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11Fire Department Considers Bulletproof Vests Over FEMA's New Guidelines For First Responders At Mass Shootings

The Austin Fire Department is considering purchasing bulletproof vests for staff after the Federal Emergency Management Agency changed guidelines for first responders during mass shootings.

Emergency medical personnel must now treat the wounded at “Active Shooter and Mass Casualty Incidents” even if the situation is still dangerous, just like medics during wartime.

The FEMA report, released in September, suggests fire departments across the country invest in bulletproof or bullet-resistant vests.

“There’s always an inherent amount of risk going into those scenes, you know, and when you’re not protected with the best safety equipment out there, that risk kind of goes up,” Randy Denzer, of the Austin Firefighters Association, told KVUE-TV.

“More than 250 people have been killed in the United States during what has been classified as active shooter and mass casualty incidents (AS/MCIs) since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999,” said the FEMA report. “AS/MCIs involve one or more suspects who participate in an ongoing, random or systematic shooting spree, demonstrating the intent to harm others with the objective of mass murder. It has become evident that these events may take place in any community impacting fire and police departments, regardless of their size or capacity.”

“The Austin Firefighters Association is all for changing those protocols just like the Obama administration is now asking us to do. We're all for it,” Denzer said. “The one thing we're also for though is we want to make sure that if there's any safety equipment that can help us do our job better, help us get to the patients sooner than that's all worth looking into very well.”

AFD is looking for funding to buy appropriate bulletproof gear.

“What we’re trying to teach people now is to push forward, even though the scene may not be totally secure,” Captain Matt Clark told KTBC. “If there’s a section that is secure then we’ll start sending medics, start sending firefighters in to start evacuating and start treating immediately the wounded and so hopefully they’ll have better outcomes in the end.”

The paramedics with Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services have had bulletproof vests for the last 10 years.

“I last wore mine approximately two to three months ago,” said Commander Jonathan Mudge with Austin/Travis County EMS. “It was for a call in which a person had been reportedly stabbed. At the end of the day, our goal is to go home to our families and keep serving our community.”

Sources: TheBlaze, KVUE

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11Superstorm Sandy Homeowners Still Battling Insurance Companies, Govt Red Tape One Year Later

One year after Superstorm Sandy devastated large swaths of the New York and New Jersey coastlines, homeowners there say that the battle against their insurance companies as well as against governmental red tape has left them exhausted, frustrated and in some cases, ready to give up.

“We are up to our limits. Our money is tied up trying to get back in our home, fighting with insurance, fighting with FEMA,” Diane Mazzacca of Stafford Township, N.J., told a state panel on Monday. “Nobody has done anything to help. You've got to help. Otherwise I'm just turning over the keys."

Another New Jersey resident who spoke at the panel hearing said that the post-Sandy ordeal has taken years off her life.

"After a year I'm tired. Instead of being a 36-year-old single mother, I feel like I'm 76,” said Danielle Vaz, who attended the panel proceeding with her four-year-old autistic son. “It's not getting any easier. It's getting harder by the day. When I needed my government — the people I voted for — they failed me."

In other areas hit hard by the storm, which formed in the Caribbean one year ago today and raked the northeastern shorelines a week later, insurance companies have failed to pay for adequate home repairs, due largely to the brigade of inexperienced claims adjusters sent out to make damage estimates in the immediate aftermath of Sandy.

“Some of these guys could have been selling oranges last week at a fruit stand, and this week they are an insurance adjuster,” said Amy Bach, executive director of the consumer group United Policyholders.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, insurers have paid out almost $8 billion in repair money for Sandy-hit homeowners. The average check has been $54,754 with 92 percent of people who filed claims receiving at least some payment.

SOURCES: Associated Press, The Daily Journal, Wikipedia

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11Rep. Kristi Noem Contradiction on Spending in Light of South Dakota Blizzard

The inherent problem with fiscally conservative legislators is that they decry wasteful government spending, yet have to fight to get much-needed federal dollars into their districts.

The latest specific example of that is Republican Kristi Noem from South Dakota, whose district was hit with a catastrophic winter storm that has ravaged the cattle-raising community.

According to The Washington Post, “it’s still too early to know the full extent of the losses to South Dakota’s ranchers,” but “early figures from the head of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association suggest that 5 percent of the area’s 1.5 million cattle have been killed.”

