University of Illinois Wheelchair Basketball

29 02 2012

I attended the University of Illinois for my undergraduate education, and recently I had a good reason to be proud of my alma mater.  A local Houston girl will soon be attending  the University of Illinois to play for the University of Illinois wheelchair basketball team next season.  Jersey Village High School senior Kaitlyn Eaton signed a letter of intent on February 23rd during an event held in the Jersey Village gymnasium.

Jersey Village senior Kaitlyn Eaton, joined by TIRR Memorial Hermann Hotwheels basketball coach Genny Gomez, signs a letter of intent to play for the wheelchair basketball team at the University of Illinois in 2012-2013. (Photo by Annie Sanders, JVHS)

The University of Illinois Adapted Varsity Athletics Program has a long tradition of leadership and excellence in wheelchair sports. This tradition encompasses all campus activities related to being a student-athlete. It also serves to motivate and set a standard of expectation that makes the University of Illinois the premier school for individuals interested in exploring their academic and athletic potential.

Eaton has been a member of the TIRR Memorial Hermann Hotwheels wheelchair basketball team for three seasons.   Although she was born missing five vertebrae, Eaton has blossomed into a talented athlete and basketball player. She is an honors student at Jersey Village and a leader in her church youth group.  Eaton’s long-term goal is to qualify for the women’s national wheelchair basketball team for the 2016 Paralympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

Academically, Eaton will be able to receive one of the best educations available in the nation; ultimately making her prepared for today’s competitive job market.  Athletically, Eaton will receive training of Olympic and Paralympic caliber.  The University of Illinois’ coaching and training staff have more international experience than any other program in the nation.

Eaton’s friends join her as she celebrates her signing in the Jersey Village gymnasium on Thursday. Pictured, from left, are seniors Julie Wisnoski, Lauren Caton, Angelea Caton, Kelsey Eaton, Lauren Coats and Erica Lewandowski. (Photo by Annie Sanders, JVHS)

Eaton will be part of an effort to take the University of Illinois Wheelchair Athletic Program to the next level.  The University of Illinois has been a pioneer in the establishment of collegiate wheelchair sports conferences.

Thanks for letting me digress from this blog’s usual focus on emergency management to let you know about this nice story about Kaitlyn Eaton!

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Delay in Satellites Could Jeopardize Severe Weather Forecasts

7 02 2012

The following article was published on January 16, 2012 by Emergency Management.  The author was Elaine Pittman.  Given the variety of weather related issues that confront our region, I found this article to be very interesting.  Accurate weather forecasts trigger many activities designed to protect the citizens of our community and less than accurate weather data could prove to be very tragic at some point in the future.

2016 is looming as the year during which a gap in weather satellites could leave the nation without some of the severe storm data that’s vital to early warnings. After 2011’s record-breaking severe weather — with 12 disasters that cost more than $1 billion — it seems counterintuitive that budget reductions may create a period of 12 to 18 months during which severe warnings days in advance of a storm likely won’t be available, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predictions.

Vital to weather forecasting, two polar-orbiting satellites collect data above the Earth’s poles 14 times per day and feed data into a computer model. According to NOAA, the satellites’ orbits “provide two complete views of weather around the world,” which allow meteorologists to “develop models to predict the weather out to five to 10 days.” In addition, polar-orbiting weather satellites provide about 90 percent of the data used in National Weather Service forecast models.

The two satellites provide continuity of information, with one providing data during the mid-morning orbit and the other in the early afternoon. The first is run by the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, which partners with NOAA and benefits from the information collected in the afternoon orbit. The second satellite is owned by the United States — and is where the information gap issue lies.

Because of a funding reduction, Ajay Mehta, deputy director for NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), said the launch of the new satellite, called JPSS-1, was delayed. JPSS-1 will replace a NASA satellite that was launched on Oct. 28, 2011. NASA’s satellite — called the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPP for short — will provide operational data for four or five years.

“That is an important thing for our continuity because [it’s] the last of the old generation of satellites we had launched in 2009,” Mehta said. “That one is only going to last for another couple of years.”

