By Kellie Lunney
March 11, 2011The government is using different modes of communication -- from conference calls to Twitter feeds -- to disseminate information related to Friday's earthquake in Japan and the subsequent tsunami impact on the West Coast of the United States.
Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, already posted a video online early Friday morning urging viewers to listen to local officials, and he briefly touched on the federal response on the West Coast. "Our immediate priority is the safety of the people and communities in the affected areas," Fugate said in an online statement. We remind everyone who lives in the region to monitor their local news for instructions from their state and local officials and if told to evacuate -- evacuate."
FEMA also is making use of its Twitter feed, posting links to tsunami advisories for specific regions, preparedness tips and live streaming from inside state emergency centers on the West Coast.
As for more traditional forms of outreach, Fugate held a conference call Friday afternoon with reporters, and appeared on television to answer the media's questions. FEMA's Western Regional Offices 9 and 10 are working with state and local officials in the affected areas, and the agency sent emergency staff to Hawaii to coordinate with Gov. Neil Abercrombie's team. "FEMA is fully activated," said President Obama during a Friday afternoon press conference.
Tsunami warnings and watches were issued for the U.S. territories of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, as well as portions of coastal areas in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington state. Multiple federal agencies responded to calls for assistance and provided outreach and guidance via their websites, the news media and on Facebook and Twitter.
"We are incredibly active on social media," said Rachel Racusen, a spokeswoman for FEMA. In addition to headquarters, each of the agency's 10 regional offices has its own Twitter feed, as does Craig Fugate. Racusen said social media is critical for the agency to keep track of what's actually happening on the ground and to disseminate messages, especially from local and state entities,on such events as road closures and evacuation plans.
FEMA also posts information on its blog and Facebook page and has launched a mobile website where people can get emergency information and register directly for disaster assistance.
In addition to the government's domestic response, the U.S. Agency for International Development has dispatched urban search-and-rescue teams to Japan, at that country's request. U.S. Coast Guard response crews in Northern California are monitoring port conditions via air and ship in San Francisco and Monterey.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is monitoring nuclear power plants that could be affected, including the Diablo Canyon Power Plant near San Luis Obispo, Calif., where authorities are tracking "an unusual event," according to a statement. The agency also is overseeing materials sites in Hawaii and Alaska.
"NRC staff is working closely with its resident inspectors who are on-site to ensure safe operations," said commission chairman Gregory Jaczko. Racusen said FEMA is in close contact with NRC and other federal agencies regarding any effects from the tsunami.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the State Department has offered immediate disaster relief assistance to Japan, and was working to gather information and assist U.S. citizens in Japan who have been affected by the earthquake.
By Kellie Lunney
March 11, 2011