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Sandy Update 5: The Next Step After You Register for Disaster Assistance

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Hoboken, N.J., Nov. 1, 2012 -- FEMA Inspector Richard Martin inspects a basement apartment in Hoboken two days after the residents applied for FEMA assistance. FEMA is working with many partners and organizations to provide assistance to residents affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Hoboken, N.J., Nov. 1, 2012 -- FEMA Inspector Richard Martin inspects a basement apartment in Hoboken two days after the residents applied for FEMA assistance. FEMA is working with many partners and organizations to provide assistance to residents affected by Hurricane Sandy.

We understand the mixed range of emotions survivors may be experiencing after going through a catastrophic and life changing disaster.  Many people are returning home to find that everything they’ve ever known is completely destroyed.  During these difficult times, it’s hard to even process everything that has occurred over the past several days, let alone think about the next steps -- but we’re here to help you through the disaster registration process and make it as easy as possible.

If you’re a survivor in one of the declared counties you should call to apply for federal assistance.  If you have access to the Internet, you can apply online and on your mobile device too.  If you don’t have access to the Internet, please call 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) TTY 1-800-462-7585.  Our online application is an easier and faster way to apply for assistance, visit at www.disasterassistance.gov to complete your application. You should also be aware that FEMA often opens Disaster Recovery Centers  in disaster areas, once they are established in your area, you can visit the location to speak to someone in person about available disaster programs.

Once you’ve applied for federal assistance, here’s what you can expect next:

  1. Applicants who register with FEMA will be given a personal application number. This number will be used to provide later to a FEMA Housing Inspector. So it’s important that you write this number down, and keep it secure and handy for future use.
  2.  A FEMA Housing Inspector will contact you to make an appointment to visit your property within 14 days after you apply. The inspector will assess disaster related damage for your real and personal property.

    Important notes:
  • There is no fee for the inspection.
  • Inspectors are contractors, not FEMA employees, but your inspector will have picture identification.
  • It is important to understand that you or someone 18 years of age who lived in the household prior to the disaster must be present for your scheduled appointment. This inspection generally takes 30-40 minutes but can be shorter, and consists of a general inspection of damaged areas of your home and a review of your records.It’s also important to understand what the inspector will be asking of you. 

    The inspector will ask to see:
  • Picture Identification
  • Proof of Ownership/Occupancy of damaged residence (Structural Insurance, Tax Bill, Mortgage Payment Book/Utility Bill)
  • Insurance documents: Home and/or Auto (Structural Insurance/Auto Declaration Sheet)
  • List of household occupants living in residence at time of disaster
  • All disaster related damages to both real and personal property
  1. Once the inspection process is complete, your case will be reviewed by FEMA and you will receive a letter, or email if you signed up for E-Correspondence, outlining the decision.
  2. If you qualify for a FEMA grant, FEMA will send you a check by mail or deposit it directly into your bank account. You will also receive a letter describing how you are to use the money.  You should only use the money given to you as explained in the letter and save receipts on how you spent the money.
  3. If you do not qualify for a FEMA grant, you will receive a letter explaining why you were turned down and will be given a chance to appeal the decision. Your appeal rights will be described in this letter. Appeals must be in writing and mailed within 60 days of FEMA’s decision.
  4. If you’re referred to the Small Business Administration (SBA), you will receive a SBA application. The application must be completed and returned in order to be considered for a loan as well as certain types of grant assistance. SBA representatives are available to help you with the application at local Disaster Recovery Centers. Completing and returning the loan application does not mean that you must accept the loan.

As with all disasters, FEMA is just part of the team that supports disaster response and recovery efforts.  That team is comprised of tribal, territorial, state, and local governments, faith-based and community organizations as well as the private sector and voluntary organizations.  Together we are working to help survivors through this difficult time in their lives. 

If you know someone who lives in an eligible county and has suffered damages from Hurricane Sandy or if you have suffered damages yourself, we encourage you to register for federal disaster assistance as soon as possible.  The sooner you apply, the faster you will receive a reply and can move forward in the recovery process. 