Rep. Noem was part of the coalition of Republicans who refused to fund the government unless Obamacare was defunded. Yet, a week after the government shut down, a blizzard with hurricane-force wind gusts caught ranchers by surprise and left cattle literally stuck in the mud and ultimately led to their freezing to death.

On the floor of the House last week, Rep. Noem told her colleagues about a rancher who “found what he called the trail of death, about 200 of his 600 cows were dead leading up to and throughout the draw.”

Again from The Washinton Post, “South Dakota is especially reliant on federal funding since it doesn’t have a personal or a corporate income tax,” and one of the lowest state sales’ taxes in the country. Also, because of the shutdown, the US Department of Agriculture offices where ranchers could both file claims on their lost cattle and receive assistance payments from government farm subsidies.

However government spending, specifically farm subsidies, have been painted as wasteful government spending, but Rep. Noem is asking the government to increase the livestock indemnity program, which acts as insurance for ranchers. Naturally, her critics say her position inconsistent with her fiscally-conservative persona.

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11New Federal Flood Insurance Rules Will Increase Policy Premiums By Thousands

Nearly all flood insurance is sold by the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). In 2012, the NFIP passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. The act eliminates government subsidies for some 20% of flood insurance policyholders. Most of these policyholders live in areas that have been deemed at high flood risk by new NFIP zoning maps.

When the act was passed, many in the flood insurance industry supported it, saying it would help reduce the deficit caused by low, subsidized insurance premiums for homes in high-risk areas.

"We need these reforms to move premiums to more economic soundness," said Robert Detlefsen, vice president of public policy for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. "Historically, prices for premiums have been too low, especially in high flood areas where they don't reflect the risk of flooding.”

But as many home-owners are finding out, their new flood insurance rates are astronomically higher than their old ones. In some cases, flood insurance premiums for owners of high risk home have risen by over 1000% -- a financially crippling new expense for any homeowner.

One of these homeowners is Sarah Curtin, a Hingham Massachusetts resident. Until this year, Curtin paid $300 per year for flood insurance. But under the new NFIP laws, her premium has risen to over $7,000. Curtin’s home is not in a NFIP high-risk flooding zone. But one corner of her property is, making her liable to pay the new premium.

To make matters worse, NFIP agents deducted $6,900 directly from her bank escrow account to pay for the premium without even informing her. Curtin was eventually able to have the funds returned to her account, but not before she argued with NFIP representatives for months.

In order to have her policy reduced, Curtin must obtain an elevation certificate proving that her home is not in a high-risk area. Curtin must pay for the certificate out of her own pocket.

Curtin – who said the new flood insurance program may make it impossible for her to afford her home – is not unlike many homeowners across the country. Imagine paying $300 per year for health insurance only to be told one day that you must now pay $5,000 a year.

The new expenses will be so crushing for so many that the Mississippi Department of Insurance has filed a lawsuit against the NFIP. Coastal states like Mississippi are home to thousands of residents living in homes in high-risk flood zones.

The lawsuit is against FEMA – a division of the Department of Homeland Security that oversees the NFIP.

“Today, many consumers face loss of their property due to the increases," State Insurance Commisioner Mike Chaney said in a news release. "Many of the new flood elevation maps are riddled with errors and consumers must pay for new elevation certificates to prove they are not in a flood zone."

The lawsuit points out that FEMA was required to provide an affordability study with the new act and it failed to do so. The suit asks the federal judge to block the new rate increases until the affordability study has been conducted and analyzed. 

Sources: NBC, Business Week, Wicked Local

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11New York City To Kick Out 350 Still-Homeless Hurricane Sandy Victims Housed In City Hotels

More than 11 months after Hurricane Sandy wreaked devastation on New York City, as well as other regions along the coast of the U.S. northeast, hundreds of New Yorkers are still without permanent homes. But the federal government has had enough of those people.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency wants approximately 350 victims of the storm to move out of the hotels where they’ve been housed since October of 2012 — and into homeless shelters.

On October 22 of last year, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record ripped through the northeast, causing billions of dollars in destruction in New York and New Jersey. Coastal areas in New York boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island were especially hard hit.

Since the hurricane, FEMA has paid for many victims who lost their homes to stay in hotels around the city. With their homes beyond repair and no money to find new places to live, many of them, largely low-income residents, are still there.

