Ike aid slips away as House fails to grant extension

30 09 2010

As reported by Harvey Rice, Houston Chronicle, September 30, 2010……….

Scores of social service agencies will stop offering health, counseling, transportation, housing and other services today to Hurricane Ike victims after the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass a bill extending the deadline for Texas to use $94 million in unspent federal disaster funds.

“All the availability of the services will stop,” said Joe Compian, a board member for Gulf Coast Interfaith who lobbied feverishly for the legislation. Social service agencies will begin laying off employees today, Compian said.

A Senate bill to extend the deadline introduced by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn passed by unanimous consent late Wednesday and was sent to the House where it was expected to pass by unanimous consent as well.

But U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said that the Republican leadership in the House killed the bill by saying that they hadn’t had time to read it. “I am absolutely surprised about that,” Jackson Lee said, because the bill had bipartisan support.

The bill would have extended for one year the Sept. 30 expiration of a one-year social services block grant. Both houses adjourned early Thursday and are unlikely to return until after the Nov. 2 election.

Jackson Lee said she would urge Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to take administrative action to keep money flowing to Texas social service agencies until the House could reconvene. The House Democratic leadership is committed to taking up the issue again, she said.

“The main thing I want to give the community is hope,” Jackson Lee said.

Cornyn’s office said Texas would lose $94 million in unspent social security block grant funds. The money was part of a $600 million grant in 2009 to help disaster afflicted states, including Missouri, Illinois and Louisiana.

But social service agencies complained that red tape at federal and state levels kept them from receiving the money for six months, so they only had six months to spend the one-year grant.

Social service agencies also complain that the deadline falls just as the need for services is increasing. They said deadlines for similar grants to Hurricane Katrina affected areas were routinely extended.

Twelve counties in the Houston area received about $94 million. Social service agencies in Galveston and Brazoria counties, hard-hit by Ike, banded together and received about $33 million in social service block grants.

FEMA Considers Changes to CERT

28 09 2010

Carol McKenna recently wrote an article, “Local Programs Adapt as FEMA Considers Changes to CERT,” for Emergency Management magazine.  The article was published on September 23, 2010 and provided thoughts from Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)  Coordinators across the Country on what changes might be good for the program.  The text of that article is found below, but let me take this opportunity to tell you what has been going on in Fort Bend County related to CERT.

Shauna Evans, the County’s CERT Coordinator, reports to me that the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management has trained over 400 citizens since implementing its training program in 2007.  Seven classes have been completed this year – including one in Stafford; two in the Fulshear/Weston Lakes/Simonton area; three in Sugar Land; and one in the Andover Farms/Fresno area.

As noted in the McKenna article, making preparedness training available and relevant to teenagers needs to be an important goal of furthering CERT Program growth.  Fort Bend County OEM agrees.  In December 2009, in conjunction with Lamar Consolidated Independent School District, a Teen CERT class of 23 was graduated.  In April of 2010, Shauna awarded graduation certificates to 16 Boy Scouts from Sugar Land.  Shauna and the County Emergency Operations Center recently hosted 63 Boy Scouts and leaders for an evening of preparedness information; an overview of the EOC’s capabilities; and an introduction to what CERT is all about.

Shauna is currently planning training and events for 2011.  If you are interested in learning more about the County’s CERT Program, please respond to this blog entry or feel free to contact Shauna at 281-342-6185.

Carol McKenna Article:

As FEMA considers changes to the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, local coordinators offer their own solutions. 

At the Red Cross Emergency Social Data Summit on Aug. 12, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said the agency was looking at ways to use CERT to increase the level of disaster preparedness education in the United States.

Fugate said he’s looking at increasing the relevancy of CERT training for young adults and high school students. “We’re also looking at are there ways we can take the CERT training and break it down, because a lot of groups have approached us said, ‘We think this is really great, but the attention span of our audience won’t get you there,’” he said.

The agency is looking at ways of implementing disaster preparedness education into the curriculum of the nation’s schools. “[The] Red Cross and others have built tremendous tool kits for children in the public schools and private school systems to begin that process early. But it’s not very consistent across this country,” Fugate said. “And I think, in any social context of trying to change behavior across a community over the long term, we know that if you’re not talking to different groups — particularly focusing on children when they are willing and impressionable on these issues — it’s hard to come in after we’re adults and talk about this stuff.”

On the Ground

Asked about what the federal government could do to improve the program, local CERT leaders pointed to the need for increased funding to continue training programs and equip volunteers, and an updated curriculum including an advanced module for students who complete the initial training.

