Heartbleed (what it is, how to protect yourself + tips about passwords)

April 11, 2014

Heartbleed logo by Leena Snidate Codenomicon Ltd A recently discovered encryption flaw in OpenSSL – a software used by many popular social networking websites, search engines, banks, and online shopping sites to keep personal and financial data secure — has potentially exposed a majority of the internet. Not all secure sites use OpenSSL (a secure site typically has an “https://” prefix and a little padlock in the address line), but about 66% of websites do … so it’s a big deal.

The bug is called Heartbleed because it piggybacks on a feature called heartbeat and it affects specific versions of the widely-used OpenSSL cryptographic library. Basically an error that was missed over two years ago in the open OpenSSL encryption protocol allows a remote attacker to expose sensitive data, possibly including user authentication credentials and secret keys which may allow an attacker to decrypt traffic or perform other attacks.

In other words, if someone knew this bug existed, they could intercept usernames, passwords, credit card details, and other sensitive information from a website’s server in plain text. It also allowed for a server’s private encryption keys to be stolen. Once stolen, these keys can be used by criminals to decrypt data sent between a website’s server and a user of that website. And, since it leaves no trace, system administrators would have no clue they were breached.

Renowned security expert Bruce Schneier said of Heartbleed, “On a scale of 1 to 10, it is an 11.”

What kinds of devices are impacted..?

MIT Technology Review explains the Heartbleed flaw could live on for years in devices like networking hardware, home automation systems, and even critical industrial-control systems, because they are infrequently updated.

Cable boxes and home Internet routers are just two of the major classes of devices likely to be affected, says Philip Lieberman, president security company Lieberman Software. “ISPs now have millions of these devices with this bug in them,” he says. The same issue likely affects many companies, because plenty of enterprise-grade network hardware and industrial and business automation system also rely on OpenSSL, and those devices are also rarely updated.

Large-scale scans of Internet addresses have previously uncovered hundreds of thousands of devices — ranging from IT equipment to traffic control systems — that are improperly configured or have not been updated to patch known flaws. (See MIT’s 2013 article called “What happened when one man pinged the whole Internet” [i.e. 3.7 billion IP addresses] for some disturbing findings about these types of devices.) 

So what does this mean to me..?

If you are a business, a developer or system administrator … upgrading to OpenSSL version 1.0.1g resolves this vulnerability, but realize SSL digital certificates are compromised too so they must be recertified. US-CERT recommends administrators and users review Vulnerability Note VU#720951 for additional information and mitigation details. There is also a way to disable the heartbeat handshake command (although it is best to upgrade) – visit http://heartbleed.com to learn more. Also … once your system is upgraded and recertified, businesses and site owners should notify all users the site is secure and encourage everyone to change their passwords as quickly as possible.

For everyone else … there’s not much we can do other than avoid the Internet (okay … so that’s not realistic) … but you can be proactive and verify all the sites you have accounts with are fixed and get ready to change passwords as explained below. As ZDNet writes… if your bank, favorite online merchant, email, cloud and/or software provider hasn’t fixed Heartbleed yet [or advised that their site didn’t use the buggy version], close your accounts and find new service providers.

What can I do to protect myself..?

Realize some sites don’t even use OpenSSL, others didn’t update to the 2012 version of SSL so they aren’t vulnerable, and many others have patched the Heartbleed flaw once it became known on April 7, 2014. And hopefully any and all websites impacted by this vulnerability notify users once their systems are updated and recertified and recommend everyone log on and change your passwords.

Yes, it is a pain and will be time-consuming, but you should get in the habit of changing passwords every few months anyway.

And realize there will be some scumbags who will take advantage of this Heartbleed scare so be on the lookout for phishing emails requesting you click a link to change your password. The best way to ensure the security and integrity of any of your accounts is to go directly to each website and log in there to manage your secure data.

Mashable has compiled a Heartbleed Hit List of sites possibly affected by this flaw and advises if you should change your password on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler, Google, Yahoo mail and more.

heartbleed ssllabsIf you’re not sure if a site you use is vulnerable, visit https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/ to perform an analysis of the configuration of any SSL web server on the public Internet. (If everything’s green, it has probably been fixed.) Another tool you can use to check sites is http://filippo.io/Heartbleed/.

Also, if you use Chrome as your browser, they just released an app called Chromebleed that will test a site before you visit it and display a message if it’s affected by Heartbleed. (Note: Some early reviews weren’t so good so read description and reviews before installing.) But keep in mind these tools are just resources and may not be totally reliable.

heartbleed-cap one not vulnerableThe best solution is to visit each and every site you use that has sensitive information (e.g. banking, email, social media, etc.) to find out if they have posted a public statement or link about the Heartbleed issue — or maybe they weren’t even impacted or vulnerable — but hopefully they’ll say something online or in a newsletter.

