FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate Urges State Emergency Managers To Prepare For The Worst And Consider The Entire Community While Planning For Disaster

21 10 2010

From FEMA News Release HQ-10-203, October 20, 2010:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate today urged state emergency managers from across the country to incorporate the needs and capabilities of the entire community, including children and people with disabilities, when planning for disaster response and recovery.  In addition, Fugate also challenged participants to plan for worst case scenarios that go beyond the capabilities of government solutions, scenarios which he refers to as “Maximum of Maximums.”

“Historically in emergency management we have only planned for what our capabilities can handle or only looked at what we can do to respond as government,” said Fugate.  “But what we really need to be doing is planning for disasters that go beyond our capabilities.  That’s why we have to look beyond our government-centric approach and see what outside resources we can bring to the table.  We need to better engage our volunteer and non-profit partners, work with the private sector, and most importantly involve the public.  And through all this planning we can’t lose focus on the communities we serve.  We have to remember: It’s not about process, it’s about the products; it’s not about the incident, it’s about the individual.”

Fugate made his remarks during the National Emergency Management Association’s annual conference, which brings together state emergency management officials from around the country.  

Fugate also pointed out that FEMA is trying to lead by example in these areas, having recently hosted the first ever National “Getting Real” Conference to bring together leaders from the emergency management and disability communities to discuss strategies to integrate the entire community into emergency planning.  Also, last month, FEMA hosted a Latino Leadership Summit, and in May FEMA hosted the Black Leadership Forum.  Both gatherings were designed to engage stakeholders in discussions about how to better involve the entire community in emergency planning.

Prior to joining FEMA 18 months ago, Administrator Fugate served as the Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.  Fugate began his emergency management career as a volunteer firefighter, Emergency Paramedic, and finally as a Lieutenant with the Alachua County Fire Rescue.

Follow FEMA online at www.twitter.com/fema, www.facebook.com/fema, and www.youtube.com/fema.  Also, follow Administrator Craig Fugate’s activities at www.twitter.com/craigatfema.  The social media links provided are for reference only.  FEMA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies or applications.

FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond

Victoria County is a Step Closer to Having a New Emergency Operations Center

6 10 2010

As reported by David Tewes in the Victoria Advocate on October 4, 2010:

Victoria County is a step closer to having a new emergency operation center by the start of next year’s hurricane season.

The Victoria County commissioners court voted unanimously Monday to accept requests for proposals for finishing out the basement of the courthouse annex as the new emergency operation center.

“This is really going to be very, very beneficial for the residents of Victoria County and for the emergency operation staff,” County Commissioner Kevin Janak said.

Planners are on an aggressive schedule they hope will result in Victoria’s new, state-of-the-art emergency operation center being completed in six months.

Construction would begin in January and be completed by the start of hurricane season in June.

“We’ve had a need for an all hazards facility that will serve us in every type of incident for a long time,” said Jeb Lacey, the emergency management coordinator. “We’re going to be very excited to have one and to be able serve our first responders all that much better and therefore serve the community.”

Joyce Dean, the county’s director of Administrative Services, said the project would involve converting the 14,000-square-foot basement of the courthouse annex at 205 N. Bridge St. into a brain center capable of handling all types of disasters.

The $1.455 million facility would replace the current emergency operation center at 700 Main Center. The aging 700 Main Center has suffered foundation failure and city officials don’t think it could withstand a Category 3 hurricane, which has winds of at least 111 mph.

The new facility would be designed to withstand sustained Category 5 winds of 170 mph.

Dean said the new center will be renovated and equipped using a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a $455,000 grant from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program.

County Judge Don Pozzi said the county has been working for two or three years for a grant for the new emergency center.

“The place we’re moving to will easily withstand up to a Category 5 storm,” Pozzi said. “It’s going to be a very nice emergency operation center for the city and county.”

Studies explore working in a pandemic, working sick

2 10 2010

The Center For Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) recently issued a report shed some light on the ability and willingness to work during a pandemic.  Lisa Schnirring, CIDRAP News Staff Writer, notes in her article published on September 30, 2010:

A new study suggests that about half of essential workers, such as police and emergency medical personnel, might be unwilling to work during a serious pandemic. Meanwhile, another study indicates that it’s common for employees in private industry to work while sick with flu-like symptoms.

