US Federal Emergency Management Agency Tailors Disaster Assistance To Pacific Islands

New FEMA guidelines to address specific needs of Insular Pacific region

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, June 18, 2016) – The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed methods to deliver its Individuals and Households Program (IHP) to residents of the Insular Areas, including American Samoa, to assist survivors following a disaster.

The information is outlined in the 138-page draft “Individuals and Households Program Unified Guidance (IHPUG)” document released last week. According to the draft, the IHPUG compiles FEMA policy for each type of assistance under the IPU into one comprehensive document and is intended to serve as a singular resource for States, Territorial, Tribal Governments, and other entities, which assist disaster survivors with post-disaster recovery.

Under the category “Program Delivery Considerations” FEMA says the federal agency is committed to providing equal access to all applicants. FEMA outlines program delivery considerations for applicants, including those with disabilities and other individuals with access and functional needs, those residing in Insular Areas, and Tribal Governments.

For Insular Areas - which includes American Samoa, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin islands - FEMA points out that it has “unique considerations for delivering federal assistance” to these four US territories, or otherwise remote areas such as the interior of Alaska.

In some cases, FEMA says, the lack of building materials and skilled local labor, high transportation costs, and/or subsistence lifestyles requires tailoring FEMA program delivery.

Therefore FEMA will work to immediately identify any potential obstacles to effectively deliver IHP Assistance, and determine what guidelines or procedures may need to be modified based on the needs of the impacted area.

 Depending on the situation, FEMA explained that it may “develop alternate means of identifying properties - e.g., using Global Positioning System coordinates if the area does not have or use a street naming or numbering system.

(Samoa News points out that America Samoa does not have an official street naming or numbering system, although there are several roads in Ottoville where signs noting street names are installed.”

Additionally, FEMA may deploy registration and inspection teams to enable FEMA to gather information and verify losses in areas with unique logistical requirements.

FEMA may also consider additional personal property items necessary for climate-appropriate survival in Insular Areas, in coordination with the State, Territory, and Tribal Government. “These items may include detached communal cooking facilities, food caches, smoke houses, or steam bath houses,” he said.

FEMA may annually review applicant cases to determine eligibility instead of using an automated process. A manual determination process can better accommodate unique situations that fall outside of standard IHP guidelines - e.g., verifying property ownership based on local official statements in areas where properties are handed down to families and few written records exist, it says.

FEMA may also provide disaster assistance for increased shipping costs of materials to Insular Areas in order to make repair or replacement feasible.

The 2009 earthquake, which spawned a massive tsunami with huge waves crashing onto the shores of Tutuila, claiming the lives of 34 residents, was the last major disaster to hit American Samoa.

The Samoa News
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