Wednesday, June 30, 2010

OEM has started using hashtags in Twitter

Starting today, the OEM Twitter run by Jennifer Bailey will start to use the #OEMAlerts hashtag for any tweet that is part of an actual alert or notification. This does not affect anyone who is already following us through Twitter - you will still receive our tweets as normal. What this will do is make it easier for people who are not already following us to be able to search for our tweets in search engines, and through the hashtags website.

To search hashtags, use the hashtag's website (or search in Twitter):

You can view the #OEMAlerts stats at

For more about hashtags and how they work, check out the following pages:


WASHINGTON - As Tropical Storm Alex intensifies, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) today urged citizens to closely monitor the storm and to take steps to be as prepared as possible, in advance of severe weather. Alex has become the first named storm of the 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

"FEMA continues to monitor Tropical Storm Alex, and personnel are on the ground working closely with state and local as they prepare for landfall," said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. "The most important thing for people living in the area to do right now is to ensure their family is prepared and to follow the instructions of state and local officials. For more information and helpful tips, anyone can visit"

In anticipation of possible landfall in south Texas later this week, FEMA has pre-identified a Federal Coordinating Officer that would coordinate a federal response in the region if necessary, and he, along with members of one of FEMA's Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT) are on the ground working with the state. FEMA has also assigned a liaison officer for the Texas Department of Emergency Management, should they be requested.

In addition, FEMA has begun to transport commodities for staging. This includes more than 1.1 million meals, more than 405,000 liters of water, more than 41,000 tarps and more than 100 generators, as well as other commodities such as cots, blankets and personal kits.

FEMA remains in close contact with state and local officials in Texas and all hurricane prone states to ensure they have the resources they need should a storm strike. Alex should serve as another reminder that if you live in a coastal state, now is the time to be prepared, including determining if you live in an evacuation zone. As always, residents should listen to the instructions of state and local officials should a storm strike, and evacuate if told to do so. Visit for more information on how you can get your family ready for a hurricane or other emergency.

As hurricane season gets underway, FEMA continues to support the coordinated federal response to the BP oil spill. All of the planning for the 2010 hurricane season has involved consideration of the BP oil spill and its potential effects on all hurricane response and recovery scenarios. The existence of the spill does not change FEMA's initial priority during a response, which is to support the states and do everything possible to protect lives and property.

Here are some things everyone can do to prepare for the 2010 hurricane season:

*Develop Family Disaster Plans and Keep a Disaster Supply Kit. Just as every community should have a disaster plan, every family should have an emergency supply kit and plan what to do in case of a storm. Pay particular attention to relatives with special needs, small children and pets. Have a family communications plan.

*Make Your Home Disaster Resistant. You can reduce the damage caused by hurricanes by installing hurricane shutters on windows, putting straps and reinforced bracing on roofs, reinforcing garage doors, raising electrical appliances and outlets, installing sewage backflow valves and trimming back dead or weak tree branches from around a home.

*If the storm comes, you can be ready. When a storm is approaching, a battery-operated radio or television is one of the most important tools you can have during any weather emergency. A weather radio that broadcasts National Weather Service warnings and watches 24 hours a day can be particularly useful. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides the weather radio network as a public service. Keep extra batteries handy for radios and flashlights.

For more information on hurricanes, and what you can do to protect yourself and your family, visit and

Information can also be found on your smartphone at

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Emergency Preparedness - what for?

One of the initial things citizens need to do in developing their emergency preparedness plans is to determine what they should be preparing for. As I have argued previously, I think officials at all levels should be more aggressive and frank in explaining all the risks facing the public, but there are resources available that citizens can begin researching for themselves.

Your local emergency management website (or office) is a place to start. There is also assistance at the “Determine Your Risk” page of FEMA’s “Prepare for a Disaster” section. Among the steps it recommends taking: Identify possible hazards and emergencies (“Possible Hazards and Emergencies”); Review maps of your area FEMA Maps; Calculate your risk with assessment tools; Learn about FEMA’s mitigation activities; Identify possible hazards and emergencies. And, as we enter hurricane season, the National Weather Service’s “Storm Prediction Center” can also be helpful.

