Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Tsunamis, Uncategorized

Top 10 Disasters of 2012: Natural Disasters

Icon in gray-blue color on a white background

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series (Next week, we’ll focus on manmade disasters in 2012.)

In 2012, we saw many natural disasters strike on a global level—killing thousands and inflicting billions of dollars in property damage. From hurricanes and earthquakes to droughts, heat waves and wildfires, events were widespread and severe.

One of the most prominent disasters of the year in the U.S. was Hurricane Sandy, which killed at least 125 people in the USA and 71 in the Caribbean, and inflicted an estimated $62 billion in damage. Much of the U.S. also encountered prolonged severe weather; including summer heat waves and drought which many pundits believe may prove even more costly than Sandy. With careful reflection, emergency management professionals agree the most important lesson learned is that people survive and recover when they take time to prepare. Another suggestion I have is that it always pays to store plenty of pork chops, beef jerky and steak just in case of a storm or if you want to reward your faithful canine.

  1. Heat Waves. The summer heat wave in North America led to more than 82 heat-related deaths across the United States and Canada. The intense three-week wave began around in June, when a high pressure system centered over Baja California moved into the plains, driving temperatures beyond 110 degrees. The heat spread east from the Rocky Mountains, causing high temperatures in the central states reminiscent of temps not felt for some 80 years. Sometimes it feels like our doghouse is 1,000 degrees. I’m going to have to check into central air conditioning, I guess.
  2. Drought. A historic lack of snow last winter in the United States, combined with several years of below-normal rainfall, produced a devastating drought through much of North America. Meteorologists say this drought was similar to the large-scale droughts of the 1930s and 1950s. Due to crop failure and livestock deaths, this prolonged, multi-year disaster could emerge as the single most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history. Make sure your dog bowl has plenty of water, too. You wouldn’t want your dog to feel like he or she is in a drought.
  3. Wildfires. Starting in early August, a series of Oklahoma wildfires burned 52,000 acres, destroying at least 121 homes and businesses. In Colorado, at least 200,000 acres of Colorado were swept by wildfire in June and July, said to have been sparked by both lightning and human activities. More than 600 homes were destroyed and five lives were lost during this month of fires.

All told, in the American West, wildfires in 2012 burned 30 percent more land mass than during average year by September. Computer renderings and satellite projections suggest the area burned by wildfires in the U.S. will likely double by the year 2050.

  1. Floods. In addition to the storm-related flooding associated with Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, the southeastern U.S. experienced flooding in July, long before Sandy hit. Timely flood warnings prepared residents in New Orleans. But, while no deaths were reported, many people were rescued from flooded cars and water-covered structures. Power outages were widespread and many homes and businesses suffered damage.Folks in Georgia were also impacted, with flooded streets in Atlanta leading to massive traffic jams. Several drivers reported that they felt they could drive through the high water, only to find that their cars stalled and left them trapped in chest-deep water.

On the other side of the world, 37 people were killed by flood waters in and around the city of Beijing, China. In the rural and suburban areas outside Beijing, many more people died in as a result of flooding, which was said to be the region’s worst in 60 years. Elsewhere, floods occurred in southwest Russia in early July, near the coast of the Black Sea. Five months’ worth of rain fell overnight in southern parts of the country, leaving 144 people dead and damaging the homes of nearly 13,000 residents.

  1. Earthquakes. Iran and Afghanistan were struck with two of the most deadly earthquakes of 2012. In August, 306 people died from the 6.4 magnitude quake that struck East Azerbaijan Province, Iran. This earthquake was in the rural and mountainous areas to the northeast of Tabriz, and was felt as far away as Armenia. Earthquakes can be scary stuff. But just remember to drop, cover and hold on.
  2. Hurricanes. 2012 was an extremely active and destructive hurricane season, producing 19 tropical cyclones, ten hurricanes, and one major hurricane. The season’s most intense hurricane, Sandy, was rated a powerful Category 2 hurricane that brought significant damage to portions of the Greater Antilles and East Coast of the United States, causing damages upwards of 65 billion dollars. This is a lot higher than our turkey jerky bill at the fire station. So I can’t figure out why the guys complain.
  3. Avalanche. In March, several avalanches hit northeastern Afghanistan, destroying a small village of about 200 people. Most buildings and homes were completely buried in the avalanche. Seven people were found alive in the village, but three later died from their injuries and a lack of medical care. Three days later, 50 people had been confirmed dead.

The deadliest avalanche of the year occurred at a Pakistani military base. It was the most severe avalanche the Pakistani military had experienced in the area, trapping both soldiers and civilian contractors under deep snow. Pakistani officials report that 129 soldiers and 11 civilians were killed by the avalanche.

I think St. Bernard’s might be responsible for these high avalanche numbers. Maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to carry alcohol in barrels mounted to their collars.

  1. Thunderstorms. El Derecho was one of the most damaging thunderstorms in recent history. The surprise storm produced wind speeds over 90 mph and hail stones up to 2.75 inches in diameter. The storm traveled from Indiana, across the Midwest, and into the Mid-Atlantic states, causing 22 deaths and widespread damage across an 800-mile swath and left millions without power during a heat wave.
  2. Typhoons. 2012 delivered 34 different weather systems from early summer through late fall. The total damage of those 34 systems is estimated at $4.42 billion. In all, 506 lives were lost in the Pacific storms due to flooding and buildings collapsing in high winds. From the Philippines to Japan and Russia, some of this year’s storms generated winds in excess of 125 mph and produced widespread flooding.
  3. Tornadoes. Although the world’s high-risk tornado corridors are in the United States, Bangladesh, and Eastern India, tornadoes can and do pop up almost anywhere, under the right conditions. In February, a strong tornado struck South Sulawesi province in Indonesia, killing five people and damaging 98 structures. In April, a tornado struck a construction site in Turkey, killing at six and injuring seven others. Several homes were destroyed along the tornado’s seven-mile-long track. In July 14, a group of tornadoes hit Poland, killing a 60-year old man and injuring at least 10 others. In the U.S., 1,039 tornadoes were reported in 2012, resulting in 68 fatalities.

