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FEMA honors Federal Way man for winter storm heroics

Mohamed Ali is a resident of Federal Way. - Photo courtesy of www.runtanews.com
Mohamed Ali is a resident of Federal Way.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of www.runtanews.com

When a severe winter stormed knocked out power for thousands of Federal Way residents, Mohamed Ali had a plan in hand already.

The Federal Way resident took quick action to ensure that the Somali immigrant community in Federal Way was aware of the dangers of using gas-powered heaters indoors. He also helped steer members of the Somali community to safe shelter and food.

Because of his quick thinking during that difficult week, Ali recently received the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) "National Community Preparedness Hero" award.

"When our residents step up and support one another, it can make all the difference in the resilience of a community," said King County Executive Dow Constantine. "I want to thank Mohamed Ali and Somali community leaders for working with Public Health to save lives."

During the last major winter storm in 2006, more than 200 people were hospitalized and eight people died in King County due to the use of gas-powered generators and other such hazards.

Ali, along with Somali community leaders, were credited with ensuring that there were far fewer hospitalizations and no deaths in response to the storm.

According to the county, "in the 2006 storm, immigrants and ethnic minorities were most vulnerable, using charcoal grills indoors for heating, and cooking without power."

Ali said he just did what he felt was needed to make sure that people stayed safe while their power was still out.

"I've seen how some immigrants are at greater risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, and I knew that there were people who might not get the information they needed," Ali said. "So I wanted to do whatever I could to get the word out."

When the first rumblings of that significant storm were being heard, Ali quickly set up a meeting with religious and community leaders in the Somali community  get the message out about how imperative it was that no one use gas-powered generators indoors.

According to the county, Ali and others within the Somali community "organized a rapid communication strategy that included an automatic phone call to thousands of East Africans in King County."

The day after the storm hit the region in full force, Ali had coordinated with King County Public Health to provide information about shelter options. He also coordinated with the Abubakr Islamic Center to open a shelter site for families. Ali and the Executive Director of the Islamic Center rented four-wheel drive vehicles to deliver hot meals and get people to local shelters.

Ali is a refugee from Somalia with a master's degree in public health, and has long been a facilitator between the county and the Somali community.

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