And if you were not affected by Hurricane Sandy but know survivors, please help us spread the message and encourage them to apply for assistance. 

Here are some other ways everyone can help Hurricane Sandy survivors:

  • Cash is the most efficient method of donating – Cash offers voluntary agencies the most flexibility in obtaining the most-needed resources and pumps money into the local economy to help businesses recover.

Also, please review our page with info on volunteering and donating responsibly.

We are committed in continuing to provide support to the governors, tribal leaders and communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  As response efforts continue, FEMA and our federal partners have been in close contact with emergency officials to assess the unmet needs of survivors. Visit our Hurricane Sandy page for updates and other resources related to response and recovery efforts.

Discussions with Isaac Survivors: Reliving the Storm & Looking to Recovery

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Roland Phillips, a leader of the French and Indian community called Grand Bayou in Plaquemines Parish, LA, had ridden out five hurricanes, including Katrina. So he decided to stay put for Hurricane Isaac, which hit land on Aug. 29, 2012. “I’ll never stay through a storm again,” Phillips told me. “It was the worst I ever experienced. It stayed on top of us for two days and two nights; it just ate us up.”

volunteers cover a roof with blue tarp
CAPTION: LaPlace, La., Sep. 13, 2012 -- Volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse International Relief install blue tarp to keep rain from a home damaged by Hurricane Isaac.

Hurricane Isaac may not have had the most powerful winds the Gulf Coast has ever known, but it moved so slowly through such a wide swath of communities over many states, including the northeast, that its force, for some, was more frightening than Hurricane Katrina.

No matter: faith-based and other voluntary groups responded during the storm and will be there for months, and perhaps years helping survivors recover. Volunteers staffed emergency shelters, served thousands of meals, delivered fresh water, chain-sawed fallen trees, “mudded out” homes and church sanctuaries, installed blue plastic tarps on torn roofs, fielded phone calls and provided emotional and spiritual care. In the future, they will rebuild homes and houses of worship and provide case management services that connect survivors to government and other benefits.

volunteers survey damaged home
CAPTION: Plaquemines Parish, La., Sep. 13, 2012 -- Volunteers from the Mennonite Disaster Service survey the work in progress at a home damaged by Hurricane Isaac.

The Rev. Michael Giles, pastor of Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Braithwaite, LA, knows about hurricanes. As president of Christian Ministers Missionary Baptist Association, he has been active in rebuilding homes destroyed by Katrina. With Hurricane Isaac, Rev. Giles moved from being a volunteer to being a survivor. His home and church were flooded by the storm. When I asked him about the faith-based volunteers he was working alongside to mud out his church, he said, “I’ve got one word to describe them: awesome.” He continued: “They never stop working. They work hard. They never complain.”

Eight-foot Water Line

Steven Bledsoe is the chair of the Committee for Plaquemines Rebuilding. This long-term recovery group started soon after Katrina. Like Rev. Giles, Bledsoe is not only a leader of volunteer and community groups helping the area recover from Katrina; he too is a survivor of Hurricane Isaac. “I had two feet of water in my home with Katrina. That’s why I got involved in long-term recovery.” He then showed me the eight-foot water line inside his home’s first floor left by flood waters from Hurricane Isaac. Faith-based volunteers from another group worked around us as we stood where his living room had been. They were tearing down molding sheetrock and shoveling muddy debris into wheelbarrows. “The volunteers?” he said. “I can’t say enough about them. They don’t say a lot about it, but I know their faith encourages them to volunteer.”

volunteer moves debris
CAPTION: Plaquemines Parish, La., Sep. 12, 2012 -- A volunteer from the Mennonite Disaster Service hauls debris from a home damaged by Hurricane Isaac.