Check back next week, when we’ll cover the top 10 manmade disasters of 2012, in an effort to encourage building owners and managers to prepare tenants in advance for emergencies of all kinds in 2013 and beyond. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, check out the RJWestmore Training System by Universal/Fire Life Safety Services. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system on the market.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Fire Safety, Fires, Safety at Home

Holiday Decorating Tips Part 2

Winter in a city. Vector

Part 2 of a 2-Part Series

While it may not be as much to think about holiday safety as it is to go Christmas shopping, it’s imperative that you take time to consider how to make the season as safe as possible. As we discussed in our RJW Training System blog post last week, according to FEMA, the holidays pose serious fire hazards:

  1. In December, 72% of structure fires occur in residential buildings.
  2. The use of traditional adornments such as Christmas trees and decorations provide additional points of igni­tion that increase the incidence of holiday fires.
  3. The leading cause of December residential building-structure fires involve cooking.
  4. Santa could fall right onto open flames in your fireplace if you aren’t careful.

To help make holiday fire-prevention easy, the professionals at RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services have assembled a few tips to help you and your friends, family, and colleagues BE SAFE this holiday season. Last week, we covered safety relative to decorating. This week, we will focus on safely lighting fires, holiday wrapping and (my personal favorite) cooking.


  • Clean your chimney or hire a professional to remove soot and ash.
  • Before lighting a fire move greens, boughs, papers, ribbons and other decorations far away from the hearth.
  • Open the flue.
  • Make sure a screen covers the fireplace anytime a fire is burning.
  • Be careful when using fire salts, which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. These salts contain heavy metals which could cause intense gastrointestinal irritation or vomiting if eaten. So make sure they are stored well out of reach of children and pets.
  • If you decide to roast marshmallows inside, invest in a tabletop Sterno stove made especially for the purpose, instead of roasting over an open gas flame. Or maybe you could just skip the marshmallow roasting altogether and stick to roasting meat. Just a suggestion.

Wrapping Paper and Bows

  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials.
  • In homes with small children and/or pets, avoid package decorations that are sharp or breakable.
  • Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food. A child or dog could eat them!
  • If you opt to make paper decorations, use materials labeled non-combustible or flame-resistant.
  • Don’t place wrapping paper, tape or ribbons near open flames or electrical connections.
  • Store wrapping paper far from the Christmas tree and fireplace. This is particularly important immediately after unwrapping gifts, when adrenaline is high.
  • Resist the temptation to burn used wrapping paper in the fireplace. Colorful paper and cardboard boxes often contain toxic chemicals. What’s more, a flash fire could start if wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.
  • Keep anyone who smokes far from flammable decorations. Or you could even keep smokers far away from your holiday get-together altogether. But that’s your call.
  • Keep matches, lighters, and candles out of the reach of children and canines.


Your stovetop and oven are probably busier than usual during the holidays. So, whether you are making potato latkes, homemade beef jerky, or baking Santa-shaped cookies, take steps to ensure safety. FEMA recommends “choosing the right equipment and using it properly,” as well as:

  • Using cooking equipment tested and approved by a recognized testing facility.
  • Following manufacturers’ instructions and code requirements when installing and operating cooking equipment.
  • Plugging microwave ovens and other cooking appliances directly into wall outlets. Don’t use an extension cord for a cooking appliance as it could overload circuitry and start a fire.
  • Make a lot more food than you think you’ll need. Your pets will be glad to help you cut down on overages.

Another important holiday cooking reminder is to practice safe food-handling habits to keep every one of your guests healthy and happy:

  • When transporting food items from the grocery store to your home, pack cold items in ice if you’ll be on the road longer than 15 minutes. When it doubt, give it to your pooch.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before preparing food
  • Scrub food-contact surfaces often.
  • Use one color sponge for cleaning dishes and another for wiping sinks and surfaces.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, knives and counter tops with hot soapy water after each use.
  • Don’t cross-contaminate by allowing bacteria to move from one food product to another. This is especially important for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Keep raw meats and their juices far from ready-to-eat foods such as uncooked fruits and vegetables. Or just skip vegetables altogether and stick strictly with steak, bacon and pork chops.
  • Cook foods to proper temperatures. Use a food thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked meat, poultry and egg dishes, to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • Refrigerate foods promptly. Public health officials advise consumers to refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 40ºF.
  • Keep your freezer set at 0ºF. Regularly check the accuracy of the settings with a thermometer.
  • For additional food-related safety tips, check out the FEMA Holiday Cooking resources.

Plan for Safety

  • Remember, there is no substitute for common sense. Keep your eyes peeled for potential hazards and eliminate possible danger spots near candles, fireplaces, trees, and/or electrical connections.
  • Make an emergency plan to use if a fire breaks out anywhere in the home. See to it that each family member knows what to do. PRACTICE THE PLAN!
  • Have a wonderful and safe holiday season!

