State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

FEMA Awards the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) with Two New Training Programs

The National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP), of Columbia University’s Climate School, has received $2 million in funding from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop two new training programs: 1) Mass Care—Community Sheltering and Relocation Assistance and 2) Pandemic Preparedness and Response. These training programs, to be delivered across the U.S., will each be carried out over a 3-year period. The programs will build upon $8.25 million in funding already provided by FEMA for the development and dissemination of NCDP’s course content on post-disaster economic and housing recovery.

The COVID-19 Pandemic, which resulted in the first-ever U.S. Stafford Act major disaster declaration of all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, has dramatically impacted standard operating procedures for evacuations, sheltering, and temporary housing. The mass care issues documented in the 2020 National Preparedness Report have only been exacerbated by this pandemic, particularly as its ongoing impact coincides with other large-scale disasters in which community sheltering and relocation have been necessary. As an example, Hurricane Ida recently uprooted thousands of people at a time when COVID-19 infections from the Delta variant are soaring in Louisiana. This has raised new challenges for housing socially vulnerable disaster evacuees, including children, the elderly, and those with special needs in congregate shelters during a major pandemic. Other common disaster housing tasks such as establishing memorandums of understanding, contracts, and information sharing agreements to administer a specific shelter or provide wrap-around services have also received limited attention. Additionally, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as faith-based organizations, which traditionally deliver mass care and emergency assistance during disasters for society’s most vulnerable, have often had to scale back their capacity during the COVID-19 Pandemic in accordance with the requirements of their internal policies and in cooperation with emergency management officials. Shelter evacuees are also among society’s most impoverished, and the least likely to be vaccinated, according to a March 2021 study that looked at COVID vaccination rates.

Although enormously important, a recent needs assessment by NCDP notes that the aforementioned mass care gaps have rarely been included in training efforts provided by U.S. Federal, State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial governments. To address these issues, NCDP will develop a training program that includes coordination, communication, and capacity-building planning approaches for community sheltering and relocation assistance, based on substantial recent peer-reviewed research. This program will build on awards from 2017, 2018, and 2019 with a continual focus on training solutions. All of NCDP’s courses note that U.S. communities face challenges across the sheltering and housing spectrum—from short-term community sheltering and relocation assistance to long-term housing—and research-based solutions and best practices need to be conveyed to State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial (SLTT) leadership and management, emergency management agencies and offices, Councils of Government and community and private sector organizations involved with mass care and pandemic planning.

As noted by Thomas Chandler, Ph.D., the Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness’ FEMA training program, “Congregate sheltering during a major disaster, such as a hurricane, in combination with an ongoing pandemic, can lead to a number of previously unforeseen challenges in terms of the setup and management of disaster shelters, along with the eventual relocation of disaster survivors to permanent housing. This training program will highlight best practices and lessons learned for pandemic planning in mass care settings, with a specific focus on the needs of society’s most vulnerable.”

If you would like to enroll in one of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness’ free FEMA sponsored online or instructor-led training, go to


FEMA’s National Training and Education Division (NTED) offers a full catalog of courses at no cost to help build critical preparedness skills. For additional information, visit for a complete list of NTED courses.

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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