Carol Willis, a Teen CERT coordinator from Sacramento who participated in the summit webcast, said national preparedness curriculum standards would benefit area students. “Teen CERT is good because it reaches some of the students in the schools, but it doesn’t reach all of them, and I really think there needs to be something that every student gets,” Willis said. “They may not be responders, but hopefully they wouldn’t panic and they would know what to do. And that is all we can ask of everybody is to be aware of what to do in a disaster.”

According to a CERT website, Teen CERT is taught to teenagers in high schools and the community. It also will help school safety teams during an emergency or disaster that affects the school.

Even schools that implement Teen CERT into the curriculum can find sustaining the program challenging. “What I’m finding that happens is that the teacher that teaches it then goes to another district or goes somewhere else and nobody picks it up,” Willis said.

That’s what happened to the program at Sacramento’s Natomas High School, which graduated a class of 30 students in March 2008. “It was our old activities director — she brought in the trainer, the kids got trained, we did the assembly, they had the packs [and] she then left. She’s not even at our school any more,” said Angela Herrera, the school’s assistant principal for student services.  

Natomas High School is currently working with the district office to restart the program, Herrera said.

Also, programs supported by grants can take a hit when funding runs out. “The situation I have right now is I was contracted to [the U.S. Department of] Homeland Security when I started Teen CERT,” Willis said. “That grant money is now gone, and so I’m teaching it on a voluntary basis at this point.”

Coordinators mentioned the turnover of CERT volunteers who take the course for a variety of reasons — including being able to help themselves and their families during disasters or being able to assist first responders — and the need to fill a gap in available volunteers.

One local government would like to put a Teen CERT program in the local high schools to fill future needs for volunteers during disasters. “We have several small communities in our county, for instance, and those people are already volunteering for the fire department or EMS service or something of that nature,” said James Fair, the Sumner County, Kan., emergency manager.“That’s a way for us to be able to have each of those communities prepared and protected,” he said.

Updated Curriculum

The Carnation-Duvall Citizen Corps Council in Washington state taught a CERT class to a group of teachers who requested it. It also offers CERT members additional training, including classes in the Incident Command System, Red Cross sheltering and ham radio as well as Fire Corps training and Neighborhood Watch programs.

Council President Kathy Brasch would like to see updated textbooks and a continuing education program specific to CERT. “I know individual CERT programs have started to develop their own additional training as well, but there is not a formal program,” she said. “Also, we’d love to see the latest curriculum. I know they’ve been talking about it for a number of years, but we haven’t seen the actual new curriculum and the train-the-trainer courses come out.”

Brasch said her program’s textbooks date from about 2000.

“I know they started putting together a new curriculum about two years ago, and it’s still in the testing phase,” she said. “I’ve been told that it’s supposed to be coming out in the next couple of months. So we’re looking forward to that.”

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has not yet developed a framework for disaster preparedness education in the nation’s K-12 schools. However, training students in disaster preparedness is an allowable expense under Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grants, said Sara Strizzi, a subject-matter expert with the DOE. The department recently announced that $28.8 million in REMS grants were awarded to 98 school districts across the country.

On Sept. 15, FEMA, the DOE and the Red Cross hosted the National Summit on Youth Preparedness to discuss development of standards for preparedness education curriculum in K-12 schools. A FEMA spokeswoman said a report on the summit’s findings would be published at a later date.

Missouri City Tuning In To A New Source of Emergency Information

27 09 2010

Missouri City residents can now tune into a new information station—1690 AM. Staff has completed the installation of the City’s low-power broadcasting station and it is on the air.

“The station will primarily be used to transmit weather bulletins and traffic and road construction updates, featuring directions to City landmarks and events,” said Fire & Rescue Service Chief Russell Sander. “The station will also allow the City’s Emergency Operations Center to provide information and instructions during amber alerts, flash floods, hurricanes, power outages and other emergencies.”

“After seeing a need for this service following Hurricane Ike, when all types of public information outlets were inoperable, including the internet, telephone and cell phones, the City realized that we could still put out emergency information by radio when all other sources were down,” said John Sheffield, Missouri City’s Division of Emergency Preparedness Chief. 

In case of a similar situation in the future, the City’s low-power AM radio station will be accessible to the public via a hand-cranked or battery-powered radio, providing staff with another avenue to share important emergency messages with residents. All City residents should be able to tune in and no special reception equipment is required. Signs will be installed along major roadways alerting residents to the new station.

City Council approved the purchase of the $44,895 radio station at its June 7 meeting. More than 35 low-power AM Radio stations are currently operating in Texas, including one by Fort Bend County. “These stations are a critical part of the emergency notification system in jurisdictions across the country, including in Stafford, Fort Bend County and Harris County,” Sheffield said.

