FEMA issues guidance for managing disasters in the COVID-19 environment

FEMA said the information can apply to responses to flooding, wildfires, and typhoons

FEMA guidance COVID emergency incidents

Last week the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released the COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season to help emergency managers and public health officials best prepare for disasters while continuing to respond to and recover from coronavirus (COVID-19). In a news release, FEMA said that while the document focuses on hurricane season preparedness, most planning considerations can also be applied to any disaster operation in the COVID-19 environment, including no-notice incidents, spring flooding,  wildfire seasons, and typhoon response.

Specifically, the guide:

  • Describes anticipated challenges to disaster operations posed by COVID-19;
  • Highlights planning considerations for emergency managers based on current challenges;
  • Outlines how FEMA plans to adapt response and recovery operations;
    Creates a shared understanding of expectations between FEMA and emergency mangers; and,
  • Includes guidance, checklists and resources to support emergency managers response and recovery planning.

The 59-page document does not have a lot of details, for example specifics of how to set up an evacuation center, but there are lists of items to consider.

As an example, here is the section on Evacuation Planning:

Evacuation Planning

State, Local, Tribal & Territorial (SLTT) organizations should review evacuation plans and consider:

  • Assessing community demographics and identifying areas facing high risk, including considerations for those under stay-at-home orders, at higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19, individuals with disabilities, and others with access and functional needs.
  • Reviewing clearance times and decision timelines, with COVID-19 planning considerations, such as mass care and sheltering plans.
  • Considering impacts of business closures/restrictions along evacuation routes; limited restaurant/lodging availability will place extra stress on state and local officials and may require unprecedented assistance to travelers.
  • Maintaining availability of mass transit and paratransit services that provide a transportation option for those individuals who are unable to use the fixed-route bus or rail system for evacuation of people with disabilities in accordance with CDC guidance and social distancing requirements.
  • Using EMPG-S funding to modify evacuation plans to account for limited travel options and increased time needed for evacuation of health care facilities.
  • Targeting evacuation orders and communication messages to reduce the number of people voluntarily evacuating from areas outside a declared evacuation area.
  • Developing communication plans for communities likely impacted by hurricane season or other emergent incidents for any updates or alterations to evacuation strategies, and ensuring communications are provided in a way that is accessible to people with disabilities and limited English proficiency.
  • Reviewing available alternate care sites and federal medical stations as potential evacuation sites or longer-term solution for hospitals and medical facilities, if needed, and considering staffing needed to support facilities.
  • Determining logistics and resource requirements to support government-assisted evacuations.
  • Reviewing, expanding, and/or establishing agreements with NGOs, agencies, volunteers, and private sector vendors that will be needed for evacuee support and ensuring partners are prepared to deliver services in a COVID-19 environment.
  • Engaging with neighboring states and jurisdictions to coordinate cross-border movement of evacuees in large-scale evacuations.
  • Developing host jurisdiction sheltering agreements.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bill. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Application period opens April 28 for Assistance to Firefighters Grant – COVID-19 Supplemental Program


This week first responders can begin applying for $100 million in funding for the Fiscal Year 2020 Assistance to Firefighters Grant – COVID-19 Supplemental Program (AFG-S) to help provide personal protective equipment to firefighters and first responders who are managing emergencies during the Coronavirus pandemic.

FEMA will begin accepting AFG-S applications at 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday April 28, 2020. The application period will close at 5 p.m. ET on Friday, May 15, 2020, so start planning your application now by reviewing the information below. These tools were produced to help potential applicants begin to plan their AFG-S applications ahead of the application period. These documents can be viewed on the AFGP website at FY 2020 AFG-S COVID-19 Guidance Documents or can be downloaded to your computer.

If you have questions about the technical assistance tools listed above, call or e-mail the AFG Grants Help Desk at 1-866-274-0960; or firegrants@fema.dhs.gov . The AFG Help Desk is open Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

FEMA promotes its wireless emergency alert system

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has released a public service announcement about their Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system which sends free informational text messages to WEA-enabled cell phones within range of an imminent and dangerous local situation, severe weather event, or AMBER emergency.

Many new cell phones can receive these messages but older ones probably can’t. It takes special hardware and software. The CTIA website, in the left sidebar, has links to cell phone providers where you can find more information about the capabilities of individual devices.

