Stayton, Ore. - September 20, 2020 - WE WILL REBUILD sign erected on highway 22 overpass just outside Stayton Oregon. Photo by Jeff Markham​ / FEMA.

Understanding Federal Post-Fire Resources

By: Brett Holt

Topic: Wildfire recovery

Type: Tools / Resources

Editors’ Note: Brett Holt is a Senior Stakeholder Relations Specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 10 Office of External Affairs based in Washington. In our ongoing series focused on wildfire recovery, FAC Net asked Brett to help navigate and explain FEMA and other federal programs network of offerings, declarations and engagements that are available to a community during and after a wildfire. Brett has focused on the federal response to the fires in Oregon specifically, but it is our hope that this explanation can also help give context to other regions impacted by this year’s fires. As Brett notes, the declarations often determine what programs and assistance are made available to each county, community or region. Along with our past Post-Fire Resource Round-Up Blog and our Post-Fire Graphic Blog we hope this third installment in our post-fire resource series provides additional help to those who are recovering from fire or who are in planning phases and preparing their communities. 

The unprecedented 2020 wildfire season in Oregon has had a serious and devastating impact to so many communities. The state received 14 Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAGs) in five days in early September. On September 10, 2020 the State of Oregon received an Emergency Declaration for eleven counties. This was followed by a Major Disaster declaration on September 15. Needless to say, a lot of resources, both in personnel and funding, are being provided to Oregon in the response and, now, recovery to the wildfires.

I’ll be the first to ask, “what does this declaration or that declaration mean for me, my business, my community?” Government programs can be complex and confusing. Eligibility, application periods and other requirements make it challenging for people who don’t typically work with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the federal government.

I’m going to provide some clarity about these declarations and the programs authorized, as it relates to the wildfires in Oregon this year. But let’s be honest, a single blog post can  only provide some of the basics, this is not an exhaustive list of every program. Certainly, some of these programs are for specific counties and some programs may be authorized later. In addition, some key deadlines to register for assistance have passed by the time this blog post is published. The most important thing a community who has been impacted by wildfire can do is to keep up communication with their local emergency management officials to understand availability of and timeline to implement these and other programs.

What Happens After an Emergency Declaration?

The state’s request for an Emergency Declaration was authorized on September 10, this allowed for the expansion of FEMA’s coordination role with the state and tribes. FEMA and federal partners helped on several fronts, with staff supporting virtually, at the FEMA Region 10 Regional Response Coordination Center in Bothell, Washington and physically co-located with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management in Salem, Oregon.

A group of people in masks standing in a office talking.

Salem, OR – September 13, 2020 – Region 10 administrator Mike O’Hare meets with FEMA personnel in the Oregon Office of Emergency Management Emergency Coordination Center. Oregon has been affected by multiple wildfires, damaging communities in different parts of the state. Photo courtesy of David Yost / FEMA.

Support to the state included Urban Search and Rescue (US&R), sheltering, feeding, reunification, housing and mental health support. Two large US&R teams with K9 search capabilities, Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs), and Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORTs) deployed to the state. These teams support local search and medical operations in the counties with the greatest potential loss of life.

Crew of search and rescue workers and 3 dogs in the forest.

Marion County, OR – September 16, 2020 – US&R Massachusetts Task Force 1 searches homes in Marion County Oregon in response to the wildfires. Photo courtesy of Dominick Del Vecchio / FEMA.

Non-congregate and traditional sheltering were provided through the American Red Cross and other entities. Non-congregate sheltering means locations where each individual or household have living space that offers some level of privacy, such as hotels, motels or dormitories.

A man and a woman in Red Cross vests sort food on a table

Portland, OR – September 14, 2020 – Red Cross volunteers working in a shelter at the Oregon Convention Center. Photo courtesy of Dominick Del Vecchio / FEMA.

What Happens After a Major Declaration?

Additional federal support the state requested was authorized on September 15 with the Presidential Major Declaration. A Major Declaration not only brings additional assistance from FEMA, but also from agencies such as Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The declaration authorized three FEMA response and recovery programs to assist Oregon governments and survivors affected by the wildfires: Individual Assistance (IA), Public Assistance (PA) and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). In the case of IA and PA, only a few programs were initially authorized for the state, and others would be considered as FEMA and state staff were able to conduct damage assessments in the communities.

Here is a summary of the programs offered through IA, PA, and HMGP:

Individual Assistance (IA) – this assistance is to individuals and households, and may include:

IA is available for those affected by wildfires in Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn and Marion counties. From the date of declaration on September 15, individuals have been encouraged to apply for disaster assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov. This is the first step for individuals seeking federal assistance through Individual Assistance. The last day to apply is November 30, 2020.

