by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Katie McBride
Many homeowners face natural disasters that force them to leave their belongings behind and evacuate their homes. Before returning home, homeowners should ensure that local officials have determined that it is safe to re-enter their neighborhood. An InterNACHI® Certified Professional Inspector®, as well as a FEMA inspector, can assist homeowners in documenting any damage that occurred to the home and property, as well as make necessary recommendations.
The following information can help when dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster:
- Inspect the property carefully to identify post-disaster hazards (e.g., mold, chemical spills, live wires, structural damage).
- Take photos of damage to the building and its contents to any document losses.
- Clean up debris and damage.
- Keep records and receipts for each cost incurred in cleaning up or repairing your home.
Look up your address at DisasterAssistance.gov to find out whether your area is in a presidentially declared disaster area eligible for FEMA’s Individual Assistance (IA) Program.
If you’re a renter or homeowner whose primary home is in a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration Area, you may qualify for assistance and should apply for FEMA assistance, even if you’re not yet sure what kind of assistance you’ll need. You can apply for FEMA assistance at DisasterAssistance.gov or by visiting FEMA.gov.
If you have not already contacted your insurance agent to file a claim, do so as soon as possible. Failure to file a claim with your insurance company may affect your eligibility for some assistance. For a flood disaster, you’ll need to file a Proof of Loss with your insurance company within 60 days of the flood.
If your primary home was damaged, you will receive a call within 10 days of submitting your FEMA application from a FEMA home inspector to schedule an appointment to visit you. In the event of a catastrophic disaster, all timeframes may be slightly longer.
The FEMA inspector will assess disaster-caused damage to your real and personal property. There is no fee for the Inspection. Inspectors are contractors, not FEMA employees, but your inspector will have picture identification. You or someone at least 18 years of age, living in the damaged home at the time of the disaster, must be present for your scheduled appointment.
Homeowners can contact local officials to request Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds for qualified projects. Contact your state or local emergency management or building department to find an HMGP point of contact to gain more information about eligibility.
Local officials may share information about HMGP through:
- social media online;
- state and local government websites;
- traditional media outlets (newspapers, radio, television, billboards, etc.); and/or
- town hall meetings.
Figure 1. Disaster assessment flowchart (image courtesy of FEMA)
Figure 2. Disaster assessment flowchart descriptions (image courtesy of FEMA)
Decide on your recovery options: Will you repair, repair and mitigate, or sell the property? Consider the following information when making that decision:
- level of damage and structural condition;
- technical feasibility of repairing the structure;
- health hazards that must be remediated;
- building code requirements;
- costs of the various approaches;
- insurance and your other financial resources, including:
- flood insurance payment (or other insurance payments);
- FEMA Assistance to Individuals and Households;
- Small Business Administration (SBA) loans;
- support from non-governmental or nonprofit or voluntary organizations; and/or
- Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) funding through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
- Repair the structure, which means to return a structure to the pre-disaster condition.
- Repair the damage and mitigate against future damage, which means to repair and to modify the structure to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of damage in the future.
- If you decide to repair and mitigate the structure or to sell it, find out if there is a possibility of qualifying for FEMA mitigation funding.
- Contact local government officials to learn if the local government will be applying for Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) funds. There are three HMA programs:
- Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP)
- Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program
- Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) program
- ICC funding (which may be available through your NFIP insurance policy)
- Sell the property:
- Local jurisdictions may offer to acquire your property and permanently restrict it as open space to eliminate future disaster damage.
- The structure may be relocated to a safer location.
- The structure may be demolished and you may rebuild at a safer location.
- Local jurisdictions may also receive funds from the state and FEMA to help pay for property acquisitions. The following conditions may apply:
- only occurs if the property owner is willing;
- is a fee-simple purchase of property, which transfers full ownership of the property, including the underlying title, to another party;
- requires an appraisal to determine fair market value of the property and structure;
- results in the homeowner receiving fair market value of the structure and land after deducting any duplication of benefits received from other programs; and
- results in open space that must be permanently maintained as open space.
Homeowners may start their HMGP-funded projects only after notification of approval by their state, tribal, or local government official. Any work started before FEMA review and approval is ineligible for funding, which means that FEMA will not reimburse the cost for any mitigation work already started or completed prior to FEMA approval. However, this does not include basic repair work necessary to make the residence habitable.
If a natural disaster has forced a homeowner to evacuate their home, dealing with the impact can be devastating and difficult. When returning home, homeowners should make sure to properly inspect their home by contacting an InterNACHI® Certified Professional Inspector® or FEMA Inspector to properly assess the damage and to make necessary recommendations. If your primary home is in a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration area, you may qualify for assistance and should apply for FEMA assistance. Homeowners can contact local officials to request Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds for qualified projects.