Texas Forest Service Aiding Joplin-area Victims

31 05 2011

As published on May 30th, by KXAN:

Missouri emergency management officials have called for help, and the Texas Forest Service is answering that call by sending crews to the Joplin area.

Texas Forest Service, a member of the Texas A&M University System, is known statewide for its expertise in emergency response and incident management.

In addition to responding to wildfires, people often rely on the agency to help with incident management during other disasters, such as tornadoes and hurricanes.

Texas Forest Service also helped with recovery efforts in the aftermath of the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003.

People taking off to Joplin on Monday will be responsible for handling logistics in the area ravaged by a devastating tornado earlier this month. The death toll was reported Friday at 132, and more than 150 people are still reported missing.

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NOAA hurricane outlook indicates an above-normal Atlantic season

30 05 2011

Hurricane Season begins on June 1st!  On May 19th, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) distributed its projections for the 2011 Hurricane Season.  The NOAA outlook is  provided below:

The Atlantic basin is expected to see an above-normal hurricane season this year, according to the seasonal outlook issued by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center – a division of the National Weather Service.

Across the entire Atlantic Basin for the six-month season, which begins June 1, NOAA is predicting the following ranges this year:

  • 12 to 18 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which:
  • 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including:
  • 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher)

Each of these ranges has a 70 percent likelihood, and indicate that activity will exceed the seasonal average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

“The United States was fortunate last year. Winds steered most of the season’s tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastlines,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “However we can’t count on luck to get us through this season. We need to be prepared, especially with this above-normal outlook.”

Climate factors considered for this outlook are:

  • The continuing high activity era. Since 1995, the tropical multi-decadal signal has brought ocean and atmospheric conditions conducive for development in sync, leading to more active Atlantic hurricane seasons.
  • Warm Atlantic Ocean water. Sea surface temperatures where storms often develop and move across the Atlantic are up to two degrees Fahrenheit warmer-than-average.
  • La Niña, which continues to weaken in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, is expected to dissipate later this month or in June, but its impacts such as reduced wind shear are expected to continue into the hurricane season.

“In addition to multiple climate factors, seasonal climate models also indicate an above-normal season is likely, and even suggest we could see activity comparable to some of the active seasons since 1995,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

NOAA’s seasonal hurricane outlook does not predict where and when any of these storms may hit. Landfall is dictated by weather patterns in place at the time the storm approaches. For each storm, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center forecasts how these weather patterns affect the storm track, intensity and landfall potential.

“The tornadoes that devastated the South and the large amount of flooding we’ve seen this spring should serve as a reminder that disasters can happen anytime and anywhere. As we move into this hurricane season it’s important to remember that FEMA is just part of an emergency management team that includes the entire federal family, state, local and tribal governments, the private sector and most importantly the public,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

“Now is the time, if you haven’t already, to get your plan together for what you and your family would do if disaster strikes. Visit www.ready.gov to learn more. And if you’re a small business owner, visit www.ready.gov/business to ensure that your business is prepared for a disaster,” added Fugate.

Hurricane impacts are not limited to the coastline; strong winds and flooding rainfall often pose a threat across inland areas along with the risk for tornadoes.

To help prepare residents of hurricane-prone areas, NOAA is unveiling a new set of video and audio public service announcements featuring NOAA hurricane experts and the FEMA administrator that are available in both English and Spanish. These are available at http://www.hurricanes.gov/prepare.

The National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. It operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy. Visit NOAA online at weather.gov.





Do you need a good example of why Mitigation projects save lives and money?

15 05 2011

Okay, so a couple of days ago, I lamented the prospect of deep cuts in FEMA budget, especially in the area of grants to state and local governments.  I made a point of why it might be a bit foolish to eliminate grants for mitigation projects which have proven time and time again to be a cost effective method for saving lives, reducing property damage, and lessening post-disaster recovery costs.

So, keep that in mind as you read about former Mayor Kotaku Wamura of Fudai in Japan.  The Associated Press article by Tomoka A Hosaka, published May 13, 2011, can be found below.  You really have to appreciate the vision former Mayor Wamura and his dedicated efforts to get the wall built before it caused additional deaths in his community.  Wamura served ten term mayor of Fudai.  As the article clearly notes to the reader:  “Without the 51-foot costly floodgate, Fudai would have disappeared.”

