RECOVERY – A GUIDE FOR MUNICIPAL OFFICIALS
Mary J. Goepfert, APR, Community Relations Coordinator,
NJ Office of Emergency Management, July 2001
is the second in a series of articles designed to offer
local government officials information about continuing
municipal operations in a post-disaster environment.
Future articles will address emergency planning and
reducing disaster-related economic losses.
governments share responsibility for protecting their
citizens from disasters, and for helping them to recover
when disaster strikes. The NJ Office of Emergency Management
(NJOEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) are key partners is this process, offering resources
and programs to help local governments, school districts
and residents pick up the pieces and return the community
back to normal. A municipal government’s ability
to access federal disaster relief programs quickly,
efficiently, and appropriately can limit disaster related
losses, lessen financial and psychological impact for
community members, and enhance a community’s ability
to survive – and eventually thrive -- in disaster’s
recovery is rarely an easy process. It is financially,
physically, and emotionally exhausting for everyone
involved, especially after a flood. Confusion and misinformation
about relief programs often becomes an enormous source
of frustration for the community members who are impacted,
and for the local officials who are involved in the
of FEMA’s programs are designed to replace individual
losses 100% -- only to bring living conditions back
to a “safe and habitable” condition. The
majority of federal disaster assistance is conveyed
in the form of U.S. Small Business Administration Loans,
not grants. Public entities will complete stacks of
paperwork, undergo numerous inspections, and devote
hundreds of man-hours toward reimbursement for disaster-related
why get involved ?
these complexities, federal disaster relief is all that
many individuals have to rely on to rebuild their lives.
This is particularly true for those homeowners without
flood insurance – and 30% of disaster related
claims occur outside federally designated floodplain
areas. Moreover, your community’s level of cooperation
in FEMA’s Public Assistance program may prevent
another disaster in a municipal budget, strained to
capacity from unforeseen expenses. Commitment to the
disaster recovery process is every municipal official’s
moral, social, and legal responsibility.
the question is not why, but “how” and “when.”
DISASTER RECOVERY 101
incident occurs. Your municipal resources are overwhelmed.
Experience all, most, or some of the following scenarios:
emergency responders on overtime for days or weeks;
all municipal departments activated during the event
or immediately after; severe impacts to residents
– death, injuries, evacuations. Damage to homes,
infrastructure, public buildings, schools, water supply
and sanitation systems. Utility outages. Hospitals
inundated. Mountains of debris in the streets. Shelters
opened. Volunteer (i.e., Red Cross, Salvation Army)
assistance and mutual aid from surrounding communities.
county, state, and federal officials conduct a Preliminary
Damage Assessment (PDA) to determine the extent of
the disaster and its impact on individuals, infrastructure
and public facilities. Recording the severity
and magnitude of the incident is the first step is
in preparing the documents necessary to request federal
disaster assistance. During or after a high-profile
event, the NJOEM will provide on-scene assistance,
and request this information almost immediately. The
sooner PDA information is provided to the NJOEM, the
sooner your request for assistance can be communicated
NJOEM compiles PDA information from impacted communities
and prepares the Governor’s request to FEMA
for federal disaster assistance. You will
continue to field questions from the media and residents
about “who will pay” and how local needs
will be met. You rely on local resources, assistance
from Voluntary Organizations, and wait for an answer
on a disaster declaration request. State and county
officials will continue to assess damage and determine
Governor’s Request for a Federal Disaster Declaration
is made to the President, through FEMA Regional II
and FEMA national offices. You will escort
state and federal legislators on tours of the impacted
areas. They may possibly advocate on your behalf in
Trenton or Washington; but all Request for
Federal Disaster Declarations must be made
formally, through FEMA.
on the Governor’s request, the President may
declare that a major disaster or emergency exists,
and activate an array of Federal programs to assist
in the response and recovery effort. The
terms “emergency declaration” and “disaster
declaration” are designations for specific jurisdictions
(usually counties), if they become eligible for federal
disaster assistance. Federal disaster area determinations
are not automatic, and can take as long as 30 days.
However, in severe incidents (such as Hurricane Floyd),
they usually come within hours or days after the event.
Denied requests may be appealed, and the NJOEM usually
assists with the appeal, if damage assessment data
can support it.
a Presidential Disaster Declaration is received),
FEMA establishes a Disaster Field Office (DFO) in
coordination with the NJOEM. The 800 Teleregistration
Number for residents’ disaster claims is operational.
