FEMA Offers Tips, Plan for Disaster Response to El Nino

By FELICIA FONSECA | December 11, 2015

Winter in the Southwest and West Coast could be fraught with flooding, evacuations, power outages and landslides because of El Nino, and federal officials Wednesday released their emergency plan and gave tips on how to be prepared.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency released a disaster plan for how they plan to respond to El Nino, a warming of the Pacific Ocean that can bring devastating weather.

FEMA officials also participated in a mock exercise to test their reactions.

“I’m in the business where I can’t get back time, you can’t reverse things,” said Bob Fenton, a regional FEMA administrator. “My experience is you need to prepare for these threats when the likelihood or probability is high, that you need to make sure you’ve taken the necessary actions to bring down those risks.”

Here are some details in FEMA’s plan:


The disaster plan focuses heavily on California, where one in five residents lives in flood-prone areas. Land scorched by wildfire is susceptible to flooding and landslides. Coastal areas could see higher tides of up to 8 feet around Christmas. A levee breach, river swelling and rapid snow melt put the Central Valley at the highest risk of flooding. Ground hardened by drought won’t allow rain to soak in, leading to what’s called overland flooding, FEMA said. The drought also could be somewhat of a blessing in that California’s reservoirs have plenty of room to catch rain.


Much of Arizona is desert, so it’s at a lower risk of flooding. But flash flooding and rapid snow melt remain a concern. American Indian tribes like the Havasupai, whose reservation is deep in a gorge off the Grand Canyon, and the Navajo Nation likely will seek federal disaster declarations because of limited resources and infrastructure, FEMA said.

The impact to Nevada will depend on how much rain and snow falls on the east side of the Sierra Nevada.


FEMA is looking to recruit 500 people in the region who it can call on to respond quickly to disasters. The agency is encouraging engineers, and those with experience in social work, construction, cost estimation and the environment to apply for temporary jobs. A hiring session is scheduled next week in southern California, but the agency says it will be looking for people throughout the winter.


FEMA says less than 20 percent of Americans have a plan for what to do before, during and after disasters that can leave them without power, heat and a way to get out of town. Officials say people should have enough food, water and supplies for nearly a week. Government websites have information on how to evaluate your home for flood risks, hazards and general disaster preparedness. Fenton says people in low-lying areas who don’t have flood insurance also should consider buying it soon because it won’t take effect for 30 days.

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