Free Online Training about Railroad Safety for Emergency Responders

26 05 2012

CSX recently launched a free, online training program to educate emergency personnel on how to safely respond to incidents on and around railroad property and equipment. The site at www.csxsafe.com, is the first of its kind launched by a U.S. railroad for this audience.

CSXSAFE offers participants the opportunity to gain an understanding of how railroads operate, including some of the hazards of working around the rails and necessary protocols to keep responders safe. This web-based program takes
less than an hour to complete, and is intended to provide important information to public agency personnel in fire and police departments, rescue and emergency medical organizations.

“Every day, emergency workers put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public in homes, office buildings, factories, agricultural facilities and other locations, each with distinct hazards,” said Mike Lunsford, CSX director-chemical safety. “CSXSAFE is one of the ways we help these brave men and women by educating them on the unique challenges posed by railroad operations. Emergency personnel have to know a great deal about a variety of different industries and settings, and we want to make it as easy as possible for them to learn about ours.”

The educational section of the site is organized into four parts, providing basics on Safety, CSX Operations, Initial Response and Railroad Equipment. Upon completion of the training modules, participants take a quiz, print a certificate of completion and are able to browse through upcoming in-person training opportunities being offered across the CSX network.

“For those who don’t work for the railroad, our equipment can be intimidating and some safety risks may not be apparent,” said Cliff Stayton, director of Community Affairs & Safety. “This training is designed to help emergency workers make good decisions quickly and know who to call to get help.”

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Some say Oklahoma should plan financially for next disaster

17 05 2012

The article below was published in the Tulsa World on May 7, 2012.  The article was written by Wayne Greene, a Senior Writer for the newspaper.  The key point of the article is that Oklahoma needs to plan for disasters, and as advocated by one Oklahoma city manager, the State should set aside money annually to pay for disaster response bills.

For years, Oklahoma’s Emergency Fund has built up a mounting pile of unpaid bills, leaving local government agencies holding the bag – sometimes for millions of dollars. The emergency fund is used to pay one-eighth of certain government costs for dealing with disasters that have federal approval for assistance. The federal government picks up 75 percent of the cost.

But during recent tough economic years, which coincided with a lot of costly disasters, the Oklahoma Legislature didn’t appropriate enough money to pay off the state’s share. So local government agencies – including cities, towns, counties, public utilities and rural water districts – just had to wait for their reimbursements.

After prodding by Gov. Mary Fallin, the Legislature approved a $34.1 million supplemental appropriation earlier this year, which was enough to pay off all the bills, some of which went all the way back to 2007.

But Bixby City Manager Doug Enevoldsen says the Legislature should be doing more. The state should be thinking ahead because another disaster will occur sooner or later.

“Logic suggests and experience suggests that there’s going to be additional disasters in the future, and wouldn’t it be prudent to prepare for that in advance by beginning to provide for some additional dollars?” said Enevoldsen, who previously worked as a legislative budget aide and a top official in the Office of State Finance.

“I’ve seen it too many times, and my heart goes out to these communities that are suffering these disasters. I feel that there’s got to be a better way,” he said. “It creates immense fiscal stress on a community that’s already under duress.”

His suggestion: either a dedicated state funding source for the emergency fund or a routine annual appropriation to keep the fund liquid. For about $4 million a year, he figures the state can build up a sufficient balance to fund its share of disaster costs.

“The governor this year and the Legislature have shown tremendous leadership in coming together and making that appropriation to catch up,” Enevoldsen said. “The next step is to be proactive in appropriating dollars.”

State Director of Emergency Management Albert Ashwood said that since 1953, only Texas and California have had more presidentially declared disasters than Oklahoma. Since 2007, no state has had as many as Oklahoma. Ashwood said appropriating money to the emergency fund before disasters occur is “absolutely good thinking.” It would allow the state to pay its share of recovery costs as fast as the federal government determines what they are, he said.

The last time the state was current with its share of emergency costs was Jan. 1, 2007, he said. Federal law determines what costs can be reimbursed and restricts payments to only those emergencies with the greatest impact. The recent tornado that struck Woodward, for example, was not sufficiently massive to trigger funding.

In approved disasters, the federal government picks up 75 percent of the approved costs. By decades-long tradition, Oklahoma splits the remaining costs with the local government that incurred the loss – 12.5 percent each.

The smaller the community, the more severe the financial stress of a disaster can be, said Collinsville City Manager Pam Polk. In the 2007 ice storm, the city of 6,000 was essentially blacked out for weeks, she said. The municipal electrical utility’s three-man repair crew wasn’t up to the enormous task, so the city contracted repair work at a huge cost, she said. For a city with an annual budget of about $3.5 million and a utility authority budget of $7 million, it was an enormous financial stress, she said.

