So what is the deal with the 2010 Hurricane Season?

20 08 2010

Everybody was told this Spring that this would be one very busy hurricane season—- perhaps rivaling 2005 which brought us Katrina and Rita.  However, not much as happened this year.  Alex formed early and seemed to be right in line with the predictions.  But then Bonnie fizzled as it made landfall and Colin died almost as soon as it formed.  So what is the deal?  Are we out of the woods?  Or are we about to be slammed by hurricane threat after hurricane threat during September and October?  Recent article by Eric Berger in the Houston Chronicle gives us a glimpse into the hurricane possibilities over the next two to three months.  His article ran in the August 18th edition of the newspaper:

Slow Hurricane Season May Quicken

The peak of hurricane season is nigh, but glancing about the tropics one would hardly know it.  So far the Atlantic season has missed the fevered expectations of forecasters who predicted this year might become one of the most active on record.  It’s been 11 days since weak little Tropical Storm Colin died in the deep Atlantic, a long stretch to pass without a storm in mid-August.

Although the tropics remain quiet for now, there are indications that may soon change, with the season’s first major hurricane potentially developing next week.  “Some models are indicating as many as three storms will develop over the next few weeks,” said Chris Hebert, lead hurricane forecaster for Impact Weather, a Houston-based private forecasting service.

“Several of these are predicted to be strong hurricanes by the models. I think that this will really be the start of the hurricane season.”

The 2010 season began in late June with a bang.  Alex, which struck Mexico, became the first Category 2 hurricane to develop in June during the Atlantic hurricane season since 1966.  But since then it’s been incredibly quiet out there, with only two minimal tropical storms.  Historically, for a normal season with 10 or 11 named storms, we’d expect to have had three by now.

Another measure of seasonal activity is accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE, which essentially sums up total storm activity across a basin. During a normal hurricane season the ACE value is around 100. Before the season began the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an ACE value of around 210 this year.

It’s still early in the season — most of the strongest hurricanes come in late August, September and early October – but the 2010 season’s present ACE value of 10.7 is still 50 percent below a normal year at this time, according to Ryan Maue, who recently received his doctorate in meteorology at Florida State.

Hebert attributed the season’s sluggish start to a strong ridge of high pressure over the eastern U.S. for much of the summer. In addition to giving Houston its warmest start to August ever, the ridge generally has brought sinking air across the western Atlantic Basin, and sinking air makes it hard for storms to develop.

As cool fronts begin pushing into the northern United States, however, the ridge is weakening, Hebert said. In the tropical Pacific Ocean La Niña is strengthening as predicted, which also favors storm development.  And finally, sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic where most storms develop remain at record levels, even higher than during the record 2005 season.

“So there is a tremendous amount of heat energy available,” Hebert said.

Hebert said instead of initial predictions of 18 named storms and an ACE value of 200, more realistic predictions with the season’s slow start are 15 named storms and an ACE value around 150.  At present forecasters are watching a tropical wave in the central Caribbean Sea, which isn’t expected to develop, and a vigorous tropical wave coming off the African coast.  Some models forecast this wave to become an intense hurricane next week, although it appears increasingly likely the system will turn north into the open Atlantic.

For Houston, time is running out to see a hurricane strike this year.  Although hurricane season does not officially end until Nov. 30, the state of Texas has been hit by a hurricane just three times in the past 150 years after Sept. 24.

So, bottom line, keep monitoring the tropics.  Make sure you have a plan and you have an emergency kit.  Be ready!

Fugate Says FEMA Is Reevaluating Future Of CERT

19 08 2010

From John Solomon and his Blog—- “In Case of Emergency, Read Blog:  A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness; posted on his site on August 18, 2010:

In response to a question from the audience at the Red Cross Emergency Social Data Summit last week, Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate mentioned that the agency is doing some serious rethinking about the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program as it approaches its 25th Anniversary.

The questioner urged Fugate to move CERT from the Department of Homeland Security to FEMA’s jurisdiction. Fugate  was able to answer, with smile, “Done,” noting that he now oversees the program which trains citizen teams to assist during emergencies. That answer was easy. However, Fugate knows that determining and then making the necessary changes in CERT to make it most useful for FEMA, local authorities, the citizen volunteers and the nation will not be as simple.

Fugate said that FEMA is considering major changes in the program, including creating a shorter training course which could be offered to more Americans and significantly expanding CERT training for schools and other youth groups in order to better imbed preparedness into society for the long-term.

