Survivors of the spring 2013 flooding in Galena, Alaska, don’t have addresses.
That is, they have post office boxes, but not street addresses.
And a street address, the physical location of a damaged property, is what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has to have for the disaster assistance process to proceed.
After a survivor registers with FEMA, an inspector visits the property and determines the extent of damage.
But first, the inspector needs to know where the property is located.
Solution: FEMA’s Individual Assistance program asked another FEMA organization, Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA), to pinpoint the exact location of Galena applicants’ properties.
Disaster Survivor Assistance, formerly known as Community Relations, is staffed by specialists who “hit the bricks” after a disaster. They walk through damaged communities and neighborhoods talking with survivors one-on-one and face-to-face.
In Galena’s flood-ravaged residential neighborhoods there are no brick roads. No asphalt or concrete ones either. Only gravel streets which DSA specialists walked with wireless tablets helping flood survivors register for assistance.
To address the no-address situation, two DSA specialists, Gerald (Jerry) Grigsby and Tracy Barger went back to Galena with hand-held global positioning satellite (GPS) units.
They spent nine days in the devastated remote Yukon River community visiting the homes of 200 disaster assistance applicants and logging the latitude and longitude of each one.
“That done,” said Grigsby, “there’s little ambiguity. The inspector will know where the property is.”
But DSA couldn’t have gotten the job done, he added, without the help of a local, long-time resident who knew where everybody lived.”
The resident drove the two DSA specialists, all three seated on the single bench seat of a pickup truck, throughout the village and pointed out to them homes of residents.
“As we traveled with our guide, Grigsby said, Tracy and I noted the approximate GPS locations of homes so we wouldn’t take up too much of the guide’s time. Then we returned to the town during the next several days and traveled to each approximate location and recorded the location of each home. Also, there were times we spoke with residents to validate the homeowners’ names and to clear up any inconsistencies.”