Ken Murphy - former Director of OEM, sworn in as Regional Administrator of FEMA Region 10

This is a sad, and a great day for Oregon. We are losing a very experienced emergency manager at the state level but Ken Murphy is going on to become the Regional Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency over Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska.

Oregon Emergency Managment will miss you Ken and we wish you all the best.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fireworks Can Foil Family Fun

July 4
Mon, 28 Jun 2010 07:34:33 -0500
SEATTLE, Wash. -- Weather forecasts are mixed in the Pacific Northwest for this year’s Fourth of July observances, but however the weather turns out, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) warn that careless handling of fireworks and outdoor grills can ruin parties and picnics – and entire summers. More than 30,000 fires are attributed to fireworks every year, and according to Dennis Hunsinger, FEMA Acting Regional Administrator for Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington Murphy, more than half of those occur the first week in July.
Salem (OR) Statesman Journal,

Is Your Company Prepared For A Disaster?

June 27, 2010

This is the time of the year when we hear about manmade or natural disasters. So business owners need to create a strong disaster preparedness plan.

Such a plan will help protect both owners and employees while ensuring that a business can bounce back as quickly as possible after a disaster strikes.

In 2007 and 2008, residents of Vernonia were affected by severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides. Since that time, the city of Vernonia has been working diligently to help their citizens with disaster preparedness.

The fact is that a manmade or natural disaster could strike any business at any time. A recent survey by Agility Recovery Solutions shows that about75 percent of small business owners had a plan to get employees back to work in the days after a business interruption. About 28 percent said they had access to alternative office space.

America’s small business community needs to find new ways to prepare for whatever might come our way. Here are some low-cost steps that small business owners should take.

-Calculate how much money you might need in reserve if you had to shut down for a day or longer.

-Develop, distribute and maintain an emergency contact list that includes all your employees, local emergency responders and utility companies.

-Brainstorm a list of tough questions such as “What’s the biggest disaster risk in my neighborhood or my region?” and “How would I contact my staff if wireless service is down?”

For a small business, closing for just one day can often mean huge financial losses. Last year alone, the SBA approved more than 3,300 business disaster loans totaling $372 million.

We’re proud to meet our mission of providing this assistance to business owners, especially when we know that they’ve followed a disaster preparedness plan that has positioned them to rebound, rebuild and start contributing to their local economy once again.

Bouncing back from a disaster can be much easier if small business owners take more proactive steps to protect key assets and maintain continuity of operations as much as possible, including:

-Having a disaster communications plan, including a designated spokesperson who can keep customers informed about the status of business operations and plans for reopening.

-Contacting your insurance company to find if you’re covered for various kinds of disasters.

To help small businesses with their preparedness planning, SBA has teamed up with Agility Recovery Solutions to create an online continuity planning workshop called “Prepare My Business” (

Small business owners can access helpful tools, such as this month’s webinar, “10 Steps to Business Preparedness.” Other helpful sites include or

Friday, June 25, 2010

Molalla drafts hazard plan

Published: 6/24/2010 3:00:26 PM

With assistance from the Clackamas County Emergency Management office, the city of Molalla has completed work on a plan designed to reduce risk from future natural disasters.

The natural hazards mitigation plan provides the community with a set of goals, action items and resources to reduce risks arising from earthquakes, floods, winter storms and wildfires.

The draft plan is posted on the city’s website at Public comments are invited, and should be directed to the City of Molalla Planning Dept., P.O. Box 248, Molalla, OR 97068. Comments may also be e-mailed to

Benefits of having a mitigation plan include reduced injuries and fatalities when disaster strikes, reduced property losses and economic hardship, continuation of essential services and critical facilities, reduced short-term and long-term recovery and reconstruction costs; increased cooperation and communication within the community through the planning process, and increased potential for state and federal funding for recovery and reconstruction projects.

