Disaster Recovery - Who Do You Call?
by Ruby Bayan
Disasters happen. Natural calamities like floods, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tidal waves, as well as man-made disturbances like explosions and riots, can wreak havoc in your otherwise safe and secure household. And the resulting personal injury and property damage, whether minor, considerable, or catastrophic, can be a major setback, if not an extremely traumatic experience, to you and your family.
Fortunately, here in the USA, the preservation of life and property is paramount. So, aside from insurance companies that individuals contract to cover personal health and belongings, several emergency management organizations exist mainly to assist the American people in times of disaster.
Since 1989, most of the states, cities, and counties all over the USA have been equipped to handle 911 calls for medical, police, and fire emergencies. Subsidized by the states and a little over a dollar a month from phone subscribers, 911 emergency systems remain sufficiently equipped to address life-threatening situations.
Furthermore, practically all the states have a local Emergency Management Agency, whose sole mission is to "prepare, implement and maintain programs to plan for, respond to, recover from and mitigate emergencies and disasters of all types that threaten the lives and property of the citizens and the environment."
Of course, it is always best to be prepared for any type of disaster. The aggressive mass media in the US helps spread information to the citizens, encouraging homeowners to be aware of nature's temperament in their specific regions, advising everyone to be alert to warnings, and educating members of the family on how to stay safe during and after a disaster.
But disasters can be unpredictable and devastating. Despite a significant level of awareness and preparedness, there's still a chance you may find yourself emerging from a shelter or evacuation center and returning to a washed out, burned down, or ripped up home. Thankfully, your family members are safe, but what about your house and belongings? How will you recover from this tragedy? Who will you call for help?
A Gift from the American People
A humanitarian organization of volunteers, and just one of more than 170 national societies that are part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the American Red Cross exists primarily to provide relief to disaster victims. Working behind the scenes, Red Cross "Damage Assessment Teams" penetrate a disaster-affected area to examine the extent and type of damage to houses, apartments, and mobile homes. This way they are able to determine how they can best be of service.
And to ensure that the affected community's needs are efficiently and effectively addressed, Red Cross workers interface and coordinate with government agencies, labor unions, businesses, the media, community groups, and other volunteer agencies. Together, these entities help disaster victims return to living normally and independently as quickly as possible.
The American Red Cross has local chapters in practically all of the states. Be sure you know how to contact yours before you may actually need to. A list of the Red Cross Disaster Services is also available online. Remember that all Red Cross assistance is given free of charge, "as a gift from the American people."
Protecting the Nation's Infrastructure
Founded in 1979, the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- FEMA -- is an independent agency of the federal government, reporting to the President. Its mission: "to reduce loss of life and property and protect our nation's critical infrastructure from all types of hazards through a comprehensive, risk-based, emergency management program of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery."
FEMA's mission gives the agency a vital role in each stage of the disaster life cycle -- from teaching people how to survive a calamity, to training emergency managers; from coordinating federal response to a disaster, to making disaster assistance available to states, communities, businesses and individuals.
Individual assistance programs such as low interest loans (through the Farm Service Agency or the Small Business Administration, cash grants, housing assistance, unemployment benefits, tax refunds, crisis counseling, and legal counseling, are all coordinated through FEMA, aimed at helping disaster-stricken people and businesses get back on their feet.
If you are a disaster victim, you can submit an application for a "Disaster Housing Grant" or "Individual and Family Grant" at any one of FEMA's National Processing Service Centers.
Building Better, Stronger Communities
Joining forces with other federal and state agencies to implement disaster recovery assistance, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) makes available mortgage insurance (providing 100 percent financing, with no down payment requirement) for individuals and families whose homes were destroyed or substantially damaged in a Presidentially-declared disaster area.
The objective of HUD's Disaster Recovery Plan is "not just to rebuild what has been lost, but to build better, stronger communities." By awarding Disaster Recovery Incentive Grants to states and local governments in places that have been designated by the President of the United States as disaster areas, HUD extends benefits to the low-income residents in and around these communities. Grantees are then kept abreast with HUD programs, developments, resources, and other noteworthy housing assistance and community information.
HUD has at least one local office in each of the States. You can contact the HUD office nearest you for more information on their programs and projects.
Sunshine After the Rain
As a new resident of the USA, you will be happy to note that in case an adversity, devastation, or cataclysm renders you and your family without a roof over your heads, there will be more than one group of highly skilled individuals to your rescue. Whatever the extent of damage to your home and property, someone from the federal government, a state agency, or a local volunteer organization will help you get back on track. This is how America takes care of its residents.
[First published at New2USA.com, 2000]