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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.
ANALYSIS
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.

27December2015StormComplex
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: www.crisistrack.com)

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.

Florida had two major storms in 2016: Hurricane Hermine and Hurricane Mathew. Interestingly, each storm affected opposite coasts of Florida with no overlapping counties.  Here’s a map we compiled showing the total impact in dollars FEMA-published declaration letters:
FloridaDeclarations
What’s interesting here is that many more counties received declarations than had PDA impact numbers. Of course, there’s many reasons for this: Mathew was quickly declared and counties may have had more disaster costs identified after Florida sent the initial declaration letter. The latter shows the need for damage assessment software to more quickly pass disaster costs to the State.

We recently mapped the total impact dollars from Washington’s preliminary damage assessments, given that the state has seen quite a few disasters recently.  Washington had 58 county declarations in 2015 and 31 county declarations so far in 2016.  That’s a lot for a state with only 26 counties.  Check out the distribution of impact across the whole state:

There’s a definite pattern in the western and northeastern parts of the state.

We’ll find out more when we exhibit at the WSEMA conference next week.

Kentucky emergency managers had a very busy time in 2015 and 2016.  In 2015 Kentucky had 183 county declarations, and 20 county declarations so far in 2016.

If we take a look at the PDA totals from 2015 we see that most of the estimated disaster costs occurred in the eastern portion of the state and around Louisville.

We’ll be at the Kentucky Emergency Services conference this week to learn more.

We’re always looking to improve the damage assessment processes.  The State of Arkansas has had a particularly busy 2016 so far.  To date 44 Arkansas counties have received Public Assistance declarations, some have multiple declarations.

You can check out each county’s Preliminary Damage Assessment totals and see how they are distributed throughout the state (it may take a few seconds to load):

I’m curious why some counties have high values where as their neighbors have no values.  I’d love to overlay some historic weather data to see which counties were hit the hardest.  Do smaller sized counties have a disadvantage when reporting?  Which counties receive EMPG funds?  Are there other economic factors to consider?
We’ll also be at the Arkansas Emergency Management conference next week and will try to find out more information.

 

 

In the past 10 years we have seen GIS in Emergency Management move from paper maps on the wall to Situational Awareness Viewer Apps to GIS sharing platforms like ArcGIS Online and to mobile applications (like damage assessment apps).  Today’s most successful Emergency Management software is interoperable, geographic based, reliable in any environmental conditions, and accessible on mobile devices.  Here’s the GIS Trends in Emergency Management presentation from a recent Emergency Manager’s Meeting:

GIS Trends in Emergency Management