The federal government has paid $73 million to house the hurricane victims so far, but now it says it can’t spend any more money on them, the  New York Times reports.

“I’m not going to no more shelters — I’ve been there and done that,” said an emotional Nicole Neal, 39, who was homeless for more than two years before being able to afford an apartment in Far Rockaway, Queens — only to see the apartment destroyed by Sandy.

She has lived in a Brooklyn Holiday Inn since the storm. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t want to think about it.”

By May of this year, about 3,000 people who had been living in hotels were able to return to homes, or went to live in other public housing.

Now, however, the city is taking a look at those remaining in hotels and arguing, in court documents, that, “it makes no sense for the city to continue to house evacuees in hotels when they can be housed within the city shelter system for a fraction of the cost and can continue to receive the same support, services and access to programs they are provided while in the hotel program.”

SOURCES: New York Times, UPI

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11Colorado Republicans Asking for Federal Aid Voted Against Sandy Relief

The floodwaters in Colorado are receding, leaving behind the wreckage of family homes and destroyed businesses. Naturally, the embattled state has turned to the federal government for disaster relief. President Obama declared a state of emergency on Sunday, and was encouraged to do so by the nine-member Colorado Congressional delegation. However, according to ThinkProgress.org, four Colorado Republican representatives who signed the letter to the President, voted against federal relief for the areas devastated by Super Storm Sandy last year, which left many in New York and New Jersey without power for days.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the Colorado Republican delegation has contradicted the position they took for Sandy relief, when in July they sought disaster relief for wildfires that raged in southern Colorado. Many see their position as hypocritical, especially those that remember that the first measure for Sandy relief was denied a vote the House, in part because of the Colorado delegation’s opposition. Almost two weeks later, the bill did pass the House, but for a smaller amount. It certainly did not help matters that the two parties were in a brutal fight over the budget, which led to the eventual sequestration.

Still, FEMA needs all the help they can get. However, they aren’t accepting some of the help they are being offered. In an effort to help change the story about the use of civilian drones, Falcon UAV employees were threatened with arrest if caught flying drones over the flood-damaged areas. Falcon UAV had been volunteering its efforts, and their drones, to help map the affected areas and could do so more efficiently over rough terrain than manned vehicles. Also, many experts are suggesting that floods like these many be the “new normal,” because of climate change, a phenomenon the Colorado Republicans continue to deny.

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11More Than 200 People Missing, Four Dead in Northern Colorado Floods

More than 200 people are missing and four people were confirmed dead as Colorado continues to flood, authorities said.

Rainfall in Northern Colorado in the last two weeks amounts to what the area would usually see in two months. Large areas are without power and clean water. Weather forecasters predict rain for Saturday and even stronger storms Sunday.

Helicopter rescue operations have been deployed to reach those who are stranded. Many people have been trapped in their cars.

According to Patrick Von Keyserling, an emergency official in Boulder County, 218 people were unaccounted for.

"That number will fluctuate as families start locating people and as we pick up people that have been stranded with our helicopter operation," Von Keyserling told Al Jazeera. “We will continue throughout the day as long as the weather is permitting.

Rain stopped just long enough Friday so that 162 residents in Jamestown, just north of Boulder, could be airlifted to safety. Flooding had washed out all the roads leading in and out of the town, Gawker reported.

“Many, many communities in our western mountains are completely isolated. There is no road access, no telephone information, no power, no water, no sewer”, said Sheriff Joe Pelle of Boulder County.

Rescuers worry that erosion from recent wildfires have made the area more susceptible to flooding.

“We’ve been through floods there before, but this one had a little different taste to it,” William Martin, 88, told the New York Times.

President Barack Obama sent the largest deployment of federal disaster assistance to the state this week. Thousands have been evacuted. 

"This is not going to get fixed in a week," Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a press conference. "We have lost a great deal of infrastructure."

Sources: Gawker, Al Jazeera

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11Angela Caballeros’ Hurricane Katrina Message in a Bottle: ‘Our roof is gone, Our roof is in the water'

On Sept. 21, 2005, National Park Service park ranger Rob Turan and his team found a plastic bottle containing a message on South Lopez Street in New Orleans. Inside was a handwritten letter from 14-year-old Angela Caballeros marked Uptown New Orleans, 8/29/05, 9:15 a.m., reported Sheila Stroup of the Times-Picayune.