Source of this entry was a Missouri City News Release issued on September 27, 2010.  For further information, contact Stacie Walker, swalker@missouricitytx.gov

Meet the Chief: Interview with W. Nim Kidd

26 09 2010

Last week Nim Kidd visited the Houston region and met with emergency management officials from all over the region, including many from Fort Bend County.  In his two hour session at the Stafford Centre auditorium, he outlined his vision for moving the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) forward.  Besides explaining his background and vision to the audience, he engaged attendees to tell him what they feel is good and what is bad about TDEM operations.  It was a lively two hours and Chief Kidd made it clear that he values bringing solid management practices to TDEM, with a focus on good customer service.  Very refreshing.

To get more introduction to Chief Kidd, please review the following.  The Q & A below was published on Texas Emergency Management OnLine (2010, Volume 57, No. 1). 

San Antonio District Fire Chief W. Nim Kidd was scheduled to take the reins of the Texas Division of Emergency Management on July 1. Hurricane Alex brought him to Austin nearly a week early. Chief Kidd has served as San Antonio’s Homeland Security Director and the city’s Emergency Manager. He has served San Antonio as a firefighter, fire apparatus operator, lieutenant, captain, and District Fire Chief. He has also served as a member of Texas Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team since 1997, responding to state and national disasters including the World Trade Center attack in September 2001. In this Question and Answer interview, Chief Kidd discusses some of his goals for emergency management in Texas.

What is the most important message you have for the Texas emergency management community?    The Texas emergency management community has a long standing tradition of excellent service to the citizens of this great state. As I begin work as the Chief, my goals are simple: Prepare, Prevent, Respond, Recover and Mitigate. The plan to accomplish these goals are to: Listen to the people that are closest to the issues because they often have the best solution to the problem at hand; continue to build multi-jurisdictional, multi-disciplined collaborative teams to support our collective goals; and empower the dedicated professionals at all levels to make solid decisions that rely on expert education, training and competence.

Looking back on your years of experience working with TDEM during disasters, which event posed the most significant challenge?    I have been a customer of TDEM for seven and a half years. Over the years, I have watched the system develop, mature, and professionalize into unarguably the most solid State Emergency Management Team in the nation. Challenges are opportunities to improve relationships, doctrine and process. Challenges over the years have always been about solving problems: challenges-to-opportunities-to-improvements. The most challenging event that comes to mind is the Katrina and Rita response. The coordination between states needed improvement and Chief Jack Colley led the nation in this effort.

What is the key lesson you bring from your years as a firefighter?    My years serving as a firefighter and emergency medical technician have been some of the best times in my life. I’ve worked alongside the most dedicated men and women of the fire service. The single most important experience I bring from that chapter of my life is teamwork. We were individuals choosing to become a cohesive unit. Living together, working together, laughing together, crying together, and improving ourselves and the system…together.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as EMC in San Antonio?    I served as the EMC for San Antonio for more than six years, and prior to that I spent a year and a half as one of the Assistant EMCs. The biggest challenge over the years has been to keep the program and the process fresh. Our occupation is not always flashy, and it rarely gets the attention it deserves until the event occurs. We have built a professional, dedicated, solid, self-healing network of people in San Antonio that is ready to respond to any event. The challenge has always been maintaining visible interest during the slow times of the business. I was blessed to work for great visionary leaders like Mayor Phil Hardberger, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Assistant City Manager Erik Walsh, and a dedicated team of department heads that stayed focused on the mission. Through a 2003 General Obligation Bond Program, our community blessed us with a 36,000 square foot, state-of-the-art, emergency operations center. The facility fosters collaboration and teamwork. The staff that operates the EOC has a true sense of community and dedication to the mission.

What do you bring from your San Antonio experience that might help other communities?    I don’t think the lessons I’ve learned differ much from any other Emergency Manager across the state. I’ve worked closely with many EMCs, and I usually call on them for their advice to unusual situations. All communities in Texas play a critical role in evacuation and sheltering coastal evacuees during major events, not just the City of San Antonio. The San Antonio community chooses to participate in the preparation for coastal events because they know working the issues of another community’s disaster strengthens our local capabilities and prepares us better for our next local event.

San Antonio is fortunate to have a great group of emergency management professionals from all disciplines in the community. James Mendoza leads our Monday Morning Meeting (“M3”) every Monday at 08:30 in our Policy Room. It is full of liaisons from every aspect of disaster planning, response and recovery. Chris Stokes built a Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) team that is second to none. Within minutes of notification, the GIS team provides life saving information to emergency managers and incident commanders. They truly are a great group that believes in, and understands, the mission.