I have a Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Android system running on Verizon) that was introduced about 18 months ago and it does not have the capability to receive the WEA alerts. However, Google provides through Google Now, what they call Google Public Alerts, but apparently it only works in areas where local agencies are participating to provide the information. Here is how Google describes the system:
Continue reading “FEMA promotes its wireless emergency alert system”

Sequestration budget cuts update, March 4, 2013

We are getting a little more information about the effects of the sequestration budget cuts within the federal agencies that have wildland fire responsibilities. The cuts went into effect on Friday, March 1, when President Obama signed an Executive Order, but most of the details have not yet trickled down to the agencies. They are still in a planning mode, figuring out exactly how the cuts will be implemented.

Here a few more things we have learned since our last update about effects in the Department of Interior on March 4 (which included a letter from the Secretary of Interior) and a broader look on March 1:

National Park Service

The NPS has not received the actual numbers yet, according to Roberta D’Amico their Branch Chief for Communication and Education in the Division of Fire and Aviation Management, but they expect a five percent reduction in the wildland fire budget. This cut comes at the mid point of the fiscal year, which means they have six months left to reduce the expenditures by five percent for the entire year’s budget.

A primary goal of the NPS during this budget crunch, Ms. D’Amico said, is to avoid furloughing any permanent employees. However they expect to hire fewer seasonal firefighters, and the ones that do get hired will most likely not work as many pay periods as they have in past fire seasons. Large contracts that have not yet started are being suspended at least temporarily, and travel, which had already been reduced substantially is being cut back even more.

Funding for NPS prescribed fire and other fuel management projects will be less than last year.

The NPS expects that they can still maintain fire readiness and provide fire suppression capability at a safe level.

The video below features the Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis, elaborating on the effects of the budget cuts.

Federal Emergency Management Agency

FEMA is also affected by a five percent reduction in funding levels, which will result in a reduction to FEMA’s State and Local grant funding. The FIRE and SAFER grant programs to local fire departments will be cut by a total of $104 million.

Thousands of FEMA fire grants, too little time

Over 300 senior level firefighters spent four days this week holed up in a large meeting room west of Washington, DC. They were helping the Federal Emergency Management Agency review thousands of applications received from fire departments and EMS organizations for the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER).

Approximately 15,000 to 20,000 applications for AFG funding alone were submitted electronically. They were all reviewed and graded by computers using criteria developed by FEMA. Then the ones that made it through the basic screening were all printed and given to the firefighters for peer review. The computerized technical review and the peer review each make up half of the final score.

The 300 firefighters reviewing the AFG grants were organized into groups of six people at each table, and were given packets of six applications at a time. Every application was reviewed by three evaluators who read the 20 to 35 page document and then wrote by hand their analysis, addressing four categories on a 2-page form.  If the scores among the three evaluators varied too much, they had to discuss it, and either change their scores to come closer into alignment, or write a statement on the scoring form saying it was discussed and no changes were made. Every table of firefighters reviewed 36 to 60 applications each day.

The firefighters reviewing the SAFER grants may have had a different procedure.

The SAFER grants may have all been reviewed, but the firefighters handling the AFG grants worked from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for four days, Monday through Thursday, and at the end of the day on Thursday there was still a large pile of AFG applications pending.  The FEMA personnel asked for volunteers to work further into Thursday night, and may have even asked some to volunteer Friday morning before they had to get on the shuttle to the airport. It is unlikely that all of the applications got reviewed, and FEMA will have to come up with a plan to finish them, possibly bringing another group of firefighters to Washington.

This year, fiscal 2012, Congress provided $675 million for firefighter assistance, including $337.5 million for AFG and $337.5 million for SAFER. Started in 2001, the fire grant program reached a high in 2009 when it had $985 million to distribute, but the amount appropriated has been declining since then.

FEMA personnel at the grant review meeting estimated that there was enough money available to fund approximately 10 percent of the applications this year, so most departments are going to be disappointed. FEMA hopes to begin rolling out grant notifications to the lucky few in September, if they can get the rest of them reviewed soon.

ESF-4 to move from USFS to USFA?

The Department of Homeland Security’s National Response Framework designates the U. S. Forest Service as the “coordinator” and the “primary agency” for Emergency Support Function #4, which is Firefighting. When FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security get involved in an emergency, the purpose of ESF #4 is:

…provides Federal support for the detection and suppression of wildland, rural, and urban fires resulting from, or occurring coincidentally with, an incident requiring a coordinated Federal response for assistance.

We are hearing that the new Director of FEMA, William Craig Fugate, and the Department of Homeland Security are pushing for the U. S. Fire Administration to take over as the coordinator and primary agency for ESF #4. If this occurs, and it was discussed last week at a meeting in Emmitsburg, it would be a big change.