“Are you Ready?” for Extreme Cold and Other Natural and Man-made Disasters

January 23, 2014

Image below: Graph depicts how variations in the polar vortex affect weather in the mid-latitudes. Courtesy: National Science Foundation

Polar-vortex-fall-to-winter-chartAs the United States shivers under the Arctic Express, Polar Vortex, Polar Cyclone, Polar Low, Circumpolar Whirl or whatever name you call it (I just call it FREEZING!!!!) with snow, ice, and some of the most extreme cold conditions in decades, Americans will be happy to know that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has help available in the form of its extremely useful new disaster preparedness guide, Are You Ready?: An In-Depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness.

FEMA Are You Ready?: An In-Depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness ISBN: 9780160920745Intended as both a reference source as well as a step-by-step manual, this easy-to-follow guide has been designed to help Americans “learn how to protect themselves and their families against all types of hazards”.

According to the FEMA authors:

The focus of the content is on how to develop, practice, and maintain emergency plans that reflect what must be done before, during, and after a disaster to protect people and their property. Also included is information on how to assemble a disaster supplies kit that contains the food, water, and other supplies in sufficient quantity for individuals and their families to survive following a disaster in the event they must rely on their own resources.

The guide advises on planning before a disaster, responding during a disaster, and recovering after a disaster and is organized into the following sections: Why Prepare, Part 1 Basic Preparedness, Part 2 Natural Hazards, Part 3 Technological Hazards, Part 4 Terrorism, and Part 5 Recovering from Disaster.

Each chapter has specific tips on preparation, what to do during the particular disaster, instructions for what to do afterwards, and where to go for more information, including links for free publications.

Disasters and emergencies cover the gamut in three areas:

a)      Natural Hazards, including: Floods, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Thunderstorms and Lightning, Winter Storms and Extreme Cold,  Extreme Heat, Earthquakes, Volcanoes, Landslides and Debris Flow (Mudslide), Tsunamis, Fires and Wildfires;

b)      Technological Hazards, including:  Hazardous Materials Incidents, Household Chemical Emergencies, and Nuclear Power Plants

c)      Terrorism, including: General terrorist threats, Explosions, Biological Threats, Chemical Threats, Nuclear Blast, and Radiological Dispersion Device (RDD).

Are You Ready?… for Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

FEMA-Are-You-Ready_page-80-Winter-Storms-and-Extreme-ColdAs I was concerned about the extreme cold, I turned to Part 2, Natural Hazards, Section 2.5 Winter Storms and Extreme Cold.

In the preparation part, I found useful terminology such as the difference between sleet and freezing rain, protective measures and supplies to gather, tips on how to winterize my car (e.g., have you cleaned your car battery terminals and used gasoline additives to keep water out of your fuel lines?) and how to dress for the winter weather (did you know mittens are warmer than gloves?).

FEMA-Are-You-Ready_page-83-Winter-Dress-for-ColdDuring a winter storm, “Are you ready?” gives more advice, such as what to do if a blizzard traps you in the car and how to watch for signs of hypothermia.

[Signs of hypothermia]… include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove wet clothing, warm the center of the body first, and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages if the victim is conscious. Get medical help as soon as possible.

Other Useful Information in “Are You Ready?”

In addition to information on specific types of emergencies, the guide includes a number of other very useful resources.

Assembling a Disaster Supplies Kit:  A whole chapter is devoted to assembling a good general disaster supplies kit for multiple locations: home, work and vehicle.

Practice Makes Perfect: Advice on how to practice and maintain your emergency plan is under Section 1.6.

General Evacuation Guidelines:  Tells what to do to prepare your home if you have to evacuate, such as utility shut-off and safety, reviewing and securing of insurance and vital records, and so on.

Special Needs: Information on how to do disaster planning to accommodate someone with disabilities is included.

Pets: Caring for pets in emergencies is not forgotten, either.