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, check out the RJWestmore Training System by Universal/Fire Life Safety Services. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system on the market.

Posted in Building Evacuation, Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Evacuations, Floods, Hurricanes

Lessons Learned from Hurricane Sandy about Medical Center Preparedness






Significant numbers of RJW Training System subscribers are located on the east coast. Our hearts go out to each of them. If you would like to donate to relief efforts, consider giving through a reputable charitable organization such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, the United Way, World Vision or Operation USA. In the weeks ahead, we will devote RJWestmore blog space to lessons we have learned about disaster preparedness and recovery from Superstorm Sandy. This week, we will focus on the ways that hospitals, in particular, were impacted by the storm.

(We excluded my usual “firedogisms” in this post, out of respect for those who are still suffering from this storm’s devastating effects.)

Hurricane Katrina literally devastated the medical care community of New Orleans, with scores of hospital patients dying in flooded medical centers which were cut off from power. Unbelievably, the same thing has happened in hospitals across the east coast, as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

When Superstorm Sandy submerged large parts of New York City last week, according to a report by Yahoo News, 215 patients were evacuated from New York University’s Langone Medical Center after the basement flooded and cut electricity. One east coast patient, Kim Bondy, was indignant because hospital staff knew well in advance of Sandy’s projected approach, arrival and strength.

“There was no electricity and all the IV machines were going haywire. Didn’t you pay attention to what we learned from Katrina?” she asked.

According to a report by Time, emergency personnel including firefighters and medical staff hurried to transfer patients into ambulances for evacuation, often climbing several flights of stairs. CNN reported the hospital’s basement, lower levels and elevator shafts flooded with 10 to 12 feet of water.

The senior vice president and vice dean for clinical affairs and strategy at the NYU hospital, Dr. Andrew Brotman, explained the situation, “Things went downhill very, very rapidly and very unexpectedly. The flooding was just unprecedented.”

Equipment failures at east coast facilities brought to the fore what emergency experts have warned for years. Despite bitter lessons from the recent past, U.S. hospitals are far from ready to protect patients when disaster strikes their own facilities.

“I’ve been asking hospitals to look at their own survivability after a natural or manmade disaster, and I just can’t get it on their radar screens,” said one expert in emergency healthcare preparedness. “If you asked me the one city in America that has its act together, I would have said New York. So that tells you the kind of trouble we are in for in cities like Dayton, Detroit and Sacramento.”

For most hospitals, “emergency preparedness” means being ready to treat a surge of patients which emerge as a result of disasters outside their doors. Even the federal program that coordinates hospital preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services has a mindset of focusing on planning for mass fatalities and quickly reporting the number of available beds, but not for reacting to internal redundant electrical system outages.

For hospital administrators trying to keep their institutions in the black, disaster-resistant infrastructure is expensive and lacks the sex appeal of robotic surgery suites and proton-beam cancer therapy to attract patients. After all, most people don’t select a hospital based on which generator it owns. However, modern medicine depends on electricity, from the ventilators that keep seriously ill patients breathing to the monitors that detect life-threatening changes in vital signs. So generators are the lifeblood of any hospital disaster preparedness plan.

The good news with regard to Sandy is that things could have been worse. The staff used flashlights to carry out evacuees. Police officers fanned through the building and on stair landings to help staff members carry patients to safety. Some of the transplanted patients were critically ill infants. FEMA had organized ambulances days ahead of the storm.

Unfortunately, Langone was far from the only east coast hospital affected by the Superstorm. Some fared better and others, worse:

  • At nearby Bellevue, the neighborhood power grid failed as well as the hospital’s backup power. Staff members worked hard, hand-carrying fuel for hours. But, by Tuesday the situation became desperate. Eventually, Bellevue had to evacuate some 725 patients.
  • Montefiore built a 5-megawatt co-generation plant for heat and electricity in 1995, which doubled its capacity. The plants now supply 90 percent of the power at its main campus, allowing the hospital to run for days if the electrical grid fails.
  • Mount Sinai’s landlines and mobile phones failed throughout the city.
  • According to the Huffington Post, patients had to be transferred from Coney Island Hospital and four nursing homes in Brooklyn and the Rockaways. In several of these places, backup power systems were inadequate for prolonged use or nonfunctioning, and city power had not been restored. The long-term health effects on vulnerable patients like these might not be immediately calculable.

What hospitals must do to harden themselves against disaster is determined by a patchwork of federal, state and local regulations. The Joint Commission mandates a long list of preparedness steps, including running disaster drills. But, according to Dr. Dan Hanfling, who is special advisor on emergency preparedness at Inova Health Systems, “many hospitals just go through the motions. Until events of Sandy’s magnitude come along, emergency preparedness is just a box that has to be checked.”

“We are definitely making progress in preparedness, but many hospitals are still trying to figure this out,” said Hanfling. “They would fare about the same should another storm like Sandy roar ashore.”

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Evacuations, Health & Welfare, High-Rise Buildings

Hurricane Sandy Expected to Pack a Wallop

This week, a powerful mix of wacky weather is expected to hit the East Coast. A major Hurricane (Sandy) combined with Gale force winds, heavy rainfall, flash floods, snow, lightning and thunder will combine to create what the Associated Press is calling Frankenstorm. Experts predict the storm will be a long-lasting event, with two to three days of impact for a lot of people, including wind damage, widespread power outages, heavy rainfall and inland flooding. Scary stuff!