If they don’t mention anything about Heartbleed, call, chat or email to ask if they had a problem with it. And if a site was fixed … you should change your password.

Many experts suggest the best thing to do is change all your passwords now. BUT… realize you may have to change some of them again since there may be some websites that are still buggy meaning the secure data is still vulnerable.

It’s totally your call, but it is wise to change your passwords often anyway … and you really should change them on any and all sites that have been patched.

Tips about passwords

  • DO NOT use the same password for all your accounts! And make sure all your email accounts have unique passwords since hackers with access to your email can visit other web sites (e.g. banks, Paypal, email providers, etc.) and submit a “forgot my password” request and intercept the email with the reset password.
  • Create long passwords (at least 8 characters long) using a combination of letters, numbers and special characters … change them often … and don’t share them with others. Consider using numbers or special characters in place of letters if using words, acronyms or phrases. For example, instead of using “ilovesunnydays” as a password, you could use “1loVe$unnyd@ys” to strengthen it.
  • Pet and family names are not good to use since hackers or criminals may have access to your personal data and/or your posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
  • Don’t use the “remember my password” option on accounts that contain sensitive data (like credit card data, etc.) since 1) typing them every time can help you remember passwords … and 2) if your PC or handheld device got stolen the perp could potentially access your accounts.
  • Some people invest in password manager services and apps, such as LastPass, KeePass, PasswordBox and 1Password, which keep track of passwords and suggest especially strong ones. However, some security experts warn against creating a single point of potential failure with all your passwords, especially if the service stores your passwords in the cloud. PCMag has some tips on various password managers.

Also…

  • Make sure computers and all wireless devices have current anti-virus software and firewalls, schedule them to scan daily or weekly, and update virus patterns often. If you own or manage a business, encourage employees to protect their personal home devices too.
  • Set security preferences as high as possible on Internet browsers and anti-virus packages.
  • Although it is best to not open emails or attachments from unknown sources, that’s not always feasible – especially in the business world. But consider saving the attached files into a temporary directory and scan them before opening.
  • See more tips about protecting your devices from cyber threats in our October 2013 enews

For more information about Heartbleed:

Heartbleed.com (official site with data + tips for developers and general public)

OpenSSL Project (OpenSSL community with updates, source code, etc.)

US-CERT OpenSSL ‘Heartbleed’ Vulnerability

Heartbleed: What you should know (WaPo article by Gail Sullivan)

What you need to know about the Heartbleed bug (Good Q & A)

How Heartbleed Works (Good PC Mag SecurityWatch article)

Stay safe (and secure) out there!  j & B


Get Ready to Participate in America’s PrepareAthon

April 7, 2014
Below appeared in our March 2014 enews...

America’s PrepareAthon! is a national community-based campaign for action to increase emergency preparedness and resilience through hazard-specific drills, group discussions, and exercises. 

Ready.gov explains the goal of America’s PrepareAthon! is to build a more resilient nation by increasing the number of individuals who understand…

  • which disasters could happen in their community;
  • know what to do to be safe and mitigate damage;
  • take action to increase their preparedness;
  • and participate in community resilience planning.

The spring and fall events are designed to encourage Americans to practice preparedness before an emergency or disaster strikes. For example, each year the Great ShakeOut earthquake drills encourage millions of people to physically practice what to do during an earthquake, and America’s PrepareAthon is modeled on the same principle. Participants must commit to take action and take at least one step (or more!) to prepare for a hazard they may face.

As mentioned above, the PrepareAthon! will occur twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall – with the 2014 events planned on April 30 and September 30. Each event will concentrate on specific hazards and themes, but communities, organizations and families are encouraged to use the various resources throughout the year since disasters can happen anywhere and anytime.

According to Ready.gov the first National Day of Action is scheduled for April 30, 2014 and will focus on taking actions to prepare for four specific hazards:

– Tornadoes

–  Wildfires

–  Floods

  Hurricanes

Agencies, organizations, businesses, schools and individuals can visit www.ready.gov/prepare and register to participate in America’s PrepareAthon! During the signup process organizers would like to know a few details about activities you are planning for the April call to action (similar to registering for ShakeOut events), plus you can join the National Preparedness Community to post events and network with others in the forum.

