Assessing Damage to Buildings

After a major storm, there will likely be tremendous pressure on municipal employees to make quick decisions on whether or not damaged structures are safe, and whether or not necessary repairs constitute “substantial improvements” to existing structures (requiring them to be brought up to code). These decisions must be made carefully. To not do so could threaten people’s safety and the community’s eligibility for the National Food Insurance Program (NFIP).

This is a tremendous opportunity for a community to decrease risk to its people and property by preventing inappropriate redevelopment in hazardous areas. This process will be much easier if the community has identified these areas in its multi-hazard mitigation plan. Also remember to refer to risk mitigation strategies when determining the best way forward.

In the wake of major disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) may deploy people to help your community with assessments and determinations (for an example of FEMA helping to assess damage to buildings, see this article). Since most contact will be through the designated emergency manager, it is important for all local officials to know who that person is. In addition to the assistance available from FEMA and MEMA, consider creating “mutual aid” agreements with nearby communities, especially those out of the coastal zone.

For guidance on how to properly determine if a building is substantially damaged in accordance with the NFIP regulations, see FEMA’s Answers to Questions About Substantially Damaged Buildings.

* Your community needs only 500 points to qualify for reduced flood insurance premiums through the Community Rating System (CRS). For more information (including how to apply for the CRS program), see our Community Rating System (CRS) primer.

Notes from the folks at CRS:

“As part of the floodplain management planning process credit is provided if the risk assessment includes a review of all buildings that have received insurance claims. If the community has 10 or more repetitive loss properties it must prepare a floodplain management plan or prepare area analyses for its repetitive loss areas.”