The CERT program faces a good news/bad news situation, according to Fugate. There are just not enough emergencies in which the civilian teams can take part in. Without activity, it is difficult to keep the citizen volunteers energized, interested and trained.

“Here’s the problem,” he explained, “People say I’ve taken all this training and there are no disasters. Well that’s good thing.” Maybe for the nation as a whole but not for the strength of the CERT program.

FEMA and local emergency management officials have to answer, in Fugate’s words, “a perennial question we run into: after CERT training, what’s next?”

And more importantly what’s next for the CERT program as a whole?

As Fugate correctly diagnoses, there is need for some changes in the program. Right now, in most places there is just not enough work for CERT’s to do. It is a theme that I also hear from members around the nation who contact me through the blog, and I see from my own experience as a CERT here in New York City.

But while CERT teams are not getting enough business, Fugate is bullish about a larger market for preparedness training among the general public.

“We’re looking if there are ways we can take the CERT training and break it up. A lot of [business and social] groups have approached us and said we think this is really great but attention span of our audience won’t get you there. [At present, the CERT training is 20 hours, usually taught over 10 weeks.] But if you could give us 2-4 hours and we could give you our group what could you put together for us in that time that would empower and train people not necessary not to the level of CERT.”

From my experience both serving and reporting on CERT, the idea of spreading its resources out more broadly through the community for adults and kids makes a lot of sense.

One question is how the government should organize this new horizontal model of citizen preparedness training. What should stay under CERT? Should these new ideas (shorter training for adults, kids) be put in another high profile civilian volunteer preparedness or resilience program?

I’ve always felt that CERT training is less about the skills you learn and more about awareness about the community and the various emergency authorities (and identifying citizen crisis organizers in advance). To me, CERT is just basic citizenship training for the 21st Century, which I think every American should get a chance to receive. I might suggest that the smaller reduced curriculum be called something along the lines of “Citizen Resilience Training”.

The overarching philosophy of CERT is terrific: take advantage of citizen’s desire to want to help in crises and their ability to be useful. I believe that interest is even more robust since 9/11, Katrina and with other threats on the horizon. (The rapid  growth of the CrisisCommons citizen technology initiative over the past year is just one example of how much public interest there is to assist in emergency situations.)

An extensive survey done by the Citizen Corps (which oversees the CERT program) found that almost two-thirds (64%) of Americans say they would be willing to take a 20-hour training class to assist their community recover from disasters. The 64% figure was striking to me, because it points out an interest of many Americans to become more knowledgeable in emergency preparedness/response. That’s not to say that two-thirds of the population want to join the CERT program, but it does seem to indicate that a lot of Americans would be amenable to some sort of disaster education/training — particularly it was held in their workplace, house of worship, social club, etc.

Now, there are some communities around the U.S. where CERT teams are more fully engaged with activities than others. When I asked readers  last month for their thoughts on CERT, Paul Garth from an Ojai, California team said it was up to the members themselves to go out and find things to do, which his group had. To some extent, Garth is right that CERTs themselves should try to develop ideas, but it can also be difficult because they are usually dependent on government emergency officials.

One question is whether the expectations for CERT service be more clearly delineated. There are no ‘cuts’ for anyone who passes the training, and then there are some members who go to every meeting and assignment and others who never show up. It can be difficult to keep a cohesive, engaged group going when some of the team — particularly when it involves sensitive emergency activities — are not fully committed.

It might make sense to have a better-trained CERT civilian group along the lines of another Citizen Corps program, Medical Reserve Corps, which is comprised of volunteer medical personnel. That might make government officials more comfortable in integrating CERT volunteers into its activities like a police auxiliary.

Fugate’s idea of broadening CERT-type training may be most useful when it comes to a younger generation. He believes that if the nation really wants to change social behavior on preparedness it needs to do so with the younger generation — who are not only more impressible than adults but are more likely to influence their parents and will also have a more long-term influence.

It would also be an opportunity to include preparedness into the curriculum in the schools where Fugate believes a culture of preparedness has the best chance of becoming imbedded. One useful historical model is the commitment to school-based fire education after the 1974 publication of the national “America Burning” report. In some cases, youth preparedness/CERT training can piggy back on these existing classroom programs.