A gas station and convenience store located on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish near the Belle Chase Ferry landing had become a gathering place for survivors and volunteers. Yet a third faith-based group had set up a mobile feeding station in the store’s parking lot, as the store was closed due to flooding. It was lunch time and people were lined up for meals to be served. Survivors I met included Braithwaite fire chief Urban Treuil (who also owned the gas station and store) and Gregory Meyer, an ice-truck delivery man. Both men and their families had long months of recovery ahead of them. Meyer’s home, which was raised on stilts to prevent its flooding, had been built in 1721. Six generations of his family had lived there. Now it was drying out from 10 feet of floodwaters. I asked him what he was going to do. “I’m coming home, man. My family and I are going to come home. But we’re feeling alone. Don’t forget us.”

I promised him that we wouldn’t, that his story would be told. And I am confident, with the amazing commitment of thousands of volunteers yet to come to the area, he and the other survivors of Hurricane Isaac throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, numerous other states, will see another and better day.

Vermont after Irene: Preserving storm-impacted fish habitats

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Vermont’s recovery from Tropical Storm Irene, which made landfall a little less than a year ago, has provided unique opportunities for federal, state and local partnerships. One example is how FEMA has been collaborating with state, federal and community partners to support damaged fish habitats in Vermont, a state where fishing annually generates at least $63 million. 

Half of the fish were wiped out by Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont, a state where the culture and history of fishing is as important as their economic benefits.

A submerged GoPro high definition camera captures underwater footage of juvenile brook trout in Rochester, Vt. Footage of the fish, a native Vermont species that was impacted by Tropical Storm Irene, is included in a FEMA video about fish habitat recovery in Vermont.

A submerged GoPro high definition camera captures underwater footage of juvenile brook trout in Rochester, Vt. Footage of the fish, a native Vermont species that was impacted by Tropical Storm Irene, is included in a FEMA video about fish habitat recovery in Vermont. Click here to view the video to learn more about this project.

In the town of Rochester, environmental recovery has brought many players to the table. FEMA is working in concert with the White River Partnership, the town of Rochester, Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Passage Program, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The White River Partnership, a South Royalton, Vt.-based non-profit organization, worked with the town of Rochester to secure enhancement funding. Culverts, which clogged and failed during the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene, will be rebuilt stronger and larger to handle more storm debris.

What’s more, the culverts will be enhanced with sand, rocks and other elements to mimic natural, more eco-friendly passages for fish.

Rochester, Vt., July 29, 2012 -- U.S. Forest Service Civil Engineer Brian Austin sits outside a culvert on a tributary running through the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area in Arlington, Vermont. Tropical Storm Irene-damaged culverts in Rochester, Vermont will be similarly reconstructed, using rocks and sand to simulate a natural fish passage.

Above:  U.S. Forest Service Civil Engineer Brian Austin sits outside a culvert on a tributary running through the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area in Arlington, Vermont. Damaged culverts in Rochester, Vermont will be similarly reconstructed, using rocks and sand to simulate a natural fish passage.

As many as three culvert installations may be completed during the 2012 season; the remaining four will likely be completed in 2013.

One creative approach in the process will be to replace a culvert that was damaged in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Rochester with a discarded bridge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recycled from a salvage yard. Reclaiming and repurposing the discarded bridge will cost just $8,500, saving the city and federal governments thousands of dollars.

Rochester, Vt., July 25, 2012 -- White River Partnership Executive Director Mary Russ explains how a bridge she reclaimed from a salvage yard will be recycled to be used as a replacement for a culvert that was impacted by Tropical Storm Irene. The bridge will replace a culvert in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Rochester, Vermont.

White River Partnership Executive Director Mary Russ explains how a bridge reclaimed from a salvage yard will be recycled to be used as a replacement for a culvert that was impacted by Tropical Storm Irene. The bridge will replace a culvert over Nason Brook in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Rochester, Vermont. 

The efforts to preserve fish habitats in Vermont is just one way FEMA works to preserve and protect the environment after a disaster. Visit FEMA.gov for more on FEMA’s environmental and historical preservation.

