FRANKLIN, Tenn. - John Heithcock will soon have his family all back under one roof again, thanks to a unique partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and a local disaster recovery committee.
Heithcock and his children lived with family and friends after May floods damaged their Franklin home. The Harpeth River came up so fast that Heithcock and his children had to wade through chest-deep water to safety.
“FEMA was right here,” said Heithcock. “They were knocking on my door the first week. The [temporary] FEMA office in downtown Franklin was real helpful.”
Heithcock has a National Flood Insurance Program policy on his home, and benefitted from some state and federal disaster recovery assistance. Unfortunately, the family’s losses exceeded those resources.
“It’s fairly common,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Gracia Szczech. “We’ve learned from past disasters that some survivors, through no fault of their own, need extra help starting down the road to recovery.”
After tornadoes in 2008 battered Williamson County, officials there quickly realized many storm survivors would need additional recovery help for months to come.
“Fifty-two percent of people impacted by the tornado did not have insurance,” said Williamson County Case Manager Debby Rainey. “And of that, 15 percent were living below the poverty level. We saw a need. For the first month we ran in circles.”
FEMA’s Voluntary Agency Liaison Program advised Williamson County on setting up a long-term recovery group based on the success of similar organizations in West Tennessee.
For the next two years, Williamson County committee case workers helped tornado survivors access federal, state and local government and charitable resources available to them. The committee closed its last tornado survivor case file in February but decided to remain in operation.
“We realized then that it wasn’t a question of if we’ll have another disaster, but when,” said Rainey.
John Heithcock is grateful for the committee. Materials used to repair his flood-damaged home have been donated locally through the group.
Thirty Tennessee counties have formed, or are forming, a long-term disaster recovery group including: Cannon, Cheatham, Clay, Crockett, Davidson, DeKalb, Dickson, Dyer, Fayette, Haywood, Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Jackson, Lauderdale, Macon, Madison, Maury, McNairy, Montgomery, Perry, Rutherford, Shelby, Smith, Stewart, Sumner, Tipton, Trousdale, Williamson, and Wilson County.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards