Friday, April 27, 2012

Texas Division of Emergency Management. Preparedness Section


The Texas Division of Emergency Management, Preparedness Section, administers a statewide emergency management all-hazards preparedness program that includes the following units.

Who Do We Serve?

TDEM Preparedness Section prepares state and local first responders to prevent, protect, respond to, and recover from hazardous material incidents through US Department of Transportation’s Hazardous Material Emergency Preparedness Grant. Under the grant the term "first responder" refers to those individuals who, in the early stages of an incident, are responsible for the protection and preservation of  life, property, evidence, and the environment, including State and local emergency response providers (emergency personnel  public safety, law enforcement, emergency response medical and related personnel, agencies and authorities) as well as emergency management, public health, public works, and other skilled support personnel (such as equipment operators) who provide immediate support services during prevention, response, and recovery operations.  
  • Emergency Management (EM): Individuals, both local and state, who coordinate preparation, recognition, response, and recovery for Hazardous Materials incidents.
  • Emergency Medical Services (EMS): Individuals who, on a full-time, part-time, or voluntary basis, serve as first responders, emergency medical technicians (EMT) (basic), and paramedics (advanced) with ground-based and aero-medical services to provide pre-hospital care.
  • Fire Service (FS): Individuals who, on a full-time, part-time, or voluntary basis, provide life-safety services, including fire suppression, rescue, arson investigation, public education, and prevention.
  • Governmental Administrative (GA): Elected and appointed officials responsible for public administration of community health and welfare during an incident.
  • Hazardous Materials Personnel (HZ): Individuals, who, on a full-time, part-time, or voluntary basis, identify, characterize, provide risk assessment, and mitigate/control the release of a hazardous substance or potentially hazardous substance.
  • Healthcare (HC): Must be a public (county/city) owned facility. Individuals who provide clinical, forensic, and administrative skills in hospitals, physician offices, clinics, and other facilities that offer medical care, including surveillance (passive and active), diagnosis, laboratory evaluation, treatment, mental health support, epidemiology investigation, and evidence collection, along with fatality management for humans and animals. (DMORT, DMAT, MRC are federal when deployed therefore are not public employees)
  • Law Enforcement (LE): Individuals who, on a full-time, part-time, or voluntary basis, work for agencies at the local, municipal, and state levels with responsibilities as sworn law enforcement officers.
  • Public Health (PH): Individuals, who prevent epidemics and the spread of disease, protect against environmental hazards, promote healthy behaviors, respond to disasters and assist in recovery, as well as assure the quality and accessibility of health services.
  • Public Safety Communications (PSC): Individuals who, on a full-time, part-time, or voluntary basis, through technology, serve as a conduit and put persons reporting an incident in touch with response personnel and emergency management, in order to identify an incident occurrence and help support the resolution of life-safety, criminal, environmental, and facilities problems associated with the event.
  • Public Works (PW): Organizations and individuals who make up the public infrastructure for the operation and management of these facilities. The categories/roles include administration, technical, supervision, and craft (basic and advanced).
Students must be Public Sector Employees/Volunteers: Students must be employed or used by a political subdivision (county, municipality, city, town, township, local public authority), school district, special districts, interstate district, council of governments (whether or not incorporated as a nonprofit corporation under State law), any other regional or interstate government entity, or any agency or instrumentality of a local government. Private sector, federal, non-profit, not-for-profit employees may not be eligible for these classes unless they also serve in a public sector volunteer position. Volunteers must apply through their public sector agencies. Texas residents only.

Although a student may meet the above criteria, doesn’t mean that they are automatically approved for all HMEP funded training. We must consider efficient use of funds. For example a county clerk is a public employee however; based on their job “county clerk” there would be no reason for them to need training above the awareness level. Remember we are not a process for a public employee to get training so they can get another/better job…we are to train first responders to protect themselves, the public and the environment.

IPS-Inter Press Service: Shelters Don't Shelter Haiti's Needy

By Correspondents*

HILLS ABOVE LÉOGÂNE, Haiti, Mar 15, 2012 (IPS/Haiti Grassroots Watch) - Almost half of the emergency shelters distributed by the British organisation Tearfund in the mountains above Léogâne remain uninhabited six months after they were built.

A two-month investigation by the Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) investigative journalism partnership in the hamlets of Fonds d'Oies and Cormiers, the tenth and twelfth sections of Léogâne, found that 34 of the 84 families who received temporary houses didn't live in them, and that 11 families got two houses from two different humanitarian organisations.