Joplin and Recovery: A Thought Provoking Discussion during the May Think Tank Call

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A little over one year ago, on May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado tore through the city of Joplin, MO and surrounding areas. This tornado caused significant damage and tragic loss of 161 lives. I was on the ground less than 15 hours after the event and saw firsthand the inspiration leadership displayed by community leaders. I drew inspiration from the people of Joplin-how the leaders gave hope to the residents of Joplin and hope to the country. And that is why I chose Joplin as the location for the May Think Tank Conference Call. It was an opportunity to return almost a year later and listen to community leaders while they shared their experiences and lessons learned with over 30 community members at Missouri Southern State University and more than 500 people on the phone nationwide.

The resilience of the community has been nothing short of amazing, which is both a testament to the city’s inspirational leadership and to some of the pre-planning that took place. In case you missed the call, here’s a quick recap.

Recovery Efforts in Joplin

Dr. Bruce Speck, President of MSSU, spoke about the integral role that the University played in helping the community recover. “Only three weeks before the tornado hit we finalized an agreement with the American Red Cross to serve as an emergency shelter. At the time, some may have wondered when we would ever be called to serve such a need. Little did we know that need was lying just ahead of us and would test our strength and resilience in a way we'd never imagined.” Soon after the tornado, MSSU stepped in and offered its campus as a shelter, surge medical clinic, and volunteer coordination point, among a number of other things.

Other speakers from Joplin included those first on the scene, like Mark Rohr, the City Manager of Joplin, and Keith Stammer, Director of the Jasper County Emergency Management Agency. Both have been integral to the response and ongoing recovery efforts of the communities affected by the tornado. Callers asked many questions about their experiences and lessons learned throughout the recovery efforts. Rohr stressed the need for strong local leadership and continued communication with the people affected by the disaster, while Stammer focused on the value of preexisting relationships and agreements such as the one between MSSU and the American Red Cross.

Jane Cage, Chair of Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, and Stephanie Brady, Director of Programs at the Independent Living Center, also spoke about their efforts. Cage and Brady’s comments supported the lessons learned that were shared by Rohr and Stammer. Brady discussed her role in representing the disability community in Joplin. Cage spoke about the impact that volunteers can have on a community’s recovery. Rohr pointed out that there were 130,000 volunteers for 755,000 hours of community service, valued at over $17 million and more than 82 years' worth of community service. Each story and lesson learned provided all the participants, myself included, with valuable lessons and insight into the recovery process. For more insight into the inspiration efforts of these community leaders, I encourage you to read this article from the Boston Globe.

Integrating Planning for Recovery

The second topic of the call focused on how to integrate recovery into all planning, stakeholder engagement, community participation, and Tribal and Federal partnerships. Deb Ingram, Assistant Administrator for FEMA’s Recovery Directorate, provided information about the National Disaster Recovery Framework and stressed the importance of the whole community coming together in pre-disaster recovery planning including economic, health and social services, infrastructure, schools and housing partners.

Amanda Phan from the Fairfax County, Virginia Office of Emergency Management, spoke about the comprehensive pre-disaster recovery plan recently completed by her office, highlighting the number the stakeholders involved in its creation. Phan explained some of the successful pieces of their planning process, such as how to get stakeholders engaged in the project.

I commend the people of Joplin for their resilience and the extraordinary progress that the city has made in less than a year. I would also like to thank everyone that worked, and continue to work, to help Joplin recovery. The team of citizens, volunteers, local, state, and federal government partners is essential; and has been an amazing source of hope to the survivors and country as a whole.

For the next Think Tank conference call, FEMA is partnering with Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the Department of Health and Human Services. The theme for the June call is Emergency Management, Healthcare and Public Health: Increasing Coordination and Collaboration and will take place on June 28.