Both studies were published on Sep 25 in an early online edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

In the first study, the goals of researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health were to assess the ability and willingness to work specifically during a pandemic and to gauge the opinions of not just healthcare workers, but also—for the first time—workers from other essential sectors such as police, emergency services personnel, public health workers, and corrections officers.

Researchers in the second study conducted a monthly survey of workers from three US companies to explore if flexible sick leave policies influenced employee decisions to work while sick with a flu-like illness.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has addressed both topics—risky work settings and flexible sick leave policies as a possible social distancing measure—in its pandemic guidance materials for employers.

Working in a severe pandemic setting
The Columbia University researchers recruited workers from Nassau County, in the New York City metropolitan area. The anonymous surveys asked employees about their ability and willingness to work during a serious pandemic. It was conducted from November 2008 to June 2009, a time that overlapped the first few months of the H1N1 pandemic. The survey also asked workers about their flu vaccination history, respiratory protection knowledge and use, workplace climate and trust, and employer pandemic planning.

They found that though 80% of workers would be available to report for duty in a severe pandemic, only 65% were willing. Less than 50% of the essential workers were both willing and able to report for duty. The proportion who said they were willing ranged from 56% in correctional workers to 74% in public health employees.

Investigators found that ability to work during a severe pandemic was closely linked to personal obligations, such as caring for children or sick family members.

Dr Robyn Gershon, professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, said in a Sep 28 press release that employer policies and programs can help workers meet their home obligations. “Even something as simple as making sure workers can communicate with their families while they are on duty can have a big impact on ability and willingness,” she said.

Among other findings, authors learned that participants had little confidence in respiratory protection, but would wear it at work in a pandemic setting. Only 9% reported they were aware of their employers’ pandemic plans, and only 15% said they had received training.

In what they called a surprising finding, the group found that 12% of study participants would consider retiring or leaving their jobs rather than reporting for duty in a severe pandemic. They said that outcome is a concern, due to a rapidly aging US workforce, many of whom are public service workers. “The development of strategies to retain these most experienced workers during public health emergencies remains an area for future exploration,” they wrote.

The authors recommended other simple strategies that employers can use to boost employee support during a pandemic, including a plan to vaccinate essential workers and their families as soon as a vaccine is available, getting guidance in advance about respiratory protection needs, and making sure employees know about the workplace pandemic plan.

The study group included many workers who were involved in the response to the Sep 11, 2001, World Trade Center terror attack, and the authors wrote that they, like other workers in the area, are “highly motivated and altruistic.” They cautioned that other workers in other areas might not be as responsive, and they recommended that further studies include essential employees in other geographic areas along with other types of essential workers, such as those in telecommunications, transportation, and commerce.

Which policies keep sick employees home?
In the flexible sick leave study, researchers recruited employees from three large US firms—a retail chain, a durable goods manufacturer, and a transportation company—and used a Web-based survey tool that asked them each month between November 2007 and April 2008 about flulike illnesses and workplace attendance. They also collected demographic information and details about employer-provided flexible sick leave policies, such as ability to work from home, adjustable working hours, or time off without pay.

Among 793 employees who said they were sick with a flulike illness, average duration of a severe infection was 3 days. About 72% said they worked while they had severe flu symptoms, on average for about 1.3 days.

The only flexible sick leave policy that was associated with working while sick was the ability to work from home. Those who were able to telecommute were 29.7% less likely to come to work sick with severe flu symptoms.

Researchers pointed out that the study is one of the first evaluations of the CDC’s recommendation to institute flexible workplace policies in advance of flu season.

They recognized that though social distancing makes sense, employers who are setting their personnel policies must weigh possible unintended consequences of telecommuting, such as shirking work responsibilities, against the drawbacks of working while sick.

However, they wrote that the ability to work from home minimizes the economic impact of the employee being away from the workplace.

The group concluded that the findings support CDC social distancing recommendations for flu seasons. “When feasible, employers that implement teleworking policies may be able to effectively reduce the likelihood of employee-to-employee transmission of respiratory illnesses, such as seasonal of pandemic influenza,” they wrote.

