Posted by: Tim Manning, Deputy Administrator, Protection and National Preparedness
Tuesday was my first full day here in Pago Pago, American Samoa. I started out the morning meeting with the many members of our emergency management team here on the island, beginning with the chief of the Emergency Medical Services unit. We toured their EMS facility and I was very lucky to have a quick chance to speak to some of their EMS workers. The chief told us how critical volunteers are to their work and that they focus on supporting emergency preparedness efforts in their different villages on the island. What the chief explained – that having a strong grassroots capacity is key for American Samoa – was echoed in all of our meetings throughout the day.
Next, we went to meet with the governor. FEMA has worked closely with him and his team through every step of the recovery from the tsunami in September 2009, and our meeting reinforced how critical this strong partnership is to this ongoing effort. The governor spoke about the territory’s experiences on Friday, when they and other Pacific islands were at risk of potential impacts from the tsunami. While they were very lucky to have been spared, the governor underscored that what’s happening in Japan only heightens the importance of being prepared for earthquakes, tsunamis and other hazards. And as he put it best, we can all learn from each other. And that’s really what the Pacific Area Risk Managers ‘Ohana meeting is all about.
We then met with some of the chiefs who lead the villages on the island, and the director of Homeland Security and his team. Each of these meetings underscored two important principles for us at FEMA – the importance of engaging the entire community in preparedness and that we have to make sure that all of our efforts to plan for, respond to and recover from disasters reflect the needs of the actual communities. American Samoa, for example, has an incredibly strong community preparedness effort that starts in each of their villages – and is supported from the ground up.
In the afternoon, we toured some of the homes that have been or are being built as part of the ongoing recovery work – one of the many types of assistance FEMA is providing to disaster survivors. While progress has been made, there is still a lot of work ahead. Our recovery office in Pago Pago is overseeing these and other recovery efforts, and has been working to communicate regularly with the families whose homes are being rebuilt, and keep them informed of every step in this process.
In every meeting today, and in every encounter I have had here so far, I have been struck by the resilience of the people of American Samoa. Their determination and commitment to continuing to rebuild, and to becoming better prepared for all hazards, is inspiring.
Yesterday, I got the opportunity to speak at the PRiMO conference. The PRiMO conference is all about building partnerships and strengthening the emergency management team – two ways we can build our resiliency in the Pacific region and elsewhere. Everything I have seen, or listened to in the last day is sure to help add to the important conversations we will be having. I look forward to another day of learning, and discovering how we can further build the team and strengthen our work, taking into account the many lessons learned in Samoa, Japan, and from other recent disasters.