A Road Map to Help Navigate Disaster Assistance

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Release date: 
February 17, 2007
Release Number: 
1679-014

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Once the shock of a disaster wears off, many Floridians ask how long it will take to clean up, repair, rebuild, and return to their life before the disaster.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Florida 's State Emergency Response Team (SERT) believe the answer varies because of the uniqueness of every disaster. However both organizations agree the first step in the recovery process begins by applying for disaster assistance. 

Once disaster victims register for assistance, managers from various service programs offered by both the State of Florida and FEMA are able to match available resources with victim needs. Here are some of the best estimates on timelines for various state/FEMA services and why they may differ in various places:

Step One - Registration:

If you have insurance, you should contact your insurance agent first. Determining the amount of coverage your policy provides helps FEMA assist in unmet and underinsured needs. Next, call the FEMA toll-free registration number at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY at 1-800-462-7585 for the speech-and hearing impaired. Registration normally takes less than half an hour.

Ted Keith, State Community Relations Coordinator said, "I've worked several disasters, knocking on doors and telling people to register for federal and state assistance even if they have insurance. I can't tell you how many people have hugged me and thanked me for helping them. When in fact, it's about them helping themselves when they register."

Step Two - Inspections:

During registration, a series of questions will prompt a FEMA-contracted inspector to contact you to set up a date and time for a property inspection. Depending on the geographical size of the disaster, an inspector could take up to 12 days to contact an applicant. However in response to the tornadoes that struck North Central Florida, inspectors have averaged a turnaround time of one day.

Step Three - Getting a Check:

If all required information is in order, a check can be issued within two or three days following the findings of your home inspection. An electronic fund transfer (money deposited directly into your bank account) will expedite the process.

Other Assistance:

Roof Covering: Depending on the disaster, residents may be able to get tarps they can put on their roofs themselves. These can be obtained from distribution sites announced by the local media, or by calling the county emergency management office. For individuals with special needs who may need help, volunteer organizations may be able to assist.

Temporary Housing: Depending on availability, an apartment or house usually can be rented within days of the disaster. If houses or apartments are not available, perhaps because of damage to existing rentals, a travel trailer may be made available. It will be placed on the same lot as the damaged home if possible, or on a commercial site. The timeframe for this, barring complications, is two or three weeks after registration with FEMA.

SBA Loan: After registering, many applicants, including homeowners, renters and businesses, will receive a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan application in the mail. If you receive one, you are strongly urged to complete and return the application to keep the door open for other types of assistance. If you have damage from multiple storms, you may only need to complete one SBA application. If a loan is not appropriate, you may be referred to the state/FEMA Other Needs Assistance (ONA) grant program-but SBA must decline your loan application first. You are not obligated to take an SBA loan if approved, but if the loan is offered and r...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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