Also America’s PrepareAthon! organizers are providing customizable guides, social media tools and promotional materials for families and groups to use whether you just do the National Day of Action on 4/30 or hold drills or exercises year-round. The key is turning knowing into doing!

Additional Resources

View custom samplesIn addition to the above and below links, consider learning more about FedHealth’s customizable disaster preparedness and first aid manual for your public outreach efforts too.

Our IT’S A DISASTER! book is 1 of 8 Private Sector resources listed on FEMA’s Public Private Partnership Tools page, plus it qualifies as community education on grants and provides about a $3 or $4-to-$1 return on match since we discount it up to 75% off list (or as low as $3.50 each) and customize it for free.

Plus we have collaborative Public-Private Partnership ideas to help fund volunteers and schools and educate local communities while saving people money! It’s a whole community approach to resilience and preparedness that can complement your Awareness campaigns. Learn more and download a free mini ebook

Some other informational tools include…

FLOOD resources

Flood Safety Tips (3-pg PDF from our IT’S A DISASTER! book)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mold cleanup tips

EPA’s 20-page guide, “Mold, Moisture and Your Home”

FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program

Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (Floods)

NOAA’s Flood Safety

Ready.gov flood safety

HURRICANE Resources

Hurricane Safety Tips (6 pg PDF from our IT’S A DISASTER! book)

Hurricanes 101 (hurricane basics and resources) / a 2013 post on our IAD blog

Florida’s Foundation “Make Mitigation Happen” (21-pg PDF for FL but could help most everyone)

National Hurricane Center

Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (Hurricanes)

NOAA Tropical Cyclones Preparedness Guide (12 pg PDF)

Ready.gov Hurricane safety

TORNADO Resources

Tornado Safety Tips (3-pg PDF from our our IT’S A DISASTER! book)

Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (Tornadoes)

NOAA Tornado safety tips

More NOAA tips

Ready.gov Tornado safety

The Tornado Project Online!

WILDFIRE Resources

Wildfire Safety Tips (2-pg PDF from our IT’S A DISASTER! book)

Wildfire Mitigation Tips (on USFRA.org) 

Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (Wildfire)

National InciWeb

National Interagency Fire Center

Ready.gov Wildfire safety

US Fire Administration Wildfire safety

Or visit your state or local Emergency Management, Health or Fire or Police or Sheriff department’s website to find local emergency information, safety tips and tools to help you and your loved ones get prepared.

And again… learn how to take action and get involved with America’s PrepareAthon at www.ready.gov/prepare and follow them on Twitter @PrepareAthon or Facebook.

 


Landslide and debris flow safety tips

March 26, 2014
landslide-fema-la_conchita-ca

1995 landslide in La Conchita, CA Photo: FEMA

According to US Geological Survey, landslides in the United States cause approximately $1-$2 billion in damage and kill more than 25 people on average each year. Worldwide, landslides cause thousands of casualties and billions in monetary losses every year.

Researchers at UK’s Durham University recently reported that landslides kill ten times more people across the world than was previously thought. Their Durham Fatal Landslide Database (DFLD) showed that 32,300 people died in landslides between 2004 and 2010. Previous estimates ranged from 3,000 to 7,000 fatalities.

One of the worst landslides and subsequent loess [sediment] flows on record happened in 1920 when the 8.5 magnitude Haiyuan Earthquake shook China for 10 minutes killing over 100,000 people.

Although landslides and debris or mud flows are primarily associated with mountainous regions, they also occur in low elevations too. According to Science Daily some key landslide hotspots include China, the Philippines, Central and South America, and India, but slides can happen anywhere in North America too.

Landslides are basically masses of rock, earth or debris that move down a slope often triggered by many natural events such as earthquakes, floods or volcanic eruptions. The term “landslide” encompasses five modes of slope movement: falls, topples, slides, spreads, and flows and can be further subdivided by the type of geologic material (bedrock, debris, or earth).

Mudflows or debris flows (a type of landslide) are rivers of rock, earth, and other debris soaked with water mostly caused by melting snow or heavy rains creating a slurry. A slurry can travel several miles from its source and grows in size as it picks up trees, cars, and other things along the way. They can even move houses off their foundations or bury a place within minutes due to their incredibly strong currents.

Whidbey Island WA 2013 mudslide before after

Before and after photo of 2013 mudslide on Whidbey Island / Photo: Washington Department of Natural Resources

In addition to Mother Nature’s fury causing land movements, human activities like deforestation, cultivation, stresses on groundwaters, and construction on unstable land also play large roles.

There are some warning signs to indicate if you have a potential problem.