Please submit your ideas and comments on this theme, or on any topic related to emergency management, to the Think Tank Online Forum. A full transcript of the May 15 conference call is available on the FEMA Think Tank page

A Small Vermont Business Struggles to Make a Comeback and Learns to Prepare for the Future

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Editor’s Note: Last year, hurricane Irene caused significant flooding in several states along the East Coast well after it made landfall. Since last week was Small Business Administration week and this week is National Hurricane Preparedness Week, we wanted to share this perspective from a small business owner in Vermont. Mr. Crowl experienced first-hand how natural disasters can impact business owners, and has some lessons to share…


The views expressed by Patrick Crowl do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

You can plan for a disaster all you want, but when it hits, you have to put your emotions aside and deal with it like you’re an ER doc. Each decision takes on critical importance.

Few of us in the town of Woodstock would have predicted that Hurricane Irene, which came up the East Coast at the end of last August, would have devastated much of Vermont like it did. But my partners and I, at our popular year round fresh market, the Woodstock Farmers Market, did take some precautions when we knew it was heading our way – we had our employees stay late the night before to move food into freezers and we closed the store down the day the storm was expected.

The next day I saw our entire store decimated, covered with mud. I was lucky to have a dedicated staff who did not abandon ship. I had about five staffers who “came to work” and even regular patrons who came by to clean up. People were making lunch, shoveling and mucking. It was surreal and it was very humbling.

Woodstock, Vt., May 23, 2012 -- Damages sustained by Hurricane Irene to Woodstock's Farmers Market.Woodstock, Vt., May 23, 2012 -- Damages sustained by Hurricane Irene to Woodstock's Farmers Market.

We were determined to reopen. We had vendors to pay and a mortgage on the property. The market is the main livelihood for most of the store’s employees. We’re a significant part of the community. We needed to rebuild and get ourselves going again.

But how? I was very familiar with the statistic that only 25 percent of small businesses are able to survive after a disaster. But somehow we managed to reopen in time for Thanksgiving. It wasn’t easy. Over the course of the last year, I have thought about how we did it and have broken down the various stages of business recovery.

Damages sustained to the Woodstock Farmers Market following Hurricane Irene.Woodstock, Vt., May 23, 2012 -- Damages sustained to the Woodstock Farmers Market following Hurricane Irene.

Phase 1 – Days 1 and 2 – Clean-up
Don’t delay what you have to do, take advantage of the momentum of the community right afterwards because things slow down after the adrenaline of the incident wears off, and people have to return to their own lives. If you can, work 12 to 14 hour days. Eight hours won’t cut it. There will be time later to rest. Your reputation is at stake. Your money is at stake.

Set up a command post and gather the right people together. Break down who does what. Don’t be afraid to delegate. Keep lists of who is doing what, and reward community volunteers.

Phase 2 – Days 2 and 3 – Continue the Momentum on the Money Trail
Register with FEMA and the SBA immediately and leave no stone unturned when it comes to other sources of funding. It was a challenge, but I knew I had to stay focused and positive. I would spend full days on the phone navigating the various bureaucracies. We had no manual. We read and reread all the flood insurance literature to make sure we knew the steps to take. We huddled early on with a group of close advisors and came up with a financial game plan.


Phase 3 – Days 3 through 7 – Fine-Tune Your Plan
Take care of your co-workers and staff. Make sure they apply for unemployment and they have access to any needed counseling. Property can be rebuilt, income can be brought back, but foremost make sure people are taken care of. Without them, you won’t be able to come back.

Then do a budget outline of what it will cost to rebuild. Flood expenses can include the cost of the cleanup, construction, new equipment, cost of the insurance adjustor, outstanding payables and any other miscellaneous costs. On the income side, we had to tally our savings, flood insurance proceeds, state economic loan, customer loans and gifts.

My Smartphone was my lifeline. It buzzed and it rang, constantly. Whenever I got an idea, I texted, called or emailed.

We lost all our computer files and many records. Luckily our main computer back up was saved as were many of the computers because before the floodwaters got too high, we carried them to a top floor. But next time, we’re going to make sure we keep a backup data “in the cloud.”

