Hurricane Harvey was Texas’ only FEMA declared storm in 2017. However, it was huge with 53 counties receiving a PA declaration and 41 counties receiving an IA declaration. Harvey-related Public Assistance grants totaled over $644 million and Individual Assistance grants totaled over $1.6 billion. These declarations were expedited, so we cannot compare the actual dollars to the Preliminary Damage Assessment numbers.

Here’s the map:

Florida had only 1 state declaration in 2017, but it was Hurricane Irma and it affected every county in the state. All 67 counties received FEMA Public Assistance declarations for $58 million and 49 counties received FEMA Individual Assistance declarations for over $1 billion in disaster assistance.

Here’s the map:

Tennessee had severe storms in May 2017 that cost over $31 million in FEMA Public Assistance disaster assistance. What is interesting is how the storms affected either the southwest or the east-central part of the state. Were other counties affected that did not meet the threshold?

Here’s the map:

We’ll be at the Tennessee Emergency Managers meeting next week to learn more.

Hurricane Matthew may have affected North Carolina more than any other state. Looking at the impact, over half of the state received FEMA declarations. We don’t have good numbers on the severity of the impact from county to county since FEMA expedited the declarations for the state. When this happens, there are no preliminary damage assessment numbers collected.

Here’s the map:

We’ll be at the North Carolina Emergency Managers meeting next week to learn more.

Disasters in the United States are increasing in size and destructiveness. As a result of an increased numbers of disaster declarations, FEMA is considering new rules to incentivize local policies that improve community resilience and reduce federal costs for future incidents.
FEMA Logo Headquarters in Washington, DC
FEMA’s proposed Public Assistance Deductible framework rule will change how state and local governments apply for and receive FEMA disaster assistance. The rule proposes a Public Assistance Grant “deductible” – similar to a deductible for health and car insurance – that a state must meet before receiving federal disaster assistance. FEMA would base the deductible amount based on the state’s risk and fiscal capacity.
By implementing a deductible requirement the hope is to lower future recovery costs by incentivizing states to be better prepared for disasters. FEMA proposes to offset the deductible amount by allowing state’s to apply for “credits” which may include policies and procedures for building code enforcement, emergency management programs, and mitigation projects. If a state has not paid its annual deductible and receives a major disaster declaration, then the affected state must first cover the that amount (through state-funded projects) before a Public Assistance reimbursement takes place.
The deductible rule mostly affects infrastructure projects. FEMA would continue to fund evacuation, life safety, and property protection as well as emergency protective measures and debris cleanup regardless of the deductible requirement. This will ensure the initial response to the disaster is not hindered by this rule.
From FEMA’s perspective incentivizing state behavior to reduce disaster cost can help better prepare communities for disaster. A study by the Multi-Hazards Mitigation Council claims that for every $1 spent in mitigation activities, $4 is saved in disaster recovery. Having states financially invest in community resilience programs may assist in curtailing the rising costs of disasters in our country and the federal spending being distributed to these disasters.
The emergency management community does have a concern about potential documentation requirements that may result from this rule. A deductible will undoubtedly require a more thorough damage assessment and financial expenditure tracking process to assess the disaster costs. Such a process will then need to identify those locally funded projects that could satisfy the deductible amounts. In addition, disaster cost tracking may need to be collected on smaller incidents since those costs may apply to the deductible for a larger incident.
Smaller jurisdictions may be particularly susceptible. With many communities not having a full-time devoted emergency manager, there is concern that these communities may not be able to support additional resource requirements needed for documentation. These communities would then need to turn to the state for additional help.
Lastly, conflicting priorities during a response is another concern. Some local infrastructure projects, emergency repairs in particular, are hastily performed to reopen local services. In these cases documentation on local resources expended tend to be an afterthought since tracking financial costs on FEMA Project Worksheets can be time consuming. If accounting for these projects are critical towards meeting a deductible, local governments will need to turn to more automated processes to document disaster costs.
How to Plan
We have yet to hear what the new administration has in store for the FEMA Public Assistance Deductible, or if there will be any changes to the current state of the proposal.  However, there are some analysts who think that this rule may survive the current anti-regulation climate in Washington.
Here are some ways that local emergency managers can start to plan for this new regulation:
  1. Track the PA Deductible through the rulemaking process. With public comments recently closing and a new FEMA Administrator nominated, this process could move more quickly. You’ll need to understand the potential impacts that credits may have as well as understand the documentation requirements that will result in the rule change. Stay tuned to this blog for future updates.
  2. Start a local damage assessment program. Planning your damage assessment program before an incident will ensure you have the resources, tools and processes aligned to quickly conduct a comprehensive damage assessment and document the critical items needed to receive disaster assistance. Sign up for a short course here.
  3. Research automated solutions. Disaster management software packages such as Crisis Track, can help you automate disaster cost tracking, saving you time and improving the accuracy associated with damage assessment and completing FEMA documentation.
Even in our current process, we still must rely on gathering accurate damage assessments, disaster costs and other financial data from our local jurisdictions.  These efforts are sure to become more important as we look towards future Public Assistance Program changes.  Planning for these changes ahead of time will help ensure that you can receive disaster assistance when your community most needs it.