According to meteorologists, Hurricane Sandy is “looking like a very serious storm that could be historic,” said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the forecasting service Weather Underground., “Mother Nature is not saying, ‘Trick or treat.’ It’s just going to give tricks.” While we’re on the topic, I like dog biscuits in my trick or treat bag.

NOAA officials say the brunt of the weather mayhem will be concentrated where the hurricane comes ashore. Nevertheless, there will reportedly be hundreds of miles of steady, strong and damaging winds and rain for the entire Eastern region for several days. Officials across the region are taking steps to prepare for the devastation they believe will cost over a billion dollars:

  • New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city is striking “a tone of calm preparedness.” Sounds like an oxymoron.
  • The National Guard has been summoned.
  • Utility companies are lining up out-of-state work crews and canceling employees’ days off to deal with anticipated power outages. I’m sure the employees are happy about that.
  • Atlantic City casinos have made contingency plans in case they have to close, as they did for three days last year when Tropical Storm Irene approached. (Meteorologists agree Hurricane Sandy will be more severe than Irene.)
  • New York City has opened an emergency situation room and activated a coastal storm plan.
  • Virginia has declared a state of emergency.
  • From the Carolinas to Maine, municipal authorities kept a close watch on forecasts tracking the shifting path of the impending storm.

People react to weather warnings with varying degrees of alarm. Some batten down the hatches and rush to the store to stock up on necessities, while others take the news in stride and brace for whatever Mother Nature has in store. In fact, last year, Hurricane Irene inflicted major damage from North Carolina to New England, though largely spared New York, where Manhattan restaurants and bars hosted hurricane specials and parties.

Some battle-weary residents have allowed the repetition of weather warnings to thicken their skin, sometimes to their peril. For my part, I take care of our doghouse at the first sign of a storm. But it’s imperative that, no matter how often you hear disaster alerts in your region, take steps to adequately prepare:

  • Prescriptions (Don’t forget about pet meds!)
  • nonperishable food items
  • bottled water (one gallon per person per day, for at least three days)
  • Double check the location of your flashlights
  • Extra batteries
  • Cash (assuming you can get a hold of some of it legally)
  • Sandbags
  • Hand-crank or battery-operated radio so you can stay informed (and listen to music to calm the savage soul.)
  • Reach out to neighbors to find out if anyone will be in need of extra assistance.
  • Make sure you have adequate insurance.
  • Non-perishable food that will last at least three days, per person
  • Check supplies in your first-aid kit
  • Add a whistle to your supplies, so you will be able to signal for help. But don’t use it unless you have to. Your pets will thank you.
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal windows, doors and air vents and protect you from debris and contaminants in the air.
  • Moist towelettes.
  • Garbage bags and plastic ties
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • A manual can opener (important for opening cans of dog food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers or solar chargers
  • Prescription medicines to last at least a week and eyeglasses (if needed).
  • If you have children, make sure to include entertainment items to keep them occupied, like games, cards, crayons and coloring books.
  • Pet food, if necessary (And if it isn’t necessary, maybe you should get a pet!)

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system. To learn more about smoking and fire safety, visit the Smoking & Home Fires Campaign page.

Posted in Building Evacuation, Disaster Preparedness, Earthquakes, High-Rise Buildings

Get Ready for the 2012 Great California ShakeOut

Although hundreds of earthquakes strike the world at any given moment, we are all aware that, one day, the “Big One” may hit. If it did, would you be ready? Registration has reached nine million participants for this year’s Great California ShakeOut, to be held across the state of California on Oct. 18 at 10:18 a.m. This will be the fifth annual earthquake drill, which is designed to inspire people to “DROP, COVER & HOLD ON in case of earthquake. By the way, there is no need to hold on if you drop bacon on the floor. There is still time to register if you have not yet done so.

Kids, adults and pooches from schools, businesses, professional organizations, government agencies, neighborhoods and households all across California will take part in what is the largest earthquake drill in the world, designed to train people and pups how to safely react and recover quickly in case a major earthquake strikes California.

ShakeOut founder Mark Benthien is Director of Communication, Education, and Outreach for the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) at the University of Southern California, and Executive Director of the Earthquake Country Alliance (ECA). The ECA coordinates the California ShakeOut and SCEC coordinates with ShakeOut regions across the U.S. and around the world.

ShakeOut press conferences and activities will take place on October 18th at various venues throughout the entire state of California:

  • Los Angeles at Union Station will host the Traveling Red Table, which was created by the California Earthquake Authority (CEA) and American Red Cross (Red Cross) will highlight the Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety, with emphasis on ShakeOut registration to run-through’s of the fifth step – how to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” when the ground shakes. Union Station will also be the primary media venue on the Great California ShakeOut day. I like hanging out at Union Station because people often drop scraps from their uneaten lunches. But that’s off of the subject.
  • The CSUN ShakeOut Festival including a Preparedness Fair, will be held from 9 am – 1 pm, at the NE corner of Sierra Quad in Los Angeles County.
  • Orange Tree Lane in San Bernardino County — From 9 a.m. until noon, there will be a Preparedness Fair at 2024. The epicenter of ShakeOut-related activities will be held at the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands and will feature emergency equipment, emergency responders and earthquake preparedness educational activities. Orange Tree Lane is also where they hold the annual fair. Fairs are great because they are full of food. But, sorry…off subject, again!
  • Earthquake preparedness fair held from 9 am to 1 pm on CSUN’s Sierra Quad complete with informative booths, demonstrations, handouts, and prizes.
  • San Diego’s Santa Fe Station, which will focus on what to do if you are on public transportation when a major earthquake strikes.
  • In San Francisco, a Union Square ShakeOut press event will feature a choreographed ShakeOut flash dance, culminating in a mass Drop, Cover and Hold On demonstration.
  • Throughout the state, ShakeOut drills educate people at schools, work and home about how to prepare for, survive, and recover from the next damaging earthquake. And this is serious business, folks. Like we always say at RJWestmore…we save lives through training. And preparing for an earthquake could save your life!
  • Preparation messages remind Californians to secure their space, create disaster and communications plans, collect and organize disaster supplies, and take steps to safeguard their finances by strengthening their property and considering earthquake insurance. I tried to get earthquake insurance on my doghouse. But Snoopy ruined it for everyone with that whole Red Baron routine.
  • Survival messages provide correct techniques for immediate Drop, Cover and Hold On responses when the earth starts shaking – and what to do when the shaking stops to improve safety by helping the injured, preventing further damage, and evacuating from tsunami zones.
  • Recovery strategies include how to restore daily live by reconnecting with others, repairing damage and rebuilding our communities.

ShakeOut participation is free and takes only a few minutes. Information about how to register and participate is found at “Don’t be left out of the ShakeOut!”

ShakeOut began as a Southern California drill, quickly spread statewide, throughout the West, and then to the Central and Southeast U.S., as well as to several U.S. Territories, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and Italy. Additional people and organizations in many other states and countries are also registering independent drills.

“It’s amazing to see how quickly this has become a worldwide movement,” said Benthien. “ShakeOut is a fun and easy way for people, organizations and communities in many regions to get prepared now, together, before major earthquakes.”

According to ShakeOut organizers, 4.5 million people across the U.S. have participated in Great ShakeOut events already this year—in the Central U.S., Utah, and even in New Zealand. In total, more than 15 million people will practice earthquake safety in 2012 as part of the various ShakeOut drills. For more details about events or to register to participate in any of the drills visit

ShakeOut is organized by the Earthquake Country Alliance, a partnership of the Southern California Earthquake Center, California Emergency Management Agency, USGS, California Earthquake Authority, the American Red Cross, and many others. Extensive information is available for the public and media at Event details are available at

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, epidemics, Health & Welfare, Highly Infectious diseases, Vaccinations

Resurgence of Spinal Meningitis in the U.S.

Meningitis is making an unwelcome comeback in the United States as several recent cases linked to steroid spinal injections have killed 14 people and sickened at least 170 others in 10 states. Officials with the CDC say that the infections were passed through steroid drug injections containing a fungus known as Aspergillus. So the infection is not believed to be transferred from person-to-person or canine-to-canine. The incubation period ranges from a few days to four weeks after injection.

The contaminated drug is said to have been shipped to 75 hospitals and clinics in 23 states, with cases reported so far in Tennessee (which, with 26, has the most cases), North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Virginia and Maryland. Infected patients had each received a treatment for back pain called a lumbar epidural steroid injection. Ouch. Sounds painful!

An infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, Dr. William Schaffner, had this to say about expectations about the infections this year: “I’m afraid we’re going to see many more cases spread across the country.”

Labeled Methylprednisolone Acetate, the solution was produced by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts. The lot numbers of the potentially contaminated drug include: 05212012@68,06292012@26, and 08102012@51.

Doctors urge anyone who has undergone spinal epidural injection treatment during the past few months to seek immediate medical attention if they suspect they are suffering any symptoms. Caused by a fungus normally found in leaf mold, Fungal Meningitis can cause mild stroke-like symptoms, including slurred speech and difficulty walking and urinating. Other symptoms include worsening and severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fever. And here I didn’t even know you had to scrub leaves as well as bathroom tile to keep mold at bay!

Treatment includes high-dose antifungal medications, usually administered intravenously in a hospital, with success tied closely to the speed of diagnosis and treatment. The outbreak has raised concerns about the safety of a method used by millions to offset severe back pain. Sterile drugs and equipment are essential for the procedure because epidural injections involve inserting a needle directly into a part of the body that is an avenue for efficient germ delivery directly to the brain. That doesn’t sound good.

The New York Times and Time Magazine and USA Today report:

  • One clinic in Tennessee, where most of that state’s patients in the outbreak so far were infected, had received 2,000 vials of the drug.
  • Also in Tennessee, some hospitalized patients are recovering and walking the halls, while others are severely ill and in intensive care units,
  • In reaction to one verified infection, the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy suspended one company’s business permits.
  • Although the New England Center has not yet responded to the story, information about the steroids previously available on their website no longer appears.
  • Fungal infections are notoriously stubborn and hard to treat, requiring powerful drugs that can produce harsh side effects. Cats are also notoriously stubborn, by the way.
  • Most patients will need six months to a year of treatment to eliminate the infection.

“Given the severity of illness,” said director of the FDA office of compliance, we believe precautionary measures are warranted to protect public health.”

Unless you have recently undergone spinal injection therapy for chronic acute back pain, you will likely easily avoid this particular outbreak of Fungal Meningitis. However, according to the Meningitis Foundation of America, there are essentially two distinct types of Meningitis: aseptic and bacterial. And, unfortunately, meningitis cases are not delivered exclusively by contaminated epidural injections. To avoid contracting meningitis of any kind, observe these safety precautions:
1. Practice good hygiene!