Fugate mentioned that there are some excellent CERT programs for young people in parts of the nation. I recently wrote about interesting youth initiatives sponsored by READYColorado and the Colorado Division of Emergency Management, including the creation of a teenage ‘Social Media Response Team’ to help the authorities and the public during disasters. Eastern Michigan University has also taken leadership in developing Teen CERT programs in a number of states

I believe that a decision to expand CERT-type training in the schools would be welcomed on a bipartisan basis. In an interview I did with former Bush Administration Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last year he agreed that a key to creating a long-term prepared nation is to focus on schools and kids. In the discussion, he sketched out two suggestions  – a “minimum” and a “maximum” approach. The “minimum” would be “to get the fire management and emergency management people to come together to create a program to be exported to the schools on basic preparation.”

Chertoff’s “maximum” option is that there be a more substantive course developed for U.S. schools on planning and preparation, which would include teaching “basic skills”. It would almost serve as a very limited albeit useful national basic training.

“If you’re not going to have a national service then as part of graduation from high school there should be a course over a period of time that teaches you the kind of basic things you might need in an emergency,” Chertoff says, adding “It’s going to do two things. It’s going to create a cadre of more capable people, but it is also going to demystify the process of preparation. Most people are intimidated that they don’t know how to do it. They’re afraid of being embarrassed.”

As FEMA officials examine what to do with CERT going forward, I imagine they will be undertaking an analysis of the future need and demand. Though it is a very well-intentioned idea — and I have really enjoyed and learned from my CERT work — there may well be that there a limit to what moderately trained part-time volunteers can really do in the official emergency services world. Maybe the bulk of CERT volunteers who are willing to commit just to the basic training and limited participation would be better to be transferred to the disaster services unit of Red Cross chapters from around the U.S.. which is busier with fires and local emergencies.

I recommend that FEMA  should also reach out to some CERT team leaders/members in communities around the U.S. as government officials do not always know what is going on within the CERT teams. To me, civilian CERT members can best serve the community by being, in Fugate’s words, preparedness “ambassadors” providing information and guidance to their neighbors. When it comes to citizen preparedness, there is a real need for explanation and modeling, and CERT members can be hugely helpful in part as emergency management offices don’t always have the time always the inclination to do so. Further, the growth of social media platforms underscore the value of friend-to-friend, peer-to-peer education both before and during emergencies.

I received a thoughtful e-mail last year from the State of Florida’s former CERT coordinator Bill Firestone who served under Fugate in which he elaborates on the value of the “ambassador” role.

While it’s very unlikely that most CERTers will participate in a mass casualty triage or perform in pairs in fire suppression, CERTers will talk to their neighbor, participate in their children’s schools, attend neighborhood activities. Consequently, they can reach out to people that government and non-profit preparedness messages cannot reach or it is too expensive.

In my role as a “CERTer”, here in Florida, I am reaching out to neighbors and talking to them about the network of non-profits in disaster and the importance of knowing what services and assistance they can provide before and after disaster. Here in hurricane-prone Florida I have begun to send along the url for information about the importance of completing an SBA loan application and how that is tied to receiving additional disaster assistance. Most of my neighbors that have incurred damages to their house have been told about the low-interest loans following disaster, but not aware of the other benefits to completing the application.

Fort Bend Seniors Meals on Wheels provides Cooling Center to beat heat

17 08 2010

Day upon day of Heat Advisories have been issued for Fort Bend County.  No sign of the heat letting up.  Article today in Fort Bend Herald noting how one of our local non-profit agencies is assisting those who have a difficult time finding a cool place during this heat wave.  The article is below:

As the summer heat continues, the need to stay cool becomes all the more important, especially for the elderly.  To get out of the heat, Fort Bend Seniors Meals on Wheels provides a Cooling Center for those with no place to go during the hot summer months.  And for those that cannot get to the location, Fort Bend County Public Transportation can help them get there.

The Cooling Center is located at the Fort Bend Seniors Meals on Wheels, 1330 Band Road in Rosenberg , just behind the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds off of Highway 36.  The building is open from 8 am – 5 pm, Monday- Friday, and it is air conditioned. The Cooling Centers also provides water fountains and leisure activities (cards, board games) for those who visit.

If anyone needs assistance getting to and from the Cooling Center please take advantage of Fort Bend Transit Services.  Fort Bend County currently offers shared ride bus services to the citizens of Fort Bend County.  The scheduled ride transportation service provides trips within Fort Bend County.

Trip fares are $1 per person each way. Passengers must be ready 15 minutes before scheduled pick up time.  This is a curb-to-curb service; however, persons with disabilities may request door-to-door service.  All passengers must wear seat restraints. Seat restraints must be provided for children 40 pounds or less. Passengers 12 years or younger must be accompanied by another person 18 years or older.  For more information please call 281-633-RIDE or 866-751-TRIP.