“We struggle with the budget and the finances,” she said. “We did not have the money.”

Collinsville borrowed money from a bank to pay off the ice storm recovery. The city got its federal reimbursement of more than $1 million but had to wait another 18 months for the state to come through with its share. She said Enevoldsen’s idea “definitely makes sense,” and adds that she hopes Collinsville never ends up in such dire straits again.

“I hope it never happens on my watch again, anybody’s watch really,” she said.

 ——–

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management is awaiting a $34.1 million supplemental appropriation to pay the state’s share of emergency responses that date back to 2007.

Here’s a sample of some of the biggest total pending bills, shown by the date they were declared disasters:

Feb. 7, 2007 (oldest pending claims): Two winter storms, $4.6 million

Aug. 24, 2007: Severe storms, tornados and flooding, $1 million

Dec. 18, 2007: Severe winter storm, $4 million

May 9, 2008: Severe storms, tornados and flooding, $1.7 million

March 5, 2010: Severe winter storm, $19 million

June 6, 2011: Storms, tornados, winds and flooding, $1.2 million





FEMA Awards $1.8M for Community Safe Room in Matagorda County, TX

15 05 2012

Information from a recent FEMA News Release:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded $1.8 million to the state of Texas for construction of a community safe room in El Maton, Texas in Matagorda County that will double as a multipurpose center and high school gymnasium. FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) will pay 75 percent of the $2.4 million project.

The concrete, dome structure, which will be built on the Tidehaven Independent School District campus, will be 20,000 square feet with nearly 16,000 square feet of interior space. The community safe room will provide protection from hurricanes and tornadoes for the people of Matagorda County, including those with special and medical needs.

The federal share of the funds for the project come from the agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). HMGP provides grants to states, and tribal and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures that reduce the loss of life and property due to natural disasters and to enable mitigation measures to be implemented during the immediate recovery from a disaster.





Mega Rain Targets Fort Bend County

13 05 2012

Weather Blog entry from Mario Gomez, Meteorologist with KHOU, Channel 2 Houston is below.  This item was posted on May 12, 2012 at 11:15 PM.

We knew that heavy rain fell overnight in Fort Bend county. What we didn’t know is this could turn out to be the heaviest rain ever recorded this year by a volunteer weather observer. The National Weather Service conducts hundreds of training sessions for community volunteers to help fill the gaps where weather data is missing, especially in rural areas of the nation. The network of volunteers is called CoCoRaHS which stands for community collaborative rain, hail and snow network.

Early Saturday morning one of these community observers near Richmond recorded over 11″ of rain in his rain gauge making this the heaviest rainfall total ever recorded this year in the United States. The rain slacked off to about 6″ at Hobby, which is still a respectable 24hr rainfall total. The good news is that Sunday will be completely dry and even less humid with a mild 60 degree start and with highs reaching the 80s just in time for a Mother’s Day back yard BBQs. 

Weather Blog: Mega Rain Targets Fort Bend County





USAF Decision Puts Gulf Coast Lives in Danger

12 05 2012

Governor Rick Perry of the State of Texas and Governor Phil Bryant of the State of Mississippi are making it known that they are none too happy about a pending plan to move C-130 airplanes based in Fort Worth to a base in Montana.  The governors are upset because the C-130 planes have been used to move patients to safety when the Gulf Coast has been threatened by hurricanes, such as Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Gustav.  An opinion column, co-written by the Governors, was published by The Washington Times, on Wednesday May 9, 2012.  The primary point of the article is that redeploying these aircraft is a needless waste of money and puts residents of Texas, Mississippi, and other Gulf Coast residents at risk.  The article is below:

As Hurricane Ike neared the Texas coast in 2008, hundreds of hospital patients and nursing home residents were in harm’s way, facing a difficult escape from the storm’s path. That’s when the C-130s of the 136th Air- lift Wing, based in Fort Worth, Texas, went into action. That year, for the first time in U.S. history, C-130s were used to help move patients to safety ahead of a storm’s arrival. In all, between Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, also in 2008, 800 people were airlifted to safety.

The same planes were among the first to arrive following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, bringing much-needed supplies and National Guard troops to areas devastated by the storm. If a plan being put in place by the U.S. Air Force is allowed to go into effect, that sort of mutual assistance among our Gulf Coast states could be a thing of the past.

Under the USAFForceStructureChanges, issued in February, eight National Guard C-130s currently based in Fort Worth would be relocated to Montana, far from a Gulf Coast – and its population of millions – extremely vulnerable to hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. We don’t have any opposition to basing Air National Guard assets in Montana, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of the safety of the residents of the Gulf states.