In 2000, Congress approved the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 that listed requirements for communities to develop and adopt local natural hazard mitigation plans to become eligible for mitigation grant funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Clackamas County adopted its Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan in 2002 and updated it in 2007. Each city within the county was encouraged to prepare an addendum to the county's plan. Clackamas County contracted with the Oregon Partnership for Disaster Resilience (OPDR) at the University of Oregon to hire staff to work with each participating city in developing an addendum to Clackamas County’s Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan.

Molalla planning staff, the planning commission, and other volunteers worked with county staff to develop the draft plan.


June 25, 2010

Jennifer Bailey,
OEM Public Affairs Coordinator
503-378-2911 Ext. 22294

Applications taken July 15 - Oct. 15

SALEM, Ore – Oregon Emergency Management (OEM) announced today that grants are again being made available for eligible applicants for seismic rehabilitation projects. Grant applications will be accepted effective July 15 through October 15, 2010. Information regarding eligibility and grant information can be located on OEM’s website: http://www.oregon.go/OMD/OEM/index.shtml.

In round 1, fourteen public education buildings and eleven emergency services facilities were awarded funds totaling $15 million dollars. The Seismic Rehabilitation Grant Program (SRGP) provides reimbursement funds to strengthen public school and emergency service buildings to ensure the safety of students and staff in the event of an earthquake and allow emergency service facilities to remain functional.

Senate President Peter Courtney has been instrumental in sponsoring legislation to provide the means to begin these projects. Approximately $30 million included in the 2009-11 Governor’s Recommended Budget to fund this program received approval by the Legislative Assembly during the 2009 Legislative Session.

“This shows that we take our responsibility to keep Oregonians as safe as possible seriously”, Senator Peter Courtney said. “I am very happy to see this program moving forward.”

A 2007 report from Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries shows over 1,000 school and emergency services buildings at high or very high risk for collapse during an earthquake such as the predicted Cascadia Subduction Zone quake off the Oregon Coast. A quake that size would result in damage at approximately $12 billion in property damage and nearly 1,000 deaths in the region, which includes Yamhill, Marion, Polk, Benton, Linn, and Lane Counties.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Breaking Ground Ceremony for First Beaverton School to Get Seismic Upgrade

Tuesday, Oregon Emergency Management and Beaverton School District staff held a ground breaking ceremony for the first school to be upgraded under seismic grants. Held at McKay Elementary School, this event marks the first in a series of upgrades to Oregon schools using an $800,000 grant through the Oregon Emergency Management Seismic Grant Programs.

You can watch a video of the ceremony and read more about it at

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More information about Disaster Hero

Over at Kotaku, we have found some more information about Disaster Hero. The article details the education and play of the game a little more, and even includes a "concept screenshot" of what one part of the game may look like. From the article:

"When the forces of nature turn against us it seems like there's nothing we can do to prevent them, but with a little preparation we can up our chances of survival. That's the message in Disaster Hero, a web-based game and website dedicated to educating parents, children, and teachers how to prepare for and survive natural disasters."

So jump over to this page and see what the game might look like!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Disaster Hero! Emergency preparedness game for kids and teachers

Legacy Interactive recently announced Disaster Hero, a web-based game that is being designed to teach kids on how to prepare for emergency situations.

The game is being developed with the help of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and FEMA. Expected to be out by 2011, the project is being funded by grants from the Department of Homeland Security.

The game will be targeting children, early teens, parents, and teachers, and will be designed so that children and their parents or teachers can learn together what to do before, during, and after a disaster.

According to the press release, the game will appeal to a variety of learning styles and will focus on teaching how to prepare for common disasters - earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. - and how the kids can prepare by determining escape routes, preparing emergency kits, and learning how to apply situational skills. The kids will use that information in disaster scenarios to help families prepare for the various disasters.