University of Houston Professor Developing Flood-Mapping System to Help EMS Navigate Houston Streets

1 10 2010

In a recent University of Houston News Release, Laura Tolley writes of work being done to assist first responders in Houston cope with street flooding.  As published on September 22, 2010:

Navigating rain-soaked streets is a familiar experience for Harris County residents. And while street flooding generally is a temporary nuisance for most drivers, it can be a serious obstacle for emergency responders.

However fleeting, flooding can cause traffic delays for EMS crews that are trying to reach and transport people in need of medical assistance. Minutes, even seconds, can count.

University of Houston Professor Gino Lim is trying to ease this traffic problem by developing a computer-based real-time flood-mapping system that will help emergency responders better navigate roads in bad weather.

Lim recently received a $400,700 grant from the city of Houston to build a computer program that will instantaneously classify the level of flooding on roads near major highways within the Sam Houston Parkway (State Highway Beltway 8). Similar in concept to Houston TranStar’s online real-time traffic map, Lim’s Real-Time Flood Mapping System will use a color-coded computer map to indicate the severity of flooding on major road segments. Red will mean that segment of road is severely flooded, while green will mean it’s safe to travel the road. This technology could eventually be helpful for any large metropolitan area that frequently has to deal with flash-flooding.

This month, Lim and his team have started to develop a database that connects to three major flood-monitoring database systems. Once the system is developed, it will undergo six months of testing, and it’s expected to be in place for first responders to use by the beginning of the hurricane season in June 2013.

“This will be a major advancement,” said Lim, Hari and Anjali Agrawal Faculty Fellow and an associate professor of industrial engineering at UH. “In Harris County, street flooding and the resulting traffic problems are still unresolved problems. But the inability to effectively inform and navigate emergency vehicles through flooded streets is not caused by a lack of technology but by the lack of proper integration of available technologies.”

“This tool will substantially improve first responders’ decision-making abilities and their response times. Information like this is priceless and could mean the difference between life and death,” Lim said.

Lim’s system will merge city and flood databases into one comprehensive resource that will be hosted on TransStar’s website. Algorithms devised by Lim will turn this data into color-coded, visual representations of flooding on a map that can be accessed by emergency responders via the Internet on their laptops.

“During Hurricane Ike two years ago, we did a lot of testing on data transfer,” Lim said. “What we found is there can be problems with wireless connections because they are reaching the maximum capacity of some towers, which makes this communication difficult.”

To overcome that issue, Lim is partnering with Houston PBS to transmit a static image of the flood map via a television signal that would refresh every 10 minutes, or less, depending on demand. This program will allow responders to download the most up-to-date image on their laptops.

Lim is being assisted by Tom Chen, a UH engineering professor, and graduate students and researchers from UH’s Systems Optimization and Computing Laboratory (SOCL) in the industrial engineering department, and the Southwest Public Safety Technology Center (STWC). 

Lim founded SOCL, where researchers explore mathematical programming techniques to solve various optimization problems. SWTC is led by Steven Pei, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UH. SWTC is a grant-supported project dedicated to research and education in the area of public safety technology and homeland security.

National Flood Insurance Program

1 10 2010

On September 30, 2010, the President signed the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Reextension Act of 2010, which Congress passed on September 24, 2010.

This extends the National Flood Insurance Program until September 30, 2011.

Risk of small-scale attacks by al-Qaeda and its allies is rising, officials say

1 10 2010

Article by Peter Finn, The Washington Post, September 22, 2010:

Al-Qaeda and its allies are likely to attempt small-scale, less sophisticated terrorist attacks in the United States, senior Obama administration officials said Wednesday, noting that it’s extremely difficult to detect such threats in advance.

“Unlike large-scale, coordinated, catastrophic attacks, executing smaller-scale attacks requires less planning and fewer pre-operational steps,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Accordingly, there are fewer opportunities to detect such an attack before it occurs.”

Terrorism experts have puzzled over al-Qaeda’s apparent unwillingness after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to use car bombs, improvised explosives and small arms to conduct assaults in the United States. The group appeared fixated on orchestrating another dramatic mass-casualty event, such as the simultaneous downing of several commercial airliners.

Indeed, attacks inspired by al-Qaeda in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005 involved multiple, coordinated bombings targeting mass-transit systems.