How One Japanese Village Defied The Tsunami

In the rubble of Japan’s northeast coast, one small village stands as tall as ever after the tsunami. No homes were swept away. In fact, they barely got wet.  Fudai is the village that survived — thanks to a huge wall once deemed a mayor’s expensive folly and now vindicated as the community’s salvation.

The 3,000 residents living between mountains behind a cove owe their lives to a late leader who saw the devastation of an earlier tsunami and made it the priority of his four-decade tenure to defend his people from the next one.  His 51-foot (15.5-meter) floodgate between mountainsides took a dozen years to build and meant spending more than $30 million in today’s dollars.

“It cost a lot of money. But without it, Fudai would have disappeared,” said seaweed fisherman Satoshi Kaneko, 55, whose business has been ruined but who is happy to have his family and home intact.  The floodgate project was criticized as wasteful in the 1970s. But the gate and an equally high seawall behind the community’s adjacent fishing port protected Fudai from the waves that obliterated so many other towns on March 11. Two months after the disaster, more than 25,000 are missing or dead.

“However you look at it, the effectiveness of the floodgate and seawall was truly impressive,” Fudai Mayor Hiroshi Fukawatari said. Towns to the north and south also braced against tsunamis with concrete seawalls, breakwaters and other protective structures. But none were as tall as Fudai’s.

The town of Taro believed it had the ultimate fort — a double-layered 33-foot-tall (10-meter-tall) seawall spanning 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) across a bay. It proved no match for the tsunami two months ago. In Fudai, the waves rose as high as 66 feet (20 meters), as water marks show on the floodgate’s towers. So some ocean water did flow over but it caused minimal damage. The gate broke the tsunami’s main thrust. And the community is lucky to have two mountainsides flanking the gate, offering a natural barrier.

The man credited with saving Fudai is the late Kotaku Wamura, a 10-term mayor whose political reign began in the ashes of World War II and ended in 1987.  Fudai, about 320 miles (510 kilometers) north of Tokyo, depends on the sea. Fishermen boast of the seaweed they harvest. A pretty, white-sand beach lures tourists every summer.  But Wamura never forgot how quickly the sea could turn. Massive earthquake-triggered tsunamis flattened Japan’s northeast coast in 1933 and 1896. In Fudai, the two disasters destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 439 people.

“When I saw bodies being dug up from the piles of earth, I did not know what to say. I had no words,” Wamura wrote of the 1933 tsunami in his book about Fudai, “A 40-Year Fight Against Poverty.”  He vowed it would never happen again.

In 1967, the town erected a 51-foot (15.5-meter) seawall to shield homes behind the fishing port. But Wamura wasn’t finished. He had a bigger project in mind for the cove up the road, where most of the community was located. That area needed a floodgate with panels that could be lifted to allow the Fudai River to empty into the cove and lowered to block tsunamis.

He insisted the structure be as tall as the seawall.  The village council initially balked.

“They weren’t necessarily against the idea of floodgates, just the size,” said Yuzo Mifune, head of Fudai’s resident services and an unofficial floodgate historian. “But Wamura somehow persuaded them that this was the only way to protect lives.”

Construction began in 1972 despite lingering concerns about its size as well as bitterness among landowners forced to sell land to the government.  Even current Mayor Fukawatari, who helped oversee construction, had his doubts.

“I did wonder whether we needed something this big,” he said in an interview at his office.  The concrete structure spanning 673 feet (205 meters) was completed in 1984. The total bill of 3.56 billion yen was split between the prefecture and central government, which financed public works as part of its postwar economic strategy.

On March 11, after the 9.0 earthquake hit, workers remotely closed the floodgate’s four main panels. Smaller panels on the sides jammed, and a firefighter had to rush down to shut them by hand.  The tsunami battered the white beach in the cove, leaving debris and fallen trees. But behind the floodgate, the village is virtually untouched.

Fudai Elementary School sits no more than a few minutes walk inland. It looks the same as it did on March 10. A group of boys recently ran laps around a baseball field that was clear of the junk piled up in other coastal neighborhoods.  Their coach, Sachio Kamimukai, was born and raised in Fudai. He said he never thought much about the floodgate until the tsunami.