If these 34 houses – built for 3,000 dollars each, according to Tearfund – are sitting empty or, worse, are up for rent, that means at least 102,000 dollars was wasted while tens of neighbouring families are still living in tents or makeshift huts.

"The emergency shelters distributed around here weren't passed out fairly," Rosemie Durandisse seethed.

The 50-year-old farmer, her husband and six children used to live in a four-room concrete home that was destroyed during the earthquake, whose epicentre lies about 25 kilometres away. Now she and her family cram into a shack made of wood, cloth and plastic.

Bigger Questions BeggedHow many other Cérivals or Gérésols are there across Haiti?

Are people in the Léogâne area, and indeed, are Haitians in general somehow predisposed to nepotism, to lying, and to tricking people and organisations who are attempting to assist them?

According to sociologist and economist Camille Chalmers, the presence of hundreds, if not thousands, of organisations and agencies doing humanitarian work, sometimes with methodology that is inappropriate – or worse – is not without its negative consequences.

They are having the tendency of "creating a vicious circle of humanitarianism and of assistance, where people have the mentality of being dependent on hand-outs. This can be very, very negative… in the medium and the long run," Chalmers told HGW in an interview in October 2010.

In addition to those negative effects, the Tearfund T-Shelter investigation raises other questions:

If the sample studied by the AKJ journalists offers even a hint at the eventual errors and corruption at other sites, what does that mean about the 110,000 emergency shelters sprinkled across the country?

Should one assume that over 44,000 of them have been given to people who don’t really need them, when more than 450,000 of their compatriots still live in tents?

Was building T-Shelters, as opposed to repairing homes, or other possible solutions, the best way to spend 500 million dollars?
"Life is not too rosy for me… I need to find a home because (when it rains), the torrents make our lives miserable," she added.

The Christian organisation Tearfund (The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund), which works in about 50 countries around the world, arrived in these mountain hamlets between Léogâne and Jacmel after the earthquake. In addition to other work, Tearfund built 249 "Transitional Shelters" or "T-Shelters".

"The houses respect the norms (established for post-disaster housing)," Kristie van de Wetering, Tearfund's earthquake programme director, told HGW. "And one of the things we did was to look for extra money so that we could implicate the beneficiaries and the community in the project."

The 18-square-metre, two-room houses are built of plywood and two-by- fours on a cement base, with a tin roof. The price per home is about 3,000 dollars, according to the organisation.

In total, over the past two years, humanitarian organisations have built about 110,000 T-Shelters in the earthquake-struck zones, for a total cost of about 500 million dollars.

The total number of families in need of housing following the quake topped 300,000. To get a T-Shelter, a family had to have proof it owned land or had a long-term lease. Over two-thirds of the post-quake refugee families – some 200,000 families – were renters, meaning they were not eligible for the structures.

The focus on T-Shelters as a solution was not without controversy. [See also Abandoned like a stray dog andWhat is the plan for Haiti's homeless?]

Gift for rent

At the Tombe Gâteau marketplace along the Jacmel road, two houses sit in the same yard, just a few steps from the Bangladeshi organisation BRAC, who built the one of concrete. The wooden one came from Tearfund.

Everyone in the neighbourhood says both houses belong to the same person, Cevemoir Charles.

A "For Lease" sign sits on top of the BRAC house.

When asked, Charles lashes out and moves away quickly, grumbling as he goes: "These houses don't belong to me. They belong to my wife."

Charles's case is not unique. Ask Résilia Pierre, a mother of three children who lives with her husband and two other people in one of the two houses she received, the one from BRAC. She is also seeking a tenant.

"I live in this shelter and the other one is empty," she admitted, as if it were perfectly normal. "Once in a while I sweep it out and do a little cleaning."

Tearfund's local liaison officer swears there are no duplicates.

"We take into account if someone has already received a shelter from another NGO (non-governmental organisation)", Booz Serhum said. "That is one of the criteria we want to respect everywhere, because that assures a fair distribution."

His supervisor, van de Wetering, seconded Serhum, adding, "One of the fundamental elements of our programme is coordination with other organisations."

But what kind of coordination? In the two communal sections sampled, the coordination was, at the very least, inefficient. It didn't prevent over 10 duplications in the same region, or the fact that many others got shelters without needing them since they live somewhere else or are renting them out.

Blame game

What explains the empty T-Shelters just down the road from families still living in tents or damaged homes? Journalists found apparent lack of coordination, weaknesses in the method used to pick beneficiaries, as well as lies and errors.