Stranded in her home waiting to be rescued, Caballeros wrote that her grandmother was pacing back and forth saying, “Our roof is gone. Our roof is in the water.”

Eight years later, Turan drove from Chatanooga, Tenn., to return the letter to “the unknown Angela,” now 22.

“This is the actual letter,” Turan told Caballeros, his voice full of emotion. “I took it home and had it framed, and for almost eight years I’ve looked at it every day and wondered about you.”

All Turan could do is hope that Caballeros and her grandmother had survived the storm. Their roof was gone, they had no power and the water continued to rise.

“For me, it put an exclamation point on the storm and gave it a human face,” he said. “You became our symbol.”

At the end of her message, Caballeros wrote, “I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens next. If anyone is reading this, keep me and my family in your prayers, and I will keep you in mine. God Bless.”

Caballeros lived with her mom and stepdad in one half of a double home. Her grandmother lived on the other side. She wrote the letter in her grandmother’s home, put it inside an empty Big Shot bottle and dropped it in the rising water just off the porch of the home.

Shortly thereafter, water flooded the first story of the house. The four of them took refuge in the attic with food, family papers and photographs. They eventually climbed onto the roof to get out of the heat.

The storm hit Monday morning. On Thursday a helicopter arrived, but her mother, Karen, sent them away to another house nearby.

“Get them. They have a baby,” Karen Caballeros-Bacchus yelled.

Friday, the helicopter returned and rescued the Caballeros family.

“I will never forget that ride, just looking back,” her mother said. “It was like the end of the world.”

“It was like ‘The Walking Dead,’” Caballeros said. “People walking through water, just trying to survive.”

Turan was amazed that after everything she had been through, the teenager was worried about everyone but herself. She wrote that she prayed for family and friends and hope they would be all right.

“Your letter went all the way to the head of the Park Service,” Turan told her. “Once I got her blessing, we were able to help people however we could."

Turan was stationed in an area he called the “dead zone” where the “bathtub ring” was.

He told her family that he assisted a woman as she returned to her home.

“She fainted, and I had to catch her,” he said.

Turan said the letter helped his team through a lot of hot days that September.

“I’m glad I could do this for you all,” she told him. “It’s pretty amazing.”

She never dreamed anyone would find her letter and had nearly forgotten all about it.

“I didn’t know my letter was going to mean so much to somebody,” Caballeros told Turan.

“I almost fainted when I heard you’d been found,” Turan said.

If it were not for Times-Picayune reporter Sheila Stroup, the two might never have met. In the letter, Caballeros she said she went to Ben Franklin High School. Stroup contacted the school and discovered Caballeros was now a senior biology student at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.

Source: NOLA.com

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11FEMA Refuses to Aid Sandy Victim Because His Staten Island Home Wasn't His Primary Residence

An 84-year-old war veteran was recently denied Hurricane Sandy aid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Why was he denied aid? Because he was staying with his son in New Jersey when the hurricane struck and not in his Staten Island home.

Vito Colluci Sr. was diagnosed with dementia two years ago and has lived with his son in Neptune, N.J., ever since. His son, Vito Colluci Jr., planned on fixing up the home and selling the property. Colluci Jr., 61, filed an application with FEMA just three days after Sandy on Nov. 1. Within a week, FEMA denied the claim.

“They said because my father didn’t live here, owner or not, it doesn’t matter," Colucci Jr. said. "It’s a second home, so he doesn’t qualify for aid. I said, ‘The guy is sick. He hasn’t got a second home.’ It's not like you’re talking to somebody that has a ton of money.”

Vito Sr. owns only one house, the one on New Dorp Beach in Staten Island, which he has owned for more than 25 years. He moved in with his son so he could monitor his health.

“One day he tells me that he’s got another son like me, but the guy was a little bit better looking,” Colucci Jr. said. “I said, ‘Dad, that's me.’ He says, ‘No,’ so I take out an old picture and he says, ‘That’s him!’ I said that’s me when I was younger.”

His 35-year-old grandson and his wife moved into his Staten Island home during that period. The Daily News did not report whether the couple filed a separate FEMA claim on the home, but it appears the damaged property has not had any repairs.

