Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Visit to FEMA

For those of you who are out of the United States, FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency.   Because a neighboring county had an earthquake in which millions of dollars worth of damage was done to their schools and their homes, and aftershocks continue, they have set up a FEMA center in a shopping center some distance from here.
      I visited them yesterday even though I am from a different county other than the true disaster area because I wanted specific printed information on how homeowners can assess their homes following an earthquake, for hidden damage.  I wanted this in part for my own family, and in part for another post I am planning for this blog. It is apparently not possible to have any of the FEMA workers even speak with you unless you have registered with them, which means providing name, address, social security number, family members names, total gross income, (which they will confirm with IRS)and they want social security numbers for all of them too.  I have so many family members I don't know all their numbers, so they had to talk to me without those.  Like most government agencies, they have a process.  You register, they decide which persons and which departments you see, and after several hours, I got to the person who had the informational brochures I wanted.
The "golden paperwork" and reason I invested all the travel time, and a couple of hours playing the "FEMA game"

Apparently, I was treated as if I were a claimant because they expect to expand the disaster area into my county soon, and because I am registered, we will be eligible for "services".   I explained that I didn't want their money, and that I have earthquake insurance as part of my homeowners insurance (unlike most people) but that I wanted written information on how one assesses as to whether a licensed home inspector needs to be called to furthur review issues in ones house following a serious earthquake.  We were told that,  They "had plenty of money allocated for our inspections and needed repairs", and that there are "likely to be far more damage in our structures, and infrastructure such as private wells and septic."  This scared ME, and my husband is an engineer, and I live and breathe disaster preparedness AND I live in a new home pretty well fortified for most disasters.   I did come away with two brand new carbon monoxide detectors.  FEMA fears that many of the families who believe that they were not adversely affected by August's earthquake or by subsequent aftershocks may have damage to chimneys or to vents for fireplaces or even gaslogs. They worry about fires and deaths this year, when it turns cold and these devices are used, due to carbon monoxide poisoning. I happily took the two new detectors, and I will replace the ones I have moving the older ones to the barn and another outbuilding.
       My husband was not happy that I visited FEMA and provided some personal information.  FEMA is a federal agency which has the ability to condemn your home.  Certainly in our case this is exceedingly unlikely because we have no structural damage of which I am conclusively aware.  I did the rational thing by obtaining information and considering a professional post earthquake inspection by a private non-FEMA contractor.  My husband's belief is that any help from any federal US agency comes with strings attached, and that rather than any help from them, he would rather see a decrease in his federal taxes.  I understand his view and although I believe that in our case I would not accept any help from FEMA, this is a luxury we in fact have, because we don't have damage.   Initially, FEMA and the Obama administration refused federal aid to Central Virginia following the main quake.  Our governor appealed, and afterward the government agreed to aid those in Louisa County.  There remains much skepticism there, as things needed to be repaired well in advance of FEMA actually agreeing to aid citizens with repairs.  Anyone who could has long since made repairs.
        In the US, we have much mistrust for our federal agencies.  Many of us have learned that aid from them comes with strings, restrictions and controls and is often less competent help than that which we can procure for ourselves. Traditionally, wealthier people fix their own things at their own expense, and poorer people wait and rely on FEMA.  Since people have waited for repairs and life after disasters is very stressful, this no doubt fuels the anger and mistrust so many people have for FEMA, which incidentally, has only existed since the mid seventies.      Certainly, if you reside in the US and need post disaster help, your decision, and each decision needs to be made on an individual basis.
          In a couple of weeks I expect to receive a letter thanking me for coming in but telling me that we have been determined to be outside the designated disaster service area at this time.

After seeing a police officer, then a uniformed FEMA official in charge, registrants are shuttled to a number of particular tables or departments designed to meet their specific needs, whether those needs are Small Business Administration loans for lost business expenses due to the disaster, or whether those are inspection needs, etc.


  My understanding is still that FEMA, under certain circumstances CAN condemn homes, however, in the interest of disseminating the information as FEMA might wish, and not disservicing our readers, I am including the official information from the FEMA office itself:

FEMA Does Not Condemn Homes 

Release Date: November 29, 2011
Release Number: 4042-013
» More Information on Virginia Earthquake

MIDLOTHIAN, Va. -- Some Louisa County residents are reluctant to register with FEMA for earthquake assistance because they fear FEMA will condemn their homes and they'll have no place to live.  Many earthquake survivors have told Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) Community Relations teams, they have not registered because of this fear.
"It's very important that everyone understands," Don Keldsen, Federal Coordinating Officer added, "FEMA does not condemn property."
"We urge Louisa County residents and business owners who suffered earthquake-related damage, to begin the disaster application process by registering online at
  • or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362),
  • Disaster assistance applicants, who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, should call 1-800-462-7585,
  • Anyone who uses 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS) should call 1-800-621-3362.  The toll-free telephone numbers are available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday, and, added Keldsen,
  • Face-to-face assistance is available at the FEMA/VDEM Disaster Recovery Center in the City of Louisa.  The DRC is located in the Triangle Plaza, 502 E. Main St., and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.  It is closed on Sundays."
Whether you apply online, over the phone or visit the DRC, you should have the following important information:
  • Your Social Security number.
  • Current and pre-disaster address.
  • A telephone number where you can be contacted.
  • Insurance information.
  • Total household annual income.
  • A routing and account number from your bank (only necessary if you want to have disaster assistance funds transferred directly into your bank account).
  • A description of your losses that were caused by the disaster.
FEMA Assistance can include:
  • Rental payments for temporary housing for those whose homes are uninhabitable.  Initial assistance may be provided for up to two months for homeowners and renters.  Assistance may be extended if requested after the initial period based on a review of individual applicant requirements.
  • Grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary and functional.
  • Grants to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, state and charitable aid programs.
"Once you register, a FEMA inspector who can identify earthquake damage will call to set up an appointment and visit the property."
The FEMA inspector will ask questions that are important in determining what damages are eligible for FEMA grant programs, Keldsen explained.  That information is protected by the Privacy Act. "FEMA does not share this information - and we do not condemn property. FEMA inspects damaged property for disaster recovery program purposes only."
  • The inspection is free.
  • It generally takes 30-40 minutes and consists of inspecting all areas of the home and personal property. 
  • The inspector enters damage-related information into a hand-held computer and sends that data to a FEMA processing center.
  • The inspector does not determine whether an applicant is eligible for assistance.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
Last Modified: Tuesday, 29-Nov-2011 15:55:19

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