Local officials were the first to recognise the disastrous situation.

"Victims complain that people who don't need shelters got shelters, while others who were more vulnerable and more in need, didn't get anything," said Laurore Joseph Jorés, a member of the Cormiers Communal Section Administrative Council (Conseil d'administration de la section communale or CASEC).

"A lot of people who lost their homes thought the CASECs could help them get a shelter," he added.

Innocent Adam, coordinator for the Fond d'Oies CASEC, agreed with his colleague but noted that local authorities are powerless.

"We can't do anything. We are not responsible," he said. "Our task was to simply oversee issues related to land-ownership and land titles."

If local officials didn't choose the beneficiaries, who did? Tearfund says the community committees set up with Tearfund's assistance after the earthquake had final say, but the committees said Tearfund decided everything.

Who really chose? What both sides agree on is that Tearfund conducted a field study to identify the victims who were truly "vulnerable".

"We focused on the person's revenue, their living conditions, the number of children for whom they were responsible, their health situation, etc.," Serhum said, explaining that community committees seconded the work.

While the committees admit to having worked with Tearfund, committee members deny that they had the final word.

"The committee's job was to inform the beneficiaries chosen by Tearfund," Févry Gérésol, a member of the Cormier committee, explained. "We didn't have the power to choose the beneficiaries."

"The committee's job was to look at the list," van der Wetering countered. "They knew the quantity of shelters available for their community. The committee chose beneficiaries from the list."

But according to Sanon Dumas, member of the Fond d'Oies committee, the group was only responsible for assuring that the construction was carried out correctly, and then reporting to Tearfund.

However, he admitted: "If we did make a few choices, it was to help Tearfund pick from the list of those who had already been registered and were in the computer database."

Dumas's mother got a T-Shelter.

As of early March, it was still empty.

Tricks, liars and questions

Some feel that Tearfund was tricked on many occasions.

"The initial field study was done by people who didn't know anything about the local context," committee member Gérésol noted. "There were people who got a shelter by shady methods or by lying."

Gérésol himself has two T-Shelters from two different organisations: Tearfund and the Swiss Red Cross.

Not knowing the region, the researchers were fooled by people who pretended that abandoned, destroyed homes belonged to them. Tearfund – which also built 27 temporary schools, a dozen wells, and carried out other programmes in the region – doesn't reject the possibility.

"It's quite possible that some people were not honest, and they said that had no home, or that this or that home belonged to them or to their family. That probably happened," Serhum said.

"Someone might tell you that their home was destroyed, but later you learn that what they showed you was their kitchen (often a separate hut or semi-walled building), not their home."

Nepotism and favouritism also appear to have played a role in the distribution of at least some of the shelters.

HGW journalists noted that in the sample communal sections, most of the families who got shelters had some kind of link to the committee members. For example, about 10 families living near Sanon Dumas have shelters, while potential beneficiaries only a few kilometres away still live in damaged houses.

Berline Cérival, from Grand Bois, well understands the advantages of a friendship.

"I wasn't counted by the researchers, so I went to see Partisan (a committee member)," she said. "He contacted an engineer at Tearfund to organise the shelter for me, and here I am today!"

Editor's Note: The interview with Tearfund took place before the fieldwork for this story. The HGW team tried many times to do a follow-up interview with Tearfund.

*Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations and students from the State University's Faculty of Human Sciences.

This report made possible with the support of the Fund for Investigative Journalism in Haiti.


IPS-Inter Press Service: Trash Disposal Complicates Climate Change Fight in Jamaica

By Zadie Neufville

KINGSTON, April 25, 2012 (IPS) - For more than a week this past February, the city choked on the acrid smoke that forced schools and business to close. It racked up millions of dollars in lost production and an estimated 60 million dollars in firefighting costs as the city tried to combat yet another fire at Kingston's Riverton city dump.

No one knows what toxins were released in the early days of the fire, even though the fumes triggered health scares in communities within a two-mile radius and, according to some, as far as the old capital, Spanish Town.

Highlighting continued inadequacies in emissions control and air quality monitoring, the fire led to renewed calls for stricter air quality regulations, even as authorities have no plans to mitigate increasing greenhouse gas emissions and little knowledge about the substances Jamaicans breathe in each day.

People didn't learn the levels of emissions until three days later, when the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) deployed monitoring devices to measure air quality and emissions.

