Disaster Preparation & Recovery: Working with FEMA

By February 4, 2015 February 19th, 2015 uPDate

We all know the devastating impact natural disasters have on power systems. When these disasters occur, the first priorities are ensuring public safety and rebuilding of the power facilities as quickly as possible. This requires a lot of coordination with contractors and crews outside your system. To be prepared for what comes later if a federal disaster is declared, it is important to do some pre-disaster planning so that your damage assessment personnel have the necessary equipment and processes in place. There are also certain things you can do during the Category- A (debris removal), Category-B (emergency protective measures) and initial damage assessment phases of the Category-F work to prepare for the arrival of FEMA’s public assistance personnel who will manage the reimbursement process.

A large part of this process is providing the documentation required to satisfy state and FEMA regulations in order to qualify for a public assistance grant. Moreover, FEMA funding is only eligible to the extent an applicant can provide documentation of eligible costs related to recovery efforts. Undocumented and unreasonable costs are not eligible for reimbursement.

The grant process leading to damage cost reimbursement begins as a Project Worksheet (PW). A FEMA project officer usually prepares the PW and makes a recommendation for reimbursement. After the initial kickoff meeting, the project officer will make a visit to see the damaged sites, and collect any information available to be used in the PW. If additional damages are found after the initial FEMA site visits, they should be reported to the state immediately to allow them and the FEMA staff the opportunity to visit the additional sites so the PW Scope of Work can be revised. Assistance for any newly discovered damaged facilities must be requested within 60 days of the first substantive meeting (typically the Kickoff Meeting) with FEMA.

As much as possible, keep good records of the damaged facilities by recording GPS readings, keeping a detailed description of the damaged facilities and taking photos of every damaged structure, line, equipment, etc. This information will be used by the FEMA Project Specialist when writing the PW used to establish the reimbursement to your system. Since available local staff may be spread thin, Patterson & Dewar can help with these assessments and setting up your records for quick turn-around of information.

After the damages are repaired and the system is somewhat back to normal comes the difficult task for the utility staff of allocating the actual costs, both internal costs and contractor costs, for labor, materials and equipment for each specific damage site. This is usually more difficult when dealing with contractors’ invoices, since there may not be a breakdown of costs for specific structures. Developing a reasonable method for allocating these costs may expedite the FEMA process and should be discussed with the project specialist or public assistance coordinator (PAC) early in the process. A PW must go through a review process before it is approved. After FEMA approves the PW, the funds are transferred to the state. It is then the state’s responsibility to disburse the funds to the applicant.

P&D can assist with all phases of the FEMA process including:

  • Advising and establishing pre-event documentation procedures
  • Providing field & office staff to aid in system restoration and documentation
  • Assisting with documentation needed for FEMA reimbursement in all aspects of a declared event

Contact Us for more information.