The storms could not have struck at a more inconvenient time – not only falling on a holiday, but also occurring on a Friday into Saturday. On December 25, 2015 a large storm complex produced damaging winds and heavy rains from Texas through New England.

Source: AccuWeather 2015

In Georgia the flooding from these storms would affect 33 counties and require $14.5 million in disaster assistance. With FEMA recently releasing disaster assistance data on the event, we can evaluate how damage assessment software changed the process for a small Georgia County collecting disaster costs and applying for disaster assistance.

Dade County (population 16,633) was one of the 33 Georgia counties affected by these storms. As many emergency managers in smaller counties are, Alex Case, the County’s emergency manager, is dual-tasked with responsibilities for emergency services as well as information technology for the county.

When the storm’s effects became known, Alex used Crisis Track – a recently purchased disaster management software solution – to view damage reports from the storm, perform a local damage assessment on roads and structures, and track the County’s labor and equipment time spent. By implementing some automated processes during the disaster, Alex could concentrate efforts on the response. Alex was able to quickly map damage areas to effectively manage resource deployment. Once Alex saw the disaster costs exceed FEMA Public Assistance thresholds for the County, he electronically submitted reports and maps from the system to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).

Dade County then used Crisis Track to electronically document the local damage assessment in the field and attached photographs, which was especially useful in documenting difficult-to-explain scenarios of damage. The local damage assessment estimated $1,767,750 in disaster costs from road damage on 14 sites.

Dade County 2015 Storms

This estimate matched the damage impact amount that GEMA’s Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) teams reported in the FEMA Declaration Letter for DR-4259. In fact, one of the few change made by the PDA teams was to reclassify a blocked road from a landslide from a Category C road damage to Category A Debris issue. Because the local damage assessment was accurate and complete, the PDA Teams could concentrate on validating the costs instead of identifying damage, which greatly sped up the PDA reporting process to FEMA.

Dade County alsoused Crisis Track to track the County’s labor and equipment time spend working on disaster-related activities. The system has the ability to store inventories of labor and equipment rates and track time automatically through the mobile application. However, with the recent purchase Dade County had not yet rolled out training to the Public Works Department before the incident occurred. So, Alex’s team manually entered time records into the system. With the selectable labor and equipment inventories, the system still made manual entry much easier and serves as a good example for how a manual collection process could be done. FEMA Public Assistance data show that grants covered all hours reported inside of Crisis Track.

With additional responsibilities being placed on emergency managers at local levels, smaller county and municipal emergency managers like Alex are implementing stress and time saving efforts to alleviate pressures during disasters. During this disaster, Dade County not only saved time during the local damage assessment, but also accurately tracked financial expenditures. The electronic data collected helped reduce typical State and FEMA issues associated with the financial aspects of disasters and provide their community the ability to receive much needed assistance in a timely manner.

(for more information on how Crisis Track can help your local government including a free trial of the software, please visit:

Alabama Emergency Managers had one declaration in 2016 that was caused by a series of storms at the end of December 2015. The damage was pretty widespread where 39 of Alabama’s 68 counties received a FEMA Public Assistance declaration.

Here’s a map:

As you can see, there was no defined pattern to the intensity of the damage. This is probably a result of multiple storms having impacted different parts of the State. We’ll be discussing this further at Alabama’s Association of Emergency Managers conference in Prattville this week.

South Carolina Emergency Managers were busy because of Hurricane Mathew. There were 26 counties that received FEMA declarations, and all but two of the counties received both Individual Assistance and Public Assistance. Here’s a map:

Because the declarations happened shortly after the storm, FEMA has not publish impact numbers as a result of the Preliminary Damage Assessment.