FEMA Hazard Maps: It highlights how to get free hazard maps from FEMA in your area by accessing FEMA’s Hazard Mapping Portal.

Homeland-Security-Threat-Assessments-Color-MatrixWarning Systems and Signals: The guide explains different national alert systems such as the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio (NWR), as well as the Homeland Security Advisory System with its Threat Conditions thermometer.

Quizzes: The guide even includes some quizzes such as the Terrorism Knowledge Check on page 172 that asks such questions as:

What would you do, if you were at work and…

a. there was an explosion in the building?

b. you received a package in the mail that you considered suspicious?

c. you received a telephone call that was a bomb threat?

Mental Health Issues: Tips are included on how to recognize if children vs. adults may need crisis counseling or stress management assistance as well as how to ease disaster-related stress (such as attending memorial services). For children, guidelines are included by age range of common reactions to traumatic events, along with tips on how adults can reassure children after a disaster.

For additional information about Federal mental and medical emergency resources, read our previous blog post: “Help is Just a Call, Click or Page Away: Federal Disaster Helplines & Emergency Medical Resources.”

Family Forms: The guide is customizable to you and your family with forms to fill out for your own emergency plans. Included is a form for you to use to fill out information as you collect it from your local authorities on possible hazards and emergencies in your community, the Risk Level and how to reduce your risk, along with a “Community and Other Plans” form to use to record answers from your local officials about your community’s disaster and emergency plans.  Also included is a form to draw and to record your family’s specific evacuation route and another to record your Family Communications Plan.

Checklists and Appendices: The guide also includes some handy appendices: Appendix A: Water Conservation Tips, Appendix B: Disaster Supplies Checklist, and the all-important Appendix C: Family Communications Plan.

Preparedness Websites: One is a list of Disaster Public Education Websites from both the Federal Government such as FEMA’s own Ready.gov site (www.ready.gov), as well as non-Governmental sites, like the Institute for Business and Home Safety, www.ibhs.org.

Disaster Recovery Assistance: Finally, advice and resources for getting disaster recovery assistance are covered in the Are You Ready? guide, too.

FEMA Are You Ready?: An In-Depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness ISBN: 9780160920745How can I get a copy ofAre You Ready?: An In-Depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness”?

Whether you live near an active volcano; in Tornado Alley or a Hurricane Zone; in wildfire, mudslide or flood-prone areas; or just want to be prepared for any emergency—natural or man-made—this guide will help you save the day!

  • MULTIPLE COPIES: FEMA recommends having a completed guide for each location for your family members: home, work or school, and your vehicle(s). Fill out the customizable sections in each copy with your relevant family, workplace and community information.
  • Shop Online: You can buy this publication from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore at http://bookstore.gpo.gov by:
  • Order by Phone: Call our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.
  • Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.
  • Digital: Find a PDF version on the FEMA site.
  • Visit a Federal Depository Library: Search for it in a nearby Federal depository library.

About the Author: Government Book Talk Editor Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Rebuilding after the floods: FEMA shares lessons learned after Sandy

October 28, 2013

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Superstorm or Hurricane Sandy. The destruction and devastation is still felt by many people on the East Coast as they rebuild and recover from this historic superstorm.

Damaged-homes-Superstorm-Sandy-GazetteImage: In this Oct. 31, 2012 file photo, a view from the air shows the destroyed homes left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in Seaside Heights, N.J. New Jersey got the brunt of Sandy, which made landfall in the state and killed six people. Photo Credit: Mike Groll, Associated Press

Sandy is only one storm among many that have caused Americans agony in recent years. As recently as last month, catastrophic flooding damaged Colorado, and we never know what is coming in the future – when the next natural disaster will strike.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for providing aid to those affected by natural disasters, which includes resources like fact sheets and publications for consumers and local and state governments  on how to prepare for and recover from devastating floods.

Road-damage-Colorado-floods-2013Image: A flood-wrecked road in Colorado, September 16, 2013. Photo credit:  KUSA.