FEMA establishes a Disaster Field Office to manage
the hundreds of disaster assistance employees who
will be assigned to affected areas. Experience most
of the following scenarios: Town Meetings where FEMA
and State staff can discuss the disaster relief effort
with community members; endless media interviews;
intense interaction with FEMA and State reps concerning
reimbursements to the municipality for disaster-related
damages; FEMA and State Community Relations personnel
traversing every neighborhood to encourage residents
to teleregister; questions from residents about disaster
programs; unexpected donations; FEMA inspectors verifying
damage and processing claims; community members who
may be exhausted, anxious, and grieving their losses.
Initially, FEMA will need your assistance escorting,
or even transporting disaster relief workers through
year later. An article in the local or regional
newspaper on the anniversary of the disaster. Is the
community on the road to recovery? Are resident’s
homes repaired? Have they been relocated out of floodplain
areas? Have they retrofitted the structures, if remaining
in the floodplains? What were the short and long-term
impacts ? What’s been done to prevent this from
happening the future?
you be able to answer these questions?
TYPES OF FEDERAL DISASTER ASSISTANCE
disaster assistance available under a major disaster
declaration falls into three general categories:
Assistance - aid to individuals, families and
Public Assistance - aid to public (and
certain private non-profit) entities for certain emergency
services and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged
Hazard Mitigation Assistance - funding
for measures designed to reduce future losses to public
and private property. In the event of a major disaster
declaration, all counties within the declared State
are eligible to apply for assistance under the Hazard
Mitigation Grant Program.
Not all federal disaster relief programs are activated
for every disaster. Presidential decisions about relief
programs are based on the preliminary damage assessment
and any subsequent information that may be discovered.
Some disaster declarations will provide only Individual
Assistance or only Public Assistance. Hazard mitigation
opportunities are available in most situations. Municipal
cooperation in the damage assessment process helps insure
that residents obtain as many benefits as possible under
brief overview of each of these programs follows.
ASSISTANCE – HELPS INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES
Assistance benefits individuals and families. In every
case, the disaster victim must register for assistance
to establish eligibility. The toll-free telephone registration
number is 1-800-462-9029 (or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for
the hearing or speech impaired). FEMA (or the providing
agency) will verify eligibility and need before assistance
is offered. Individual Assistance includes the following
Housing Assistance - assures that people whose
homes are damaged by disaster have a safe place to live
until repairs can be completed. These programs are designed
to provide funds for expenses that are not covered
by insurance. They are available only to homeowners
and renters who are legal residents of the United States
and who were displaced by the disaster.
Repair Assistance - helps repair a home to
a “habitable” condition. The amount of the
check is based on structural damage, as determined by
a FEMA inspection.
Rental assistance provides for rent
until affected structure becomes habitable.
Mortgage and Rental assistance (MRA)
provides a check to pay the rent or mortgage to prevent
eviction or foreclosure.
Individual and Family Grants - The
Individual and Family Grant Program (IFG) provides
funds for the necessary expenses and serious needs of
disaster victims that cannot be met through insurance
or other forms of disaster assistance (including low
interest loans from the Small Business Administration).
Applicants will be tested for a loan first.
To obtain assistance for housing and personal property,
applicants may be required to apply to the U.S. Small
Business Administration (SBA) for a disaster loan.
If the SBA determines the applicant ineligible for a
loan, or if the loan amount is insufficient, the applicant
is referred to the IFG program. The average grant IFG
check tends to be in the $2,000 to $4,000 range. Among
the needs that can be met through the IFG Program are
housing, personal property, medical, dental, funeral,
transportation and required flood insurance premiums.
Business Administration Disaster Loans - The
SBA can provide three types of disaster loans to qualified
homeowners and businesses: Home Disaster Loans to homeowners
and renters, Business Physical Disaster Loans to business
owners to repair or replace disaster-damaged property,
and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which provide capital
to small businesses and to small agricultural cooperatives
to assist them through the disaster recovery period.
many individuals the SBA disaster loan program is the
primary form of disaster assistance.
FEMA programs for individuals include Disaster Unemployment
Assistance, Legal Services, Tax Relief Considerations
and Crises Counseling.
ASSISTANCE – REIMBURSEMENT TO MUNICIPALITIES
Public Assistance funds the repair, restoration, reconstruction,
or replacement of a public facility or portion of the
infrastructure that is damaged or destroyed by a disaster.
Certain private nonprofit (PNP) organizations may also
receive assistance. Eligible PNP's include educational,
utility, emergency, medical, rehabilitation, and temporary
or permanent custodial care facilities (including those
for the aged and disabled), and other PNP facilities
that provide essential services of a governmental nature
to the general public.
