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

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





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.





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.





Do you need a good example of why Mitigation projects save lives and money?

15 05 2011

Okay, so a couple of days ago, I lamented the prospect of deep cuts in FEMA budget, especially in the area of grants to state and local governments.  I made a point of why it might be a bit foolish to eliminate grants for mitigation projects which have proven time and time again to be a cost effective method for saving lives, reducing property damage, and lessening post-disaster recovery costs.

So, keep that in mind as you read about former Mayor Kotaku Wamura of Fudai in Japan.  The Associated Press article by Tomoka A Hosaka, published May 13, 2011, can be found below.  You really have to appreciate the vision former Mayor Wamura and his dedicated efforts to get the wall built before it caused additional deaths in his community.  Wamura served ten term mayor of Fudai.  As the article clearly notes to the reader:  “Without the 51-foot costly floodgate, Fudai would have disappeared.”

How One Japanese Village Defied The Tsunami

In the rubble of Japan’s northeast coast, one small village stands as tall as ever after the tsunami. No homes were swept away. In fact, they barely got wet.  Fudai is the village that survived — thanks to a huge wall once deemed a mayor’s expensive folly and now vindicated as the community’s salvation.

The 3,000 residents living between mountains behind a cove owe their lives to a late leader who saw the devastation of an earlier tsunami and made it the priority of his four-decade tenure to defend his people from the next one.  His 51-foot (15.5-meter) floodgate between mountainsides took a dozen years to build and meant spending more than $30 million in today’s dollars.

“It cost a lot of money. But without it, Fudai would have disappeared,” said seaweed fisherman Satoshi Kaneko, 55, whose business has been ruined but who is happy to have his family and home intact.  The floodgate project was criticized as wasteful in the 1970s. But the gate and an equally high seawall behind the community’s adjacent fishing port protected Fudai from the waves that obliterated so many other towns on March 11. Two months after the disaster, more than 25,000 are missing or dead.

“However you look at it, the effectiveness of the floodgate and seawall was truly impressive,” Fudai Mayor Hiroshi Fukawatari said. Towns to the north and south also braced against tsunamis with concrete seawalls, breakwaters and other protective structures. But none were as tall as Fudai’s.

The town of Taro believed it had the ultimate fort — a double-layered 33-foot-tall (10-meter-tall) seawall spanning 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) across a bay. It proved no match for the tsunami two months ago. In Fudai, the waves rose as high as 66 feet (20 meters), as water marks show on the floodgate’s towers. So some ocean water did flow over but it caused minimal damage. The gate broke the tsunami’s main thrust. And the community is lucky to have two mountainsides flanking the gate, offering a natural barrier.

The man credited with saving Fudai is the late Kotaku Wamura, a 10-term mayor whose political reign began in the ashes of World War II and ended in 1987.  Fudai, about 320 miles (510 kilometers) north of Tokyo, depends on the sea. Fishermen boast of the seaweed they harvest. A pretty, white-sand beach lures tourists every summer.  But Wamura never forgot how quickly the sea could turn. Massive earthquake-triggered tsunamis flattened Japan’s northeast coast in 1933 and 1896. In Fudai, the two disasters destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 439 people.

“When I saw bodies being dug up from the piles of earth, I did not know what to say. I had no words,” Wamura wrote of the 1933 tsunami in his book about Fudai, “A 40-Year Fight Against Poverty.”  He vowed it would never happen again.

In 1967, the town erected a 51-foot (15.5-meter) seawall to shield homes behind the fishing port. But Wamura wasn’t finished. He had a bigger project in mind for the cove up the road, where most of the community was located. That area needed a floodgate with panels that could be lifted to allow the Fudai River to empty into the cove and lowered to block tsunamis.

He insisted the structure be as tall as the seawall.  The village council initially balked.

“They weren’t necessarily against the idea of floodgates, just the size,” said Yuzo Mifune, head of Fudai’s resident services and an unofficial floodgate historian. “But Wamura somehow persuaded them that this was the only way to protect lives.”

Construction began in 1972 despite lingering concerns about its size as well as bitterness among landowners forced to sell land to the government.  Even current Mayor Fukawatari, who helped oversee construction, had his doubts.