You can find out more information about it at: and the Legacy Interactive Press Release

Thursday, June 17, 2010


WASHINGTON - Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate today applauded President Obama's appointment of Kenneth Dean Murphy as FEMA Regional Administrator for Region X, which encompasses Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

"Regional Administrators are crucial to our ability to respond effectively to emergencies based on the needs of the communities we serve," said Fugate. "Kenneth Murphy is an experienced emergency manager who knows the Northwest well and is uniquely qualified to lead our efforts there."

Murphy has served with Oregon Emergency Management since 1999, most recently as the agency's Director. In that role, he was responsible for coordinating preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation activities with state and local emergency services agencies. He also served on the Oregon Homeland Security Council, Oregon's State Interoperability Executive Council, the Governor's Search and Rescue Policy Commission, and the Governor's Recovery Cabinet, as well as FEMA's National Advisory Council.

Biography for Kenneth Dean Murphy, FEMA Regional Administrator, Region X

Kenneth Dean Murphy brings an extensive background in emergency services and coordinated response to his position as Regional Administrator. Murphy served with Oregon Emergency Management from 1999 to 2010. As the agency's Director, Murphy was responsible for coordinating activities with state and local emergency services agencies. He also served on the Oregon Homeland Security Council, Oregon's State Interoperability Executive Council, the Governor's Search and Rescue Policy Commission, and the Governor's Recovery Cabinet, as well as on FEMA's National Advisory Council. Murphy oversaw the response and recovery for six Presidential and eight Gubernatorial disasters declarations in Oregon.

Murphy spent nearly three decades as a member of the Oregon Army National Guard, in traditional and active duty. During that time, he served as Director of Military Support to Civilian Authorities, where he was responsible for the Guard's coordination and response to emergencies. He also was Chief of the U.S. Army's European Crisis Action Team in Heidelberg, Germany, where he managed and coordinated military emergency response throughout Europe.

Murphy is a past President of the National Emergency Management Association. He is a graduate of Concordia University, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the Naval Post Graduate School.

More about FEMA

Follow FEMA online at,, and Also, follow Administrator Fugate's activities at The social media links provided are for reference only. FEMA does not endorse any non-government Web sites, companies or applications.

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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

National Lightning Safety Awareness Week

Observed the last full week of June, National Lightning Safety Awareness Week not only helps get safety messages out in time for the Fourth of July, but also signals summer as lightning season. Outside is the most dangerous place to be during a lightning or thunderstorm and more people are outside during the summer. According to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Acting Regional Administrator Dennis Hunsinger, lightning strikes and high winds associated with thunderstorms also increase the risk of wildfires.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Some State Offices closing on June 18 for the day.

SALEM, Ore. — Because of budget reductions for state agencies, most state offices will close on June 18, and 26,500 state employees will take mandatory unpaid furloughs on that day, the Oregon Department of Administrative Services (DAS) announced Wednesday.

The closure on June 18 is the fifth of 10 closure dates the state has scheduled over the current two-year budget period. Each day of closure will save an estimated $2 million in personnel costs, said DAS Director Scott Harra. While the closures affect both management and non-management employees, many state workers will take up to four additional days of unpaid furlough on a floating basis over the remainder of the biennium.

"We apologize for any inconvenience these closures might cause to the public, and we look forward to restoration of a full work schedule for all state agencies when the economy returns to its normal strength," said DAS Director Scott Harra.

Customers can still do business with DMV and some other state agencies online, even though the offices are closed. Harra encouraged the public to check agencies' websites to find out whether online transactions are possible on the closure day.

Harra said certain state employees who provide essential services in public safety will remain on the job as usual—State Police officers, corrections officers and certain state hospital workers, for example.

Last summer, the state's management team and the unions that represent state workers negotiated an agreement that specifies which days to designate as closure days. The negotiators took into account the need to minimize public inconvenience while keeping critical operations open and functioning.

The Oregon Department of Administrative Services has published information about Friday's closure and furloughs on the state's website along with a schedule of the remaining closure days. Members of the public can also find out which state offices will remain open on the closure days. Harra urged the public to check individual agencies' websites for additional information.