BEFORE A LANDSLIDE OR MUDFLOW:

Learn risks - Ask your local emergency management officeif your property is a “landslide-prone” area. Or call your County or State Geologist or Engineer or visit the USGS Landslide Hazards Program

Recent fires? - Be aware that areas hit by wildfires have an increased risk of landslides and mudflows once the rainy season starts.

Get insurance…? - Talk to your agent and find out more about the National Flood Insurance Program since mudflows are covered by NFIP’s flood policy.

Be prepared to evacuate - Listen to local authorities and leave if you are told to evacuate.

Where would we go? - Decide in advance where you would go in case you can’t return home for weeks or months .. or ever. If your home is damaged or destroyed or you’re forced to leave your home due to on-going threats (like mudslides or flooding), you’ll need to find temporary or permanent living quarters. This could mean staying in a public shelter or hotel, living with friends or relatives, or renting a home or apartment in the middle of all the chaos, so discuss several options now. Then, write down those options and share them with relatives and friends.

Reduce risks - Plant ground cover on slopes and build retaining walls.

Inspect - Look around home and property for landslide warning signs:

  • cracks or bumps appear on hill slopes, ground or roads
  • water or saturated ground in areas not normally wet
  • evidence of slow, downhill movement of rock and soil
  • tilted trees, poles, decks, patios, fences or walls
  • underground utility lines break
  • doors and windows stick or cracks appear on walls, etc.

Call an expert…? - Consult a professional for advice. Or visit the National Landslide Information Center

 

DURING A LANDSLIDE OR MUDFLOW:

Strange sounds – Listen for trees cracking, rocks banging together or water flowing rapidly (esp if near a stream or river) – debris flow may be close by.

Move it! – Whether you are in a vehicle, outside, or in your home – GET TO SAFER GROUND! Avoid low-lying areas, washes and river valleys and look upstream before crossing a bridge in case a debris flow is coming.

Listen - Tune in to local radio or TV reports to keep you posted on latest updates especially since other disasters like earthquakes, storms, flooding or volcanic eruptions may be associated with debris flows.

Be small – If there is no way to escape, curl into a tight ball and protect your head the best you can.

 

AFTER A LANDSLIDE OR MUDFLOW:

Listen - Local radio and TV reports will keep you posted on latest updates or check with your local police or fire departments.

Don’t go there - Stay away from the area until authorities say all is clear since there could be more slides or flows.

Things to watch for:

  • flooding - usually occur after landslides or debris flows
  • damaged areas - roadways and bridges may be buried, washed-out or weakened — and water, gas & sewer lines may be broken
  • downed power lines - report them to power company

Inspect - Look for damage around home and property and watch for new landslide warning signs:

  • check foundation, chimney, garage and other structures
  • report any broken utility lines or damaged roads to local authorities
  • watch for tilted trees, poles, decks, patios, fences or walls
  • notice doors or windows stick, cracks appear, etc.

Replant - Try to fix or replant damaged ground to reduce erosion, possible flash flooding or future landslides.

Call an expert…? - Consult a professional landscaping expert for opinions and advice on landslide problems. Also call an expert out if you discover structural damage to home, chimney or other buildings.

Insurance - If your home suffers any damage, contact your insurance agent and keep all receipts for clean-up and repairs.

Some additional things to check and do…

  • Check for gas leaks (smells like rotten eggs, hear a hissing or blowing sound or see discolored plants or grass)
  • Check electrical system (watch for sparks, broken wires or the smell of hot insulation)
  • Check appliances after turning off electricity at main fuse and, if wet, unplug and let them dry out. Call a professional to check them before using.
  • Check water and sewage system and, if pipes are damaged, turn off main water valve.
  • Consider having your house tested for mold.
  • Secure valuable items or move them to another location, if possible

Emotional recovery tips -   Disasters and emergencies may cause you to leave your home and your daily routine and deal with many different emotions, but realize that a lot of this is normal human behavior. Read more

Remember… the more you prepare before disaster strikes, the better off you and your loved ones will be financially, emotionally and physically.

 

Sources: It’s A Disaster! …and what are YOU gonna do about it? book and our “Slip Sliding Away” article in PREPARE magazine’s Sep 2013 issue

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those impacted by the recent #530slide in Washington state. Stay current on news and learn how to help the victims at www.snohomishcountywa.gov/2354/530-Slide  j & B


Tsunami safety tips + resources for #Tsunami Preparedness week (Mar 23-29, 2014)

March 23, 2014

Photo: Mainichi Shimbun/Reuters A tsunami [soo-nah´-mee] is a series of huge, destructive waves caused by an undersea disturbance from an earthquake, volcano, landslide, or even a meteorite.

