Tips for Accelerating Debris Removal

Debris Removal Management

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A mattress, paint cans and other debris removal sit outside a home after Hurricane Matthew.

Debris sits out front of a home after after Hurricane Matthew brushed the coast of Florida in 2016. Photo courtesy of FEMA. 


Under FEMA’s Public Assistance debris removal alternative procedure pilot program, communities can reap major benefits from accelerating debris removal after a federally declared disaster. IBTS spoke with Assistant City Manager of Port Orange, Florida, Alan Rosen about his experiences using FEMA’s debris removal alternative procedures after Hurricanes Matthew and Hermine.

Rosen’s tips provide advice and actions localities can take to speed up the debris removal process after a disaster without sacrificing FEMA compliance. Be sure to also check out the IBTS Debris Management Plan Wizard, which provides a step-by-step guide through the debris management process, including FEMA requirements.

Know how your locality can benefit from FEMA’s new debris removal alternative procedures.

Under the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act (SRIA), FEMA now reimburses localities for:

  • Accelerated debris removal – FEMA reimburses for 85% of costs incurred during the first 30 days, 80% during the next 60 days and 75% for the following 90 days.
  • Straight time force account labor – FEMA reimburses for the base and overtime wages of existing employees and hiring of additional staff when localities use their own labor forces.
  • Debris Management plans – Communities with a pre-existing debris management plan will receive a one-time 2 percent increase in debris removal reimbursement levels.

Have contracts in place with debris removal services AND a debris removal monitoring service.

  • Pre-arranged contracts typically have a lower cost than those put into place after a disaster hits.
  • Debris removal contractors can’t start the process until debris removal contractors are on site, so it’s important to have contracts in place for both.

Have a plan for debris removal monitoring.

  • FEMA requires debris removal monitoring to ensure all Public Assistance funded debris removal is compliant with program guidelines. See “FEMA’s Public Assistance Debris Monitoring Guide” and debris monitoring fact sheet for more information.
  • Take advantage of FEMA’s free debris monitoring training for local staff. “You will have staff considered essential employees who have to report to work and be paid, but may not have work to do. You can use them as debris monitors,” says Rosen.
  • Make sure local staff capture all required data. Consider distributing checklists to ensure uniform data collection across all local debris monitors.

Use a combination of contracted and local resources.

  • Local resources can provide more immediate services, but contractors have geolocation equipment that can track where trucks are at all time to provide more accurate monitoring data.
  • Use both to ensure efficient and compliant debris removal.

Make sure all contracts are in CFR 200 compliance.

  • Because localities can’t give preference to local companies, make sure contracts specify that the contractor is able to respond in XX number of hours. This allows you to use a local solid waste provider while staying compliant.

Set a realistic debris removal timeline, but be aware of time constraints.

  • “You can be two or three weeks into the disaster before you are able to start actually clearing debris,” Rosen says. “It’s artificially difficult to get debris removal done within 30 days of the disaster declaration.”
  • Be aware that the debris monitoring firm needs about a week to train its crew of temporary employees.
  • Lack of local debris removal experience and expertise can slow down operations. Consider reviewing debris removal plans with all stakeholders annually.

Be prepared for the initial push.

  • “The first step is pushing debris off the roadway,” says Rosen. “It does not require monitoring. Ideally, you can shorten this phase down to 24 hours.”
  • Use local resources and outside contractors, but ensure that all service providers sign contracts that are in CFR 200 compliance. This period is often less-regulated and localities can overlook CFR 200 compliance.

Have pre-approved debris management sites.

  • Debris management sites should be as close to the disaster area as possible.
  • Avoid using the landfill as a preliminary debris staging site to prevent residents from bringing debris on their own. This can cause long lines that prevent dump trucks from dropping off material and further delay picking up more debris.

Before the storm, ask debris removal and debris removal monitoring contractors to stage.

  • Debris removal contractors should shelter their crews and have equipment ready to go as soon as the storm recedes. Because the debris removal process can’t begin without debris removal monitoring, ensure debris monitors are ready to work in tandem with removal services.

See more debris removal management tips from Dr. Chuck Carr Brown, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, and check out IBTS’s tips for debris removal in rural communities and developing a debris removal communications plan

Relevant legislation, policy or regulation: 

Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013. Pub. L. 113-2, div. B, Jan. 29, 2013

2 CFR, Part 200 — Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards 


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