As long as these assets are based in Texas, they are available with a simple phone call between governors, ready to fly across the state or into other states under Emergency Management Assistance Compacts.

Put simply, the sort of assistance the Air National Guard C-130s currently can provide within hours would take days, or longer, to arrive at a time when every minute could mean the difference between life and death.

Just a quick look at the numbers tells the tale of the value of these assets to Gulf Coast states. Since 2005, the 136th Airlift Wing’s C-130s have:

*Flown 423 storm response sorties in coastal states.

*Logged 567 hours of flight time.

*Transported 3,143 passengers.

*Delivered 939 tons of emergency supplies.

What can’t be qualified so easily is the suffering eased by a warm blanket, the comfort given by a hot meal and the unparalleled joy of a family reunited. That’s what this airlift wing has meant to the residents of the Gulf states, and to relocate these assets 1,000 miles inland – to an area that faces few of the types of threats we do – makes little practical sense and even less financial sense.

Estimates of the costs of the move, including new training for ground personnel and the construction of new facilities, have been set as high as $75 million or more. That’s a huge waste of taxpayer money at a time of historic national debt. What’s worse, for a two-year transitional period while people are trained and facilities are built, these valuable assets essentially will be deleted from our national inventory. As Gulf Coast governors, we know firsthand how much damage can be done in two years.

We also have to give consideration to our first responders, who will be losing a valuable and important link in their supply chain, making their job of saving lives that much harder and more hazardous.

Since the Air Force plan was introduced in February, governors and their adjutant generals have attempted tirelessly to negotiate a compromise with senior leadership at the Defense Department to mitigate the drastic and unjustified cuts to the Air National Guard. In fact, in a letter dated March 5, we raised this issue with President Obama directly, hoping he would personally instruct the Air Force to alter its course. Unfortunately, the needs of the Gulf Coast states have fallen on deaf ears, as we still have received no response.

Last month, the Defense Department offered what it considered a compromise, with vague promises of reduced staff cuts and the nonspecific deployment of 24 C-130s currently slated for decommission because of age and safety concerns. We’ve rejected this offer, and the Air Force has conceded that its proposal fell far short of what our states need.

We are continuing to call upon Congress to reverse this decision and keep these indispensable assets where they’re needed most – manned and supported by experienced personnel and operated by people who know and understand the specific challenges of dealing with emergencies along the Gulf Coast.

Anything less than that is a horrible mistake that needlessly places many lives in danger.





Nursing home emergency plans are a disaster

10 05 2012

A recent article from an issue of Natural Hazards Disaster Research raises concern about the quality of emergency plans in place for nursing homes across the country.  The publication, a product of the University of Colorado at Boulder indicates the following:

From documents scrawled on legal pads to those stored in boxes, a recent investigation into nursing home emergency plans found them severely lacking. The on-site inquiry at 24 nursing homes uncovered a plethora of missing and substandard plans that would leave residents without food, transportation, and medicine during a disaster.

The investigation, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, was part of a larger study that followed up on a 2006 examination of emergency planning and preparedness training in nursing homes. The study found that, despite guidelines and regulations, nursing homes are still sadly ill-prepared to take care of patients during disaster.
“We identified many of the same gaps in nursing home preparedness and response that we found in our 2006 report,” wrote authors in the latest report, released last week. “Emergency plans lacked relevant information…nursing homes faced challenges with unreliable transportation contracts, lack of collaboration with local emergency management, and residents who developed health problems.”

Even more disturbing is the fact that the 24 facilities visited were culled from 210 organizations that had already experienced flood, hurricane, or wildfire between 2007 and 2010, according to an Associated Press article.

“Of the 24 emergency plans, 23 did not describe how to handle a resident’s illness or death during an evacuation,” the article stated. “Also, 15 had no information about specific medical needs of patients, such as feeding tubes and breathing equipment. Seven plans were silent on how to identify residents in an evacuation [and] 15 made no provision for including medication lists.

“None of the nursing homes met a government recommendation for a seven-day supply of drinking water if residents had to shelter in place and their regular source of water was unsafe or unavailable. Twenty-two had no backup plans to replace staff members unable to report for work during a disaster.”

Investigators also found that transportation contracts were often not honored during disasters and only covered patients—not food, supplies, and medical equipment—when they were, according to the 2012 report.

Regulations require all nursing homes have to have a disaster plan, but many elements of that plan are optional. In fact, 92 percent of the 16,000 nursing home facilities met the letter of federal requirements for emergency planning and 72 percent met training requirements, according to the Associated Press.