As the waves approach the shallow coastal waters, they appear normal and the speed decreases. Then, as the tsunami nears the coastline, it turns into a gigantic, forceful wall of water that smashes into the shore with speeds exceeding 600 miles per hour (965 km/h)!

Usually tsunamis are about 20 feet (6 m) high, but extreme ones can get as high as 100 feet (30 m) or more!

A tsunami is a series of waves and the first wave may not be the largest one, plus the danger can last for many hours after the first wave hits. During the past 100 years, more than 200 tsunamis have been recorded in the Pacific Ocean due to earthquakes and Japan has suffered a majority of them.

The Pacific Ocean tsunami warning system was put in place back in 1949. As of June 2006, the Indian Ocean has a tsunami warning system, and NOAA expanded the Pacific system to include the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and areas of the Atlantic around the U.S. coast as of mid-2007.

Did you know…

  • a tsunami is not a tidal wave – it has nothing to do with the tide?!
  • another name used to describe a tsunami is “harbor wave”?!
  • “tsu” means harbor and “nami” means wave in Japanese?!
  • sometimes the ocean floor is exposed near the shore since a tsunami can cause the water to recede or move back before slamming in to shore?!
  • tsunamis can travel up streams and rivers that lead to the ocean?!

Tsunami Preparedness Week is March 23 – 29, 2014 and is designed to help cities, towns, counties, universities and other large sites in coastal areas reduce the potential for disastrous tsunami-related consequences using National Weather Service’s TsunamiReady program.  Their site contains resources that can help families and communities year-round, plus we wanted to share some tsunami safety tips from our IT’S A DISASTER! book.

BEFORE A TSUNAMI:

Learn the buzzwords - Learn words used by both the West Coast / Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (WC/ATWC – for AK, BC, CA, OR, and WA) and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC – for international authorities, HI and all U.S. territories within Pacific basin) for tsunami threats…

  • Advisory - an earthquake has occurred in the Pacific basin which might generate a tsunami
  • Watch - a tsunami was or may have been generated, but is at least 2 hours travel time from Watch area
  • Warning - a tsunami was / may have been generated and could cause damage to Warning area – should evacuate

Learn risks - If new to area, call local emergency management office and ask what the warning signals are and what to do when you hear them. Coastal areas less than 25 feet above sea level and within a mile of shoreline along coasts are at greatest risk. Or visit www.tsunamiready.noaa.gov

Make a plan - Develop a Family Emergency Plan  (e.g. establish meeting places, list of emergency contact #s, out of state contact person, etc) and Disaster Supplies Kits.

Listen - Make sure you have a battery-operated radio (with spare batteries) for weather forecasts and updates. (Radios like Environment Canada’s Weatheradio and NOAA’s Weather Radio have a tone-alert feature that automatically alerts you when a Watch or Warning has been issued.)

Water signs - If near water or shore, watch for a noticeable rise or fall in the normal depth of coastal water – that’s advance warning of a tsunami so get to high ground. Also – if water pulls away from shoreline and exposes sea floor – run to higher ground ASAP!!

Feeling shaky…? - If you feel an earthquake in the Pacific Coast area (from Alaska down to Baja), listen to the radio for tsunami warnings.

Is that it…? - Don’t be fooled by the size of one wave – more will follow and they could get bigger … and a small tsunami at one beach can be a giant wave a few miles away!

Be ready to evacuate - Listen to local authorities and leave if you are told to evacuate.

DURING A TSUNAMI:

Leave - If you are told to evacuate, DO IT! Remember – a tsunami is a series of waves – the first one may be small but who knows what the rest will bring. Grab your BOB/Disaster Supplies Kit and GO!

IF ON OR NEAR SHORE - Get off the shore and get to higher ground quickly! Stay away from rivers and streams that lead to the ocean since tsunamis can travel up them too. You cannot outrun a tsunami … if you see the wave it’s too late!

IF ON A BOAT - It depends where you are — either get to land or go further out to sea …

  • In port - May not have time to get out of port or harbor and out to sea – check with authorities to see what you should do. Smaller boats may want to dock and get passengers and crew to land quickly.
  • In open ocean - DO NOT return to port if a tsunami warning has been issued since wave action is barely noticeable in the open ocean! Stay out in open sea or ocean until authorities advise danger has passed.

Don’t go there - Do NOT try to go down to the shoreline to watch and don’t be fooled by size of one wave – more will follow and they could get bigger so continue listening to radio and TV.

