In a three-hour “Public Assistance Briefing” held on Wednesday, a senior manager from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) described what amounted to an administrator’s nightmare as he specified the processes involved with local and county officials applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance.


In a three-hour “Public Assistance Briefing” held on Wednesday, a senior manager from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) described what amounted to an administrator’s nightmare as he specified the processes involved with local and county officials applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance.


Moreover, the Rolla Fire and Rescue Department (RFRD) will not be reimbursed by FEMA for the expenses it incurred as a result of lending mutual assistance to the city of Piedmont, which sustained major damages in the March floods and required outside assistance, said SEMA Disaster Section Manager Alan J. Prenger.


Unless an agreement exists for statewide, mutual assistance, the RFRD would have to recover its costs from the city of Piedmont, Prenger said.


The RFRD would have to invoice the city of Piedmont; then Piedmont would have to include the cost of Rolla’s assistance in their own application for FEMA assistance and reimburse Rolla directly from their own revenues – assuming, of course, that the flood-ravaged city of Piedmont has the funds to reimburse the city of Rolla.


In his presentation to local and county officials, Prenger presented a complex overview of the processes involved in submitting applications for partial reimbursement of costs associated with the recent flood disaster that began in Phelps County on March 17.


FEMA Public Assistance offers supplemental, cost-share (75 percent/25 percent) assistance to state and local governments and certain, private, non-profit organizations for response and recovery in a President-declared disaster or emergency.


The SEMA presentation included information about the eligibility requirements, the declaration of the disaster, the public disaster assessment, the applicants’ briefing, submission of request, a kick-off meeting, completing project worksheets, validation of small projects and finally, funding from FEMA and the state.


Of primary importance, Prenger said, was the need to document every conceivable expense, including the time and resources required to complete the paperwork for FEMA.  A short list of documentation required by FEMA included providing verification of local policies and procedures, salaries of regular and temporary employees, bidding specifications, and justification statements for not awarding bids to the “lowest bidder,” time cards, procurement of materials and equipment mileage and usage.


  Approximately 32 local officials attended the briefing, including Rolla and Phelps County officials and one or two public administrators from each surrounding community.  No private, non-profit organization administrators attended the briefing.


    The FEMA grant application and, subsequently, the ongoing administration of the grant appeared to present an obstacle to some of the already-stretched resources of the smaller communities and agencies.


  After listening to instructions on how to complete just one of the more-than-10-multi-paged, ancillary forms previously addressed in the presentation, one public administrator worried about the time involved with such a labor-intensive grant.


  “It may take 30 minutes to fill out the paperwork (a single form) but it may take three hours to reconstruct the documentation,” the administrator said.


  Prenger answered, “You have to document every expense incurred in your disaster and recovery operations.  We’re going to tell you ‘no’ sometimes (if the documentation is incomplete).”


  Additionally, Prenger said FEMA cannot provide federal funds for debris removal or repair costs that have been accrued while not maintaining compliance with federal regulations.


  When asked if FEMA had analyzed the amount of time and resources it takes to administrate the grant, particularly when disaster-laden communities already have their resources stretched to the limits, Prenger said, “No.  It’s very labor-intensive because you’re dealing with federal funds you have to account for.”


  Attending the briefing was Rolla Fire and Rescue Training Officer Ron Smith, who commented on the difficult process of obtaining a grant from FEMA and said to Prenger, “This should be so easy, and it seems like you’ve made the process very hard.”


  Prenger attributed the difficulty of administering the grant to FEMA auditors, and he spoke of one such encounter.


  “We’ve had auditors in the office at the time of the disaster, and when they were asked by officials, ‘Is this expense eligible?’ the auditors responded with, ‘Ask us in four years,’” Prenger said.


  Even if FEMA reimburses a public entity or local government for disaster-related damages associated with cleanup or construction, FEMA could ask for the money back, years after the incident, if a FEMA auditor decides not enough documentation has been submitted, Prenger explained.


  The next stage of FEMA assistance will be the “Kick-Off” Meeting, which has not yet been scheduled, and Prenger invited all the officials in attendance at Wednesday’s briefing to submit a green form, the initial application for FEMA public assistance, if they were still interested in soliciting help from FEMA.