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Celebrate National Preparedness Month by Making Sure You’re Ready!

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011
natural disasters

We can learn from things that are handled right in natural disasters.

Recent events, such as Hurricane Irene, the east coast earthquake and this year’s tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and Joplin are critical reminders about the importance of preparedness. So we’d like to take a one-week break from our ongoing series about lessons learned from 9/11 to discuss ways that you and your community can prepare for natural disasters. It seems particularly fitting we do so now, since September is National Preparedness Month.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate kicked off National Preparedness Month last week with a visit to New York. He posed one important question: “Are you ready?”

As active members National Preparedness Month Coalition, we at RJWestmore Inc. would like to echo Fugate’s implied call to action. We believe the more people are aware of available online and real world tools, the more prepared they will be to cope and bounce back when disasters strike.

A great way to learn how to prepare is to learn from past mistakes. This method is effective because people are always quick to point fingers and paws and complain. But let’s take a different tact this week, by learning from what went right in the recent events on the east coast as well as Missouri and Alabama.

Hurricane Irene: For Washington, D.C., Hurricane Irene was not only the most dangerous weather system to rip through Washington in some time, but it was also a test of whether the beleaguered power company, Pepco, could claw its way out of the basement of public opinion by keeping the lights on and restoring them when they blinked out.

Pepco’s response was to make automated phone calls alerting citizens before the hurricane hit and then to restore power within 24 hours to 140,000 of the 220,000 affected customers. Fewer homes served by Pepco in the District and Maryland suburbs lost power than did those served by neighboring power companies. Pepco bounced back from bad PR by keeping lines of communication open with their customer base. Whatever line of business you are in, make communication an integral part of your emergency management plans.

East Coast Earthquake: Immediately after the 5.9 earthquake centered near Mineral, Virginia, the FAA ordered planes at airports around the country to stay on the ground rather than fly to airports in New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Virginia where traffic was temporarily halted. Among major airports in the region, only New York’s LaGuardia continued operations throughout the day. But by late afternoon, traffic at all the airports was returning to normal, although delays were expected into the evening. Controlling transportation is crucial to effective disaster management.

Tornadoes: According to an article in USA Today, the Alabama tornado killed 41 people, devastated vital parts of the city’s infrastructure, destroyed or damaged more than 7,000 buildings and affected 10% of local businesses. It was part of a system of twisters that killed 238 people in Alabama alone and another 100 or so in other states across the South.

Tuscaloosa is said to be further along the road to rebuilding than Joplin, Mo., which was struck by a tornado that killed at least 125, blasted 2,000 homes, took out one of the city’s two hospitals, ravaged big-box stores and smashed several hundred small businesses.

Thankfully, funds for survivors and reconstruction are coming in from many sources, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies, state and local governments, private insurers, volunteer and faith-based organizations and other non-governmental sources.

Although the rebuilding efforts will likely take years and millions of dollars, thanks to coordinated efforts of state and federal agencies, these devastated communities are on their way to recovery. Handling any large scale disaster, whether manmade or natural, requires coordination and cooperation.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Tornado Outbreak— Managing During and After the Storms

Monday, May 16th, 2011
Storm Warning Sign

Emergency communications were used to great effect during the tornados in the South.

The recent tornado outbreak in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia was the deadliest in decades.

Damage in Georgia alone is estimated at $75 million. And many in Alabama are calling it the state’s most damaging natural disaster. The devastation dramatically demonstrates the need to always be prepared for disasters as well as the increasing role that social media is playing in communications before, during and after emergency events. In the South, rebuilding efforts were quickly launched, with $5 million in relief aid from federal agencies which are funding temporary clean-up jobs, allowing the rebuilding to be done quickly and concurrently offering a welcome short-term income boost to area residents.

Dramatic videos of the tornadoes captured the raw power of the storm which decimated entire towns. Coverage of the tornadoes was unique in the sheer number of individual tornadoes that were captured live on video. Some local stations used volunteers to spot approaching storms, even providing the amateur filmmakers with dashboard-mounted, internet-enabled cameras.

Notifications and Social Media:

  • During the storm, an attorney in Ringgold, Georgia used Facebook to post live updates about the storm as it moved through his town. His site became a busy source of information, as he provided updates about who was safe, injured, or trapped by the storm.  He also posted real-time information about the well being of individuals in a particular town, directly responding to Facebook inquiries as he toured the devastation.
  • Many first reports of tornado touch-downs in the South came from Twitter users (or Tweeps).
  • Tweeps have played an integral role in communicating about international emergencies, by tweeting about disasters such as the earthquakes in Japan.

Using Social Media after the Storms:

  • The simply titled “Pictures and Documents found after the April 21, 2011 Tornadoes” Facebook Page was the brainchild of a Mississippi resident who found scattered personal items left in the wake of the tornadoes. Her FB page allows individuals to post pictures of found items such as family photographs or even birth certificates, along with directions about item retrieval.
  • Several Atlanta residents created Facebook Fan pages asking for tuxedo and prom dress donations to help teenage storm-victims attend their senior prom. This page, titled “Prom Dresses for Tornado Victims” boasts more than 5,000 “Likes.”

While social media has proven useful to help spread information and alert others to danger, it is not yet widely used yet by first responders. But that is likely to change:

  • 911 call centers increasingly receive text messages even though their systems are not yet equipped to handle texts.
  • According to a Red Cross study, three out of four respondents would expect emergency personnel to arrive within an hour of posting a Facebook status update asking for help. Authorities do not currently monitor such posts. However, FEMA and other organizations are increasingly looking at ways to incorporate Twitter and Facebook in their planning efforts.

The disaster relief response to the tornadoes is a coordinated effort led by both federal and state agencies. Recently, FEMA has emphasized the need for state and local emergency responders to lead recovery efforts. The director of FEMA spoke about the importance of state-led response to disasters such as tornados. He also remarked that, post-Katrina, many people look to FEMA to be supremely powerful and able to solve any disaster—while the reality is that any large scale response requires a concerted effort between multiple groups.

Proper planning and learning the “Do’s” are the keys to managing the situation when disasters strike.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.