Denton, TX - When government mitigation inspectors visited Thomas Geelan's home this week, it was one of the last steps in the Los Alamos man's recovery from the Cerro Grande Fire. For Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) inspectors, it was a happy experience as well. Once FEMA has responded to a disaster the agency has two important priorities-- recovery from the event and protection of lives and properties from future disasters.
Geelan's North Community home proved an excellent example of the good use of federal mitigation funds. Geelan rebuilt his burned home with stucco exterior, a fiberglass roof, metal exterior doors, and fire and flood resistant landscaping.
Stephen Oliver, Director of FEMA's Office of Cerro Grande Fire Claims, says former fire victims are doing an exceptional job of protecting their homes and property from the danger of disasters.
Geelan was among the Los Alamos residents who expressed concern that the verification of mitigation expenditures might be onerous. "I was upset when I got the letter about the inspections," he said.
Oliver met last month with fire victims to explain the process and to assure the community that the verifications would be efficient and relatively painless.
"That's the way it's been going this week," said Oliver. "We are very happy with the work done in Los Alamos. The quality of the mitigation is truly phenomenal. As people rebuild they have incorporated protective measures into the design and construction of their homes."
Oliver explained that mitigation projects were funded for eligible homeowners in Los Alamos with the goal of protecting lives and property from fires, floods or other natural disasters. Mitigation measures include such home and property improvements as fire-resistant roofs, siding, drains, and landscaping.
Many of those who rebuilt following the fire have found innovative methods and new products that not only have made their homes safer, but eased maintenance as well. Joel Moss used a new type of stucco that mixes fiberglass with cement to resist cracking. His deck is now made out of a synthetic material created from recycled plastic bottles.
"In two years," Moss says "the deck has required no maintenance and suffered no deterioration. We use it and it just sits there."
Those who received FEMA mitigation funds were required to either complete the approved protective measures before August 28, 2003, to have contracted to have the work completed, or to have purchased the supplies to complete the work themselves. Claimants must give an accounting of the funds spent on the project.
Three teams of inspectors were in the community last week and expected to complete 73 home inspections by the end of the week. Inspectors will continue their work until all verifications are finished.
On March 1, 2003, FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. FEMA's continuing mission within the new department is to lead the effort to prepare the nation for all hazards and effectively manage federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates proactive mitigation activities, trains first responders, and manages Citizen Corps, the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration.