An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc.

Published September 30, 2017

I just wish that government officials and board members would have learned from the disaster surrounding FEMA after hurricane WILMA. Lengthy articles were written about FEMA – and how and where to apply for FEMA assistance.

But recent statements from city officials and especially board members show very clearly that the same mistakes are being made – the mistakes we all encountered in 2005 after WILMA.

Let’s get back to FEMA: FEMA is the abbreviation for Federal Emergency Management Agency. Since 2003 FEMA is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security. According to Wikipedia it's “the agency's primary purpose to coordinate the response to a disaster that has occurred in the United States and that overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities. The governor of the state in which the disaster occurs must declare a state of emergency and formally request from the president that FEMA and the federal government respond to the disaster. While on-the-ground support of disaster recovery efforts is a major part of FEMA's charter, the agency provides state and local governments with experts in specialized fields and funding for rebuilding efforts and relief funds for infrastructure by directing individuals to access low interest loans, in conjunction with the Small Business Administration. In addition to this, FEMA provides funds for training of response personnel throughout the United States and its territories as part of the agency's preparedness effort.”

The agency is making sure that financial help is coordinated and actually reaches the people in need. That’s their main job.

Owners of seriously damaged property can apply with FEMA for financial help. It’s important that all these damages are properly documented in order to qualify for this financial help.

But unlike statements I have heard from board members and city officials, FEMA will NOT show up with a work-crew and remove all the debris from the damages like SUPERMAN.

Owners and board members have to apply with FEMA for financial help. But then they have to see to it that they find “licensed and insured” contractors to do the actual work of cleaning up the debris and repairing all the damages to the buildings and landscaping.

FEMA will only accept bills from licensed contractors, not from some fly-by-night operations from the next street-corner. Associations found that out the hard way after WILMA.

As we see every time after a natural disaster, there are folks out there trying to profit on the misery of their fellow citizens. Don’t believe the guy who wants to remove your debris at high cost claiming he is “working with” FEMA. He is most likely a scam-artist trying to convince you to overpay him for his services.

Rely on your local contractors, even if it may take a few days before they might be able to help you dealing with the hurricane damages. Rely on your licensed and insured landscaping company. They know how to deal with landscaping debris and how to rescue trees that might have been damaged by IRMA.

Years after WILMA Florida’s courts were still overburdened with lawsuits over unpaid repair bills and demands for payments for shoddy work. Watch out what kind of contracts you are signing – the small print can cost you dearly.

If you suffered serious damages to your property – or are a board member of an association that suffered extensive damages – please make sure that you file an official application for financial help with FEMA. FEMA’s representatives are in the moment all over Florida.

But make sure you understand: When filing an application with FEMA you apply for financial help. That’s more or less it! Don’t wait for FEMA to come and clean up your property or fix your roof!

Make sure you hire the right contractors for the needed work – and then contact FEMA again with the bills from these licensed contractors asking for reimbursement and other financial help.