For those who can’t get to the Cooling Center and don’t have air conditioning, here are some tips to stay cool:

• Just add water: Ball up and soak a T-shirt in the sink, wring it out, put it on and sit in a lawn chair (or other chair that lets air through to you) in front of a fan. Re-wet as it dries. Make sure not to soak it with cold water. It can be colder than you think. Wear a short-sleeved shirt and put water on the sleeves. If there is a breeze or fan blowing on you, you can actually get cold.  Use a squirt bottle, the sink or hose if outside to keep your sleeves wet.

• Dress for the heat: Wear light colors and natural fabrics (cotton, silk, linen) rather than polyester, rayon, or other artificial fibers.  Covering up may actually keep your cooler, especially if the heat is low in humidity.  By protecting your skin from the sun beating down, you’ll also shade your skin.

• Go downstairs: Warm air is less dense than cooler air so it ends up layered on top of the downward moving cooler air.  If you’re in a house, for example, get lower than the roof. Make your way to the basement or lower level. It will be cooler there.

United States Coast Guard is 220 Years Old Today

4 08 2010

Admiral Robert J Papp, 24th Commandant of the Coast Guard issued a message today in recognition of the 220th Birthday of the United States Coast Guard.  His message, as printed in the Coast Guard Compass (August 4, 2010):

Today, as it is our custom, we celebrate on the 4th day of August, the anniversary of the establishment of our Service.

The creation of the Revenue Cutter Service closely followed the birth of our Nation. Two hundred and twenty years ago today, or only fourteen years after the date of the Declaration of Independence, President George Washington signed an act of the First Congress providing for the creation of the Revenue Cutter Service.

While I could use this opportunity to recognize the outstanding work of our Active Duty, Reserve, Civilian and Auxiliary members over the past year in Haiti, Deepwater Horizon and across our many missions, I choose instead to honor your outstanding performance by using this occasion to reflect upon what it means to be a Coast Guardsman.

As Coast Guard men and women, we share a bond of pride in our rich heritage and a common purpose to uphold our honorable traditions.

We are defined by unsung heroism and selfless service. We defend our Nation. We risk our lives to save others. We give our utmost when cold, wet and tired. Countless times, we have extended our arm down into the water to rescue those in peril from the sea. We will unhesitatingly extend that same arm to help a shipmate in need.

Coast Guardsmen are always ready. We perform our security, humanitarian and environmental response missions with an unrelenting sense of pride. When disaster strikes, whether natural or manmade, we are first on scene. We are often the last to depart.

Coast Guardsmen are agile, adaptable and multi-missioned. Born as revenue cuttermen, lighthouse keepers, steamboat inspectors and surfmen, we have expanded to meet the maritime needs of our Nation. We are still the keepers of the lights, but we also now patrol far more distant waters. We readily go wherever there are important, difficult and dangerous maritime duties to be performed.

Coast Guardsmen are shipmates; they are family. Though our Service has grown, it is still small enough that we know our shipmates by name. We follow their careers. Their successes and achievements are a matter of interest and pride to the entire Service. This reason is also why it cuts deep when we lose a shipmate. We assemble to carry out the manners of our profession, to grieve their loss and honor their service, and we collectively feel the sorrow. This year has been no exception. We know their names. We know our lost shipmates and we miss them. As the Coast Guardsman’s creed states, we revere that long line of expert seamen who by their devotion to duty and sacrifice of self have made it possible for us to be a member of a Service honored and respected, in peace and in war, throughout the world.

This is our chosen profession. This is our way. This is what we do. We are privileged to be members of a very unique Service that, due to our collection of missions, and legacy agencies, sometimes defies logic when someone attempts to classify us, or to place a label on us. For this reason, whenever I am asked to describe what I am, I always reply with pride, I am a Coast Guardsman. We are the men and women of the United States Coast Guard, past and present.

On this Coast Guard day, and for the many that will follow, we will continue to faithfully serve. Stand a taut watch.

Semper Paratus,

Admiral Bob Papp

Weston Lakes Implements Door Tag System

1 08 2010

As reported on KTRK, Channel 13, on July 31, 2010:

In Fort Bend County, the city of Weston Lakes has a new way to protect people in emergency situations.  Each homeowner is receiving a door tag. On one side it says, ‘We’re OK.’ On the other side, it signals a need for help.  There are about 900 homes in Weston Lakes and many of them are retirees. If there’s a hurricane or another emergency situation, a small group of volunteers will go out and check on homeowners.