Saturday, November 3, 2012

Our FEMA Experience

When our area was hit by eight inches of rain in one night and was declared a disaster area, the last thing on my mind was looking for help from the government.  Thankfully, our home didn’t suffer much damage from the storm, but the pump for our flood control system had burned out (an $800 repair) due to the beating it took during the storm.

At the urging of others though, and even our local officials, who said that anyone who experienced any storm-related damage should talk to FEMA (it turns out, the more damage reported by residents, the more the municipality would receive in federal money, or something along those lines), we decided we should go and actually hear FEMA tell us “no” so that we could get everyone off our back.

We Just Had One Simple Question
We thought our trip to see FEMA officials would last about five minutes.  We had one simple question, and we thought we already knew the answer.  We just wanted to see if the replacement cost for our pump would be covered, since it was indeed storm-related damage.

So we figured we’d just go in, ask our question, and likely be on our way, since we guessed the answer would be “no”. 

But it wasn’t that simple.

The Process
When we arrived to the area school where the temporary FEMA offices were located, we were directed to a waiting area where we sat for about 10 minutes.  Then we were shuffled off to an area with a row of telephones where we had to register with FEMA.

I told the person taking our information over the phone that we just had one quick question, but this revelation didn’t stop the registration process, which lasted about 15 minutes.  We were given a FEMA registration number (or something to that effect) and told to see the next person at a series of stations that were set up around the room.  This station, as I recall, did something along the lines of explaining all sorts of inapplicable information to us over the next 10-15 minutes, before sending us on to the low-interest loan lady.  

A Loan Interest Loan?  What? Why?
We spent the next 15 minutes listening to what seemed to be a sales pitch regarding low-interest government loans.  We told the lady we didn’t need a loan, but she proceeded to tell us that her mother always said, “Even though you don’t need it, you might want to take it just in case.  It’s better to have it and not need it, than the other way around,” or something like that, I’m really not sure since I wasn’t listening very closely by that point.  

She said these loans were great deals with interest rates in the two to three percent range and that we might want to do some updating to our home with the money even if we didn’t have any storm damage.

We finally escaped the “loan lady” by adamantly telling her we really weren’t interested and didn’t need or want a loan.  We then got to move on to the next station in line, which was manned by the guy that dealt with water-related damage.

The Final Answer…Frustration and Waste
Finally!  We had someone who would listen to our one simple question: Was the cost of our pump replacement covered by FEMA?

His first question was whether we had taken the repair to our insurance company, which we hadn’t.  First off, I was just planning to eat the cost of the repair in the first place, and secondly, we had a $500 deductible on our homeowners insurance.  For an $800 repair -- and the cost of the likely resulting associated rise in insurance premiums -- I didn’t think filing a claim was worthwhile.

The FEMA representative then explained that FEMA covered dwelling issues and didn’t really handle exterior damages or something to that effect since again, I wasn’t really listening by this point.

But he didn’t stop there?  Oh no.  He told us that he could have an inspector stop by if we liked.

“Why?” I asked.  “Wouldn’t it just be a waste of everyone’s time?”
He replied that more than likely it wouldn’t do any good, but just to double check, he could have it done.

I assured him that it wasn’t worth it.  But our hour spent exploring the wacky world of FEMA wasn’t a complete loss.  It was certainly a learning experience and the representative gave us several plastic FEMA cups and a FEMA activity book for our son.  Hot damn! 


  1. Wow...not sure the FEMA cups and activity book were worth the lost opportunity costs.

  2. Yesterday 2 guys from FEMA came, borrowed our garden hose and proceeded to "power wash" the building and sidewalk. They also lowered our obviously broken garage door, hosed it with a few hundred PSI, and kept it lowered because it was stuck. They they left the 100 ft hose in the middle of the sidewalk and walked away, door left ajar, to the next door. As of today, our door is more broken, the sidewalk is still dirty and the garden hose is either stolen, or picked up as garbage. Tax dollars at work!