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Good Record Keeping Speeds Local Disaster Recovery

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Release date: 
August 4, 2009
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MARION, Ill. -- Quality documentation is a must in today's world, especially for local community officials tracking millions of dollars in damage and disaster clean-up costs from the May 8 storm.

In the Williamson County Emergency Operations Center (EOC), more than a dozen huge blue binders trace the steps the 12 municipalities took to protect lives, restore services, ensure safety and remove debris amid the chaos when the storm hit. Records showing equipment used, overtime hours worked, emergency supplies purchased and even volunteer labor and equipment donated show up on charts and in neat columns of numbers.

The EOC quickly became the county's collection point for all of the previous day's bills, receipts, timesheets and any other notes that documented what each municipality was spending on the storm. According to Williamson County Emergency Management Director Alan Gower, this became routine when local government officials met for briefings at the EOC.

"Once we received the invoices and receipts, accounting staff quickly transferred the data onto tracking forms," Gower said. "They started doing this on day one and kept up with it every day."

The county's record-keeping system was a success, according to Tracey Glenn, chairman of the Williamson County Board of Commissioners.

"So many of our county's municipalities are small and the necessary paperwork would have overwhelmed them," she said. "This system allowed local officials to concentrate solely on emergency response efforts and leave the expense tracking to us."

This is not the only solution, according to officials from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Many cities and counties maintained suitable in-house record-keeping systems that tracked the resources they used after the May 8 storm.

Carbondale city officials were already familiar with the disaster declaration process and the sequence of events required in applying for federal funds.

"Several city officials had taken National Incident Management System training in the past," said Carbondale's Finance Director Ernie Tessone. "We knew we would need to have thorough documentation of all assets used."

On May 9, Tessone and his staff established a system to quickly identify all expenses resulting from the storm.

"We assigned one specific non-capital project number to the event," Tessone said. "Every bill, every log sheet, every invoice related to this disaster had to have that number on it."

This process helped the city's finance staff quickly capture all of the applicable expenses onto a spreadsheet.

"This was important to us not only for our in-house accounting, but also to keep the public informed on what we had spent," Tessone said.

All costs were broken down into several categories: supplies, property (infrastructure), personnel costs, debris removal and lost revenue. Figures in the debris removal section quickly added up as city workers hauled off and disposed of 230,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris (downed trees) in less than three weeks.

"The May storm took a big chunk out of the city's Emergency Fund," Tessone said. "It's our policy to try to keep at least a minimum balance in our emergency budget to help cover any type of disaster we may have to face. The funds the city may receive under FEMA's PA program will help us build back that balance." 

"The most important thing for applicants is to be able to provide FEMA with a clear and complete view of their damages, the work they performed or will perform, and the costs they incurred," said Sarah Wolfe, FEMA's Infrastructure Branch director for this disaster. "The easiest way to do this is by having accurate and complete records."

Documentation that might be requested by FEMA includes force account labor and equipment records, employee pay rates and fringe benefit co...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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