Be prepared to change your game plan. Things are moving a hundred miles an hour and everything changes in a day. We met every day, twice a day for information updates.

We followed the following matrix and updated it every week.

  • Physical plant issues: cleanup; equipment tear out; rebuilding. 
  • Financial issues: insurance, sources of funding 
  • Human Resources: staff communications; unemployment; grief counseling 
  • Marketing/PR: getting the word out; website communication; social media

It was from those meetings that we came up with the idea for our Irene Card program, which was essentially a prepaid shopping card. We offered a discount for cards over $1,000. This idea was a great way to generate money up front. We raised over $375,000 in a matter of weeks.

Phase 4 – After first week – Facing Reality
Your business is gone. Staff is gone. As many people return to their normal lives, you are alone. Keep going. Gather people for weekly meetings and check the matrix.

While we are now open, we still have a gap between what it actually cost to get ourselves back to where we were, versus the cost of the disaster. We were indeed underinsured for our contents, but our building flood insurance was a correct amount. I guess while you can’t plan for a flood, you can be better prepared.

Woodstock Farmers Market reopening following the temporarily closing due to needed renovations caused by Hurricane Irene.Woodstock, Vt., May 24, 2012 -- Woodstock Farmers Market reopening following the temporarily closing due to needed renovations caused by Hurricane Irene.

Knowing what I know now, we have re-examined our flood policy and corrected. A relatively small price to pay for the peace of mind needed when you know Mother Nature could strike at any time.

One year later in Joplin: Uniting toward recovery

Today’s Day of Unity, including the walk and other celebratory events, emphasizes the true human spirit and compassion within the people of the greater Joplin area. At the start of the walk, over 5,000 people from all sectors of the community, including faith-based and non-profit organizations, local, state and federal partners, gathered to recognize the work and significant recovery efforts accomplished by the communities of Joplin and Duquesne in just 365 days.

At 20th Street, for example, as we passed the former Commerce Bank, my heart swelled as I looked behind me to see thousands of people marching forward in support of everything Joplin has encountered and is preparing for in the months and years ahead.

At the site of the former Joplin High School, hundreds were present, embracing the plan and sharing a vision for a new and expanded institution of education. As ground was broken for the new High School and Franklin Technology Center, I couldn’t help but think back to last August 17 when the school district delivered on its promise to open schools on time, helping families to take another step on their journey toward normalcy.

As we continued our walk down the 3.7 mile path of the EF-5 tornado, I was reminded of the importance of involving the whole community - in the immediate aftermath of disasters and after the spotlight has dimmed. The thousands of people who walked together today represent the power of the human spirit, persevering together and supporting one another through the long and sometimes arduous months of recovery. FEMA, like many of the organizations represented here today, remains committed to being here for the long term, until the work is done.

And as they say here, "Go Joplin Eagles (KAW, KAW)!

May Think Tank Call

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The next FEMA Think Tank call will take place on Tuesday, May 15 from Joplin, Mo. The call will focus on recovery and how we can better prepare for a more rapid, cost effective, sustainable and resilient recovery in our communities.

Between December 2011 and March 2012, 10 stakeholder forums were held to discuss the National Disaster Recovery Framework. During these forums federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments, voluntary and non-governmental organizations, and the private sector discussed challenges and opportunities regarding preparing for, and recovering from, a disaster.

The call will provide an opportunity for the community to discuss what they think is important to consider when planning for recovery and how to rebuild in a cost effective, sustainable way so that the community can be more resilient in future disasters both physically and financially. Other topics may include steps communities can take before a disaster to be more resilient in the future. If you have been involved in the recovery process, what is one piece of advice you would give community leaders to better plan for recovery from a disaster?

I hope you can join us for the May call and encourage you to submit comments or ideas on our online collaboration forum regarding pre-disaster planning that allows for a more rapid, cost effective, sustainable and resilient recovery in our communities.

We will provide the time of the call and the phone number to participate in the Think Tank conference call in the coming days.

