Post-Event Damage Assessments

Anytime Tennessee experiences an event that appears to be of substantial consequence, local emergency management provide estimates on amounts of damage.  This process is often called a Windshield Survey as the effects of an event may prevent any other type of initial viewing.  The Windshield Survey data is provided in a general sense to gain a footprint of the types of damage the event caused and may include an estimate of damaged or destroyed bridges, roads, and homes or businesses.  These reports, coupled with other types of immediate response needs and impacted essential services, such as power, water, and communication, provide the data needed to determine if the damage is of such significance to conduct an Initial Damage Assessment.

The FEMA Preliminary Damage Assessment Guide is a great how-to tool for conducting assessments and what is needed to make them successful.

Initial Damage Assessments (IDA) are performed to gain a more accurate picture of the damages following an event and provide the basis for determining if an incident has exceeded state and local governments ability to recover without assistance from the Federal government.  Results also provide necessary data for requesting a Joint Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  This follows 44 Code of Federal Regulations §206.33(a) that a State must verify their data before requesting a Joint PDA.

IDAs are conducted at the local level with assistance from the state.  The IDA provides a more accurate dollar amount and picture of the damages and destruction.  It provides major impacts with key infrastructure issues and catalogues the damages into FEMA Categories.

Using an Initial Damage Assessment Form, the local emergency management officials coordinate with each potential applicant in their jurisdiction (county, cities, utilities, private non-profit organizations) to record the damages by type of potential applicant or division (see Eligible Applicants) and FEMA Category (see Categories of Work).  When completed, the finished assessment is provided to TEMA.  The collected data is used to support areas of high impact, determine if damages meet or exceed Public Assistance per capita for counties, and if the state meets or exceeds the required threshold that signals possible eligibility for receiving Public Assistance.  If the answer to the last is yes, then a request is made to FEMA for a Joint Preliminary Damage Assessment.

A Joint Preliminary Damage Assessment (Joint PDA) must be officially requested by the State to FEMA’s Regional Administrator.  The request includes all counties to be assessed, when the assessment should begin, the IDA results by county, contact information for state officials, and a proposed schedule.  The Joint PDA is conducted with participation from FEMA, TEMA, and the local community or private non-profit organization.  There must be someone who is familiar with the extent and locations of damage.

Joint PDAs are usually conducted within a one-week timeframe.  The results are the mechanism used to determine the impact and magnitude of damage.  FEMA’s role is to provide validation on claimed costs.  Sometimes this requires site visits; sometimes it can be validated with documentation.  The Joint PDA is not intended to be a review of every minute detail.  Rather, it is meant to be a way to measure the eligibility and confidence of reported costs.  Massive debris operations or road projects may require site visits to verify estimated costs of repair are acceptable.  Minimal documentation of emergency workers and equipment may be all that’s necessary for emergency operations.  Exact costs are not required unless readily available.  The results of the Joint PDA must be included in a request for Major Disaster Declaration.

44 Code of Federal Regulations §206.36(a) requires requests for major disaster declarations be submitted within 30 days from the last date of the incident period.  This means that during the post 30-days, there must be a Windshield Survey, Initial Damage Assessment, and Joint Damage Assessment.  That is not a lot of time, and depending on the type of event, could be difficult to achieve.  For example, extensive flooding with standing water can make it difficult to determine damage and costs.  Therefore, the regulations also allow for a 30-day extension, provided that a written request is submitted by our Governor during the initial 30-day period that includes good justification.