But the risk of a single-target bombing or an attack by a lone gunman has increased, officials say, with the rise of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the tribal areas of Pakistan, in Yemen and in Somalia, and with the emergence of radicalized Americans inspired by the ideology of violent jihad.

“The impact of the attempted attacks during the past year suggests al-Qaeda, and its affiliates and allies, will attempt to conduct smaller-scale attacks targeting the homeland but with greater frequency,” said Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, pointing to plots against the subway system in New York, the attempt to down a commercial airliner approaching Detroit and the failed car bombing in Times Square.

Leiter said in his testimony that “al-Qaeda in Pakistan is at one of its weakest points organizationally,” but he noted that “regional affiliates and allies can compensate for the potentially decreased willingness of al-Qaeda in Pakistan – the deadliest supplier of such training and guidance – to accept and train new recruits.”

Officials in the United States and Europe have expressed concern about some of their citizens and residents turning to the Taliban in Pakistan; al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; and al-Shabab, a militant group in Somalia, for inspiration and training.

“The spike in homegrown violent extremist activity during the past year is indicative of a common cause that rallies independent extremists to want to attack the homeland,” said Leiter.

“Key to this trend has been the development of a U.S.-specific narrative that motivates individuals to violence. This narrative – a blend of al-Qaeda inspiration, perceived victimization and glorification of past plotting – has become increasingly accessible through the Internet, and English-language Web sites are tailored to address the unique concerns of U.S.-based extremists.”

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said it is troubling, and a challenge for investigators, that homegrown extremists have increasingly diverse backgrounds.

“During the past year, the threat from radicalization has evolved,” he said. “A number of disruptions occurred involving extremists from a diverse set of backgrounds, geographic locations, life experiences and motivating factors that propelled them along their separate radicalization pathways.

“Beyond the sheer number of disruptions and arrests that have come to light, homegrown extremists are increasingly more savvy, harder to detect and able to connect with other extremists overseas.”

ICE ID program now in all Texas counties

1 10 2010

Article by Mark Rockwell, Government Security News, September 30, 2010:

All counties in the state of Texas have completed implementation of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities biometric federal information sharing capabilities, the agency said Sept. 29.  According to a national map on ICE’s home page updated Sept. 28, only Florida and Virginia have similar statewide coverage. All of Virginia’s counties had been participating in the program, until Sept. 28, when Arlington County withdrew, citing safety and community relations concerns. Santa Clara County in California withdrew from the program the same day as Arlington County, citing similar worries.

With complete program implementation in Texas, said ICE in a statement, Secure Communities is now 659 jurisdictions in 32 states. Since Secure Communities was launched in 2008, it said, the program has help identify and remove 41,000 convicted criminal aliens from the U.S.  ICE’s Secure Communities program is a biometric federal information-sharing capability that enables ICE to identify any alien booked into local law enforcement’s custody for a crime.

Formerly, during the booking process, arrestees’ fingerprints were checked for criminal history information only against the biometric database maintained by the FBI, according to ICE. Under Secure Communities, fingerprint information is automatically and simultaneously checked against both the FBI criminal history records and the biometrics-based immigration records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said ICE.

If any fingerprints match those of someone in the DHS biometric system, the new automated process notifies ICE. This notification includes aliens who are in lawful status and those who are present in the U.S. without lawful authority. ICE said it evaluates each case to determine the individual’s immigration status and takes appropriate enforcement action. Once identified through fingerprint matching, ICE said it responds with a priority placed on aliens convicted of the most serious offenses first, such as those with convictions for major drug offenses, murder, rape and kidnapping.

“The Secure Communities strategy provides an effective tool to help ICE identify aliens in the criminal custody of law enforcement with little or no cost to our law enforcement partners,” said ICE Director John Morton. “Applying this biometric information-sharing tool in Texas improves public safety by enabling ICE to prevent the release of convicted criminal aliens back into our communities when they complete their sentences.”

“This sophisticated biometrics tool allows us to quickly and accurately identify those criminal aliens who pose the greatest threat to our communities,” said Nuria Prendes, field office director for the ICE Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations in Dallas.

By 2013, ICE said it plans to be able to respond to all fingerprint matches generated nationwide through IDENT/IAFIS interoperability.