What Preliminary Damage Assessments Really Mean

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Over the past several weeks, we’ve talked a lot about supporting several states (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia) with joint preliminary damage assessments as a result of the recent wave of severe storms and tornadoes, and I wanted to provide a little information into what this means, and what a PDA team does when they are on the ground.

PDA Teams

Following a disaster, a Governor requests PDAs as the first step in the declaration process. Federal representatives, including the U.S. Small Business Administration, join state, tribal, and local officials to form what we call “PDA teams.” They are responsible for surveying damages in designated counties, and they do this by going city-by-city, street-by-street, door-to-door, until impacted areas identified by state, tribal, and local officials have been thoroughly assessed.

The joint PDA teams are not just looking at the numbers of damaged or destroyed homes, they’re also obtaining information on the impact to the community as a whole. In larger disasters or when affected areas are inaccessible, PDAs may be conducted by car or plane.

They talk to as many residents as possible to ensure detailed assessments are made. From walking door-to-door in neighborhoods that have experienced damage, to sometimes walking among debris piles and engaging one-on-one with survivors who have been personally impacted, the PDA teams conduct their assessments to fully understand how the disaster has and will impact you and your family. Even when the damage may not seem apparent, the team is looking for all types and signs of damage, such as water lines from flooding, damaged roof and windows, and damage to doors and windows.

Many of the questions the teams may ask are aimed to garner a clear understanding of the impacts, including: whether you have insurance; whether your utilities are out; whether you have a place to stay; was your job affected; did your children need to change schools; was your car damaged; and do you have special medical needs.

A PDA team may not need to talk to every survivor. If a disaster survivor has already reported their damages to local or state officials, those reports will be shared with the PDA team and cross-referenced with the street report, and then all of the information will be considered for the assessments.

Along with assessing the damages that affected individuals within a community, PDA teams consisting of state, federal, tribal and local officials will also assess the impact of the incident on public infrastructure. This includes the cost of emergency measures, such as debris removal, and repair or restoration of public facilities such as roads and buildings.

Once assessments for a jurisdiction such as a county or parish are completed, the team moves onto the next as the effort is consolidated to help out in other areas. The goal is to complete the job efficiently and thoroughly to ensure the teams have captured the total impact to the communities and area of the state affected by the disaster.

The Next Step

Once all of the data has been compiled, it’s turned over to the state’s Emergency Management Agency.

It is important to remember that PDA teams do not determine whether a major disaster declaration will be issued.

The information that is collected is provided to the state for a governor to determine if he or she will request federal assistance. If the Governor believes the damages “are beyond state and local capabilities,” he or she will submit the written request to the President and specify the type of assistance needed and which counties are affected. It is important to remember that FEMA assistance is supplementary in nature and will only be authorized when a disaster is of the severity and magnitude to be beyond the effective response of the state and affected local governments. Moreover, legally, FEMA cannot duplicate assistance received through any other source including insurance or other federal programs.

What Should I Be Doing Now?

What should you do while the Governor’s request is pending? As soon as possible, notify your insurance company and file a claim. Keep your receipts of any disaster-related expenses such as lodging, medical, repair and cleaning supplies, etc. You should also make a list of the major items that have been damaged such as utilities, appliances, furniture, and personal property.

If you have immediate needs such as shelter, food, water, clothing, etc., you should seek help from the local voluntary and faith-based groups in your area.

What is a Major Disaster Declaration?

If the President approves the request, the declaration will specify what forms of assistance are available. If the Presidential declaration includes Individual Assistance, then individuals can apply if their county was part of the declaration. Even if you have already reported your damage to the Red Cross, local, or state officials, and the PDA team stopped to talk with you – this IS NOT THE APPLICATION for FEMA assistance.

To be considered eligible for federal assistance, you need to apply with FEMA once a declaration has been made – either by calling our toll-free number (Call (800) 621-3362 / TTY (800) 462-7585) or registering on our full website or mobile site.

