of planes at an airport, but it does not specify staffing levels. In 2009, a United Nations aviation organization and the National Fire Protection Association began a campaign to impose such standards and require that crews be able to reach a crash scene in two minutes.

But a National Academy of Sciences panel that studied the idea said that it would cost $2.8 billion to set up and $1.3 billion a year thereafter. Reviewing government reports of accidents from January 1997 to December 2007, the study found that the tougher standards “may have made a difference in the outcome for at most one individual.”

Fire-Airports-AsianaThe philosophy at Logan is to be prepared for the worst but to respond proportionately. In January after an American Airlines MD-80 landed with a wheel on fire, the rescue crew, using thermal imaging and communicating with the cockpit crew over a special channel, persuaded the captain not to use the emergency chutes and to wait for a truck with attached stairs to pull up.

“We averted a needless evacuation,” said Robert J. Donahue Jr., the fire chief. Whenever the slides are used, he said, “at least 10 percent of the passenger load is going to be injured, some very seriously.”

The accidents do not have to be dramatic to require high-tech tools. Again, in January at Logan, a mechanic smelled smoke on a Japan Airlines 787 parked at a gate. Firefighters went quickly to the electronics bay, but it was so filled with smoke that they had to use a thermal imaging camera to find the source, a lithium-ion battery that had caught fire.

Much of the work of airport firefighters remains everyday calls. At the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Mich., Robert W. Benstein, the public safety and operations director, said that the firefighters were also emergency medical technicians.

“Seventy percent of our calls are probably medical-related,” Mr. Benstein said. “Somebody tips over luggage in the terminal, or spills hot coffee on themselves, or there’s a car accident.”

The San Francisco accident and Engine 3 notwithstanding, crashes at airports are still so rare that firefighters say they try to prepare themselves for the real thing by watching crash videos on YouTube.





Disaster readiness may be at risk, Florida warns

27 07 2013

As noted in this article, Florida’s top emergency manager is concerned that federal budget cuts have degraded the ability of the federal government to respond to disasters.  The Florida, maparticle below was published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on July 23, 2013.   The author of the article is William E. Gibson, a reporter from the newspaper’s Washington Bureau.  Given the fact that we are in the middle of the 2014 Hurricane Season, it is hoped that Mr. Koon’s fears do not come to true.

State officials are sounding the alarm that federal budget cuts have depleted the line of defense against powerful storms just when Florida faces the busiest part of hurricane season.

If disaster bears down on Florida, National Guardsmen are prepared to rush in with high-water vehicles, helicopters and emergency equipment to help rescue stricken residents and stranded motorists.

But Bryan Koon, Florida’s top emergency manager, fears that federal resources will be drained if the state faces a repeat of 2004 and 2005, when six hurricanes and several tropical storms ripped through the state. The 2013 hurricane season is forecast to be stormier than normal, and August to October is usually the busiest part.

“My concern is not necessarily with the first storm. It’s not with the life-saving things that will happen in the first 24 or 48 hours,” said Koon. “But if we have multiple storms, if we have a longer-term event, they will not have the flexibility, or the manpower, to deal with that kind of situation.”

Federal budget cuts, known as a sequester, have forced about 1,000 Florida National Guard members to take 11 furlough days — unpaid time off — through September.

It also lopped $1 billion from the nation’s disaster relief fund. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency says the remaining $10.2 billion should be enough to deal with disasters through the fiscal year ending in September.

FEMA workers have been spared from furloughs, but a hiring slowdown left the agency with hundreds of vacant jobs nationwide. The sequester also pinched state and local disaster preparedness grants.

“If there is a hurricane, we may have issues getting equipment ready because of the lost time and effort,” said Lt. Col. James Evans, of the Florida National Guard. “We can still support the governor and the state the way we always have, but now we may need extra time to get from one part of Florida to another in the midst of a crisis.”

The Florida National Guard already is backlogged while restoring 6,000 pieces of equipment returned from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Equipment that can be used for disaster duty includes Humvees, helicopters and trucks with a high wheelbase that can ford several feet of water.

“Last year, during Tropical Storm Debby, we used their high-water vehicles to go out and get folks that we were unable to get to otherwise,” Koon said. “They can help us distribute food, water and ice after an event. During some of the older storms, when Florida wanted to get schools open, they trained National Guardsmen to be bus drivers.”

The sequester also has reduced disaster training time for about 10,000 part-time Guardsmen, sometimes called weekend warriors. Gov. Rick Scott warned Florida’s U.S. senators the cuts will strain personnel and resources “critical to preventing the loss of life or property in the event of disaster.”

A delay in moving equipment, Scott said, “means that our state’s timetable for pre-positioning resources and supplies must be significantly altered — at an even greater cost to the state, to say nothing of the impact on public safety.”

Another budget battle looms this fall, and failure to resolve it could extend the cuts another year.

“If the sequester doesn’t go away in next year’s budget, we may be looking at 22 furlough days next year,” said Evans. “That will keep compounding over the years as long as the sequester remains in effect.”





Hints for Surviving Extreme Heat

26 07 2013

We are facing typical Texas heat this summer. Here are some hints, from FEMA, on how to better cope with the high temperatures we are facing in Fort Bend County and the greater Houston region.  Temperatures are rising across the country and many cities are feeling the heat of 100 degrees or more. With the addition of humidity, some areas will begin to experience extreme heat. During extreme heat, it is important to stay cool.
extreme_heat

Extreme heat causes more deaths than hurricanes, tornados, floods and earthquakes combined. Heat related illnesses occur when the body is not able to compensate and properly cool itself.

The great news is extreme heat is preventable by following a few tips:
• Listen to local weather forecasts and stay aware of upcoming temperatures.
• Weather strip doors and windows to keep cool air in.
• Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sunshine with drapes, shades or awnings.
• Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty.
• Stay indoors. If you do not have air conditioning, visit a cooling station such as your local library or shopping mall.
• Wear light weight and light colored clothing with sunscreen to reduce exposure to the sun.
• Do not leave children or pets in the car unattended at any time.
• Pace yourself in your outside activities. Reschedule if needed.

For more information on beating the heat visit: http://www.ready.gov/heat





Texas People Recovering In Spite of Devastating Events (PRIDE)

19 07 2013

This website was established by the Texas Department of State Health Services in order to promote the disaster crisis counseling outreach services provided in response to the 2005 hurricanes. Disaster survivors’ stories are included, as well as sample fact sheets and a project newsletter. The site also has a corresponding Spanish language page. Texas PRIDE was reactivated in response to the 2011 wildfires in Bastrop, Texas, and it can be reactivated at any time if a disaster response is needed in the state. This website has a toggle button, at the upper right side of the site, which allows viewers to see the website in Spanish.

Website and More Information http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/mhsa/pride





FEMA selects TEEX to provide training for response teams

14 07 2013

The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) will provide training for all of the Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) and National US&R Response System, following being awarded a contract by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The training will be provided at various locations throughout the country and at TEEX’s Disaster City® training facility in College Station. The one-year contract with option for four additional years totals $9.8 million. This contract marks the first time that FEMA has combined course delivery with curriculum services and an online training portal in a single contract.

“Being selected for this contract will allow us to provide the outstanding training and technical services that we are known for around the world,” said Robert Moore (pictured), division director for TEEX. TEEX has provided training for urban search and rescue teams globally since 1997.

The FEMA National US&R Response System is comprised of 28 different US&R teams from across the country, all of which receive standardized training in the tactics of urban search and rescue. In addition to delivering US&R courses, TEEX will also be responsible for developing new courses, updating course curriculum and deploying an online Training Portal and Learning Management System for the national FEMA US&R System.








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