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.”

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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.





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.





Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS)

6 03 2011

In November of 2010, I had the opportunity to hear Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, speak at the IAEM Conference in San Antonio.  He really focused on one message more than all others——–the concept of the emergency management doing a better job of serving individuals with disabilities during disasters.  Very pointedly, he impressed on all that were in attendance that FEMA would be working to change the guidance and standards for sheltering those Americans with disabilities.

He spoke to the attendees of the development of the Guidance on Planning for Integration of Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS) in General Population Shelters.  A Texas-based organization, Baptist Child & Family Services (BCFS), was contracted by FEMA to put together this important Guidance.

In a general sense, FNSS planning guidance will provide standards for the sheltering of those with disabilities; in the past, those with disabilities were treated differently— as a separate population group.  Fugate noted that treating individuals differently was a direct violation of the American with Disabilities (ADA) Act.  The guidance will ensure that those with functional and access needs will receive equitable and adequate care in shelters during disasters.

The following article was published on the Texas Emergency Management Online recently; specifically 2011, Volume 58, No 3.  It is written by Kari Tatro, Executive Director of BCFS’ Emergency Services Division.  It is very timely.  It provides more background on FNSS; and it explains the steps being taken by Chief Nim Kidd and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to ensure compliance with the new Guidance.  Please take the time to read the article.

Our communities are changing. Many individuals with disabilities are living independently. People with chronic illnesses are living longer. And the fastest growing age group in the United States is 85 years of age and older. Emergency managers have a legal, as well as an ethical, obligation to put plans in place to meet the needs of all members of their communities during disasters. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate is leading this charge.

More than a year ago, FEMA tapped Texas’ own BCFS to develop a nationwide Guidance on Planning for Integration of Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS) in General Populations Shelters. This guide is based on existing law and applies to all general population sheltering plans. At its core is an effort to help state and local sheltering operations understand what planning is necessary to comply with federal key non-discrimination concepts and equality statutes.

Persons who may require FNSS in general population shelters include children, the elderly, adults with physical, sensory, mental health, cognitive and/or intellectual disabilities affecting their ability to function independently without assistance. It includes women in late stages of pregnancy, and people needing bariatric services. The list is not intended to be limited to these populations, and could include non-English speaking individuals, the homeless, persons from different cultures, and those with pharmacological dependency.

While the Fair Housing Act and the American with Disabilities Act have been on the books for years, it’s a fact that individuals who fit the above descriptions have not always received the same treatment as others during sheltering operations.

The FEMA guidance clarifies requirements for providing FNSS in general population shelters, ensuring that all individuals in the community, with or without disabilities, have equal access to services in disasters. Complying with this directive requires strategic planning and coordination among state agencies, local governments and community partners.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management is working toward this goal along with BCFS, State Mass Care, the Department of State Health Services, the Department of Aging and Disabilities Services, the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, the Texas Department of Licensing Regulation, the American Red Cross, several local Emergency Management Coordinators, as well as other state and voluntary agencies.

This work group will lead the effort to ensure that the state and local jurisdictions will be in compliance with the new FEMA guidance, and that they have tools to assist this process.  During the Texas Emergency Management Conference, BCFS will present a workshop providing a brief overview of the guidance describing those planning considerations that will need to be addressed in local jurisdiction general population shelter plans.  Additionally, the workshop will present the findings of the TDEM FNSS stakeholder group, including recommendations and tools to support local government in the integration of FNSS into their shelter plans. Jurisdictions should plan to attend one of the workshops in order to ascertain the State of Texas recommendations for the Federal Guidance Implementation. 

If your jurisdiction would like more information about FNSS or how BCFS can assist you in effectively and efficiently adopting and implementing recently released federal requirements, please contact us at 1-800-830-2246 or www.bcfs.net/emergencyservices.





Red Cross Announces App That Displays Current Shelter Information

4 03 2011
On February 22nd, 2011, Gloria Huang posted the following information on the American Red Cross Blog site:

iPhone users, [the Red Cross has]  brand spanking new app to help you find open shelters!   This Shelter View app displays current shelter information from the National Shelter System , which is updated every thirty minutes.

Download the app from the Apple app store.

    

Using the map view above, you’ll be able to check where shelters are open at any given time in the United States. A more detailed view is also available, showing you exactly where the shelter is, last reported resident count, capacity, and the local chapter involved with the shelter.