AFTER A TSUNAMI:

Listen - Whether on land or at sea, local authorities will advise when it is safe to return to the area — keep listening to radio and TV updates.

Watch out - Look for downed power lines, flooded areas and other damage caused by the waves.

Don’t go in there - Try to stay out of buildings or homes that are damaged until it is safe to enter and wear sturdy work boots and gloves when working in the rubble.

Strange critters – Be aware that the waves may bring in many critters from the ocean (marine life) so watch out for pinchers and stingers!

RED or GREEN sign in window – After a disaster, Volunteers and Emergency Service personnel may go door-to-door to check on people. By placing a sign in your window that faces the street near the door, you can let them know if you need them to STOP HERE or MOVE ON. Either use a piece of RED or GREEN construction paper or draw a big RED or GREEN “X” (using a crayon or marker) on a piece of paper and tape it in the window.

  • RED means STOP HERE!
  • GREEN means EVERYTHING IS OKAY…MOVE ON!
  • Nothing in the window would also mean STOP HERE!

Insurance - If your home suffers any damage, contact your insurance agent and keep all receipts for clean-up and repairs.

Mold - Consider asking a restoration professional to inspect your house for mold. Also check out www.epa.gov/mold

Some additional things to check and do…

  • Check electrical system (watch for sparks, broken wires or the smell of hot insulation)
  • Check appliances after turning off electricity at main fuse and, if wet, unplug and let them dry out. Call a professional to check them before using.
  • Check water and sewage system and, if pipes are damaged, turn off main water valve.
  • Throw out food, makeup and medicines that may have been exposed to flood waters and check refrigerated foods to see if they are spoiled. If frozen foods have ice crystals in them then okay to refreeze.
  • Throw out moldy items that are porous (like rotten wood, carpet padding, furniture, etc.) if they’re too difficult to clean and remove mold. Remove standing water and scrub moldy surfaces with non-ammonia soap or detergent, or a commercial cleaner, rinse with clean water and dry completely. Then use a mixture of 1 part bleach to 10 parts clean water to wipe down surfaces or items, rinse and dry.
  • Secure valuable items or move them to another location, if possible

Above from IT’S A DISASTER! …and what are YOU gonna do about it? book  … and find some additional resources below the video.  


Additional resources…

Tsunami safety tips   (above tips in 3-pg PDF / from our IT’S A DISASTER! book)

Flood safety tips  (3-pg PDF from IT’S A DISASTER!)

West Coast / Alaska Tsunami Warning Center  (WC/ATWC – for AK, BC, CA, OR, and WA)

Pacific Tsunami Warning Center  (PTWC – for international authorities, HI and all U.S. territories within Pacific basin)

TsunamiReady

CDC’s Tsunami page

Photos: Mainichi Shimbun/Reuters + European Pressphoto Agency via NatGeo 

See some more incredible photos from Japan’s massive 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima disasters


Flood Awareness Week + flood mitigation and safety resources

March 15, 2014

National Flood Awareness week runs from March 16-22, 2014 and is a nationwide campaign designed to highlight some of the many ways floods can occur, the hazards associated with floods, and what you can do to save life and property.

But keep in mind floods can happen anytime and anyplace. Some floods develop over a period of several days, but a flash flood can cause raging waters in just a few minutes.

Mudflows are another danger triggered by flooding. Mudflows are rivers of rock, earth, and other debris soaked with water mostly caused by melting snow or heavy rains that creates a slurry. A slurry can travel several miles from its source and grows in size as it picks up trees, cars, and other things along the way.

Did you know…

  • floods are the most common natural disaster … and flood damage is the second most common disaster-related expense of insured losses reported worldwide?
  • all Americans live in a flood zone – it’s just a question of whether you live in a low, moderate or high risk area?
  • nearly half of all flash flood fatalities are vehicle-related?

Turn Around…Don’t Drown

Speaking of vehicles, a major NOAA National Weather Service campaign all states have been promoting for years is “Turn Around…Don’t Drown” or TADD.

In fact, several states are cracking down on people who drive around barricades into flooded areas who then become stranded.

For example, since 1995 Arizona has had a “Stupid Motorist Law” meaning any motorist who becomes stranded after driving around barricades to enter a flooded stretch of roadway can be charged for the cost of his/her rescue. And if public emergency services are called to rescue the motorist and tow the vehicle out of danger, the cost of those services can be billed to the motorist, up to a maximum of $2,000.

Both Pennsylvania and Tennessee have similar laws where motorists who drive around a barricade or flood warning sign and get stranded will face fines and possible restitution for the cost associated with any rescue efforts.

