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home : opinion : columnists May 27, 2016

7/31/2014 9:29:00 AM
Disaster Assistance and Eastern Washington Wildfires
Submitted by Mark Stewart
State Emergency Operations Center

Assistance provided to date

A proclamation of emergency for the 20 Eastern Washington Counties by Gov. Jay Inslee on July 15 ordered state agencies to assist affected communities and for that assistance to be coordinated through the State Emergency Operations Center. Assistance provided to date includes Washington National Guard helicopters for dropping water and ground troops to assist with fire-fighting and other activities to support affected communities. And acquisition of food, water, supplies, and equipment such as emergency power generators.

At the request of Gov. Inslee, President Obama on July 23 granted an emergency proclamation that provides direct federal assistance to help with emergency power generation for critical facilities. The federal government will pay up to 75 percent for eligible costs. This proclamation is limited in nature, and does not provide for assistance to people whose homes have burned, or for permanent repairs to damaged public infrastructure, for example.

When can people get assistance for damages, and to help them rebuild?

Homeowners with insurance should contact their insurance agent and file a claim for damage. Many homeowner insurance policies cover loss from fire. The Office of the Insurance Commissioner has a web page with information on wildfires and homeowner's insurance.

The Red Cross is providing temporary assistance such as food and shelter to people individuals and families in a number of areas of Okanogan County and the Consolidated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

In addition, the State and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in partnership with impacted communities, will conduct damage assessments in the coming days. These assessments will gather information on uninsured losses and impacts to communities caused by the fires. This information will be used to determine whether to ask for additional federal government assistance for individuals, homeowners, local and tribal governments, state agencies, and small businesses.

Preliminary Damage Assessments

The assessments gather information about the extent of damage caused by recent wildfires, particularly as it relates to county or tribal eligibility to qualify for certain types of federal disaster assistance. Factors considered by the PDA teams looking at impacts to individuals, homeowners and small business include the following: Extent of damage; Number of people displaced; Threat to public safety & health; How many primary homes are uninhabitable; How long people may be displaced; How many primary homes are destroyed; Extent of insurance coverage; Extent of business losses; Amount of major damage; Damages that prevent homes from being safely habitable.

The individual assistance teams will view damage throughout the affected counties and Indian Tribes, and visit some damaged properties, but they will not try to visit every affected home. In addition, separate PDA teams work with local governments and Indian Tribes to identify costs associated with emergency measures to protect public safety, and to repair damaged public infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, public buildings, and public utilities. The damage assessment teams include representatives of the following: FEMA; State of Washington; U.S. Small Business Administration; Local government.

The Washington Military Department's Emergency Management Division currently has staff in the field, working with local and tribal officials to begin an initial information gathering process. Once this process is complete, then Preliminary Damage Assessments will be scheduled with affected jurisdictions.

At this time, Preliminary Damage Assessments are planned for the week of July 28-August 1. A schedule for the multi-county assessment will be prepared early in the week. Timing of the assessments is dependent on many factors, including continued fire danger and completion of the initial information gathering process.

Upon completion of the Preliminary Damage Assessments, the State will determine whether impacts are of the magnitude that local and state resources cannot meet the need, and federal assistance is required. The Governor then may request federal disaster assistance for individuals, homeowners, small businesses, and affected communities. This request is sent to the President through FEMA.

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