Hazard Mitigation Field Book – Roadways

Hazard-Mitigation-Field-Book_Flooded-Roadways_9780160902031One of the biggest problems immediately after a disaster like Hurricane Sandy is the impact of flooding on the infrastructure, particularly roads, that prevent emergency responders and local officials from getting in to the flooded areas to assess the damage, or construction personnel from getting materials in to rebuild.

Hazard Mitigation Field Book: Roadways focuses on ways for municipalities to lessen the impact of flooding on roadways. This FEMA roadway damage field guide helps state and local governments rapidly assess various flood-caused roadway hazards and identify the best hazard mitigation (HM) solutions for the situation. It also includes case studies and general design guidance to help prevent damage to and around roadways through engineering and construction practices.

The information is very technical— focusing on the various problems that can result from flooded roadways and how to fix, prevent and reduce the impact of the problems. FEMA is encouraging governments to be proactive and repair substandard infrastructure rather than getting stuck in a disaster-rebuild-disaster cycle that is often costly and does not fix the problem. But while the intended audience for this publication is local and state governments, it contains useful information for any concerned citizen. Hazard Mitigation Field Book: Roadways is available both in Spiral-bound Print and as an ePub eBook.

Home Builder’s Guide to Coastal Construction

Home-builders-guide-coastal-construction_9780160914133Home Builder’s Guide to Coastal Construction is comprised of 37 fact sheets broken down by ten topics related to residential coastal construction. The fact sheets are designed with photographs, drawings, charts and diagrams presenting the information in a user-friendly way. FEMA shares best practices and the reasoning behind them in order to improve the performance of buildings subject to flood and wind forces in coastal environments. Many of the fact sheets also include a list of additional resources on the topic.

This guide is a great resource for those who already sustained damage and need advice on how to rebuild while also renovating and improving your existing coastal residence.

Building contractors, realtors and others in the construction industry who work with homes in hurricane or typhoon-prone areas should take special note as Home Builder’s Guide to Coastal Construction includes the newest building codes and recommendations for flood, storm and hurricane resistant construction learned from recent disasters.

[NOTE: For New Jersey residents, here is a Rebuilding After Sandy Fact Sheet about new state building requirements for coastal construction which refers to homes declared "substantially damaged buildings" (see below).]

Other Flood Publications

Answers-to-Questions-about-Substantially-Damaged-Buildings_064-000-00048-9A good companion book to the Home Builder’s Guide is the Answers to Questions About Substantially Damaged Buildings (Paperback) and eBook version which provides information on FEMA regulations and policy on substantial improvement as it applies to damaged structures.

Floods-The-Awesome-Power_9780160814181Floods: The Awesome Power is a consumer guide sold in a package of 25 from NOAA’s National Weather Service that explains flood-related hazards, and suggests life-saving actions you can take.

Prevention is Worth A Gallon of Cure

One year ago, Americans along the East Coast were evacuating and seeking shelter from Hurricane Sandy, and one month ago Coloradoans were under water. With each natural disaster there are lessons learned that can hopefully make a difference in preventing tragedy for when the next one strikes. Whether you live on the Atlantic, Pacific or Gulf Coast, or any flood-prone area, these valuable publications can help communities and homeowners rebuild and hopefully lessen the impact for when the damage is done.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THESE FLOOD-RELATED PUBLICATIONS?

You can find these Federal flood and flood control publications through any of these methods:

  • Order by Phone: Call our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.
  • Visit our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.
  • Go to a Library: GPO provides copies of these publications to Federal Depository libraries worldwide. Find them in a library near you.

About the Author: Our guest blogger is Emma Wojtowicz, Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Office of Public Affairs. Additional content provided by Government Book Talk Editor: Michele Bartram, Promotions & eCommerce Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division.


US Geological Survey and the Science of Hurricanes

August 30, 2012

Having family and friends who live on the coastlines of North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and the Gulf Coast, I find myself glued to the weather stations following the latest hurricane reports whenever late August rolls around.

