FEMA disaster relief is your biggest ally If you’ve ever lived through a hurricane, a wildfire, an earthquake or a major flood. They are the people who help Americans get on the road to recovery, through financial assistance and infrastructure repair.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began in 1979 as an effort to coordinate emergency response throughout the nation. In the past, more than 100 state and federal agencies handled disaster response. Jimmy Carter created FEMA through an executive order to consolidate the response.
In 2003, President George W. Bush folded FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security. Today, the agency is under threat. Instead, they believe, most of the responsibilities should be given back to the states and localities.
What is FEMA?
Summer is on its way, and if it’s like most recent summers, the nation is in for its share of natural disasters. That’s when FEMA steps in. While FEMA is best known for stepping in during and after hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, fires, and earthquakes, they also handle human-made disasters, such as hazardous material spills, bombings, and even war. They were among the responders as 9/11.
FEMA isn’t just there to help people after a disaster. They work with people to prevent damage beforehand. Through their Project Impact, they help individuals and communities steady structures for impending disasters. For example, they might help retrofit buildings in earthquake-prone San Francisco, or they might help board up homes in Florida that are in the path of a hurricane. During the Cold War, they even helped prepare buildings for a nuclear attack.
What does FEMA disaster relief entail?
FEMA disaster relief can assist first responders, but FEMA isn’t a first responder organization. Firefighters, police, paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and sometimes the National Guard are the first on the scene.
FEMA’s primary job is to get disaster victims back on their feet. They coordinate with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army in setting up care centers and shelters. They provide food, water, and with the help of the Red Cross, medical care. That’s just the beginning, though.
They also provide:
- FEMA offers temporary housing assistance by offering temporary rental grants, or if no rentals are available, they provide government housing
- If your insurance won’t pay for all of your repairs, FEMA can pitch in to help with the costs
- They provide money for homes that are completely destroyed and uninsured.
- If you need medical assistance, disaster-related or not, FEMA is there to assist
- They help cover dental bills
- They also help cover funeral expenses related to the disaster
- If your home is unlivable because of a disaster, FEMA can help with transportation and storage for your furniture. Sometimes, they help replaced destroyed personal property
- FEMA will assist you with moving expenses
- They help rebuild and repair damaged infrastructure, which includes bridges, roads, sewer lines and public buildings
- FEMA helps remove debris left behind by the disaster
H/T: How Stuff Works
What is the dispatch process for FEMA critical needs assistance?
FEMA can assist first responders, but FEMA isn’t a first responder organization. Firefighters, police, paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and sometimes the National Guard are the first on the scene. When FEMA arrives before a disaster, it’s to prepare for the inevitable by setting up aid stations, bringing supplies and helping people prepare homes and small businesses.
In most disasters, the President, usually at the request of the affected state’s governors, declares a national disaster. That allows the federal government to send assistance.
How long does it take for FEMA to arrive?
If there is prior warning, such as with hurricanes, the president appoints, upon FEMA’s recommendation, a Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO). The FCO manages the flow of information to rescue personnel and political leaders. He or she also sets up a field office near the disaster site.
FEMA’s biggest fumble to date was during Hurricane Katrina. Even then, FEMA was on the ground before the storm. Unfortunately, they lacked preparation. Here’s just one instance:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) has been accused of being so concerned about the possibility of a terrorist attack that it failed to prepare properly for a much more inevitable natural disaster.
After the authorities in Baton Rouge had prepared a field hospital for victims of the storm, Fema sent its first batch of supplies, all of which were designed for use against chemical attack, including drugs such as Cipro, which is designed for use against anthrax. “We called them up and asked them: ‘Why did you send that, and they said that’s what it says in the book’,” said a Baton Rouge official.
Source: The Guardian
Many also blamed New Orlean’s mayor and the governor of Louisiana. Most agree that many agencies and many people were ultimately to blame.
FEMA after Katrina
After Katrina, Americans lost trust in FEMA. Fortunately, they learned their lesson. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, FEMA received rave reviews for their response. They deployed some personnel three days before the storm hit. President Barack Obama declared the emergency declaration the day before the storm hit. He amended that to a major disaster declaration the day after the storm.
FEMA continues to receive criticism over its response in 2017 to Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in September. There were some FEMA personnel on the ground before the storm hit, but far fewer than were needed.
Once the government dispatches FEMA to a disaster area, they can stay for months or even years.
How to Qualify for FEMA Public Assistance
If a natural disaster has affected you, go to DisasterAssistance.gov to see if your area is eligible. Whether you are a renter or a homeowner, if you’ve lost your home to a disaster, FEMA might help with what insurance doesn’t cover.
If you run a small business, FEMA can’t directly help you, but they do partner with the Small Business Administration, which offers low-interest loans to help cover damages.
FEMA also offers burial assistance, assistance with moving, and childcare assistance. They even offer assistance in finding a new vehicle if the disaster destroys yours.
FEMA does not offer assistance for second homes.
To apply, call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). They will ask for your social security number, the address of the damaged home and your current address. They’ll need the name of your insurance company along with the account number. You’ll also be asked your annual income and for a description of the damage. If you’d like direct deposit into your account, they’ll need your bank account number and routing number.
Where to find a FEMA service center
To locate a FEMA disaster relief service center, AKA, a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center, you can go to FEMA’s website and type in your address. You can also download their free app from the Apple App Store or GooglePlay.
If you prefer not to download an app, you can text DRC and your zip code to 43362. They will text you the nearest locations. Standard message data rates apply.
You can also register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362 or TTY 800-462-7585. If you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362. Operators are multilingual and calls are answered seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CDT.
How long till I get paid after filling out a FEMA application
Once you are deemed eligible, a process which can vary in length depending on several factors, it only takes about 2-4 days before you see the money. Direct deposit is faster, but they can mail you a check. FEMA will only help with what insurance doesn’t cover. Their goal is to get you back on your feet, but not necessarily back to the same living standard as before.
FEMA and Disasters
At any given time, there are about 10,000 FEMA employees ready to be dispatched to the next disaster, whether natural or man-made. Most are reservists. Despite the good intentions of FEMA disaster relief workers, it is still a bureaucratic agency. Despite the fact that FEMA was formed to eliminate some of the multi-agency confusion, FEMA has to coordinate with several local and federal agencies.
FEMA and politics
In the worst of circumstances, FEMA disaster relief is a political tool. FEMA can’t do anything until the President declares a national emergency. Less than fair presidents can lavish resources on friendly states and hold back on others. Such accusations cloud President Trump in his response to Hurricane Maria and President Bush in his response to Hurricane Katrina. There is no proof that that was the case in either situation, but both responses show tremendous opportunities for improvements for FEMA disaster relief.
Scientists almost unanimously agree that climate change is a cause of increased natural disasters. However, under the Trump administration, FEMA is unconcerned. Their 2018-2022 strategic plan makes no mention of global climate change.
FEMA’s future is unclear. Washington Democrats want to strengthen the agency, while Republicans want to weaken it or eliminate it altogether.
Featured image: Public Domain, by Pete Souza, via the White House