The purpose of a state of emergency declaration following a disaster event is to signal the magnitude of damage incurred and to qualify the county’s public and private sectors for government relief and assistance should the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and others deem it appropriate.
“The idea is to let it be known that the damage is clearly beyond what resources the county has available to handle it – in this case to notify officials that the county budget cannot absorb all the cost of repair to roads and bridges,”said Blount County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director Don Roybal.
If the disaster monetary threshold is met – in this case, $204,000 for Blount County – not only does the county become eligible for federal assistance for repair of damages to critical public infrastructure, but private individuals may be eligible for assistance with costs of repairs to private property damaged by winds, floodwaters, or other natural events.
“If there is a federal disaster declaration, FEMA will send a team to survey the extent of damage to roads and bridges. They will also send a team to manage a disaster assistance center to provide individual assistance to property owners who can document qualifying damages to their property,” Roybal said.
Roybal said the county’s emergency resolution was relayed to the state emergency management organization on Monday, Dec. 28, the day it was passed, and was received and acknowledged by the agency. He said there is no way of predicting if or when federal authorities will respond, or when the public and individual damage assessment process will begin and conclude if a disaster is declared.
“This wasn’t just a local event,” he said.“It was statewide and region-wide, so there’s a tremendous amount of organization and effort required. There’s no way to predict how long it will take. I would hope it would be completed by this summer sometime.”
Roybal said property owners who have flood or other damage to their property, particularly flood damage from rising waters inside their residences, should notify the Blount County EMA, either by phone or e-mail, giving name, address, phone number, and description/photos (if available) of damages. He also said those reporting damages should keep receipts for any damages that had to be repaired immediately. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone number is 625-4121.
Roybal said the deadline for turning in preliminary estimates of public infrastructure damage to the state EMA is Jan. 6. Those estimates will trigger the remainder of the process.
County engineer Winston Sitton, who has been assisting EMA and county commissioners with preparing those estimates, said the total when compiled should come to well over $300,000, with two bridges needing further assessment to determine whether they have been so weakened as to need to be replaced, along with a number of culverts needing work that have not yet been identified. To date, culverts definitely needing repairs or replacement should total more than 25, according to preliminary indications.
“More culverts that will ultimately need repair or replacement will be identified as time goes on,” Sitton said.“For now, we’ve identified the ones that have been washed out or that may have been weakened but need to be repaired immediately because school buses use them. Some of the smaller ones won’t show up until we can check them individually.”