“It was just always something that was there,” said Kamimukai, 36. “But I’m very thankful now.”  The floodgate works for Fudai’s layout, in a narrow valley, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the solution for other places, Fukawatari said.

Fudai’s biggest casualty was its port, where the tsunami destroyed boats, equipment and warehouses. The village estimates losses of 3.8 billion yen ($47 million) to its fisheries industry.  One resident remains missing. He made the unlucky decision to check on his boat after the earthquake.

Wamura left office three years after the floodgate was completed. He died in 1997 at age 88. Since the tsunami, residents have been visiting his grave to pay respects.  At his retirement, Wamura stood before village employees to bid farewell: “Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand.”





Ron Paul Supports Abolishing FEMA

14 05 2011

In case you missed the following back and forth between Wolf Blitzer, CNN, The Situation Room, and newly announced presidential candidate Representative Ron Paul, from Texas.  The transcript below is from a May 13th interview between Blitzer and Paul on CNN’s The Situation Room.  It is a partial transcript of the interview.  If you want to view the full transcipt, visit www.CNN.com

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: On the whole issue of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, do you want to see that agency ended?

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Well, if you want to live in a free society, if you want to pay attention to the constitution, why not? I think it’s bad economics.  I think it’s bad morality.  And it’s bad constitutional law.

Why should people like myself, who had, not too long ago, a house on the Gulf Coast and it’s – it’s expensive there and it’s risky and it’s dangerous.

Why should somebody from the central part of the United States rebuild my house? Why shouldn’t I have to buy my own insurance and protect about the potential dangers?

Well, the reason we don’t have market insurance is it’s too expensive. Well, why is it expensive? Because it’s dangerous. Well, so why should – why should we take money from somebody else who don’t get the chance to live on the Gulf and make them pay to rebuild my house?

I mean it’s – it’s a moral hazard to say that government is always going to take care of us when we do dumb things.  I’m trying to get people to not to dumb things.  Besides, it’s not authorized in the constitution.

BLITZER:  And if there’s a disaster, like flooding or – or an earthquake or Hurricane Katrina, what’s wrong with asking fellow Americans to help their – their – their fellow citizens?

PAUL:  Nothing.  And I think Americans are very, very generous and they have traditionally.  The big problem is Americans are getting poor and they’re not able to voluntarily come to the rescue.

But to coerce people, to ask them to help, that is fine and dandy.  But when you bankrupt our country and nobody has a job and then they say, well, FEMA needs to bail out everybody, then all we’re doing is compounding our problems.

And believe me, I’ve been, you know, very much involved in the hurricanes that have come into my district.  And most of the people in my district do not like FEMA.  You know, they want to try to get their money and all.  But FEMA comes in and takes over.

They take over their property rights.  They dictate.  They prevent some of the volunteers from going in.

So there’s a strong resentment toward the way FEMA operates, because they’re bureaucrats who don’t understand the rule of law nor do they understand local control and property rights. So there’s – there’s a very strong argument that this whole program, that governance through coercion and taxation, can bail out everybody when we’re flat broke and they have to print the money.  And now we’re going into inflationary problems, which are very severe.  That’s our big issue right now.





Homeland Security Bill Cuts Over $1 Billion From Current Funding Level

13 05 2011

A proposed spending bill being discussed in Washington DC cuts over one billion dollars from the current level of funding, with the biggest cuts coming to disaster aid for states and local governments.

Substantial cuts are proposed to come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s state and local grant program.  Some in Congress have indicated that FEMA’s state and local grants are wasteful and backlogged.  To balance this out, there is a proposal to add money to the Disaster Relief Fund.  This specific issue is a concern to me.  Reducing investment in mitigation and preparedness projects is being “penny wise and pound foolish.” 

Why?  Take FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program for instance.  This program has been proven to be a highly effective program for state and local governments to help prevent damage due to natural disasters.  The PDM program has proven to save lives, mitigate damage, and, perhaps most importantly, reduces post-disaster costs.