In addition, FEMA Disaster Survivors Assistance Teams are physically in impacted counties to assist Oregonians with questions and help apply for assistance. These sites are at gymnasiums, malls, city halls and community centers. The locations change as the need changes in the communities.

Two women meet with a FEMA volunteer at a table in a library

Gates, OR – October 1, 2020 – A Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) specialist meets with residents affected by fires in Gates, Oregon. FEMA is working with local, State and other agencies to assist those affected by fire. Photo courtesy of Patsy Lynch / FEMA.

Public Assistance (PA)  – this assistance is to state, tribal and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities, which may include:

  • Debris removal
  • Emergency protective measures
  • Roads and bridges
  • Water control facilities
  • Buildings and equipment
  • Utilities
  • Parks, recreational and other facilities

PA was made available for many counties in Oregon. A complete list can be found on the Oregon Wildfire Disaster website. FEMA coordinates with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management on the outreach to local jurisdictions and tribes regarding the PA resources available to them.

Hazardous material and debris cleanup were one of the initial priorities from communities. Under PA, hazardous materials were removed on public and private properties. General debris removal from public property is in progress in coordination with local governments.

Man operates logging truck to pick up fallen and damaged trees

Detroit, OR – September 30 2020 – This log truck gets loaded up with damaged trees, a part of the clean-up effort in Detroit Oregon. Photo courtesy of Jeff Markham / FEMA.

Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMPG) – this assistance aids state, tribal and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations so they can rebuild in a way that reduces, or mitigates, future disaster losses in their communities. This grant funding is available after a presidentially declared disaster. HMGP is made available statewide.

Housing Assistance Resources

Prior to the wildfires, availability of housing was challenging. This has been exasperated with thousands of homes burned in the wildfires. The state-led Disaster Housing Task Force, with FEMA support, is working on interim and long-term housing solutions. Currently, the state and FEMA are coordinating with municipalities and counties regarding local ordinance requirements, zoning, transportation requirements, occupancy inspections, setbacks and more.

While a long-term solution is being developed, FEMA approved the use of Direct Temporary Housing for Jackson, Lincoln, Linn and Marion counties. This interim solution provides temporary transportable housing units for displaced individuals and families. In addition, they are also coordinating the temporary housing effort with floodplain managers, environmental regulators, historic preservation officers, utility providers and other authorities identified by the state or municipalities.

Woman standing holding sign that reads Free Food and two other signs next to her.

Gates, OR – October 8, 2020 – Linda Richison, a Gates, OR resident, holds up a sign altering people in the area, that food and supplies are available. Photo courtesy of Patsy Lynch / FEMA.

Help for Small Businesses

Many people don’t realize that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a key player in disaster recovery. In Oregon, the SBA is virtually supporting thousands of businesses and individuals with loans. The loans are available to repair business property damage, economic injury, repair homes and replace loss of personal property. The loan interest rates depend on the type of credit available to individuals and businesses. More information on how to apply and types of loans offered visit the SBA Disaster Loan Assistance website.

Long-Term Recovery

As I write this, FEMA’s Volunteer Agency Liaisons are working with local communities in the establishment of Long-Term Recovery Committees. This is in coordination with the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD). These Committees consist of and are facilitated by community members and generally involve nonprofits, faith-based groups, businesses and community members. The purpose of these committees is to help the needs of individuals as they rebuild their lives. This may include crisis counseling, disaster case management, home construction, donations and other tasks relevant to the community’s needs.

Woman pets dog while sitting next to a man

Molalla,OR – October 20, 2020 – Jeffery Decker, a Clackamas County employee provides mental health services to residents affected by the recent fires. He along with his dog, Big Bear chats with K. Gay Fletcher in the Molalla County center in Molalla, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Patsy Lynch / FEMA.

Actions You Can Take Now

I’ve only highlighted some of the ongoing activities from FEMA and other federal agencies. These disasters are large, complex and take time due to the magnitude of the multiple communities impacted in Oregon. FEMA is supporting the state in the delivery of these programs to communities. If you are a community member in one of these impacted areas, here are some actions you can take now for assistance or to be involved in the ongoing recovery efforts:

  1. If you are in one of the Individual Assistance declared counties (Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn and Marion), then apply for disaster assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov. The deadline is November 30, 2020. If you already applied for disaster assistance then continue to track the status of the application online and provide information as needed.
  2. Connect with your local emergency management department on local activities such as Long-Term Recovery Committees in your area. A list of Emergency Managers is found on the Oregon Office of Emergency Management website.
  3. View additional information about this disaster on the following websites.

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