Today, folks along the Gulf Coast and particularly Plaquemines Parish outside of New Orleans are dealing with the wind and flood damage of slow-moving Hurricane Isaac that made landfall on the seventh anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Katrina on August 28, 2005.

Image: Advance projection of the track of Hurricane Isaac as of August 27, 2012, vs. Katrina in 2005. Source: University of Miami/ Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science 

Thus, it seems like a good time to talk about the great work of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and their role in hurricane response and prediction of their impact.

The USGS Mission

The USGS is a bureau of the US Department of the Interior and its mission is to “provide the Nation with reliable, impartial information to describe and understand the Earth. This information is used to minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; enhance and protect the quality of life; and contribute to wise economic and physical development.”

The Natural Hazards part of the USGS mission sounds like the latest natural disaster movie script from Hollywood where the brilliant scientist comes in with the latest findings of pending disaster and how to avert it (Quite often, that “brilliant scientist” comes from USGS.)

The USGS Natural Hazards mission areas include:

The Coastal and Marine Geology Program conducts research on changes in the coastal and marine environment, whether naturally occurring or human induced. Contributing to the Natural Hazards mission, the program supports research on marine geohazards including earthquakes, tsunami, and underwater landslides, and on coastal change hazards from sea-level rise, erosion, and extreme storms including hurricanes.

Typical USGS Hurricane Support

While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its National Weather Service is responsible for tracking and predicting the course of hurricanes (See the National Hurricane Center), the USGS’s research “focuses on understanding the magnitude and variability of the impacts of hurricanes and extreme storms on the sandy beaches of the United States. The overall objective is to improve the capability to predict coastal change that results from severe storms” and to “support management of coastal infrastructure, resources, and safety.

USGS science helps identify areas that may need to be evacuated due to their extreme vulnerability to hurricanes or where preventive measures are needed to mitigate some of their damaging effects.  When hurricanes strike, you can find critical information to help protect lives and property at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hurricane website.

After all, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, “More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coast—and coastal populations are increasing. Many U.S. coastal areas, especially the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, will be in the direct path of hurricanes.”

USGS Response to the Hurricanes of 2005

Science and the Storms: The USGS Response to the Hurricanes of 2005 reports on the many and varied activities performed by the USGS in response to the four major hurricanes—Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma— that hit the United States during that year.  Topics vary from flooding and water quality to landscape and ecosystem impacts, from geotechnical reconnaissance to analyzing the collapse of bridges and estimating the volume of debris caused by the hurricanes.

From the report we learn that some of the tasks performed by USGS were routine for them. After all, as employees of the Nation’s largest water, earth, and biological science and civilian mapping agency, USGS scientists have been studying hurricanes and hurricane-related impacts for decades:

[USGS scientists] have measured and studied flooding and water quality. They have used the latest technology—from satellite imagery and geographic information systems to lidar (light detection and ranging)—to view and analyze damage to the barrier islands and coastal wetlands that protect people and property. They have examined the effects of hurricanes on land, water, vegetation, and wildlife.

But the impact of the extraordinary 2005 hurricane season on the United States required a new level of study. It was a season of unfortunate hurricane “firsts” from the first year with: 13 hurricanes, 4 hurricanes of them hitting the U.S.,  and with 3 of them Category 5. This led the USGS scientists to perform “dozens and dozens of other studies that hurricane season,” including the following:

  • Examining the cycles of hurricanes and their relation to sea water surface temperature.
  • Looking at oil slicks and chemicals in the flood waters and the sediments in and around New Orleans
  • Studying the flood protection systems in New Orleans and surrounding areas.
  • Recording the effects of the hurricanes on manatees off the coast of Florida and on birds whose fall migration was disrupted by these ferocious storms.
  • Analyzing the destruction of bridges and measuring debris.
  • Studying the landscape of the Gulf Coast and measuring the enormous changes due to hurricane winds and flooding.

Chapter 1:The Need for Science in Restoring Resilience to the Northern Gulf of Mexico is an essay establishing the need for science in building a resilient coast.