“I did wonder whether we needed something this big,” he said in an interview at his office.  The concrete structure spanning 673 feet (205 meters) was completed in 1984. The total bill of 3.56 billion yen was split between the prefecture and central government, which financed public works as part of its postwar economic strategy.

On March 11, after the 9.0 earthquake hit, workers remotely closed the floodgate’s four main panels. Smaller panels on the sides jammed, and a firefighter had to rush down to shut them by hand.  The tsunami battered the white beach in the cove, leaving debris and fallen trees. But behind the floodgate, the village is virtually untouched.

Fudai Elementary School sits no more than a few minutes walk inland. It looks the same as it did on March 10. A group of boys recently ran laps around a baseball field that was clear of the junk piled up in other coastal neighborhoods.  Their coach, Sachio Kamimukai, was born and raised in Fudai. He said he never thought much about the floodgate until the tsunami.

“It was just always something that was there,” said Kamimukai, 36. “But I’m very thankful now.”  The floodgate works for Fudai’s layout, in a narrow valley, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the solution for other places, Fukawatari said.

Fudai’s biggest casualty was its port, where the tsunami destroyed boats, equipment and warehouses. The village estimates losses of 3.8 billion yen ($47 million) to its fisheries industry.  One resident remains missing. He made the unlucky decision to check on his boat after the earthquake.

Wamura left office three years after the floodgate was completed. He died in 1997 at age 88. Since the tsunami, residents have been visiting his grave to pay respects.  At his retirement, Wamura stood before village employees to bid farewell: “Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand.”





Ron Paul Supports Abolishing FEMA

14 05 2011

In case you missed the following back and forth between Wolf Blitzer, CNN, The Situation Room, and newly announced presidential candidate Representative Ron Paul, from Texas.  The transcript below is from a May 13th interview between Blitzer and Paul on CNN’s The Situation Room.  It is a partial transcript of the interview.  If you want to view the full transcipt, visit www.CNN.com

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: On the whole issue of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, do you want to see that agency ended?

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Well, if you want to live in a free society, if you want to pay attention to the constitution, why not? I think it’s bad economics.  I think it’s bad morality.  And it’s bad constitutional law.

Why should people like myself, who had, not too long ago, a house on the Gulf Coast and it’s – it’s expensive there and it’s risky and it’s dangerous.

Why should somebody from the central part of the United States rebuild my house? Why shouldn’t I have to buy my own insurance and protect about the potential dangers?

Well, the reason we don’t have market insurance is it’s too expensive. Well, why is it expensive? Because it’s dangerous. Well, so why should – why should we take money from somebody else who don’t get the chance to live on the Gulf and make them pay to rebuild my house?

I mean it’s – it’s a moral hazard to say that government is always going to take care of us when we do dumb things.  I’m trying to get people to not to dumb things.  Besides, it’s not authorized in the constitution.

BLITZER:  And if there’s a disaster, like flooding or – or an earthquake or Hurricane Katrina, what’s wrong with asking fellow Americans to help their – their – their fellow citizens?

PAUL:  Nothing.  And I think Americans are very, very generous and they have traditionally.  The big problem is Americans are getting poor and they’re not able to voluntarily come to the rescue.

But to coerce people, to ask them to help, that is fine and dandy.  But when you bankrupt our country and nobody has a job and then they say, well, FEMA needs to bail out everybody, then all we’re doing is compounding our problems.

And believe me, I’ve been, you know, very much involved in the hurricanes that have come into my district.  And most of the people in my district do not like FEMA.  You know, they want to try to get their money and all.  But FEMA comes in and takes over.

They take over their property rights.  They dictate.  They prevent some of the volunteers from going in.

So there’s a strong resentment toward the way FEMA operates, because they’re bureaucrats who don’t understand the rule of law nor do they understand local control and property rights. So there’s – there’s a very strong argument that this whole program, that governance through coercion and taxation, can bail out everybody when we’re flat broke and they have to print the money.  And now we’re going into inflationary problems, which are very severe.  That’s our big issue right now.