The state has scheduled the following dates as closure days with mandatory unpaid furloughs (all are Fridays):

October 16, 2009
November 27, 2009
March 19, 2010
April 16, 2010
June 18, 2010
August 20, 2010
September 17, 2010
November 26, 2010
March 18, 2011
May 20, 2011

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Baker County seeks disaster declaration for flooding

Over the last week the heavy rains have caused some problems, particularly in Eastern Oregon. According to the article, Baker County has seen ~58 homes damaged, 2 bridges destroyed, and more than a dozen sections of road damaged or destroyed.

Baker County officials will ask Gov. Ted Kulongoski to declare an emergency due to flooding in the eastern part of the county that has partially inundated 30 homes, destroyed two bridges, and damaged sections of more than a dozen roads over the past four days, reports the Baker City Herald.

Read the full article at

Sunday, June 6, 2010

NOAA comes to Oregon - story from the AP

NEWPORT, Ore. - The nation's top ocean research agency has given its final answer on the new home base for its West Coast research fleet - Newport, Ore.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its final determination Thursday in the long-running political battle between Oregon and Washington state over where the ships would be based after a 2006 dock fire ruled out staying in Seattle.

The final analysis found that the Newport site offered the best value to the government, with the highest technical rating and lowest price when compared to sites in Washington.

Construction has been going on for months at the Newport site, and members of the Oregon congressional delegation and Gov. Ted Kulongoski were there Thursday for ceremonies marking the decision.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Posted: June 1st, 2010 10:19 PM



Care should be taken when traveling over the mountains during this time. The most dangerous places include:
• Canyon bottoms, stream channels, and areas of rock and soil accumulation at the outlets of canyons;
• Bases of steep hillsides;
• Road cuts or other areas where slopes of hills have been excavated or over steepened;
• Places where slides or debris flows have occurred in the past.

"Debris flows are rapidly moving landslides that can destroy everything in their paths," said James Roddey, Earth Science Information Officer for the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI). "They can easily travel a mile or more, depending on the terrain. They'll contain boulders and logs and transport those in a fast-moving soil and water slurry."

"People want to know what they should do when they hear about the potential for debris flows and landslides," said Roddey. "Some areas are more hazardous than others when the danger of landslides is high. People know that if there's a flood warning, they should stay away from the river. We also want them to start thinking about staying away from steep slopes during intense rainstorms. Knowing ahead of time where the danger areas around your home for potential landslides might be is the first step in being prepared," explains Roddey.

Roddey recommends several steps:
• Stay alert. Listen to the radio, TV, or a weather radio for flood watches, which include the potential for debris flows and if told to evacuate, do so immediately;

• Listen for unusual sounds that might indicate moving debris, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together. A trickle of falling mud or debris may precede larger landslides;

• If you think there is danger of a landslide, leave immediately;

• If water in a river or stream suddenly turns muddy or the amount of water flowing suddenly decreases or increases, this is a warning that the flow has been affected upstream. You should immediately leave the area because a debris flow may soon be coming downstream;

• Assume highways are not safe. Be alert when driving, especially at night. Don't overdrive your headlights. Embankments along roadsides may fail, sending rock and debris onto the road;

• Landowners and road managers should check road drainage systems and conduct needed maintenance in case the predicted heavy precipitation does occur.

Cleaning up after landslides can also be hazardous. "When it's this wet outside, people need to be careful when they're cleaning up the mess. A small mudslide can actually be part of a larger landslide," explains Roddey. "Cleanup should not be done until after the storm."

The official statement from the National Weather Service can be found at:

National Significant Fire Potential Map

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Strong Storm coming

There is a strong storm system that will move into northwest Oregon and southwest Washington late this evening and Wednesday (Jun 1-2), that will produce very heavy rainfall during the next 36 hours. We decided to do an email-type weather briefing in-lieu of a webinar for this event since no mainstem river flooding is expected at this time.