Chapter 2: The Storms of 2005, includes some hurricane facts that provide hurricane terminology, history, and maps of the four hurricanes’ paths. Chapters that follow give the scientific response of USGS to the storms with the analysis and findings, including:

Chapter 3: Rescue and Response,  documents the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) humanitarian rescue operations as well as its scientific responses to assess damages from the hurricanes, from the Mississippi River flood-protection system and bridges and to assess the coastal debris, oil slicks, and flooding in New Orleans.  Rescue operations by USGS personnel included boat rescue, delivery of food and water to isolated communities, and the geoaddressing of 911 calls, which merited the USGS a Service to America Medal award.

This was one of the more interesting stories in the book, showing how important fast-acting science can be in an emergency. As New Orleans’ streets flooded, emergency response officials suddenly realized that water rescue in a major metropolitan area was not a contingency they had planned for and that many emergency responders could not locate specific streets if they were all underwater, unrecognizable, or unfindable. Thus, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was asked to apply geoaddressing to convert New Orleans street addresses on emergency calls into latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates that could be located by compass and GPS-wielding emergency responders in the field- on boats, in the air, or on land.

The result was a database that USGS built in which each emergency call was represented by a point in a geographic information system (GIS). This data ended up being provided to a variety of emergency personnel and scientists from: the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), the Louisiana State Police (LSP), the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Louisiana Geological Survey.

Chapter 4: How Technology Helps describes some of the critical technology that enables U.S. Geological Survey scientists to assess conditions before and after storms, including: near real-time geospatial monitoring systems, geospatial support for emergency responders, Web-accessible data, and satellite imagery.

Chapter 5: Landscape Changes documents the more severe changes to the Gulf Coast landscape resulting from these four hurricanes from Alabama to Texas, including plunging hundreds of miles of Louisiana coastline underwater; estuarine damage to barrier islands; erosion of beaches ; and the damages and loss of floodplain forest.

Chapter 6: Ecological Impacts covers the hurricanes’ effects on both vegetation and the animals that depend on Gulf Coast habitats on land and in water. Discussed in this section are migratory birds, coastal marsh vegetation, chenier forests, coastal floodplain forests, mangrove forests, estuaries, and the endangered manatee.

Image: USGS scientist illustrates the depth of sand deposition (74 inches) from Hurricane Rita in 2005 on Hackberry Beach chenier in Louisiana. Source: USGS Science and the Storms.

Chapter 7: Aquatic Environments reports on the many studies performed by USGS scientists devoted to analyzing waters affected by the flooding from the storms of 2005 and the chemical composition of contaminated sediments.

Chapter 8: Science and the Storms: the Science Continues is a compilation of relevant ongoing and future hurricane research for restoring a resilient coast.

Epilogue: The epilogue marks the second year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Facts and Figures

Usefully, both English and metric measurements are used in the articles in anticipation of both general and scientific audiences in the United States and elsewhere, and the entire report is peer-reviewed to ensure the integrity and independence of the findings.

Furthermore, the publications is chock full of color photographs, illustrations and graphs, bringing the facts alive and conveying the stark devastation of a hurricane-ravaged coastline, such as before and after photographs of the Chandeleur Islands in Louisiana.

Conclusion

Thus, the purpose of Science and the Storms: The USGS Response to the Hurricanes of 2005 was to inform the American people of the USGS science that is available and ongoing in regard to hurricanes.

Hopefully, the lessons learned by USGS following the Hurricanes of 2005 will help inform our response to hurricanes in 2012.

HOW CAN YOU OBTAIN a print copy of Science and the Storms: The USGS Response to the Hurricanes of 2005?

  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


The U.S. military storms to the rescue in foreign disaster relief

March 5, 2012

Last year, the United States suffered a record number of devastating weather and climate disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and floods, causing the President to issue a record 99 “major disaster declarations” during 2011.