As soon as practicable after the declaration, the State,
assisted by FEMA, conducts briefings for State, local
and PNP officials to inform them of the assistance available
and how to apply for it. Intent to apply for assistance
must be filed with the State within 30 days after the
area is designated eligible for assistance.
Projects fall into the following categories: Debris
removal, Emergency protective measures, Road systems
and bridges, Water control facilities, Public buildings
and contents, Public utilities, and Parks and Recreation.
For insurable structures within Special Flood Hazard
Areas, primarily buildings, assistance from FEMA is
reduced by the amount of insurance settlement that could
have been obtained under a standard NFIP policy. Municipalities
should insure public property in flood hazard areas.
For structures located outside of a SFHA, FEMA will
reduce the amount of eligible assistance by any insurance
reviews and approves the project applications and obligates
the Federal share of the costs (75 percent) to the State.
The State then disburses funds to local applicants.
small projects, payment of the Federal share of the
estimate is made upon approval of the project and no
further accounting to FEMA is required. For large projects,
payment is made on the basis of actual costs determined
after the project is completed; although interim payments
may be made as necessary. Once FEMA obligates funds
to the State, further management of the assistance,
including disbursement to subgrantees is the responsibility
of the NJOEM. FEMA will continue to monitor the recovery
progress to ensure the timely delivery of eligible assistance
and compliance with the law and regulations.
Mitigation refers to sustained measures enacted to reduce
or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from
natural hazards and their effects. In the long term,
mitigation measures reduce personal loss, save lives,
and reduce the cost to the nation of responding to and
recovering from disasters.
mitigation projects include acquisition or relocation
of properties located in high hazard areas; elevation
of flood prone structures; seismic and wind retrofitting
of existing structures; and protecting existing structures
LESSONS LEARNED – FROM THOSE WHO’VE
Loughlin, New Brunswick Business Administrator, advises:
“Keep good records of your expenditures and losses
– overtime, subcontractors, anything -- you can
translate those records into a well-written application
for disaster reimbursement. Initially, we were unfamiliar
with the reporting system. Once we understood the FEMA
reporting system, our Public Assistance application
moved smoothly.” Tropical Storm Floyd caused severe
damage to riverfront Boyd Park, flooded out the Police
Headquarters, caused high-rise evacuations, and ruined
historical restorations to the D&R Canal.
was difficult to try and put a value on the losses sustained
at Riverside Park, it’s always been city-owned
land, and improved over the years. But FEMA stood with
us; they wanted to help us put a good application together.
They were very helpful at a time when we needed them.
Remember that FEMA has a set of rules, and they are
required to work with them. At the end of the day we
were pleased with our reimbursement, it wasn’t
100%, but close to it; we were very thankful.”
a disaster, people rise to the occasion and forget about
boundaries. New Brunswick sent emergency personnel to
Bound Brook when we were in a crisis ourselves –
and I know many other communities did the same. In the
past 8 years I’ve been Business Administrator,
we’ve had 4 or 5 ‘100-year’ storms.
Make sure you have a plan in place in to deal with it;
make sure you have the right kind of insurance coverage.
Make sure you have your assets protected.”
Newton, which was impacted during the August 12-13,
weekend rainstorms and mudslides in Sussex and Morris
Counties: “Anyone can deliver municipal services
on a day-to-day basis. But when it comes to an emergency,
when citizens’ health and welfare are at stake,
that’s when we have to prove we can serve the
public, we have to shine,” notes Camille Furguiele
Newton Town Manager.
storms completely destroyed 1-½ miles of Newton’s
water mains, severely impacting its water supply. “We
arranged for a contractor to access Sparta’s system,
the State DEP was there on Monday to approve the project,
and by 2 p.m. we turned on two new wells. It went so
smoothly, most residents didn’t even know what
calls her municipal emergency management staff a “…team
like you wouldn’t believe,” and credits
planning, a yearly exercise, and training with being
able to prevent an emergency from becoming a disaster.
She advises other local officials to be “as forthcoming
as possible when, the State or FEMA requests information.
Don’t be intimidated by the reimbursement process.
Give them every piece of information they require, even
if you have to sit down and show them in an interview.
Budgetary analysis will be necessary. It’s worth
it in the long run.”
On October 30, 2000, H.R. 707 -- The Disaster Mitigation
Act of 2000 -- was signed into law, resulting in modifications
to federal disaster assistance programs. It is anticipated
that there will be increased emphasis on risk reduction
measures and limited changes to individual and public
assistance programs. Municipal officials should strongly
emphasize the importance of obtaining flood insurance
and rental insurance to community members. Further questions
or information contact: Mary J. Goepfert, APR Community
Relations Coordinator, NJOEM 609-538-6065; firstname.lastname@example.org.