When it comes to rebounding and rebuilding after a natural or man-made disaster, nothing is simple. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) exists to help with the process, but getting that help can be complicated. You have to know what FEMA can and can’t do for you, how to ask for its assistance, and how to tailor your request to meet the agency's requirements.
In the wake of some catastrophic event, the first step to take is to find out whether your situation even qualifies for FEMA assistance. Damaging as they can be, an ordinary rainstorm or gusty windstorm probably won’t cut it. You need a really substantial flood, a tropical storm, hurricane, tornado, or other event big enough to qualify as an honest-to-goodness disaster.
“Only a governor or the leader of a federally-recognized [native] tribe can make a request for a federal disaster declaration,” says Danon Lucas, External Affairs Specialist for FEMA Region 4. “The request is made through the regional FEMA office. State and federal officials conduct a preliminary damage assessment (PDA) to estimate the extent of the disaster and its impact on individuals and public facilities. This information is included in the governor's request to show that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and the local governments and that federal assistance is necessary.”
Your condo, co-op, or homeowners association should let the local or county emergency management staff know that your common-interest community needs to be included as part of the PDA, advises Evan Rosenberg, bureau chief of recovery for the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM).
FEMA offers two kinds of assistance: public and individual. “Public assistance is applied towards infrastructure, making a community whole—public works, utilities, roads, and so forth,” says Aaron Gallaher, the FDEM’s communications director. “Individual assistance is applied to survivors who have damaged homes and personal property.”