Image: Natural disaster word collage Source: JimKimmartin.com

(And just this week, as I write this post, we are faced with the news about a line of dozens of deadly tornadoes that hit the Midwest, striking Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Kansas, with particular devastation to the towns of Harrisburg, IL and Henryville, IN.  See the end of this article for a links to terrific Federal disaster preparedness and response publications for citizens and professionals.)

However, the U.S. unfortunately had a lot of company as the entire world endured one of the worst years ever for catastrophic natural disasters.

Record Number of Catastrophic Natural Disasters Worldwide

2011 was the costliest year on record in terms of global property damage, with more than a third of a trillion dollars in damages worldwide, according to Munich Re, a multinational that insures insurance companies. The single worst and costliest natural disaster of the year was Japan’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster.

But some of the other worst disasters in the world in 2011 included: floods and landslides in Thailand, Guatemala, El Salvador, Pakistan and Brazil; earthquakes in New Zealand and Turkey; severe spring storms and tornadoes in the USA; Hurricane Irene in the USA; Cyclone Yasi and flooding in Australia; drought in the USA and Somalia; wildfires in the USA and Canada; and the violent winter storm Joachim that swept across western Europe in December.

Image: The world’s natural disasters of 2011. Source: “2011 was costliest year in world disasters” USA Today, January 4, 2012.

Fortunately, while the total number of disasters was about average, the loss of life was below average. Still, many lives were lost around the world, including 15,840 fatalities reported in Japan’s disaster alone.

DoD to the Rescue 

To help local governments around the world respond to these disasters, the United States Government often comes to the rescue with supplies, personnel and logistical support. But sometimes civilian agency response is not sufficient. In these cases, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development may ask for support from the U.S. military.

Image: The crew of a U.S. Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) unloads food and supplies at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 15, 2010. Source: Defense.gov

U.S. Government and Department of Defense (DoD) joint task forces may also coordinate with International Organizations such as the United Nations and International Red Cross and Red Crescent and other Intergovernmental Organizations (IGO) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO).

In total, the U.S. Government on average responds to approximately 70 to 80 natural disasters worldwide annually, but the Department of Defense (DoD) only lends support to 10-15 percent of these disaster responses.

The DoD describes their foreign disaster relief assistance as follows:

“DoD disaster assistance can range from a single aircraft delivering relief supplies, to a fullscale deployment of a brigade-size or larger task force. Though the overall percentage of disasters requiring DoD support is relatively small, these disasters tend to be crises of the largest magnitude and/or the greatest complexity.”

Some of the past disaster response efforts with which the U.S. military has assisted include the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia; 2005 earthquake and 2010 flooding in Pakistan;  and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Handy Handbook for All Those Who Give a Hand

To assist their personnel who are engaged in foreign disaster relief operations, the Department of Defense prepared a handbook which “offers an overarching guide and reference for military responders in foreign disaster relief operations,” particularly for Joint Task Force (JTF) Commanders and below.

INTENDED FOR ANYONE INVOLVED IN US FOREIGN DISASTER RELIEF OPERATIONS: Fortunately, DoD also released an unclassified version that can be used not only by the military, but also by anyone involved in U.S. foreign disaster response operations, including U.S. Government agencies, international organizations, Intergovernmental Organizations (IGO) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO).

CONTENTS: This public version of the “Department of Defense Support to Foreign Disaster Relief Handbook” (ISBN:  9780160888632) is divided into 4 major sections:

  • Section I: Introduction: Provides the background, legal authorities and guidance for performing foreign disaster relief (FDR) operations. Includes info on the U.S. Government’s FDR response processes, international and humanitarian guidelines and principles.
  • Section II: Operational Context and Planning Factors.
  • Details the types of missions that DoD units may participate in and the roles of Joint Task Force members. Also provides a five-phase FDR operation and metrics of success, and how to protect responders. Of particular interest in Chapter 6 are the characteristics of natural disasters, including hazards expected from different disaster types, and in Chapter 7, guidelines for talking to the media.
  • Section III: Supported and Supporting Organizations
    • This section provides a broad overview of functional commands and the cross-cutting organizations roles and missions, including Geographic Combatant Commands (GCC) and typical DOD tactical FDR units. Even shows photos to help identify different U.S. military transportation vehicles that could be used.