The PDM program has been studied extensively.  Studies have shown that it SAVES taxpayers $4.00 in post-disaster expense for every $1.00 in PDM grants funded.  So, does it really make sense to cut funding for programs like PDM which have been proven to save lives and money simply to spend even more money to clean up after a storm and support individuals with disaster relief funds?





City of Simonton Holds Emergency Operations Exercise

11 05 2011

 Emergency preparedness is not simply a responsibility for large cities or Texas counties.  All jurisdictions, not matter what the size need to prepare for emergencies that happen locally.  In Fort Bend County, one only needs to look at the efforts of the City of Simonton’s Emergency Management Coordinator over the last seven years. Under the leadership of Lou Boudreaux, Simonton, a community of only 814, has undertaken preparedness activities which many larger communities have not completed.

Simonton understands the threats to the community, primarily flooding issues given its proximity to the Brazos River.  As the article notes, many of its elected officials and its citizens have completed various training designed to make the community safer in times of disaster.  Working in collaboration with Miles Tollison, Senior Planning Coordinator from the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management (FBC OEM), the City is developing Emergency Management Guidelines describing how the jurisdiction wants to meet its emergency management responsibilities.  

Doug Barnes, FBC OEM’s GIS Planning Coordinator, has worked with the Boudreaux to develop a set of maps which can be used by local officials and trained citizens to map damage that may occur following a disaster, like a hurricane.  Other preparedness efforts that the City has completed include developing memorandums of understanding with the neighboring City of Weston Lakes and Fort Bend County; procuring equipment to outfit a small Emergency Operations Center; working to identify necessary hazard mitigation efforts designed to prevent future damage; and, as noted below, procuring the necessary equipment to pump water from areas that might flood during an emergency.

As reported by FortBendNow staff on Monday, May 9, 2011, please read the article below which will tell you more about the substantial preparedness efforts being made by this small community located in Fort Bend County.

With hurricane season looming and bad weather always a threat, the City of Simonton recently held a preparedness exercise to ensure the community was prepared to handle a flood event.

The exercise, which lasted several hours, involved training 15 community volunteers to effectively and efficiently pick up, deliver, deploy, operate, take down and return the city’s trailer-mounted flood pumps.

The city recently agreed to coordinate flood pump operations with the Valley Lodge Property Owners Association, which is located wholly within the city limits. The agreement gave the association the responsibility for maintaining, staffing and operating the pumps. The effort will be led by board member Stephan Sear.

According to Simonton Emergency Management Coordinator Louis Boudreaux, the exercise showed the pumps could be removed from storage, set up on-site and operational in less than 50 minutes.

“A quick response is very important when it comes to dealing with an emergency,” said Boudreaux. “The volunteers did an excellent job in this exercise and showed a significant commitment to protect their community.”

Simonton Mayor Daniel McJunkin said the city was working with local organizations such as VLPOA to help protect the community.

“It’s not easy being a small city in Texas because the public’s expectation for emergency preparedness is high,” McJunkin said. “We have limited financial resources and no paid city staff to set up and run emergency equipment, but, what we lack in resources, we make up for with community spirit and preparedness.”

The mayor added the city had achieved an important preparedness milestone by partnering with community groups to take on important tasks.

“I am pleased with the turnout and with the outcome of the exercise. The volunteers learned about pump operations and the city has learned from the exercise as well,” he said.

Boudreaux said in addition to this exercise, the city intends to hold regular training events to prepare for other types of emergencies.

“Our primary concerns are the potential for hurricanes and river flooding. We are also preparing for how to deal with tornados, wild fires, chemical spills and other general emergencies,” Boudreaux said.

Boudreaux also praised the leadership Fort Bend County Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Braun in helping the city partner with the other communities in the area to achieve better emergency preparedness. Simonton has also developed its own emergency action plan, which was created with the help of Alderwoman Sandy Bohannon. 

Simonton City Council Members, as well as a number of local volunteers, have also completed numerous online training courses provided by FEMA covering the “National Incident Management System,” which is a standardized nationwide approach to manage emergency events. The city has also become active in Citizen’s Emergency Response Teams and the Medical Reserve Corps program.  Simonton residents interested in volunteering can contact city hall at 281-533-9809.