Our medical professionals are second to none. Eric Epley, STRAC, and the Regional Medical Operations Center (RMOC) add a layer of integrity, community support and professionalism to our team that makes San Antonio shine. We wouldn’t be successful without them. Tom Polonis and the dedicated men and women of the Alamo Area Type III Incident Management Team are always ready to tackle any task. IMTs will save the world: our city is in safer their hands because this team has trained together and operated together for over three years.

What are the main three things you plan to do in your new job?    Listen, listen, and listen. Listen to the TDEM team, listen to our emergency management partners, and listen to our community. Leaders cannot make good decisions without knowing the issues. In order to know the issues, we need to listen to those who are closest to the problem. As we listen, we can begin to gain understanding and see the issues in solvable terms. The fourth thing we will work on is organizing the Division to address the issues we learn by listening to the team, partners and community.

What importance do you place on drills, training and exercises?    Education, training and exercise save lives. As a firefighter, EMT and Emergency Manager, I know the value of preparing for the routine task as well as the high risk/low occurrence events. Complacency kills. If we are not educated to the situation, cannot get it right in training and fail to exercise, we will never be successful. We should always use education, training and exercise to improve the system. Otherwise we end up recreating the same mistakes.

Anything else you’d like to say to the emergency management community?    We all know we are in the business of taking care of people, but I think we often forget to take care of ourselves and our families. Many of you know that my family is the most important aspect of my life. My wife, Emily, and I have three amazing children. Emily, Garrett, Abigail, and Parker are the inspiration and unsung heroes in my life. When Emily and I are gone, our most important and longest lasting legacy will be our children. I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to thank them for being my safe haven and support network.  In addition, I want to thank the TDEM staff and the emergency management community for the tremendous outpouring of support I have received since the announcement of my appointment.  Preparedness is not a destination, it is a journey, and I look forward to the trip with you. Thank you for allowing me to be part of the team.


The Growing Use of Geospatial Information in Emergency Management

24 09 2010

Over the last few years, the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management has utilized technology to improve its abilities to handle collection and dissemination of information, both on a day-to-day basis and also during times of disaster.  It is incumbent on professional emergency management agencies to be aware of how useful technology can be before, during, and after a disaster occurs.  In particular, the relatively recent ability of everyday citizens to have access to GPS receivers enlarges the possibilities of how geospatial information can be utilized in the field of emergency management.

Geospatial information is more than just a handheld GPS receiver used to navigate personal travel.  Digital maps can unite people across the world and even save lives.  After last January’s earthquake in Haiti, geographic information systems helped first responders map cities, locate survivors, and distribute aid.

Penn State University has recently received a series of work entitled “The Geospatial Revolution Project.”  It is an overview of modern mapping, focusing on GPS (like Garmin units in a vehicle, smartphones, etc..), taking a look at GPS’s impact both on our daily lives and on the world at large.  The mission of the Geospatial Revolution Project is to expand public knowledge about the history, applications, related privacy and legal issues, and the potential future of location-based technologies. The first episode is a 13 minute documentary that takes a look at a timeline history of mapping —- including an examination of GPS use to provide humanitarian aid during the Haiti earthquake relief efforts.  Despite the destruction wrought by the earthquake, about two-thirds of phone lines remained standing–the most resilient bit of infrastructure–and that allowed some ingenious rescue methods that would have been impossible even a few years earlier.

The 13-minute video uses the earthquake in Haiti to highlight how geospatial technology is critical in providing first responders with the information they need to help victims.  This video can be accessed at the following link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwVig_cAU7U

God Bless Our Military and their families………

24 09 2010

This is awesome……….just click below……….

Preparing for Active Shooter Incidents

24 09 2010

It appears that there seems to be a growing trend of shootings across the United States.  The Department of Homeland Security has recently issued information about Active Shooter incidents:

Recent shooting incidents at various locations of the United States seem to indicate rising violence at work places, and even at hospitals that were once considered safe havens.  However, the Emergency Management and Response—Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EMR-ISAC) has no credible evidence of a valid trend or pattern regarding active shooters.  Yet such threats still exist and it is best to prepare for the potential of a shooter , especially at places of work.

According to the Department of Homeland Security “Active Shooter” booklet (PDF, 984 KB), an active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.  The booklet states: “In most cases, there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.”

The booklet further explains that active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly.  Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims.  “Because active shooter incidents are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation.”

 The EMR-ISAC verified that the booklet provides guidance to individuals, including responders, managers, and employees, who may be caught in an active shooter situation.  It also discusses how to react when law enforcement arrives at the incident scene.  Another useful source of information on this subject is the Mass Shooting/Active Shooter First Responder Awareness Card (PDF, 35 KB).