FEMA official to speak at Red Cross presentationWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
As many Northwest Ohio residents learned last summer, a federal disaster declaration — and the resulting federal funds to help rebuild — is not a guarantee even in the wake of a destructive and fatal string of tornadoes.
The next Ready U session, “Disaster Aid: Myths and Facts,” organized by the Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, will address common misconceptions about state and federal aid as well as the short-term local resources available immediately following a disaster.
The session will be presented by Nancy Dragani, executive director of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency (EMA). Dragani, who also serves on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Advisory Council, has worked with the Ohio EMA since 1994, serving as director since 2005.
The free, hour-long presentation is set for 7 p.m. April 25 at the McMaster Center in the Main Library, 325 N. Michigan St., and will be hosted by 13abc’s Sashem Brey.
The session will first address what criteria must be met for a region to be declared a disaster area and then what state and federal government assistance residents can realistically expect once a declaration is made, Dragani said in a recent phone interview.
“I think people sometimes overestimate what kind of assistance they’ll get if we get a federal declaration,” Dragani said. “It’s not like you have an event and FEMA gives you a check for $2,100, and I think sometimes that catches people off-guard. People make an assumption that the money comes faster, comes easier and they will get a whole lot more than is actually the case.”
The average individual assistance grant is typically between $4,000 and $6,000, Dragani said.
“That’s really not a whole lot of money,” Dragani said. “That might replace a living room suite or dining room suite, but it’s not going to make someone whole. The whole purpose is to get them back on the road to recovery, but it won’t make them whole.”
When FEMA evaluates a region after a disaster, it looks for uninsured damage. In the case of last year’s tornado, about 95 percent of damage was covered by home insurance, so the uninsured portion did not reach the level required for further government aid, Dragani said.
“That’s a very difficult thing for people to understand because intuitively tornadoes cause a tremendous amount of damage and in that case we had fatalities as well,” Dragani said. “People in the Toledo area remember that and think ‘What could be more disastrous?’ but from federal perspective — not discounting at all the trauma to the school, community and individuals that were impacted — it didn’t require the federal assistance to help individuals recover, which is really what FEMA is all about.”
Local resources, including county EMA teams, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other organizations, provide the first-responder, short-term assistance after a disaster, said Matthew Heyrman, project manager for Lucas County EMA.
“There’s an expectation out there that federal resources will be on the ground and there the next day and that’s not the reality,” Heyrman said. “As we say all the time in EMA, disasters are local. We are on our own at least for the first 72 hours. We have to use what we have here. The federal government is going to do as much as they can as fast as they can, but it takes time.”
After local government declares a state of emergency, the state governor can make a declaration and then petition the president to declare a federal disaster, Heyrman said.
“Only then do we get the FEMA funds and things people see on TV,” Heyrman said. “We have great resources here and when the tornado or flood comes, we are going to do our best, but in any situation where a lot of people are affected, the government is going to triage and help the worst areas first. So people can help themselves and their family in a better position by having a kit, being informed and having a plan.”
Dragani said she hopes attendees will take away the importance of insurance.
“None of the [federal] programs will make them whole,” Dragani said. “They need to look at insurance policies to adequately protect themselves before an event because that’s where the most comprehensive recovery protection is going to come from.”
Ready U, a 10-session yearlong series presented by the Red Cross of Greater Toledo and the Lucas County EMA, is designed to educate the public and prepare individuals and families for potential emergencies in Northwest Ohio.
Attendees will receive reusable grocery bags and have a chance to win raffle prizes, including a gift card from The Andersons, said Sheri Meeker, community disaster education specialist for the Red Cross.
Toledo Free Press is a media sponsor for the Ready U program.
For more information, visit the website ready-u.com.