Their joint report noted, "The data collected gives a reasonable indication of the impact and provides a good baseline to make decisive actions and inform the public on the risk if an event of this magnitude should reoccur."

NEPA's coordinator of air quality management, Gary Campbell, confirmed that "analysis indicated the presence of particulate matter at many times the levels to which humans should be exposed".

According to Jamaica's second national report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), respiratory diseases were among the leading causes of hospitalisation and death in 2005.

Health statistics also show that in 2008, respiratory illnesses were the second most treated complaint in hospitals across the island.

Pollution tied to climate change

Jamaica's need to reduce emissions and control air pollution is crucial to its efforts to adapt to climate change and its strategies to reduce greenhouse gases. Climate change is expected to increase levels of respiratory diseases and exacerbate conditions that contribute to them.

The report also listed fires at waste disposal sites, leachate and emissions of methane as leading sources of pollution.

Head of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Ronald Jackson has recommended permanent closure of the site, noting that Riverton has passed the five-year limit for landfill operations.

"It is advice we have already given. We have also suggested options that include waste-to-energy options; air quality monitoring to know what is happening with the people who live near by and the capping of the dump," he said.

Aside from Riverton, six other dump sites do not meet international standards as landfills, and trash pickers often cause fires by burning tyres and other material to salvage metals. It is reported as well that extortionists sometimes set fires in a bid to create jobs out of the need to extinguish the blaze.

Jamaica's inadequate trash collection system means that only 70 to 75 percent of household garbage reaches the dumps. There are no separate industrial dump sites.

With most of rural Jamaica lacking regular garbage collection, estimates of garbage that is burnt, buried or improperly disposed of fall between 191,000 and 228,787 tonnes each year.

Also contributing to emissions are farmers who use fire to clear the land, the production of charcoal and the burning of cane to facilitate reaping.

In Negril, fumes from cane fires and burning peat are the bane of the resort town's idyllic setting because cane fires coincide with the height of the tourist season, while peat fires smother the town during the summer, the hottest time of the year.

Industrial emissions are also reportedly on the rise. The UNFCC report noted increases in emissions from electricity generation and that emissions should increase with the expected restart of the bauxite and alumina industry.

Carbon dioxide emissions data show a steady increase between 2000 and 2005, from 9,531 gig grams to 13,946 gig grams, when there were between 381,776 and 501,985 motor vehicles on the island. Data also show increases in particulates, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and methane levels.

Today motor vehicles number more than a million.

Conflicting interests

"Unfortunately, there are no efforts to manage air quality," Simone Williams, technical director at the Negril Environmental Protection Trust (NEPT), told IPS.

Williams said that despite obvious increases in the level of pollutants, Jamaica had no initiatives to mitigate greenhouse gases, a view shared by the experts.

Peat fires, in addition to being "an inconvenience", also affect "the hotel infrastructure (and) people's health", Williams added. But recent work to restore the wetlands will "significantly reduce the fires and emissions", he said, "if not eliminate it".

But eliminating fires in the Morass, despite its protected status, could prove challenging, as many farmers make their living there, Damian Salmon, chairman of the Negril Chamber Of Commerce said.

"Restoring the wetlands would solve a lot of Negril's problems including the loss of the beach, because the ecosystems are interconnected, but we can't drown out the farmers. Many will tell you that they have nowhere else to go," he noted.

All agree that air quality monitoring is essential. But NEPA's CEO Peter Knight pointed to critical shortcomings in the collection of solid waste and the urgent need for effective public awareness programmes to drive home the negative effects of open burning.

The agency has already begun to plug the holes in air quality regulations, which has no emissions standards for motor vehicle and open burning.

At its drafting, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Ambient Air Quality Standards Regulations (2006) aimed to use permits and licenses to control emissions from industrial installations.

"We are revisiting the act and are working with the relevant agencies. There are already draft motor vehicle emissions standards," Campbell said. He added that the NEPA had not negated its responsibility, but rather had sought to prevent overlapping legislation by including only industrial emissions.

"NEPA is not responsible for the monitoring of motor vehicle emissions," Knight elaborated. "That is the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport. There are the Country Fires Act under the Fire Brigade that covers open burning and the Public Health Act under the Ministry of Health."

But environmentalists want to see stiffer penalties for open burning. The fine of 2,000 Jamaican dollars and/or three months in prison under the Fires Act are considered too lenient to deter offenders.

Nevertheless, the findings after the Riverton fire have prompted NEPA to recommend additional equipment and monitoring for at least a year. The agency is also seeking funds to increase its monitoring sites across the island.


