Ricketts urging Trump administration to expedite a disaster declaration for Nebraska

March 20, 2019 GMT

WASHINGTON — Major disaster declarations unlock federal assistance money to help both public entities and individuals recover from devastating storms — but the process for those declarations can take weeks or even months.

Nebraska officials are hoping to accelerate that timetable in the wake of last week’s epic devastation.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said he’s urged top Trump administration officials to move swiftly on a disaster declaration.

“We’ve been in touch with a lot of the officials in Washington, D.C., stressing the need to get this expedited so that we can tap into those resources both on the public assistance side and the individual assistance side, because of the scope and nature of this disaster,” Ricketts said.

The state already has submitted a draft declaration request to Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and is working with them on any required edits.

Typically state officials would wait until after a severe weather event has run its course, then survey the damage and provide a detailed report to FEMA. The federal agency conducts a preliminary damage assessment to put a cost to the disaster as it works with the state to complete the governor’s official request. Then it’s ultimately up to the president to make the disaster declaration.

But the damage to Nebraska is so widespread and obvious, that a disaster declaration seems assured.

“Quite honestly, this event has been overwhelming,” Nebraska Emergency Management Agency Assistant Director Bryan Tuma said. “We have very little doubt in our minds that we would qualify. We have met all the thresholds for a federal disaster declaration.”

That means the process will be a little different than what happens following, say, a particularly nasty but contained hail storm.

“This is a very unusual event,” Tuma said. “We’ve never had an event like this in the history of our state.”

FEMA spokesman Michael Cappannari said the time required for preliminary damage assessments can vary based on how many counties are affected and weather conditions. But he noted that the agency is working with Nebraska on expediting its request.

“This would not eliminate the need for PDAs once the conditions allow for it, but it could at least start federal assistance flowing to the state in terms of funding available for reimbursement as a result of damages to public infrastructure,” Cappannari said.

Nebraskans are urged to share information about the storm’s impact with their local emergency management officials so they can use it as part of the FEMA assessment process. That includes taking photographs of affected property and making detailed lists of any lost or damaged items.

Nebraska plans to request a declaration for both federal assistance intended to restore public infrastructure and a program that provides assistance to individuals impacted by the storm.

The state has only had one individual assistance declaration in its history — that one came in the wake of the 2011 Missouri River flooding.