While NASA’s satellite is providing continuity of information, its life cycle is expected to end in 2016, and Mehta estimated that JPSS-1 won’t be fully operational until 2017. The time between NPP and JPSS-1 is when the information gap is expected.

“For the polar orbit, we have had operational satellites since 1979, so this mission is critical to provide continuity of NOAA operational data sets,” said Mitch Goldberg, JPSS program scientist. “NOAA has products and services, such as weather forecasting, and they depend on this constant flow of data from satellites going to weather prediction models.”

Funding Issues Abound

Last year was rife with concerns over how much funding NOAA’s satellite program would receive and what that would mean for the future of severe weather forecasting in the United States. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco had many poignant sound bites in 2011, including that budget cuts to the satellite would be a “disaster in the making;” that in a few years, the agency may not be able to do the severe storm warnings that people have come to expect; and that it could cost three to five times more to rebuild the project than to keep funds flowing toward it.

President Barack Obama requested a little more than $1 billion for 2011 and beyond for the polar-orbiting satellite program. On Nov. 18, 2011, legislation was enacted that gave JPSS $924 million for 2012. “While we’re happy with the level of funding in this fiscal environment, it was still almost $150 [million] less than the president’s request — therefore it will not eliminate the possibility of a gap,” Mehta said via email.

Accuracy Is Key

When thinking about impacts that the information gap could have on emergency management, a question arises: What would be different?

To help assess how beneficial the information from polar-orbiting satellites is to weather forecasting, the National Weather Service reran forecasts for Snowmageddon, the blizzard that hit the East Coast in February 2010, without the satellites’ data. “When they took the data out, they ended up mis-forecasting it by almost 50 percent,” Mehta said. With the polar-orbiting data, a 20-inch snowfall was predicted, and without it the forecast was 10 inches of snow. In reality during the week of storms, 28.6 inches of snow fell in Washington, D.C. — the most since 1922, according to NOAA.

“You can imagine the difference for decision-makers,” said Goldberg. “If someone tells you there is going to be a seven-inch snowstorm or two-foot snowstorm, you’re going to make different decisions based on those two scenarios.”

The last year also has seen an increase in severe weather. From the tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri to Hurricane Irene impacting the East Coast, tremendous amounts of devastation have occurred across the U.S., the forecasts for which have been “very good,” Goldberg said. Without data from the polar-orbiting satellites, however, he said there would be a major degradation of weather forecast performance.

Another issue is this information can’t be obtained from other sources. Although the United States partners with Europe’s satellite program, data from both orbits is needed, said Mehta. He added that NOAA is exploring all options and has looked into privately owned satellites — but that would not help prevent the predicted information gap.

“Our estimates show that for somebody to build a new instrument and launch it, it’s going to take much longer,” he said, “because we’ve already started building the instruments and spacecraft for JPSS-1.”

 And the lack of additional information sources also applies to state and local emergency management agencies. Larry Gispert, past president of the International Association of Emergency Managers and former emergency management director of Hillsborough County, Fla., said everyone — the private and public sectors — relies on NOAA and the National Weather Service for severe weather information. He said some companies will process that data and put their own spin on it — “but they all get that data from the federal government.”

Impacts on Emergency Management

What it comes down to is that emergency managers need severe weather data — and it must be as accurate as possible and provide enough time for preparing and evacuating people if needed. The island of Key West, Fla., is the year-round home to about 25,000 people, but sees more than 1 million visitors annually. Craig Marston, Key West’s division chief of emergency management and training, said evacuation procedures begin 96 to 72 hours before a storm is predicted to make landfall and having good, up-to-date information is key.

“We’re pretty far out there, so what really concerns us is that NOAA is able to maintain its air flights,” he said.

Marston works closely with the National Hurricane Center and the local Weather Forecast Office to know what the weather is doing and what to expect. In the event that severe weather data isn’t available for more than three days in advance, Key West’s ability to evacuate health-care patients and other populations could be jeopardized — 72 hours is the minimum amount of time needed to fly patients from the area. “We rely heavily on the Weather Service for its information,” Marston said.

