LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Housing inspectors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have started visiting disaster-damaged homes in Franklin and Johnson counties as an early step in rushing assistance to eligible survivors.
On Friday, President Barack Obama issued a major disaster declaration for Franklin and Johnson counties for the May 24-26 storms, tornadoes and flooding. The declaration makes state and federal aid available to eligible homeowners, renters and business owners under FEMA's Individual Assistance program.
The housing inspectors began visiting homes on Saturday.
"Getting Arkansans into safe and sanitary housing is our top priority right now," said State Coordinating Officer David Maxwell of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. "Having FEMA inspectors in the affected neighborhoods the day after the disaster declaration has really helped us accelerate the process."
"With the inspection process already under way, assistance dollars will soon be flowing into Franklin and Johnson counties," said Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer W. Michael Moore of FEMA. "Our goal is to get these communities back on their feet as soon as possible."
Once applicants have registered with FEMA and informed the agency of uninsured or underinsured damages that make their homes unlivable, the housing inspectors will arrange to visit. These inspectors play a key role in the recovery process. And they have an important message for homeowners, renters and business owners: "Help us help you."
To expedite the process, it is vital that someone - the applicants or their adult representatives - be on hand to meet the inspectors at the damaged home. It also helps when registered survivors keep FEMA informed of any changes in their contact information.
The inspection is free and generally takes no more than 30 minutes. Renters and homeowners can help by making sure the inspectors can find them and then meeting with the inspector at the scheduled time.
The inspector will look at damaged areas of the home, review records, and then enter information into an electronic device that sends the information to FEMA. This speeds up the process of providing assistance. The inspector does not determine whether an applicant is eligible for assistance.
When the inspector phones to schedule the visit, homeowners should provide clear, accurate directions to the damaged property and a current phone number where they can be reached. The inspector will need a street address for the property rather than a post office box, which does not show the property's physical location.
Applicants can prepare for a housing inspector's visit by locating written confirmation of ownership. A tax receipt, deed, mortgage payment book or home insurance policy with the damaged property's address are acceptable proof. Showing this necessary documentation can expedite the inspection process.
Owners and renters must show that the damaged property was their primary residence at the time of the disaster. A valid driver's license or current utility bill often serves as proof of occupancy.
A U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loss verifier may also schedule an appointment with applicants who have completed an SBA loan application. FEMA inspectors, SBA loss verifiers and insurance adjusters are required to carry identification. Residents should ask to see a photo ID if any inspector comes to their home.
Residents should not be concerned if an inspector is seen in their neighborhood but does not visit every home. Inspectors follow schedules and can only visit houses on that day's list.