Spring is just around the corner, which means severe weather will inevitably make its way here.
With all its other problems, 2020 was thankfully uneventful in weather-related disasters in Northwest Missouri, coming off 2019 when severe flooding required assistance from the federal government for recovery efforts.
There is money set aside every year by the federal government for disaster relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But for St. Joseph and Buchanan County the process to get to get that federal funding is not easy.
“Local officials decide if they have the capabilities to recover from this with their funds. The emergency manager decides if they will need help from the state or feds,” Barb Sturner, an external affairs specialist at the Department of Homeland Security said.
Sturner said FEMA officials like to consider a disaster a local event until things work their way up the ladder. County and city emergency managers decide if local funding can cover recovery and rebuilding after an emergency event. Once public infrastructure is damaged, the State Emergency Management Agency usually is asked to step in depending on the situation.
“The state will send someone out with local officials to look at the most severe damage to the least severe,” Sturner said. “They will document it, take pictures and a report that will notate what kind of damage they have, if it is to public structures, if debris needs to be removed, etc. Then they will decide if the recovery is within the state ability.”
If the damage is severe and the state does not have enough in its budget for the repairs needed, then FEMA gets involved. This includes going out and surveying the land with state and local officials. This is to just confirm the damage from the state’s report.
The severity of the floods from 2019 in the state of Missouri required some help from the federal government. Before federal funding can be approved, the state governor must give the go ahead.
“The state goes back and compiles the damage assessment to the governor,” Sturner said. “The governor sends a letter to the president, saying we had a disaster, giving stats about impact and saying these are all the local and state resources that were used. After all this we think we need federal assistance to finish off the recovery.”
Sturner said FEMA does not have ready money to be used for certain areas depending on their risk for weather events. Rather, the agency monitors the National Weather Service in the area and pays close attention when there is a potential risk forecast.