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Facing Longterm Recovery, Communities Prep For FEMA's Return To Disaster Zone

A home in a heavily storm-damaged area of Trotwood
Jess Mador
A home in a heavily storm-damaged area of Trotwood

Rebuilding after last month’s tornado disaster will take at least two years, say Montgomery County emergency officials, who held a summit in hard-hit Trotwood Wednesday with dozens of other government, religious and community groups to begin mapping out the county’s longterm recovery plans. The meeting was organized ahead of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's anticipated return to the Miami Valley by this weekend.

Beginning over the next few days, more than 100 FEMA and United States Small Business Administration investigators are once again expected to fan out across Dayton neighborhoods inspecting tornado damage. 

It’s all part of a highly orchestrated process unleashed by the White House’s federal disaster declaration earlier this week for the 10 Ohio counties affected by the Memorial Day tornadoes.

In preparation for FEMA’s arrival, Montgomery County officials stress it’s critical tornado survivors understand individual FEMA assistance is not intended to replace insurance.

Speaking on an echoey microphone at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Trotwood, Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Jeff Jordan says the aid is designed to help with what the federal government calls unmet needs.

“Unmet needs are not hypothetical," he says, "We know there are going to be unmet needs, and probably every person impacted by this disaster will have some unmet needs.”

To help address these unmet needs, Miami Valley experts in areas including social work, housing, business and workforce issues packed the church to strategize a streamlined, coordinated recovery response in hopes of avoiding a duplication of efforts, and speeding assistance to struggling tornado survivors.   

Storm damage in Dayton.
Credit Jerry Kenney / WYSO
Storm damage in Dayton.

"This tornado was particularly harsh because it almost seemed to target those areas with the lowest rates of insurance. Disproportionately, the survivors of these tornadoes were uninsured, and certainly there are a lot of underinsured," Jordan says.   

Montgomery County officials urge anyone affected by the tornadoes to file an insurance claim right away.

Claims documentation is required for FEMA, SBA and other federal disaster assistance.

The state of Ohio is also seeking public assistance, which could help reimburse counties and cities for emergency responder overtime, debris removal and other tornado-related expenses. 

That request by the governor's office is pending. 

FEMA officials say the individual assistance plan includes opening a number of disaster recovery centers in the tornado zone, where residents can get answers to questions or provide documentation that may be required for federal disaster assistance. 

Locations for the centers are still being worked out. It's unclear how long the federal agents could be in the region, officials say. 

FEMA’S Troy Christiansen was part of the original federal team that conducted damage assessments in the Miami Valley two weeks ago.

He’s back in town to help as FEMA registers tornado survivors for potential recovery aid.

“Obviously a lot of folks are wondering where they go from here. And that's one of the one of the ways that they can figure that out," he says. 

Credit Jerry Kenney / WYSO

But, FEMA is urging people to register as soon as possible online or through FEMA’s telephone hotline before disaster assistance teams are actually on the ground.

Once FEMA investigators are here, Christiansen says people should make sure to bring along personal information, including Social Security, and daytime telephone numbers, and a current mailing address where they can be reached during the assistance-application process.

“Contact information is crucial. And we're going to ask about that insurance information and the damaged property. After you register, the next step will be, a FEMA-contracted housing inspector will come to that property and take a look and verify some of those damage that you claimed when you registered for FEMA Assistance," Christiansen says.

After the damage assessment and home visit certification are completed, FEMA officials say survivors could receive individual assistance checks as quickly as within around a week via direct deposit.  

Homeowners, renters or business owners with insurance coverage can still file for relief if they have uninsured storm-related losses. But, they caution those claims could take extra time to process. To beware of potential fraud, Leo Skinner with FEMA advises residents in tornado areas to ask for identification if they're approached by anyone claiming to be a FEMA agent.  

Register for FEMA assistance online at www.disasterassistance.gov, or by calling 1-800-621-3362.

Copyright 2021 WYSO. To see more, visit WYSO.

Jess Mador comes to WYSO from Knoxville NPR-station WUOT, where she created an interactive multimedia health storytelling project called TruckBeat, one of 15 projects around the country participating in AIR's Localore: #Finding Americainitiative. Before TruckBeat, Jess was an independent public radio journalist based in Minneapolis. She’s also worked as a staff reporter and producer at Minnesota Public Radio in the Twin Cities, and produced audio, video and web stories for a variety of other news outlets, including NPR News, APM, and PBS television stations. She has a Master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She loves making documentaries and telling stories at the intersection of journalism, digital and social media.
Jerry Kenney was introduced to WYSO by a friend and within a year of first tuning in became an avid listener and supporter. He began volunteering at the station in 1991 and began hosting Alpha Rhythms in February of 1992. Jerry joined the WYSO staff in 2007 as a host of All Things Considered and soon transitioned into hosting Morning Edition. In addition to now hosting All Things Considered, Jerry is the host and producer of WYSO Weekend, WYSO's weekly news and arts magazine. He has also produced several radio dramas for WYSO in collaboration with local theater companies. Jerry has won several Ohio AP awards as well as an award from PRINDI for his work with the WYSO news department. Jerry says that the best part of his job is being able to talk to people in the community and share their experiences with WYSO listeners.