However, this storm has tapped into some sub-tropical moisture and has some characteristics of a strong winter storm that may cause localized rural and urban street flooding and sharp rises on smaller creeks, rivers and streams. Strong winds (gusts to 50 mph on Coast and 25-35 mph in valleys) are also possible with this storm.

We want to bring attention to this storm for several reasons listed below:

(1) Unusual storm for springtime (winter-like characteristics).
(2) Heavy rainfall potential (2 to 5 inches in coast/coast range/cascades, 1 to 1.5 inches valleys).
(3) The ground is saturated from recent rains.
(4) Reservoir systems are full.
(5) Rivers, creeks and streams already running higher than normal.

Oregon town plans first tsunami-resistant building


CORVALLIS, Ore. -- An Oregon coastal town hopes to put its new City Hall on stilts and become the first U.S. city to raise a municipal building to withstand the major earthquake and tsunami that scientists say are coming sooner rather than later.

City officials and emergency workers hope the building in Cannon Beach will also raise a sense of urgency in the Pacific Northwest about the jeopardy coastal residents and visitors face.

Geological findings in recent years suggest there's a one-in-three chance that in the next half century a mega-earthquake will tear the seafloor apart off the Oregon Coast.

Huge waves would surge onto coastal communities in as little as 15 minutes. There isn't a coastwide estimate of potential lives lost and damage, but about 100,000 Oregonians live in tsunami inundation zones. Many more visit the coast.

The $4 million building the city proposes in Cannon Beach would have room for as many as 1,500 people, and could save lives.

The 2004 Sumatra tsunami, which killed almost 230,000 people, galvanized federal emergency planners and coastal communities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sent engineers to learn what buildings withstood the earthquake - measured at magnitude 9.1 to 9.3 - and cataclysmic waves.

They found that buildings on stilts, without impediments that increased the stress of the on-rushing water, often survived, said Jenifer Rhoades, tsunami program manager for the National Weather Service. The Cannon Beach structure would be the first "vertical evacuation site" built in the United States, she said.

Japan has built several of the buildings but they've never been tested.

The permanent population of Cannon Beach is about 1,700, but its beaches and art galleries draw an estimated 750,000 visitors annually.

"Imagine a July 4 weekend with an additional 200,000 people at the coast," said James Roddey of Oregon's geology agency. "That's a lot of folks who don't know what to do if the ground starts shaking."

The Feb. 27 earthquake and tsunami in Chile, which killed about 525 people, gave officials in Cannon Beach and the Pacific Northwest a chill. The two regions are similar geologically and have similar coastal development.

"Tidal waves have always been on our tongue," said Sam Steidel, a gallery owner and City Council member in Cannon Beach. "But Chile really showed what would happen to communities like Cannon Beach."

Steidel was 6 years old in 1964 when the last big tsunami swept the Pacific Northwest coastline, claiming 17 lives in Oregon and California and causing $27 million in damage.

He remembers the scene as moonlit and magical, the foam of the waves lingering on the highway through Cannon Beach.

"I thought it had snowed," Steidel said.

A 8.6-magnitude earthquake in Prince William Sound, Alaska, set off the tsunami, which washed out a main bridge in Cannon Beach and caused severe flooding. Four campers drowned in Newport, 120 miles to the south.

Modern warning systems now give coastal residents time to reach safety from distant earthquakes. It's the prospect of quakes nearby that rattle the nerves of emergency managers.

About 75 miles off the Pacific Northwest coast, tectonic plates snagging and sliding over one another create the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It has a history of big earthquakes, some topping 9.0 in magnitude, in the past 10,000 years, said Chris Goldfinger, a marine geologist at Oregon State University.

Cascadia last ruptured in a great earthquake 300 years ago. It's due for another, Goldfinger said.

Emergency officials have stepped up tsunami awareness campaigns, and towns like Cannon Beach are installing signs about tsunamis, designating evacuation routes and testing sirens. Residents are being urged to hack through brambles to make paths to higher ground.