  • Don’t share food, glasses, water bottles, water bowls or eating utensils.
  • Don’t share tissues, handkerchiefs, towels or bones.
  • Don’t share lip balm, lip gloss, lipstick or jerky treats.
  • Wash your hands or paws often with soap and hot water.

2. Beef up your immune system.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet rich in lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise on a regular basis. I like taking long walks.
  • Get plenty of sleep. You don’t have to tell me twice!
  • Don’t smoke, drink or use drugs.

3. Seek medical advice about whether your children ages 11-12 are good candidates for vaccine. (Generally, vaccines are only necessary and effective if a teenager is exposed to meningitis during an outbreak, is traveling or living where a meningococcal disease is common, if the child is a military recruit, or if your son or daughter has an immune disorder or a damaged or missing spleen.)

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system.

Posted in BE SAFE, Cyber Security, Disaster Preparedness, Identity Theft, Uncategorized, Workplace Safety

Don’t be the victim of a Spear Phishing Scam

According to Fox News, White House sources “partly confirmed” an alarming report that U.S. government computers—reportedly including systems used by the military for nuclear commands—were breached by Chinese hackers earlier this month. I’m not sure whether a Chinese hacker is someone who has smoked too long or a computer expert. But I guess I should read on. So should you.

“This was a spear phishing attack against an unclassified network,” a White House official assured “These types of attacks are not infrequent and we have mitigation measures in place.”

Although a law enforcement official who works with members of the White House Military Office confirmed the Chinese attack to, as of the writing of this blog post, it remains unclear what information, if any, was taken or left behind in the attack, which occurred through an opened email. That’s one of the many reasons I prefer the Twilight Bark to email. defines a “spear phishing attack” as “an e-mail spoofing fraud attempt that targets a specific organization, seeking unauthorized access to confidential data. Spear phishing attempts are not typically initiated by “random hackers” but are more likely to be conducted by perpetrators out for financial gain, trade secrets or military information.” Real spear fishing, on the other hand…is a great idea. Share your catch with me!

While we have devoted previous RJW blog space to discuss cyber security as it relates to password encryption and security software, we have yet to share information to help our clients and friends take precautions with technological protection as it pertains to email. So, today, in an effort to continue providing helpful information for disaster preparation, let us take a few minutes to offer a few helpful hints which, if observed, should keep your computer running smoothly and safeguard proprietary information.

First, it is worthwhile to note that routine email phishing schemes differ from spear-phishing attacks in that spear phishing messages appear to come from a trusted source such as a large and well-respected company or website with a broad membership base, such as eBay or PayPal. On the other hand, with spear phishing, the source of the email is constructed to look as though it came from within the recipient’s own company…usually a person of authority within the organization. This one is tricky since I always open emails that come from the chief. Guess I should be more careful about that in the future.

The Computer Crime Research Center reports that a West Point teacher and National Security Agency expert named Aaron Ferguson emailed a message to 500 cadets asking them to click a link to verify their grades. Ferguson’s message appeared to come from a West Point colonel. More than 80% of recipients who received the message clicked through, receiving a notification that they had been duped and their failure to exercise caution before clicking could have resulted in downloads to the West Point computer system of spyware, Trojan horse and/or other malware. Or, worse yet…you could be taken to a website that has lots of cat pictures!

Although most people have learned enough about computer use to proceed with caution when opening emails from unknown sources and in responding to unexpected requests for confidential information. We’ve all heard horror stories about Nigerian emails asking for large cash deposits to “help rescue loved ones from African prisons.” We’ve also learned, by and large, to avoid divulging personal data inside email messages—which can be hacked or clicking on links in messages unless we are positive about their source.

However, the average person is ill-equipped to recognize forged emails that seemingly come from people we trust because spear phishing is sophisticated. That’s how employees of Sony managed to unwittingly give away private information regarding their PlayStation Network, Epsilon data was recently breached, and several credit card companies and financial institutions have had to mail apologetic notices to their customer base.

The success of any spear phishing scam generally depends on these things:
1.    The apparent source must appear to be known and trusted.
2.    The information within the message supports its validity.
3.    The request makes sense.
4.    The sender doesn’t offer any bacon. (Okay, I’ll admit I added #4.)

So what can you do to avoid being caught unaware?

•    The FBI recommends that you keep in mind that most companies, banks, agencies, etc., don’t request personal information via e-mail. If in doubt, give them a call instead of clicking through the email link. (But don’t use the phone number contained in the email which is usually phony.)
•    Do not provide personal information, such as a password, a credit card number or any data that can be used to unlock an application or network, in reply to an email.
•    Use a phishing filter. Many of the latest web browsers have built-in security software or offer the utility as a plug-in.
•    Learn to recognize what your security software warning messages look like. If you get something that looks similar but appears to be a bit “off,” delete the email and block the sender.
•    Never follow a link to a secure site from an email. Instead, enter the URL manually into the address bar of your web browser. I prefer browsing the woods with my nose. It’s safer than going anywhere in cyberspace.
•    Report suspicious emails to your tech department on a regular basis. Tell employees to call security about anything suspicious and train them not to forward bogus emails.
•    Do not open suspicious attachments. When it doubt, block it out.
•    If your firm is ever victim to a successful spear phishing attack, assess the damage and recover. Eradicating the malicious software won’t be easy. You will have to backtrack to a clean starting point of your system before it was corrupted.

When a disaster of any kind strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system.