Report authors recommended that those regulations be strengthened to include specific plan and training requirements, guidance be given on compliance, and nursing homes compelled to use existing planning checklists.





Doubts about National Preparedness Grant Program exist

8 05 2012

The following article was written by Rob Margetta of the Congressional Quarterly.  It provides a decent overview of the concerns and questions that are arising related to a proposal to consolidate 16 FEMA administered grant programs into one single grant program.  Some concerns are related to the paucity of details on how the National Preparedness Grant Program would be established and administered.

Other concerns are related to the changes that might be made to popular grant programs that are now run in a more independent manner.  In the case of Fort Bend County, we have received funding from grant programs such as the Urban Area Security Initiative, State Homeland Security Program, and the Emergency Management Performance Grant program.  The funds received from these grant programs have assisted the County in building greater capacities to handle disaster response.

Other questions are being raised about the parts of the plan that give all the funding to state governments for distribution, instead of providing it directly to local recipients, like Fort Bend County.  The primary concern is whether local governments will actually be part of the grant management process envisioned by the National Preparedness Grant Program.

As Margetta writes:

Months after the Obama administration unveiled its proposal to roll 16 grant programs overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency into a single pool, lawmakers and local emergency-response officials are saying they still don’t know enough about the plan to overcome their initial, negative reactions.

The Obama budget request would provide the consolidated “National Preparedness Grant Program” with $1.5 billion in fiscal 2013, $424 million more than the 16 programs received in fiscal 2012, when several of them were zeroed out. Still, the proposal has come under fire from stakeholders worried that their favorite grant programs will suffer under the change, as well as lawmakers and officials who don’t like other parts of the administration’s plan, such as giving all funding to states to distribute, instead of providing it directly to local recipients.

Florida Republican Gus Bilirakis, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications, said during a hearing last week that the administration needs to provide more specifics about how the consolidated system would work.

“I must say that I find it particularly troubling that . . . it’s been more than two months after the president’s budget was released and . . . the subcommittee still has not received sufficient detail on this proposal,” he said.

Ranking Democrat Laura Richardson of California said the administration did not conduct necessary briefings with grant recipients before putting forward its proposal.

Hui-Shan L. Walker, emergency management coordinator for Hampton, Va., and U.S. president of the International Association of Emergency Managers, said local officials agree homeland grant dollars should be spent transparently and effectively. However, she expressed concern about the president’s plan, calling it “a vision with very few details on how the process would work and what the impacts would be.”

The consolidated grant pool plan would require all funded projects to be based on capability gaps identified by the federal Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) guide. Walker called the approach “state centric” and said the administration has not clearly explained how local government officials would have meaningful participation in the THIRA process.

She and other witnesses expressed particular concern about the administration’s plan to include the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), worth $532 million in fiscal 2012, in the grant pool. Judson Freed, director of emergency management and homeland security for Ramsey County, Minn., who appeared on behalf of the National Association of Counties, said the plan would ramp up conflicts between state and local governments, damaging a decade’s worth of work in building relationships.

While a new block grant program “may be a worthwhile concept and certainly deserves consideration, it must not be implemented at the cost of dismantling what has already been built and consigning local risk to a minor role,” he said.

One vote of confidence for FEMA’s plan came from Jim Davis, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety and vice chairman of the Homeland Security Advisors Council at the National Governors Association. In a time of tight budgets, he said, grant funding should be centralized, and the states would be the best entities for distributing it and monitoring its use. “I can say that the one thing that we are very appreciative of is FEMA’s recognition that the state has a role in the coordination of grant funding for the state,” he said.

The National Association of County Officials (NACo) has adopted a Resolution opposing the restructuring of grants as recommended by the federal government.  NACo opposes the change in the 2012 Emergency Management Performance Grant Program (EMPG) guidance expanding eligible subgrantees for the grant program, and urges Congress to require the Secretary to return to the intent of the EMPG funding and ensure that the funding is passed to local governments.

NACo opposes the assignment of final authority of the Adopted FY2013 National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP) block grant to the state administrator. NACo requests that Congress require the Secretary to ensure that commissions consisting of county Emergency Managers and other county Public Safety agents be established in each state to vet requests for funding and ensure that the overall needs of the local communities are met, and that the State Administrator not become the final decision maker. Further, the NPGP must include the requirement to pass through no less than 80% of the funds to the Counties directly.

NACo opposes the inclusion of the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) funding in the NPG block grant. NACo requests that Congress fully fund the UASI program and assure that no less than 80% of funds are passed through to the large urban areas. Further, NACo requests that Congress fully considers the risk of disaster to such areas and not limit the UASI program to the specific terrorism risk of certain large cities.