Whether you’ve never experienced a disaster, haven’t had one for decades, or have been impacted by one recently, the following checklist provides a basic overview of the first steps for local leaders to take in the days and weeks immediately following a disaster. As a local leader, you will be tasked with helping homeowners through an extremely stressful time, and it’s essential that you can confidently provide them with clear instructions to start recovery off on the right foot.
1. Have a redundant accounting system in place to track time and attendance.
- Detailed records of your staff’s time and activities completed immediately before, during and after the storm are crucial for FEMA reimbursement. Have multiple accounting systems in place, including hard copies and electronic documentation that can be uploaded to cloud storage.
2. Identify and contact key recovery officials.
- Get contact information for your regional FEMA contact, your state emergency management agency, and local charitable or recovery organizations like the Red Cross and Catholic charities.
- For municipalities, have contact information for key county officials, like the emergency manager, county judge, police and fire departments, and public health department.
3. Check what your local hotel stock is.
- Hotels in the region will fill up quickly. FEMA will provide vouchers to evacuated or displaced residents for temporary housing assistance, but will not tell them where to go. Be ready to direct residents to hotels with available accommodations.
- If there is a shortage of rooms in your area or you have trouble connecting with local hotels, consider reaching out to hotels at the corporate level for assistance.
4. Locate food and water resources, and let residents know where they can pick them up.
- Reach out to local grocery stores to find out which stores have not been impacted by the storm and can still supply essentials like food, water and batteries.
- FEMA will likely have set up one or a few PODs (places of distribution) in your community. Provide residents with a map of POD locations.
- Provide your county government with information on where PODs and operational grocery stores are located because they likely will not have this information.
5. Identify safe locations for FEMA outreach.
- Provide residents with a safe space with online access to apply for FEMA assistance. If internet is not an option, provide a space where they can apply in person.
- Use local media outlets and social media to communicate FEMA application locations.
6. There’s no such thing as too much documentation in disaster recovery – photograph and document everything.
- This goes for any government entity, homeowner, renter or business that plans to apply for FEMA assistance, make an insurance claim, or seek federal assistance later on.
- Make sure your residents and businesses are aware that they must photograph any and all damage before they begin cleaning, removing debris or making repairs.
- Applicants also need to save receipts for any out-of-pocket expenses to be reimbursed and to avoid compliance errors down the road as more sources of assistance become available.
7. Remind homeowners to contact their insurance company as soon as possible.
- Even if they don’t have flood insurance and their homeowners insurance won’t cover flooding, making an insurance claim is required to be eligible for federal assistance.
8. Don’t forget about your businesses.
- Conduct outreach or hold a roundtable for local businesses. You need to collect information on which business can and cannot reopen and what their needs are.
- When your community assesses damage, including losses incurred by local businesses can help you be eligible for additional funding.
9. Make sure homeowners and businesses have a clear understanding of the funding options available to them and what they entail.
- As part of the FEMA application process, homeowners are typically required to apply or a Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan. Be sure residents understand that SBA provides disaster loans that must be paid back; FEMA and the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program provide grants that don’t have to be paid back.
- Encourage local businesses to go after SBA loans. They provide low-interest loans that can help impacted businesses get back on their feet. CDBG-DR programs can provide assistance to businesses, but it is often more difficult to be eligible and remain compliant.