IPS-Inter Press Service: Wiping the Iron Dust off Their Feet in Small Brazilian Town

By Fabíola Ortiz

RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 26, 2012 (IPS) - The 380 families living in Piquiá de Baixo, a small town in the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão, are fed up with having to endure high levels of pollution from nearby steelworks in their water, air and soil.

The town takes its name from the piquiá tree, a species highly valued for its wood, which has become extinct in the area where five steel plants have been operating for the past 25 years, headed by Brazilian mining giant Vale.

At present some 500,000 tonnes of pig iron, an intermediate product in the process of steel refining, are produced annually in Piquiá de Baixo. Pig iron is produced in blast furnaces by smelting iron ore, using charcoal or coke as fuel and limestone as a purifying agent.

The steel industry in the municipality of Açailândia, where the town is located, depends on supplies from Vale's iron ore mines. The pig iron is transported to Atlantic ocean ports near São Luis, the state capital, 500 km away.

Local people in the small town, who live in modest dwellings with yards bordering on the grounds of the large steel plants, are suffering health problems from pollution.

As a result of the extremely poor quality of the air they breathe and the water they drink, more than 40 percent of the residents of Piquiá de Baixo suffer from respiratory illnesses, lung diseases and skin lesions, according to a study by the Reference Centre for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases at the Federal University of Maranhão.

The local population is demanding a transfer to a clean, safe place far away from the steel plants. The majority are farmers, who now can only work land over 200 km from their homes.

Similarly dire situations are occurring in many of Brazil's mining towns, and a number of them are also organising protests.

Edvard Dantas Cardeal, 68, is the president of the Piquiá de Baixo Residents' Association, whose members are affected by the smoke, soot and residues generated by the 70 smelting furnaces in the area.

"We are in danger, because we live next to five steel mills. In addition, Vale has a railway station just 300 metres from our homes, where every day hundreds of tonnes of iron ore are transported across our town, 24 hours a day," he told IPS.

The hazardous living conditions in Piquiá de Baixo are highlighted in the Relatório de Insustentabilidade da Vale 2012 (Report on Vale's Unsustainability, 2012), launched Apr. 18 in Rio de Janeiro by the International Network of People Affected by Vale, which includes 30 social movements in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile and Mozambique, some of the countries where the mining company operates.

Andressa Caldas, head of Justiça Global (Global Justice), an NGO working for human rights, told IPS that the situation in Açailândia is emblematic, because the community which has been settled there for over 50 years "is asking to be transferred due to the degree of environmental degradation and toxic pollution it is suffering."

Danilo Chammas, the lawyer for the Piquiá de Baixo residents, concurred. He pointed out that the town already existed when the steel plants arrived 25 years ago. Now, "coexistence has become impossible, as the local people are forced to breathe iron ore dust mixed with charcoal every day," he said.

"The families should have been relocated when the steelmaking complex was built; but a move is still the only alternative, and is urgently needed," he told IPS.

Chammas said the residents are demanding "a greater commitment by Vale to the local people; and the company should contribute resources toward the building of a new settlement far away from the pollution."

According to the Report on Vale's Unsustainability, the company "refuses to make reparations for the harm caused these people, or to cover the cost of their resettlement."

Cardeal also said his community's demand is a matter of utmost urgency, as they cannot stay there any longer, because of the serious risk of further deterioration in public health.

"We cannot stand it any longer; the steel mills pollute the river that flows through the town, and all we can do is ask God to get us out of this place," he said.

IPS was able to confirm that land a good distance from the steel mills was expropriated in July 2011 by the municipal government of Açailândia to relocate the affected families. The former owner of the land appealed the decision, but the issue was resolved in favour of the expropriation on Mar. 20 by a Maranhao court.

Cardeal and Chammas travelled to Rio de Janeiro in an attempt to meet with representatives of the Vale consortium, which was privatised in 1997.

"We came in the spirit of dialogue, to give Vale the opportunity to clean up its image, tarnished by its link with the pig iron industries, many of which promote slave and child labour," Chammas said.

Vale's press office declined to comment to IPS about the matter, although later it issued a communiqué in response to the Report on Vale's Unsustainability.

"Vale respectfully receives all suggestions and complaints referring to its operations. We are aware that mining activity has an impact, and therefore we work in association with communities and governments to find solutions that guarantee people's safety, as well as harmonious and healthy coexistence," the statement says. (END)