Millions of Americans are affected by wildfires, violent storms, flooding, power outages, evacuations and other incidents across the country every year.
After any type of emergency or disaster strikes, families and businesses are faced with many questions including … now what?
This post is not intended to replace local officials’ instructions, but contains tips and resources about disaster response, assistance and recovery.
During the response phase of any major disaster, people must keep in mind First Responders will do everything in their power to help those in need, but it may take hours, days or possibly even weeks before the cavalry arrives.
In addition to locating survivors and the wounded, officials’ primary objective is to get utilities up and running, roads cleared, and confirm structural integrity of commercial and personal properties as quickly as possible. The partnerships and coordination of government, faith-based organizations and the private sector will also help alleviate some of the stress for citizens and businesses during the recovery mode.
Governors and mayors have the option to declare a state of emergency before, during or after an event which basically allows access to emergency funds to help with response and recovery efforts. If an incident is widespread, local, state and federal officials will begin assessing the damage to determine if a federal disaster declaration request will be submitted.
Quite often survivors get frustrated with delays and red tape, but there is a process officials must go through to seek Federal assistance.
For example, the following explanation of the process for individual assistance appeared in an Indiana Department of Homeland Security 2011 press release and is similar to the “Disaster Sequence of Events” overview an Ohio agency included in a custom book we printed recently…
- An emergency or disaster incident occurs.
- Local emergency and public safety personnel, volunteers, humanitarian organizations and other private groups provide emergency assistance.
- A local disaster or emergency is declared.
- Preliminary damage and impact information is reported to the State office by citizens and local emergency management entities.
- The state determines whether to request joint preliminary damage assessments be conducted by federal, state and local officials.
- Personnel from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration are deployed and join state and local representatives to conduct joint damage assessments.
- State provides the findings of the joint damage assessments to the Governor’s Office.
- Based on the magnitude and scope of the disaster, and results of the preliminary damage assessment, the Governor will determine whether to declare a state of disaster or emergency.
- If a state of disaster emergency is declared, and if the Governor determines the extent of damage indicates full recovery is beyond the capabilities of the state and local governments, the Governor submits a written request to the President asking that federal assistance be provided under a major disaster or emergency declaration.
- FEMA reviews the request and findings of the joint damage assessments and advises the President whether a disaster or emergency declaration should be granted.
- Federal assistance is granted or denied.
- If FEMA Individual Assistance is granted, SBA loans will also be available. If FEMA Individual Assistance is denied, the Governor may file a supplementary request for SBA assistance.
Now… here’s the kicker. According to FEMA, less than 10% of all weather emergencies in the U.S. are actually declared. But during the above process, impacted communities and victims will be helped by many organizations and agencies including FEMA.
FEMA suggests survivors do the following steps to receive assistance:
First, call your insurance agent. Insurance usually provides the largest amount of repair or rebuilding funding for many survivors.
Second, apply for disaster assistance with FEMA. This starts the process for federal assistance that you may be eligible for, such as temporary housing and home repairs. Renters also need to apply. If they are eligible, money is available for their personal property losses.
Ways to register for disaster assistance:
- By phone, call 800-621-FEMA (3362) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., local time. Operators are multilingual. For the speech or hearing impaired, the number is TTY 800-462-7585.
- By visiting a disaster recovery center. Survivors can find the closest center by using the online disaster recovery center locator at go.usa.gov/CDc
When you register with FEMA, you start the disaster assistance process. Additional information is available at any of the disaster recovery centers that open up in the disaster area. At the centers you can ask recovery specialists questions about your application or learn about available local, state and federal programs.
You may also receive a disaster loan application from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Homeowners and renters must complete and return it to be referred to other FEMA programs. Applicants are not required to accept the SBA loan.
FEMA assistance is limited to essential needs and can’t duplicate funds received from other sources. By registering, you will have access to the SBA and may be able to receive a low-interest disaster loan to cover residential or business losses. Survivors may apply to the SBA before insurance claims are settled.
A short FEMA video shares the story of a disaster survivor going through various stations at a disaster recovery center.
Learn more about disaster assistance at www.fema.gov/assistance/index.shtm
If denied Assistance but have damage:
Sometimes victims receive denial letters from FEMA stating there was insufficient or no damage yet homes were partially or completely destroyed, as in some Alabama cases last spring. FEMA officials encourage those who believe they were wrongly declared “ineligible” to file for an appeal through a local disaster recovery center.
A study of 2011 Alabama claims revealed few disaster victims follow through after receiving a denial letter. It showed less than 1% of the 25,081 applicants initially declared ineligible for any reason had appealed, leaving the potential for millions of dollars in federal aid to go unclaimed. An applicant has 60 days from the date of the determination letter to appeal.
Some DOs and DON’Ts for the rest of us:
The images of disasters pull on people’s heartstrings causing those outside of the impacted area to want to do something to help. However, those good intentions can create nightmare scenarios for officials, volunteers and victims.
Some things you CAN do…
- Donate money to a recognized voluntary agency since it is the single best way to help disaster survivors. Cash doesn’t need to be sorted, stored or distributed, and it allows the voluntary agency to use the donation towards the needs that most urgently need addressing. The funds can also help stimulate the local economy.
- Learn what to say (and not say) to victims of disaster. Check out “Loss: What to Say After the Flood, Earthquake, or Disaster from Grief Expert Aurora Winter” on PRnewswire
Some things you DON’T want to do…
- Don’t show up unannounced with unsolicited goods (things like clothing, miscellaneous household items, mixed or perishable foodstuffs, diapers, etc). Critical resources will be redirected from the important work of response and relief to managing what often becomes a crush of unneeded donated items.
- Always work with a relief agency to confirm what items are needed. Do not begin collecting, packing or shipping until you have a known recipient who will accept the donation.
- Don’t drive down to a disaster site to gawk. People who go into areas to see the destruction make it harder for everyone working to clean it up and for the people who live there.
For information on other ways to help visit www.fema.gov/volunteer-donate-responsibly
Also download some free preparedness topics from our IT’S A DISASTER! book and please share them and this post with others.