Colucci Jr. said most of the furniture was ruined by the 3-foot flood waters that inundated the house. He said because the FEMA application was denied, he was unable to get an estimate for the total damages to the home.

Looking back, Colucci Jr. wishes he had not disclosed on his father’s application that he had been living with him in New Jersey.

“I was trying to tell the truth, and look what happened,” Colucci Jr. said. “I’m a loyal American and when they needed me to step up, I joined the service. Now we’re penalized for not playing the game.”

Standing on the property at Winham Avenue, Colucci Sr. said, “We used to all have parties out here and the neighbors would come and bring food. I wish it was like how it was before. Now it’s all gone.”

FEMA spokesman, Ray Perez, said the family could appeal the denial of aid.

“That’s why we say everything is case by case,” Perez said. “Where your primary residence is at the time of the disaster is the main thing. That can affect the application.”

Americans affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 understand the headache of dealing with FEMA. Too well.

In 2011, FEMA sent out 83,000 notice-of-debt letters to recoup assistance it sent out to Katrina survivors. The people, most of whom were displaced or moved in the six years since the storm, were asked to prove they lived in New Orleans (or the hurricane-affected area) on Aug. 29, 2005. To do so, they were asked to provide utility bills, addressed envelopes, copies of a license or something showing their address in 2005. Most people do not retain such records after five years, let alone people who lost everything they owned in a massive flood.

“I nearly had a stroke,” said 63-year-old David Bellinger, who moved to Atlanta after Katrina destroyed his New Orleans home. “I’m totally blind. I subsist entirely on a Social Security disability check. If I have to pay this money back, it would pretty much wipe out all the savings I have.”

The “debt” was about $4,622 per recipient.

Sources: Washington Times, NY Daily News

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11Will Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn Change Their Tune About Federal Disaster Relief?

Oklahoma Sens. James Inhofe and Tom Coburn have long records of opposing disaster relief for other parts of the country, as well as blocking increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It remains to be seen if the Republican senators will change their minds in the wake of a massive tornado that killed at least 51 people, including 20 children, outside of Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon.

In 2012, Inhofe and Coburn supported a plan to slash federal aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy from $60.4 billion to $23.8 billion. Inhofe called the original amount a “slush fund.”

"We don't have time right now to get all the way through and analyze the actual losses that were attributable to Sandy," Inhofe said.

When FEMA was running out of money in 2011, both senators opposed legislation that would save the agency, calling it “unconscionable.”

Oklahoma ranks third in the country, behind Texas and California, in terms of declaration for fire and federal disaster relief. Last month, President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration following severe snowstorms that affected 17 Oklahoma counties at the end of February.

A spokesman for Coburn, John Hart, said the senator would make sure that any funding received for the tornado relief is offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.

"That's always been his position [to offset disaster aid]," Hart said. "He supported offsets to the bill funding the [Oklahoma City] bombing recovery effort."

He noted that Coburn, "makes no apologies for voting against disaster aid bills that are often poorly conceived and used to finance priorities that have little to do with disasters."

A two-mile wide tornado plowed through Newcastle, Moore and South Oklahoma City yesterday. With winds of 200 mph it leveled schools and entire neighborhoods. There are no estimates for the monetary cost of the damage yet. In 1999, after a series of deadly tornadoes, the state asked for and received $67.8 million in federal disaster relief.

Sen. Inhofe is reknowned for his stance against global warming, which he believes is a “hoax” propagated by Al Gore, the United Nations, the Hollywood elite, MoveOn.org, Michael Moore, George Soros, “and a few others.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., chastised the GOP Monday after news of the Oklahoma tornado broke. He said climate change denial affects the entire nation.

“We’re stuck in this together. We are stuck in this together. When cyclones tear up Oklahoma and hurricanes swamp Alabama and wildfires scorch Texas, you come to us, the rest of the country, for billions of dollars to recover,” Whitehouse told Senate Republicans. “And the damage that your polluters and deniers are doing doesn’t just hit Oklahoma and Alabama and Texas. It hits Rhode Island with floods and storms. It hits Oregon with acidified seas, it hits Montana with dying forests. So, like it or not, we’re in this together.

“You drag America with you to your fate."

Sources: Huffington Post, Raw Story, Telegraph, The DC

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