"We need things like vegetation management, so people can get to higher ground without having to fight blackberry bushes. We need footbridges across wet areas," said Pat Corcoran whose job as an Oregon State extension worker is to travel the Oregon coast urging beachfront communities to prepare for the "when," not "if."

Cannon Beach is working with Oregon State to design its proposed 9,800-square-foot City Hall. Recently at a university lab in Corvallis, city leaders and representatives of several other coastal communities watched simulated waves crash against a model of the city hall building.

Washington and Oregon state experts say it could become a model for other communities. Local officials say it will be a center for tsunami education as well as refuge when the wave comes.

"We can't keep the tsunamis from happening," said Clatsop County Commissioner Robert Mushen. "But we can tell you where to go. We can tell you what to do. We can keep you safe."

Officials Shouldn’t Be Afraid Of “Fear” In Effort To (Responsibly & Constructively) Inform, Engage & Prepare Public On Terror Threats;

← On National CPR & AED Awareness Week, A Training Video That Will Definitely Raise Some Heart Rates
June 1st, 2010 · No Comments

The word ‘fear’ has gotten a bit of bad rap this decade. And, I would argue that’s hurt the country’s public preparedness. Let me explain.

I think the fear of being accused of fearmongering has put a significant crimp in the ability of our leaders to communicate with and prepare Americans for terrorism. That’s a problem since the public’s current level of emergency readiness, is, in the words of a top federal preparedness official, “very concerning and frankly very frightening.”

Almost nine years after 9/11, government officials at federal, state and local levels have still not determined how best to communicate with the public on those threats. What is already a difficult task has been made even more challenging, I would argue, because officials are worried about being accused (by political opponents amplified by the media) of scaring the public.

The inability to raise the topic of potential threats in any detail has not only hurt the country’s citizen preparedness. But it has also made things more difficult for the government to get public input and buy-in on how best to allocate the nation’s resources and find the right balance of risk when it comes to disasters.

From the beginning of her tenure, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has said that she wants to better inform Americans about the threats facing the nation and highlight the citizen role in the homeland security enterprise. She believes that addressing public complacency is one of the biggest challenges for her Department. When asked by the Washington Post what keeps her up at night, she said:

“Complacency…The fact that it has been eight years since 9/11, and people just assume the government is going to take care of that. . . Safety, security is a shared responsibility. It doesn’t take much for everybody just to take a deep breath and say, ‘Okay, what would I need to do to be prepared?’

In an another interview in the Post, the Secretary was asked “if the American people could see what you see — if they were privy to intelligence reports and they saw the whole spectrum of what was out there, do you think they would have a different view of preparedness?”

Her reply: “Oh, yes, perhaps. But on the other hand, I think what is important for them to recognize is that we have hundreds of thousands of people working on this every day.” Even as she would like to get the public’s attention, the Secretary understandably does not want to unnecessarily stoke concern.

Napolitano has pointedly emphasized that she does not want to scare people, rejecting what she calls the “politics of fear.” Finding that balance is key. Yet to address “complacency,” officials will have to find ways to better illustrate what is “out there.” And there is absolutely no way to do so without explaining in some detail why Americans shouldn’t be complacent. To me, being scared and being prepared are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I think the former is a necessary part of the process to achieve the latter.

In their recent books, both of Napolitano’s predecessors, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, make the need to address public “complacency” by explaining the terrorist threat a major theme. Chertoff warns of returning to a “September 10” mindset” urging the government “be candid with American people, sharing as much information as possible about dangers we face.” Both acknowledge that they were not able to accomplish that goal. Both men have told me in interviews of their frustrations with the inability to communicate threats and engage in a more frank sustained dialogue with the American public about post-9/11 homeland security.

Their inability to do so was in large part due to the fact that the Bush Administration was viewed — sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly — as using terror communications as a political tool. As a result, no Administration official could discuss any type of potential threat without it being seen as suspect by the media and the public.