  • Section IV: Appendices: A number of extremely useful appendices are included that come in handy for anyone involved in Foreign Disaster Relief.
    • Appendix A presents the legal aspects of FDR operations, such as the list of laws and guidance documents allowing DoD participation in humanitarian relief efforts overseas. For example, the principal authority for DOD to conduct foreign disaster relief is the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (Public Law 87-195) (See p. 15 of this compilation of Legislation on Foreign Relations) which “provides the legal guidance for U.S. Government engagement with friendly nations.
    • Appendix B provides the DoD guidelines for interaction with NGOs in a permissive environment. More importantly, it provides excellent color charts showing how civil and military operation centers interact and differ. The page below is an example of how interaction between various civil and military operations in an operations center.

    • Appendix C provides sample formats that are useful to staff who support FDR operations, including excellent example worksheets and sample reports.
    • Appendix D provides a list of useful FDR agency and resources websites.
    • Appendix E provides a list of training courses, both from the Department of Defense and other U.S. agencies like the State Department and the Peace Corps.
    • Appendix F lists references useful in planning and executing FDR missions.
    • Appendix G is a list of acronyms used in this handbook, a must-have for dealing with the military especially, but includes acronyms for international organizations as well. For example, did you know that “OCONUS” means “Outside the continental United States” and “SPINS” means “Special Instructions”?

EASY-TO-READ, PORTABLE FORMAT: Throughout the Handbook are color flowcharts, organizational charts, checklists, notes and warnings, making this easier to read than one would expect from a military handbook.  And because of its rugged spiral bound format and smaller size, I found this handbook particularly easy to hold in one hand while writing with another, since it could lying totally flat and fold back on itself.  Considering that online versions are not convenient in disaster areas, I can see why this is a must-pack item in any U.S. foreign disaster responder’s emergency bag.

Overall, the Department of Defense Support to Foreign Disaster Relief (Handbook for JTF Commanders and Below) provides a fascinating and useful insight into how to respond to natural disasters wherever they may happen around the globe.

HOW CAN I OBTAIN THIS “Department of Defense Support to Foreign Disaster Relief Handbook “?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.
  • Find some of the information online.

OTHER DISASTER RELIEF PUBLICATIONS FROM THE U.S. GOVERNMENT:

  • Field Operations Guide for Disaster Assessment and Response by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), print edition available from GPO.  This handbook comes at the topic from the U.S. civilian agency perspective, helping members of a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) get quickly oriented while on site at a disaster.
  • National Interoperability Field Operations Guide Version 1.4 Provides a waterproof, pocket-sized guide that contains radio regulations, tables of radio channels, and technical reference information, and is a must-have tool for establishing or repairing emergency communications in a disaster area.
  • U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance Reference Guide from the United States Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (online version only). Included are basic fact sheets for 19 funding accounts, each containing citations of important underlying laws, itemizing primary activities (such as Bilateral Economic Assistance, Humanitarian Assistance, Multilateral Economic Assistance, Military Assistance and Law Enforcement Assistance), outlining recent funding history, and describing important statutory restrictions.
  • Legislation on Foreign Relations is a list of U.S. laws governing all aspects of foreign relations, including disaster relief, compiled by both Congressional committees: U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
  • Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness. This FREE online guide provides a step-by-step approach to disaster preparedness by walking the reader through how to get informed about local emergency plans, how to identify hazards that affect their local area and how to develop and maintain an emergency communications plan and disaster supplies kit. It is produced by Ready.gov, a national public service advertising campaign designed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies including natural and man-made disasters.
  • FREE Tornado Safety Guide from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Ready.gov website has important tips on what to do before, during and after a tornado.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


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