SALEM, Ore. -- After the December 2007 storms, the tiny coastal community of Gearhart had more downed trees than they had residents - well over 1,000 according to City Administrator Dennis McNally. Cleaning up was a huge job and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) came by to help.
McNally had never experienced a storm of this severity. He knew nothing about FEMA or its public assistance (PA) program, which is designed to help city, state, county and tribal governments and nonprofit agencies that provide essential services recover from disasters.
Once a federal disaster is declared, FEMA's PA can reimburse 75 percent of:
- Emergency response costs (i.e. police, fire, rescue, etc.);
- Emergency removal of debris from public areas; and
- Repairs to eligible public roads, bridges, parks, utilities and schools.
Angela Green was the PA specialist assigned to Gearhart. "She worked great with us," said McNally. "Angela helped me understand what information FEMA needed" so that eligible costs could be reimbursed.
With only a two-person public works staff, the town had to rely on the volunteer fire department for much of the cleanup. The volunteer firefighters pitched in and pulled trees from streets to a makeshift storage lot on city property. A private company volunteered to bring in a huge tub grinder. The company ground up the fallen timber in exchange for the resulting wood chips.
"They took out 44 fully loaded chip trucks," said McNally.
Downed trees weren't Gearhart's only problem. There were five water main breaks, damaged sidewalks and curbs, and huge loads of debris taken from damaged homes. Total cleanup and repair costs were estimated at $105,000.
PA Specialist Green made sure that McNally knew which costs could be reimbursed and how to figure volunteer hours as part of the city's required 25 percent share.
When asked what advice he might offer to other communities facing a disaster, McNally said, "Keep better records-even if it's just a hand-written log." McNally had to go back and re-create some of the documentation that FEMA requires.
FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.