Disaster readiness may be at risk, Florida warns

27 07 2013

As noted in this article, Florida’s top emergency manager is concerned that federal budget cuts have degraded the ability of the federal government to respond to disasters.  The Florida, maparticle below was published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on July 23, 2013.   The author of the article is William E. Gibson, a reporter from the newspaper’s Washington Bureau.  Given the fact that we are in the middle of the 2014 Hurricane Season, it is hoped that Mr. Koon’s fears do not come to true.

State officials are sounding the alarm that federal budget cuts have depleted the line of defense against powerful storms just when Florida faces the busiest part of hurricane season.

If disaster bears down on Florida, National Guardsmen are prepared to rush in with high-water vehicles, helicopters and emergency equipment to help rescue stricken residents and stranded motorists.

But Bryan Koon, Florida’s top emergency manager, fears that federal resources will be drained if the state faces a repeat of 2004 and 2005, when six hurricanes and several tropical storms ripped through the state. The 2013 hurricane season is forecast to be stormier than normal, and August to October is usually the busiest part.

“My concern is not necessarily with the first storm. It’s not with the life-saving things that will happen in the first 24 or 48 hours,” said Koon. “But if we have multiple storms, if we have a longer-term event, they will not have the flexibility, or the manpower, to deal with that kind of situation.”

Federal budget cuts, known as a sequester, have forced about 1,000 Florida National Guard members to take 11 furlough days — unpaid time off — through September.

It also lopped $1 billion from the nation’s disaster relief fund. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency says the remaining $10.2 billion should be enough to deal with disasters through the fiscal year ending in September.

FEMA workers have been spared from furloughs, but a hiring slowdown left the agency with hundreds of vacant jobs nationwide. The sequester also pinched state and local disaster preparedness grants.

“If there is a hurricane, we may have issues getting equipment ready because of the lost time and effort,” said Lt. Col. James Evans, of the Florida National Guard. “We can still support the governor and the state the way we always have, but now we may need extra time to get from one part of Florida to another in the midst of a crisis.”

The Florida National Guard already is backlogged while restoring 6,000 pieces of equipment returned from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Equipment that can be used for disaster duty includes Humvees, helicopters and trucks with a high wheelbase that can ford several feet of water.

“Last year, during Tropical Storm Debby, we used their high-water vehicles to go out and get folks that we were unable to get to otherwise,” Koon said. “They can help us distribute food, water and ice after an event. During some of the older storms, when Florida wanted to get schools open, they trained National Guardsmen to be bus drivers.”

The sequester also has reduced disaster training time for about 10,000 part-time Guardsmen, sometimes called weekend warriors. Gov. Rick Scott warned Florida’s U.S. senators the cuts will strain personnel and resources “critical to preventing the loss of life or property in the event of disaster.”

A delay in moving equipment, Scott said, “means that our state’s timetable for pre-positioning resources and supplies must be significantly altered — at an even greater cost to the state, to say nothing of the impact on public safety.”

Another budget battle looms this fall, and failure to resolve it could extend the cuts another year.

“If the sequester doesn’t go away in next year’s budget, we may be looking at 22 furlough days next year,” said Evans. “That will keep compounding over the years as long as the sequester remains in effect.”

Hints for Surviving Extreme Heat

26 07 2013

We are facing typical Texas heat this summer. Here are some hints, from FEMA, on how to better cope with the high temperatures we are facing in Fort Bend County and the greater Houston region.  Temperatures are rising across the country and many cities are feeling the heat of 100 degrees or more. With the addition of humidity, some areas will begin to experience extreme heat. During extreme heat, it is important to stay cool.

Extreme heat causes more deaths than hurricanes, tornados, floods and earthquakes combined. Heat related illnesses occur when the body is not able to compensate and properly cool itself.

The great news is extreme heat is preventable by following a few tips:
• Listen to local weather forecasts and stay aware of upcoming temperatures.
• Weather strip doors and windows to keep cool air in.
• Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sunshine with drapes, shades or awnings.
• Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty.
• Stay indoors. If you do not have air conditioning, visit a cooling station such as your local library or shopping mall.
• Wear light weight and light colored clothing with sunscreen to reduce exposure to the sun.
• Do not leave children or pets in the car unattended at any time.
• Pace yourself in your outside activities. Reschedule if needed.

For more information on beating the heat visit: http://www.ready.gov/heat

Texas People Recovering In Spite of Devastating Events (PRIDE)

19 07 2013

This website was established by the Texas Department of State Health Services in order to promote the disaster crisis counseling outreach services provided in response to the 2005 hurricanes. Disaster survivors’ stories are included, as well as sample fact sheets and a project newsletter. The site also has a corresponding Spanish language page. Texas PRIDE was reactivated in response to the 2011 wildfires in Bastrop, Texas, and it can be reactivated at any time if a disaster response is needed in the state. This website has a toggle button, at the upper right side of the site, which allows viewers to see the website in Spanish.

Website and More Information http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/mhsa/pride

FEMA selects TEEX to provide training for response teams

14 07 2013

The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) will provide training for all of the Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) and National US&R Response System, following being awarded a contract by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The training will be provided at various locations throughout the country and at TEEX’s Disaster City® training facility in College Station. The one-year contract with option for four additional years totals $9.8 million. This contract marks the first time that FEMA has combined course delivery with curriculum services and an online training portal in a single contract.

“Being selected for this contract will allow us to provide the outstanding training and technical services that we are known for around the world,” said Robert Moore (pictured), division director for TEEX. TEEX has provided training for urban search and rescue teams globally since 1997.

The FEMA National US&R Response System is comprised of 28 different US&R teams from across the country, all of which receive standardized training in the tactics of urban search and rescue. In addition to delivering US&R courses, TEEX will also be responsible for developing new courses, updating course curriculum and deploying an online Training Portal and Learning Management System for the national FEMA US&R System.

Stacie Walker Named Missouri City’s Director of Communications

3 07 2013

Missouri City has named Stacie Walker, who joined the City as Public Information Manager in August 2009, as the new Director of Communications. Walker brings 23 years of communications experience to the City, with expertise in news media, public relations, team management, mentoring and volunteerism.

Walker will serve as a senior member of the City’s executive team and provide guidance and leadership in community outreach with homeowners associations, media relations, event planning, web site administration, and supervision of the City’s print publications, news releases, municipal television station and radio station.

“Stacie brings a solid track record of strong news media and communication abilities as evidenced by her work for the City,” said Assitant City Manager Bill Atkinson. “We are excited to have Stacie move to the position of Director of Communications, where she will work on a multifaceted approach to keeping our citizens informed about the City of Missouri City”.

Among her many achievements, Walker contributed to numerous award-winning reports during her 15 years as Assignment Editor at Newsday in Melville, New York. Her tenure there included winning a Pulitzer Prize, Publisher’s awards, and numerous editing, management and leadership honors. She also completed a Management/Leadership Fellowship at HarvardUniversity in 2006.

Walker earned her Master’s Degree in Business Administration from DowlingCollege in Oakdale, New York in 1999 and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas in 1991.