It’s a shame we even need statutes and laws such as these and would be nice if people would obey signs and barricades and not put themselves, their passengers and first responders in danger due to their actions. But people think their vehicle will keep them safe or they underestimate the power of water.

Before you try to drive through a flooded area, remember it only takes 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) of water to lift your car or SUV. Once your vehicle becomes buoyant; the water will easily push it sideways. Most vehicles will then tend to roll over, trapping those inside and washing them downstream. And flooded roads may have hidden dangers, such as washed out roadbeds or underwater obstructions.

Some flood mitigation and safety tips

Find your flood map - To identify a community’s flood risk, FEMA conducts a Flood Insurance Study. The study includes statistical data for river flow, storm tides, hydrologic/hydraulic analyses, and rainfall and topographic surveys. FEMA uses this data to create the flood hazard maps that outline your community’s different flood risk areas. Visit www.floodsmart.gov to find your local flood map.

Get flood insurance – Regular insurance companies will cover some claims due to water damage like a broken water main or a washing machine that goes berserk. However, standard home insurance policies DO NOT generally cover flood (or mud) damage caused by natural events or disasters!

The U.S. offers a National Flood Insurance Program available in most communities and there is a waiting period for coverage. Both homeowners and renters can get flood insurance as long as your community participates in the NFIP.

Did you know…

  • you do not have to “own” a home to have flood insurance as long as your community participates in the NFIP?
  • NFIP offers coverage even in flood-prone areas and offers basement and below ground level coverage?!
  • if you live in a moderate-to-low risk area and are eligible for NFIP’s Preferred Risk Policy, your flood insurance premium may be as low as $129 a year, including coverage for your property’s contents?!

Talk to your insurance agent or call the National Flood Insurance Program at 1-888-379-9531 or visit www.floodsmart.gov

Currently Canadians do not have a national flood program, however certain parts of Canada offer limited flood-damage coverage but it must be purchased year-round and rates are relatively high. Visit www.ibc.ca

Get weather radios - NOAA Weather Radio or Environment Canada Weatheradio with battery backup and tone-alert feature can alert you when Watches or Warnings have been issued.

Move valuables to higher ground
 - If your home or business is prone to flooding, you should move valuables and appliances out of the basement or ground level floors.

Elevate breakers, fuse box and meters - Consider phoning a professional to elevate the main breaker or fuse box and utility meters above the anticipated flood level so flood waters won’t damage your utilities. Also consider putting heating, ventilation and air conditioning units in the upper story or attic to protect from flooding.

Protect your property - Build barriers and landscape around homes or buildings to stop or reduce floodwaters and mud from entering. Also consider sealing basement walls with waterproofing compounds and installing “check valves” in sewer traps to prevent flood water from backing up into drains.

Learn risks - Ask your local emergency management office if your property is a flood-prone or high-risk area and what you can do to reduce risks to your property and home. Find out what official flood warning signals are and what to do when you hear them. Ask if there are dams or levees nearby and if they could be hazards.

Make a plan - Develop a Family Emergency Plan (e.g. map out evacuation routes, decide where you and your family will meet if separated, teach family members how to shut off main utility switches, discuss what to do with pets and critters, etc). And assemble Disaster Supplies Kits in case you have to bail.

Stay safe – Floodwaters may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewage or may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.

Other disasters – Be aware flooding can also cause landslides and mudflows. Listen for trees cracking, rocks banging together or water flowing rapidly (esp. if near a stream or river) – debris flow may be close by.

In addition to the below resources, consider learning more about FedHealth’s customizable disaster preparedness and first aid manual for your public outreach efforts.

Our IT’S A DISASTER! book is 1 of 8 Private Sector resources listed on FEMA’s Public Private Partnership Tools page, plus it qualifies as community education on grants and provides about a $3 or $4-to-$1 return on match since we discount it up to 75% off list (or as low as $3.50 U.S. each) and customize it for free.

Plus we have collaborative Public-Private Partnership ideas to help fund volunteers and schools and educate local communities while saving people money! It’s a whole community approach to resilience and preparedness that can complement your Awareness campaigns. Learn more and download a free mini ebook

Additional resources 

Flood safety tips (3-pg PDF from our IT’S A DISASTER! book)

The Cost of Flooding (interactive tool shows what a flood to your home could cost inch by inch)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mold cleanup tips

EPA 20-page guide called “Mold, Moisture and Your Home

EPA Safewater site (emergency disinfecting data, tips for well & septic owners, etc)

National Flood Insurance Program + Flood maps

National Landslide Information Center

NOAA’s National Weather Service Flood Safety page

Ready.gov Flood safety


Nuke News and Updates group on US First Responders Association

March 11, 2014

We recently set up a discussion group called “Nuke News and Updates” on the U.S. First Responders Association forum in case you would like to review discussions going forward.