We understand that dealing with the aftermath of a disaster is a stressful and trying time, and we hope that you will never need to go through the process of assessing and reporting damages. The true fact is that disasters happen, and every bit of knowledge we have about the process arms us all in a way to make the recovery just maybe a small bit easier.

Toads Wield More Power Than You May Think

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Sometimes large-scale events and unforeseen circumstances can slow down recovery efforts, and sometimes all it takes is something small – like a toad. In case you don’t regularly read the Austin American Statesman, you may have missed an interesting story that shows the complex nature of disaster recovery. Those involved with disaster recovery need to think about a wide variety of factors that come into play, including the cleanup efforts’ effects on animals.

To set the stage, a historic wildfire season hit Texas in 2011, and we continue to work in support of state and local officials in providing assistance to affected individuals and local governments. This assistance to local governments includes supporting removing debris in some of the damaged areas.

A small, rare object that could soon be spotted hopping nearby, however, has the potential to delay FEMA-funded recovery projects in certain areas. This object is the endangered Houston toad, which surfaces during mating season. Emergency managers have a responsibility to carry out our jobs in a manner that avoids or minimizes adverse impacts to the environment, especially potential impacts on endangered species.

Because of this, our recovery experts met recently with officials from the state and Bastrop County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, a local electric cooperative, and environmental experts to make sure recovery will not violate federal environmental policies and laws and will minimize adverse effects on the toads.

The meeting was productive in that the key stakeholders on this issue came to a consensus on how best to proceed. For now, debris removal is going strong as we increase our capability to monitor the toads. Meanwhile, we continue to work with stakeholders to proceed with recovery efforts while protecting the natural environment.

In the end, the Houston toad serves as a symbol that successful disaster recovery requires a team of individuals and organizations working together to solve problems both big and small -- sometimes as small as a toad.

Click here for more information on FEMA’s Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation Program.

Japan’s Long Term Recovery Path

2011 was full of natural disasters and emergencies – both large and small – but none rivaled the tragic scale of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last March. Just before the start of the New Year, I had the opportunity to again visit Japan, seeing the most impacted regions of the Iwate Prefecture and meeting with government officials from around the world to discuss the rebuilding and recovery challenges that are ongoing.

As part of the two-day conference, (organized by the Japanese Cabinet Office, Japan International Cooperation Agency, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and Asian Disaster Reduction Center) and my visit to the hardest-hit areas of the country, it was apparent the temporary housing mission is significant. I visited Kamaishi City where temporary housing had to be constructed quickly to house 516 residents. Because of the large amount of elderly, the pre-fabricated housing units were configured facing each other, with common roofing, to create a sense of community and to prevent isolation of senior residents. The temporary housing area also includes a support center to assist with nursing care insurance application and health consultations. Within the temporary housing area, the city also has included a grocery store and other shops, a nursing center and a child care center.

Since I last visited Japan in May, the amount of debris has been substantially reduced, which has helped as rebuilding efforts continue. The sheer volume of debris as a result of the earthquake and tsunami is hard to fathom – there were an estimated 275,000 vehicles and a large amount of hazardous materials. Many disaster response officials estimated long-term recovery in Japan may take as long as 8-10 years due to the magnitude of the destruction.

For us at FEMA, events like the deadly earthquake and tsunami to hit Japan are reminders of the importance to continually plan and prepare for potentially catastrophic events. While we cannot predict when or where the next emergency will occur, we can take steps  within our nation, states, communities, neighborhoods and households to be better prepared should disaster strike. During my presentation at the conference, I talked about the recent disasters to affect the United States, FEMA’s whole community approach to planning, the Presidential Policy Directive 8 (which talks about nationwide disaster planning), and the National Disaster Recovery Framework.

In sharing expertise with other nations and learning from disasters that have affected them, it provides FEMA an opportunity to redouble our efforts to help Americans better prepare for, respond to, and recover from all hazards.

For more about how the United States is supporting recovery in Japan, visit the U.S. embassy website.

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