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.”

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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

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





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.





Hurricane Domes

3 01 2013

About two weeks ago, I made mention of the fact that Bay City in Matagorda County had received grant funds to build a shelter to protect its citizens during a hurricane event.  On December 28, 2012, Juan A. Lozano, Associated Press, wrote the following article which provides more insight on the construction of hurricane domes across the State of Texas.

Hurricane Dome, Edna

Texas builds “hurricane domes” for double-duty

Most of the time, the windowless building with the dome-shaped roof will be a typical high school gymnasium filled with cheering fans watching basketball and volleyball games.

But come hurricane season, the structure that resembles a miniature version of the famed Astrodome will double as a hurricane shelter, part of an ambitious storm-defense system that is taking shape along hundreds of miles of the Texas Gulf Coast.

Its brawny design — including double-layer cinder-block walls reinforced by heavy duty steel bars and cement piers that plunge 30 feet into the ground — should allow it to withstand winds up to 200 mph.

“There is nothing standard” about the building, said Bob Wells, superintendent of the Edna school district, as he stood inside the $2.5 million gym, which is set to be completed by March. “The only standard stuff is going to be the stuff we do inside.”

The Edna dome is one of 28 such buildings planned to protect sick, elderly and special-needs residents who might be unable to evacuate ahead of a hurricane. First-responders and local leaders will also be able to take refuge in the domes, allowing them to begin recovery efforts faster after a storm has passed.

Storm-defense structures are getting increased attention in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which inflicted heavy damage on the East Coast in October. The city of New York, for instance, is considering a multi-billion-dollar system of sea barriers.

For Texas, a state always in danger during hurricane season, the domes offer the extra benefit of serving as recreation or community centers when not needed as shelters. They are being erected with help from the federal Emergency Management Agency.

“I think it’s good for FEMA, and I think it’s good for us. And I think it’s good for the taxpayers,” Wells said.

The gym in Edna, a town of 5,500 people about 100 miles southwest of Houston, is the second hurricane dome in Texas. The first was built in 2011 in Woodsboro, near Corpus Christi. Most of the domes will be around 20,000 square feet.

The plan calls for structures in 11 counties in the Rio Grande Valley, around Corpus Christi and along the coast from Victoria to Newton counties, said Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

So far, $34.5 million has been awarded. This month, FEMA approved funds for a hurricane dome that will serve as a community center in Brownsville, one that will serve as a wellness center and physical rehabilitation facility in Bay City and two that will serve as multi-purpose training centers in Kingsville.

Inside the gym in Edna, Wells’ voice echoed as he pointed to the ceiling, which has layers of sprayed-on concrete, insulation and rebar, all of which are under a heavy duty fabric that gives the structure its distinctive wind-resistant shape.

The doorways are covered by awnings of heavy gauge metal and supported by concrete girders that go 15 feet into the ground. FEMA is paying for 75 percent of the dome structures, with local communities picking up the remaining cost.

The funding is part of the agency’s initiative to help homeowners and communities build hardened shelters that provide protection from extreme weather. Nationwide, more than $683 million has been awarded in 18 states, including Texas, Alabama, Michigan and South Carolina.

Walking around the gym, Wells said it reminded him of when, as a teenager, he first walked into the Astrodome after it opened in 1965 in Houston.

“It was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is so cool,'” he said. “I’m still kind of in the ‘oh, wow’ stage with this.”





FEMA Awards $1.8 Million for Community Safe Room in Matagorda County

16 12 2012

Congratulations to officials in Matagorda County for securing significant funding to build a community safe room.  FEMA News Release R6-12-164, published on December 12, 2012 announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded $1.8 million to the state of Texas for construction of a community safe room in the city of Bay City in Matagorda County, Texas.

Matagorda CountyFEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) will pay 75 percent of the $2.4 million total cost for the project, which is being built under the Texas Safe Shelter Initiative.

The concrete dome shaped safe room will be 20,000 square feet in size and will provide protection from storms and tornadoes for the people of Matagorda County, including those with access and functional needs, as well as medical special needs.  It will also serve as a wellness center/physical rehabilitation facility for the Matagorda County Hospital District.

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.

At the same time of the above announcement, FEMA also noted that funding was awarded to Kleberg County and the City of Brownsville for additional community safe rooms.  All of these community safe room projects involve the local communities participating by paying for 25% of the each project.  All projects serve dual needs for the community so the shelters will be used on a daily basis as well as during emergencies.

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 to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.





Texas Hurricane History Demonstrates Need to Prepare For 2012 Season

10 07 2012

Below, please find a News Release from FEMA.  This is originally published on May 30, 2012.  It is Release Number R6-12-101.  We are slightly more than one month into the 2012 Hurricane Season, and nothing much as happened yet that has affected the Texas Gulf Coast.  However, it is still early, and August and September are usually the busiest months for our area during the hurricane season.

Fourteen hurricanes and six tropical storms since 1961, which resulted in federal disaster declarations, serve as reminders to Texans that now is the time to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.

The 2012 Hurricane Season begins on June 1, and while experts are predicting a slower season than in past years, most of the predictions still call for at least a normal amount of activity.  The 50 year average is a little over 11 named storms, six of those becoming hurricanes and two becoming major ones – Category 3 or higher.

In the last 50 years, Texas has had 20 storms that resulted in federal declarations.  Fourteen were hurricanes and six were tropical storms. The hurricanes were Carla (1961), Cindy (1963), Beulah (1967), Celia (1970), Allen (1980), Alicia (1983), Gilbert (1988), Bret (1999), Claudette (2003), Katrina (2005 – Emergency), Rita (2005), Dolly (2008), Ike (2008) and Alex (2010).  The tropical storms were Danielle (1980), Allison (1989), Charley (1998), Frances (1998), Fay (2002) and Erin (2007).

Six of the hurricanes and two of the tropical storms occurred in the last decade and resulted in the Lone Star State receiving approximately $7.5 billion in federal disaster aid. That assistance fell under both the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Public Assistance (PA) and Individuals and Households (IHP) programs and included funding for direct housing, crisis counseling, disaster legal services, disaster unemployment, and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) low-interest disaster loans.

Hurricane Katrina in Texas was an emergency declaration and provided reimbursements to the state for housing Katrina evacuees.

There have been no hurricanes or tropical storms resulting in a FEMA disaster declaration in the past two years, but several storms have affected the state nonetheless. Tropical Storm Hermine in 2010 caused major inland flooding in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 stirred up winds that exacerbated a weekend wildfire in Bastrop County.

“These statistics more than demonstrate the need for all Texas to be prepared,” said Acting FEMA Region 6 Administrator Tony Robinson. “We say it often, but it’s the best way to get a clear message out there – Get a Kit, Make a Plan and Stay Informed.

For more information on the upcoming hurricane season, please visit www.ready.gov/hurricanes and www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare.

Volunteering is one way to be prepared to help others. Use VolunteerMatch to locate local Red Cross volunteer opportunities in your community. You can also visit www.citizencorps.gov for ways to help and be prepared.

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 to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.





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.