USFRA members will be sharing news and updates about the on-going disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant along with resources and stories about nuclear sites and incidents on North American soil and across the world.

Please understand this network is NOT a political or anti/pro nuke group but rather a place to share safety information, news and resources about nuclear power plants, research reactors and incidents to help responders and the public at large.

Some examples of discussions in the Nuke News and Updates group include…

Fukushima: Resources to help decipher fact from fiction 

There has been a lot of information — and misinformation — swirling around the Internet lately about Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant so we wanted to share some resources that may calm some fears.

And yes, of course the situation is still extremely tenuous since a large trembler in the earthquake-prone country could devastate the plants and cause more meltdowns or impact the 1,000+ storage tanks and containers filled with highly contaminated water.

But for now, to help reduce the erroneous reports out there, please consider reading and sharing these links with others. Continue reading

Could a Fukushima-Like Accident Happen In The US?

Could a nuclear accident like the 2011 meltdown that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan happen in the U.S.? David Lochbaum, a former nuclear engineer, director of the Nuclear Safety Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists and one of the authors of the new book-length account “Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster,” thinks it’s more than possible. Read more 

Nuclear power plants in North America (maps + links)

The World Nuclear Association reports as of March 2013 there are 435 commercial nuclear power reactors in 31 countries with 480 more reactors under construction or planned. The U.S. has 100 commercial power plants and Canada has 19 power stations meaning millions of people live within 10 miles (16 km) of an operating reactor. And WNA reports there are 240 research reactors (54 in the U.S.) mainly on university campuses. Continue reading 

You don’t have to become a member to read most postings on the USFRA forum, however please consider joining if you’d like to participate in any of the groups and/or submit content for others.

U.S. First Responders Association is a network, of firefighters, EMS, rescue, police officers, military and civilian support teams. The purpose of the USFRA is to advance the profession of fire, emergency, police and military services through proactive community leadership, education, advocacy, policy, procedure, and guidelines that would best help our emergency services provide aid to the citizens of the U.S. and worldwide. Join USFRA today at www.usfra.org


Change your batteries and clocks + check your preparedness stocks this weekend

March 7, 2014

This Sunday (9-Mar-2014) is the start of Daylight Savings Time meaning most people will lose an hour when they “spring forward”.

Did you know…

  • Arizona (with the exception of Navajo Nation) and Hawaii and the US Territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and Virgin Islands) do not observe DST.
  • All of Canada (with the exception of most of Saskatchewan, which observes Central Standard Time year-round even though it is in the Mountain Zone) observes DST.
  • Most areas of North America and Europe observe daylight saving time, while most areas of Africa and Asia do not.
  • In South America most countries in the north of the continent near the equator do not observe DST, while Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay and southern parts of Brazil do.
  • Oceania is also mixed, with New Zealand and parts of southern Australia observing DST, while most other areas do not.

Confusing … yep, but wherever you are this weekend, set aside some time to change your batteries and clocks … and check your preparedness stocks!

Some things to consider doing include…

  • Change the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors around your home. And remember to test them at least once a month and replace your detectors every 10 years.
  • Also test and rotate batteries in your Weather Radios so you are ready for spring storms and severe weather.
  • Check and rotate out water, food, medications and other items in your home, vehicles, office and locker preparedness kits. And don’t forget to include items for your pets!
  • If you don’t already run monthly or quarterly drills, prepare and practice escape plans so you and your loved ones can get out of your home safely in case of fire. Tips: Draw a floor plan of your home showing doors, windows and stairways. Mark locations of first aid and disaster kits, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, ladders, and utility shut-off points. Next, use a colored pen to draw a broken line charting at least 2 escape routes from each room. Then practice, practice, practice!
  • Update your Family Emergency Plan (e.g. confirm meeting places [esp with your children in case you are separated during an emergency], ensure all phone #s are current, etc.)
  • Go through your Important Family Documents to ensure everything is current (e.g. wills, insurance policies, immunization and medical data, credit card #s, recent photos of family and pets, etc.) And if you gave copies of this data to any other family members, make sure they get updates too.

For more information about how to make a Family Emergency Plan and tips on developing kits, visit www.itsadisaster.net/usfra.html and download a free 56-page mini ebook compliments of FedHealth and the U.S. First Responders Association.

Stay safe and have a great weekend everyone! j & B


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