Hillsborough County’s Gispert said the large numbers of people who live in coastal areas make storm information necessary to help with evacuations. “Emergency management people have a tough enough job without getting accurate data and some kind of advanced warning of potential threats,” he said.

Like most issues, it all comes down to money, and Gispert said public safety is one of government’s ultimate responsibilities. “If my congressman would ask me, and I often tell them, if it was a choice between funding one more bomb to Afghanistan or putting up a weather satellite, guess which one I am going to vote for.” 





Fort Bend County Regional SWAT Obtains New Vehicle

5 02 2012

The following item is an article that was published online by yoursugarlandnews.com on February 2, 2012.  It provides good information about an effort over the last two years to build a Fort Bend County team of law enforcement officers capable of responding to high-risk situations.  It is important to note that the “Fort Bend County team” is a multi-agency collaborative effort involving the cities of Missouri City, Rosenberg, Stafford, Sugar Land and the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office.  Danny Jan, Captain in the Sheriff’s Office, has been integral part in facilitating meetings and getting all the agencies to come together to form the team.  The Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management has played a key role in the development of the grant applications required to fund the team’s formation.  By using Urban Area Securities Initiative (UASI) monies, the Fort Bend County Regional SWAT effort is able to be deployed anywhere in the five-county Houston Urban Area should a need arise.  The article below provides more information about the team and the new vehicle it has just recently received:

Leaders of the Fort Bend Regional SWAT Team are shown with the team's new Bearcat. They include, from the left, Capt. Scott Soland, Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office and West Division Commander; Sgt. Wayne Coleman, Sugar Land Police Department, East Division; Sgt. Kurt Maxheimer, Missouri City Police Department, East Division; Sgt. Brian Baker, Rosenberg Police Department, West Division; Sgt. Patrick Herman, Stafford Police Department; Capt. James Davis, Sugar Land Police Department and East Division Commander; and Sgt. Reggie Powell, Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office, West Division.

Fort Bend County’s new tactical, armored response and rescue vehicle is expected to enhance the safety of SWAT officers throughout the region.

Known simply as the Bearcat, the newly realigned Fort Bend Regional SWAT Team will utilize the vehicle for deployments throughout the county. The Bearcat, which carries up to 10 people, can traverse a variety of terrain. The vehicle has been utilized by police for barricaded situations, high-risk warrants, active shooters, dignitary transport and more. The Bearcat has proven itself in the field as an invaluable resource in high-risk situations, most recently in Tyler, Texas, where a SWAT team last year approached a kidnapping and murder suspect who was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle.

Excerpts from a PoliceOne.com article follow:

The officers were investigating the house of Howard Granger, a suspect in the murder of Benjamin Gill Clements – the son of a former Texas governor. The suspect fired 35 rounds at the Bearcat before a sniper brought him down.  “It allowed officers to approach the residence safely and protected them under heavy fire from a very high-powered rifle,” said Tyler PD SWAT Commander Rusty Jacks, noting the vehicle saved lives and prevented injury to SWAT officers.

Fort Bend County purchased its Bearcat with an Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Homeland Security Grant Program.  According to FEMA, the UASI Program provides funding to address the unique planning, organization, equipment, training and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas and assists them in building an enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism. Per the 9/11 Act, states are required to ensure that at least 25 percent of UASI appropriated funds are dedicated towards law enforcement terrorism prevention activities.

The Fort Bend Regional SWAT team is comprised of an east division staffed by the Missouri City, Sugar Land and Stafford Police Departments and a west division comprised of the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office and the Rosenberg Police Department.  The effort through the five agencies here is also a component of a higher security push in the Greater Houston area with other law enforcement agencies.

The objective of the regional team is to:  1) allow for the integration of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure; 2) enable a coordinated response among various jurisdictions; and 3) establish common processes for planning and managing resources.

The acquisition of the new Bearcat is one example that illustrates a year-long effort by law enforcement agencies throughout the county to collaborate more closely on regional partnerships, especially in the area of SWAT response.