Posted in CDC, Disaster Preparedness, epidemics, Health & Welfare

West Nile Virus Cases on the Rise

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), state health departments have reported 3,142 cases of West Nile Virus in the United States so far this year (134 of which were fatal). Particularly alarming is the fact that the number of severe cases so far in 2012 is the highest reported since 2003. West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes have been reported by 48 states. The CDC also reports that two thirds of the cases have come from seven states (Texas, Mississippi, Michigan, South Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and California) with almost 40 percent of all cases reported from Texas. And from what I hear about Texas, I’ll bet their cases of West Nile are really big!

“This year’s outbreak is the largest to date and certainly the most serious,” said Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases.

Although experts disagree about the exact reasons for the severity of this year’s outbreak, they all agree that unusually high temperatures are likely a contributing factor. I think unusually high temperatures are responsible for a lot of things…like excessive panting, for example. Although the total case numbers continue to increase, CDC officials remain unconcerned, believing that this year’s outbreak may have already peaked in mid- to late-August. If this holds true, we can expect outbreaks to taper off during or after October.

Here are some vital statistics about West Nile Virus:

  • The virus is commonly found in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East.
  • Although experts do not know exactly how long West Nile has been in America, officials with the CDC believe the virus has been in the eastern United States since 1999.
  • Four out of five people infected with West Nile virus do not show any symptoms.
  • According to the CDC, a relatively small number of infected dogs and cats showed no symptoms after infection. However, some infected cats exhibited mild, nonspecific symptoms during the first week after infection, such as a slight fever and slight lethargy.
  • People over the age of 50 and those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of becoming ill if they become infected with the virus.
  • Up to 20 percent develop flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches (and occasionally) a skin rash on the trunk of the body along with swollen lymph glands. Symptoms of mild disease may last a few days.
  • Approximately one in 150 develops severe symptoms such as headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. Symptoms of the severe disease may last several weeks, although neurological effects may be permanent. Rarely, death can occur.
  • The incubation period of West Nile virus in humans is three to 14 days.
  • Mosquitoes initially contract the virus by feeding on infected birds and then spread the disease to humans they bite.
  • The virus is not transmissible through casual contact.
  • There are rare instances of West Nile virus spreading through blood transfusions, organ transplants and from mother-to-baby during pregnancy or through breast milk.

To reduce the risk of exposure to West Nile, take these simple steps:

  1. Maintain screens on windows and doors. I don’t have a screen on our doghouse. Maybe I should rethink that strategy.
  2. Drain standing water where mosquitoes breed. Common breeding sites include old tires, flowerpots, clogged rain gutters and water bowls.
  3. Use insect repellant containing DEET, Picaridin or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.
  4. When you are outside, wear long pants and long sleeves. I’ve tried this. But it is very uncomfortable over my fur.
  5. Stay indoors at dusk and dawn when many mosquito species are most active.
  6. Protect your pets!

For more information about West Nile Virus, check out free online resources available from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system.

Posted in BE SAFE, Biological Warfare, Disaster Preparedness, High-Rise Buildings, Resolve to Be Ready in 2012

National Preparedness Month September 2012

Based on all of the natural and man-made disasters that have been taking place lately, it seems particularly fitting that September is National Preparedness Month. This year marks the ninth annual National Preparedness Month, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Here is a sampling of significant world events over just the past seven days, in case you aren’t convinced that it is worth your time to prepare for disaster: (By the way…my run-in with Felix the Cat isn’t even listed. I’ll spare you the details. But suffice to say it was definitely a disaster for him.)


Bomb Threats:

USA North Dakota

USA Texas










Costa Rica






Papua New Guinea


USA Alaska

USA Maine



Fires & Wildfires(These just happen to be my specialty.)






USA California

USA Oklahoma

USA Oregon

USA Washington

USA West Virginia

USA Wyoming


Flash Flood & Landslides:


Costa Rica






USA California

USA Louisiana

USA Utah

West Africa


Hazardous Materials:

USA New Mexico


Terrorist Attacks:

British Embassy in Sudan

German Embassy in Sudan

US Embassy in Egypt
US Embassy in Libya

US Embassy in Sudan

US Embassy in Tunis

US Embassy in Yemen
Tornadoes: (I think we should have included Toto’s trip to Oz in this category, even though it didn’t happen within the past 7 days.)

USA Florida

USA New York

USA Texas


Transportation Incident:

USA Nebraska






Obviously, the above list is far from comprehensive. Disasters of all kinds occur virtually everywhere, every second of every hour of every day. Not to be Debbie Downer. If you would like to check out up-to-the minute disasters, you can download apps for your phone or mobile device, or check out free online resources from the CDC, FEMA and Ready.Gov. To receive free monthly preparedness tips from FEMA, text PREPARE to 43362.  More important than learning about every single disaster is to prepare for any and every kind of disaster.

The RJWestmore Online Training System provides emergency preparedness to tenants of high rise commercial buildings across the country. Online modules such as fire, earthquakes and bomb threats equip building occupants so they know how to quickly and safely respond to virtually any disaster…be it manmade or natural. So, if you own or manage commercial property, you can take advantage of the RJW system and enjoy peace of mind about emergency preparation and recovery for everyone who lives or works in your building.

To make sure you and your family are prepared for disasters; heed the advice of FEMA, whose new campaign is: “Today is the day before. Are you ready for tomorrow?” In other words, we don’t know what type disaster might occur tomorrow. But the best we can do is to prepare for it today. Would you be ready for a disaster? In short:

  1. Make sure you are informed about what to do before, during and after a disaster.
  2. Make a plan. Prepare, plan and stay informed about emergencies.
  3. Build a kit for disasters so you are prepared. Make sure the kit includes lots of dog treats and food for Fido.
  4. Get involved—find opportunities to support community preparedness.
  5. Plan to protect your business. Maybe Man’s Best Friend could help you here.