President Obama has the chance to start over in this area tabula rasa. But to date, the Administration while expressing an interest of doing so has not done it. That’s understandable. This is not easy stuff. There’s nothing to pull ‘off the shelf’ for preparing the public for all the threats of the 21st Century, a number of which have never been faced by anyone let alone Americans. In addition, new technology has also changed message delivery. It will take some real thought in designing both the content and distribution of the information.

Both one thing is clear: if officials are going to have a discussion of potential disasters, they cannot avoid communicating some level of fear. Explaining what citizens would need to do in the event of a biological or chemical attack cannot be done without contemplating dire possibilities. But just for a moment. These are scary, unfamiliar topics. But the objective is to do so in a responsible and constructive manner — not stirring up more fear than is necessary, handling it with perspective, and providing concrete things people can do to prepare themselves and communities.

And, ironically in some cases, the threats — e.g. a ‘dirty bomb’ — is not as serious as most Americans currently perceive it is. However, that fact has to be communicated in advance to the public, because — due to general public distrust about government and instances such as the health precautions and reporting during the World Trade Center cleanup — Americans will be skeptical about anything said during and after such an incident.

One of the reasons I think we need to (and can) rehabilitate the word “fear” is that officials are already using it in other areas. In fact, currently there is a preparedness double standard. Officials are not allowed to talk about terrorism threats without being accused of scaring people. But we seem to have no problem when it is used to generate public interest in more traditional disasters.

For example, with hurricane season beginning this week FEMA’s Twitter feed sent out this message: “In an average 3-year period, roughly 5 hurricanes strike the US killing 50-100 people anywhere from TX to ME” Isn’t that fearmongering? But the ‘tweet’ makes the important and fair point that Americans shouldn’t be complacent during storm season since hurricanes can kill people, and they should prepare for them. The fact is that fear can be a useful lever (as one part of a communications effort) to encourage constructive behavior. So, why are officials allowed to use it for natural disaster preparedness and not for terrorism?

Further, why has the campaign against global warming been successful and grabbed public attention? In large part, it is because proponents have made the case that if we don’t do something the planet will become inhabitable. That’s a ’scare tactic’ if I’ve ever heard one. Why isn’t that labeled fearmongering? To me, it’s just presenting the public the facts, offering government’s response and providing ways people can contribute towards dealing with the problem. And, by the ways, I think the effort on climate change is very much related to disaster preparedness.

If the government isn’t allowed to discuss serious threats, there is no way that we can have the important discussion about what we expect the government to protect us from and what risks are we willing to accept. It would have been useful to have a debate on the costs/benefits of building levees before Katrina or an unprecedentally large oil well in the Gulf before the recent spill. Again, it may not have prevented worst case scenarios but it would have at least laid out for the public, elected officials and the media the real risks and the financial tradeoffs. In fact, the media has a major role in both explaining the threats more fully and not reflexively calling officials who talk about it “fearmongers”.

One way to mitigate the fearmonger attack is to offer people something they can do rather than place them into a victim, dependent mentality. The more information given will better empower the public and also underscore that citizens have a role in disaster preparedness. There is a role for fear. But it needs to be part of a broader effort of strengthening communities and citizens and making more resilient. (This blog attempts to find that balance. I don’t shy away from difficult or scary topics but I try to handle them in a way that is responsible, have a purpose and offer suggestions on how citizens can become involved.)

Officials have to give the public more credit for dealing with scary topics. With apologies to Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Nathan Jessep in A Few Good Men, “We can handle the truth.” Here in New York City, after the Times Square attack New Yorkers may have been frightened briefly, but then we moved on and went back to worrying about quotidian urban concerns like being hit by a taxi running a red light. And, as someone who is currently dealing with a life-threatening disease, I want to be told the truth however scary it might be.

What adds to the communications challenge is that security officials sincerely do not know how, when, and where future attacks will occur? But again, Americans can handle that uncertainty if we’re told that and are able to develop a trusting, transparent and ongoing dialogue with the government. Again, officials using fear frequently and irresponsibly is very wrong. But let’s not throw the baby out with bathwater. But fear does have a role public preparedness.