FEMA Launches Campaign To Prepare Americans For Natural Disasters
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A collaborative campaign has been launched to prepare Americans for natural disasters. The campaign – called “America’s PrepareAthon!” – encourages people around the country to practice preparedness now before the next disaster or national emergency strikes.
America’s PrepareAthon! is directed as part of President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive 8: National Preparedness and is being led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The US Geological Survey (USGS) is one of the supporters and contributors of the campaign.
The campaign will focus on two National Days of Action. The first will take place on Wednesday, April 30, 2014, and will revolve around preparedness for wildfires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. The second day will be held on September 30, and will focus on earthquakes, hazardous materials, influenza, and winter weather.
This campaign is “an opportunity for individuals, organizations and communities to prepare for specific hazards through drills, group discussions and exercises,” wrote Jessica Robertson of USGS in a blog.
The campaign is simple to join and is open to everyone, with more than five million participants already registered. Interested persons can either sign up and register online at www.ready.gov or opt to join via community events.
Registered participants should commit to the campaign by taking at least one specific step toward preparedness for potential hazards. As well, connecting with others through local community or organizational preparedness events, or participating in online discussion forums will help keep participants focused on national preparedness.
Interested persons can also find customizable promotional materials online at www.ready.gov/prepare. The site includes information for individuals, families, businesses, schools, houses of worship, organizations and more.
FEMA officials launched a Google+ Hangout on Monday, April 27 to discuss national preparedness with members of the professional community and other government officials. In case you missed it, the entire Hangout can be viewed below.
Beginning on April 30, America’s PrepareAthon! will focus on preparing Americans for tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. The preparedness event is not only occurring on a single day, the campaign will continue throughout the spring, asking the community to “Be Smart. Take Part. Prepare.”
With an increase in weather-related disasters the need to be prepared is all too important. However, nearly 70 percent of Americans have not participated in a disaster preparedness drill – aside from fire drills – at home, work or school in the past two years, according to a 2012 national survey by FEMA. Studies have shown that communities are better prepared to deal with an emergency and recover from it more quickly when everyone is involved in preparedness.
America’s PrepareAthon! provides educational information about each hazard as well as what protective measures should be taken before, during and after an event. In preparation of each hazard, individuals should build an emergency kit and get their family on board by making a family communications plan. Also, listening to instructions given by local emergency management officials during an emergency is key to surviving any disaster.
Wildfires are one of the most dangerous events that occur in the United States. Most wildfires are started by humans or lightning and can spread rapidly in hot, dry and windy conditions. While it is difficult to prevent many wildfires from happening, the effects can be lessened if individuals and families design and landscape their homes with materials that help reduce, rather than fuel, fire activity. Fire-resistant and noncombustible materials can be used in buildings or they can be treated with fire-retardant chemicals. Cleaning roofs, gutters and chimneys also can prevent fire from engulfing your home, as well as not stacking firewood near walls of homes and other structures. Most importantly, family members should be taught how to use a fire extinguisher and learn about the need for water during an emergency.
Floods are another extremely dangerous disaster in the US and one of the most common. Some floods develop slowly, giving community some time to prepare and/or flee from affected regions. Others, such as flash floods, can develop in minutes, leaving little time for action. It is important to first know whether there are flood risks in your neighborhood and around your home and if so, it is important to be familiar with property elevations, maintain an awareness of flood conditions and get familiar with evacuation routes. Some tips for homeowners on preparing for a flood would be to elevate the furnace, water heater and electric panels. Also, installing “check valves” can prevent water from backing up into drains. In the event of a flash flood, the most important thing is to immediately find higher ground.
Hurricanes can be very destructive, such as 2005’s Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans or 2012’s Hurricane Sandy that ravaged the Northeast. People in high risk areas, which in the US can be anywhere along the east coast from Texas to Maine, should protect their homes by covering windows or installing hurricane shutters, making sure the roofs meet building codes and identifying wind-safe locations. Following local authority orders to evacuate is important as well as having an emergency kit ready at hand. If evacuations are not possible, closing all interior doors, turning off propane tanks and staying away from windows are important steps in staying safe during a hurricane.
The most violent and destructive storms are tornadoes. These events, spawned from powerful thunderstorms, can take lives and destroy neighborhoods in mere seconds. Every state in the nation is at some risk of tornadoes, but an area known as Tornado Alley is most at risk, with hundreds of tornadoes being formed throughout the central and southern US each year.
At home, having an emergency kit at hand and a below-ground shelter are the best preparedness tools. Staying alert to changing weather conditions and watching for approaching storms is also key to knowing when you may need to seek shelter. For those who are not in an area where there is shelter, such as in a car, the best bet is make sure the seatbelt is fastened, head is covered with hands and below the window level. If there is a spot that is below the roadway, it may be better to exit the car and lie in the low area with head covered.
USGS CAN HELP
“You can’t plan if you don’t know what you are planning for. USGS science is essential to understanding a range of hazards, serving as a basis upon which decisions and preparedness actions are developed,” wrote Robertson.
The USGS has a wide array of tools and information for before, during and after fire disasters to identify wildfire risks and reduce subsequent hazards, while providing real-time geospatial support for firefighters during these events. The Survey provides fire managers with up-to-the-minute maps and satellite data about current wildfire extent and behavior and provides information to help assess wildfire aftermath, which include erosion, landslides, and changes in water quality. The information also helps guide the rebuilding or more resilient communities and restoration of ecosystems.
The USGS also conducts real-time monitoring of the nation’s rivers and streams, providing emergency management services with critical information on flood warnings and drought mitigation. The Survey’s WaterWatch site gives details on river levels and WaterAlert sends texts or emails when water levels exceed certain thresholds. Data can also be requested on-demand through the USGS’s WaterNow tool.
The USGS also studies coastal vulnerability and change from hurricanes and other extreme coastal storms, helping inform flood forecasts and evacuation warnings. Before, during and after hurricanes that affect the US, the Survey assesses the likelihood of beach erosion, overwash or inundation. Scientists also measure storm surge and monitor water levels of inland rivers and streams.
(LEFT) Flooded homes in North Dakota. June 2011. Credit: Dave Ozman, USGS
(CENTER) America’s PrepareAthon! graphic for tornado awareness. “Be Smart. Take Part. Prepare.”
(RIGHT) Oblique aerial photographs (left set) of Seaside Heights, New Jersey, before and after Hurricane Sandy impacts shows coastal change on a developed coastline.