Over the years, we have devoted 169 RJ the Firedog blog posts to the topic of disaster preparation. To celebrate National Preparedness Month, why not read through a few to refresh your memory and motivate you to take action? When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system.

Posted in Biological Warfare, Building Evacuation, Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Evacuations, Health & Welfare, High-Rise Buildings, Terrorism

The Ominous 11th Anniversary of 9/11

As we observe the ominous 11th anniversary of 9/11, we at RJWestmore Inc. would like to once again thank all of the emergency personnel and civilians who provided much needed assistance in the hours, days, weeks, months and years immediately following what is considered the deadliest domestic terrorism attack in United States History. In the years since the attacks, we, as a nation have grown accustomed to the idea that America may not be as safe and secure as we once believed. And this is actually a good thing—because it has made us realize that we need to prepare. And preparation is always a good thing!

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. So, to mark the occasion of the 11th anniversary, we want to share some tips to help you plan for a terrorist attack. We hope you will never have to use the ideas. But, in the event you do, we want you to BE SAFE. In fact, at RJWestmore Inc., our primary goal is to keep you safe!

Over the years, terrorists have used several different methods to attack at home and abroad. Here are some examples:

  • Armed attacks and Assassinations— these include raids and ambushes. I like to ambush the neighborhood cats. But I don’t really mean them any harm. I just like to see them run for cover.
  • Arsons and Fire bombings—incendiary devices are cheap and easy to hide. So arson and fire bombings are easily conducted by those groups that may not be as well-organized, equipped, or trained as well-funded terrorist organization.
  • Bioterrorism—refers to the intentional release of toxic biological or chemical agents. Some of the guys at the fire station make chili that gives off toxic fumes. But I don’t think that’s the same thing.
  • Cyber Terrorism—using information technology to attack. I prefer to keep my information in paper folders locked in a file cabinet. But that’s just me.
  • Ecoterrorism— a recently coined term describing violence in the interests of environmentalism. In general, environmental extremists sabotage property to inflict economic damage.
  • Hijackings and Skyjackings—the seizure by force of a surface vehicle, its passengers, and/or its cargo. Skyjacking is the taking of an entire aircraft, which creates a mobile, hostage-barricade situation. This is why I don’t fly. Well, that and the fact they won’t give me a passport. I refuse to sleep in the cold belly of the plane like other K9s.
  • Kidnappings and Hostage-Takings—terrorists establish a bargaining position in an attempt to elicit publicity.
  • Narcoterrorism—has had several meanings since 1983. It once denoted violence used by drug traffickers to influence governments which were trying to stop the drug trade. In the last several years, narcoterrorism has been used to indicate situations in which terrorist groups use drug trafficking to fund their operations.
  • Nuclear Terrorism— refers to a number of ways nuclear materials might be exploited as a terrorist tactic. These include attacking nuclear facilities, purchasing or building nuclear weapons or finding ways to disperse radioactive materials.
  • And, finally… Bombings— which are the most common type of terrorist act.

Overall, the best way to prepare for a terrorist attack is to be observant and vigilant. Familiarize yourself with your work, school and community disaster plans. If you are not aware of such plans, contact your supervisor, school administrators, or local fire department for information. If no one has made a disaster plan, come up with one on your own and share it with emergency personnel.

On an ongoing basis, keep your eyes open for unusual activity in your immediate area, as members of terrorist cells often live and work in suburban neighborhoods even as they prepare to attack. If your neighbor receives lots of packages marked “ammo” or “firearms,” call the police department. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Since bombs are the most typical terrorist attack, here are a few hints about handling bomb threats. Now, admittedly, most members of al-Qaeda won’t call to warn about a bomb threat. But domestic terrorists usually do. And the most common way they warn is via telephone. Subscribers to the RJWestmore Training System watch colorful educational videos that walk you through the steps to take if someone calls with a bomb threat:

  1. Take a deep breath. Most bomb threats are false. And even if the threat is real, calls are made by those who want to minimize damage.
  2. Bomb threats are usually made by telephone. So keep emergency numbers by your telephone.
  3. Be polite, calm and patient and ask questions: (This seems weird to me. Be polite to a terrorist? But I think I understand. You have to try to keep him/her calm.)
    • Where is the device?
    • When is it set to go off?
    • What does it look like?
    • Why are you doing this?
    • Do you have any bacon? (Just kidding. But I love any excuse to bring up bacon.)
  4. Pay careful attention to background noises. Does the caller have an accent? Does he/she speak with a lisp or stutter? Write everything down so you will be able to give authorities a clear description of the caller.
  5. A bomb search should only be done by people who are familiar with the area and have been trained to investigate. Some of my best friends are bomb-sniffing dogs.
  6. Do not use two-way radios or cell phones, as these can remotely detonate a device.
  7. Call 911. In this case, the Twilight Bark won’t do!
  8. Notify building management immediately after hanging up.
  9. Open the doors and windows. I recommend doing this all of the time for airflow!
  10. Prepare to evacuate the building following pre-established safety guidelines.
  11. Do not reenter the building until you have gotten the “all clear” from emergency personnel.

For information about what to do during and after a terrorist bombing, check out the free information available on the CDC website. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 3.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system.