FEMA looks back

Lessons learned, strides made with flood response

Lessons learned in conquering housing, coordination and funding challenges following the 2011 Souris River flood have helped shape the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to disasters, according to FEMA representatives in Minot this weekend.

“The lessons that were learned here were definitely brought to a lot of other recoveries that have happened over the 10-year period,” said Ryan Pietramali, recovery division director.

Pietramali and Brian Hvinden, external affairs specialist, both with the FEMA regional office in Denver, are in Minot for the Resilient Together event today.

“We’re really just here to help the community look back,” Hvinden said. “We were involved on a lot of different fronts, both in the immediate, with housing and support to the schools, but then in several of the long-term projects.”

One longer-term effort involved bringing groups together for an innovative financing workshop to try to identify funding for flood protection and resilience.

“That was the first time our agency had done that, and I see a lot more of that coming,” Pietramali said.

The 2011 flood was a major operation for FEMA’s Region 8.

“There were a lot of immediate needs,” Pietramali said. “Our public assistance and individual assistance programs had large capital outlays to help the community rebuild.”

FEMA also brought in other federal agencies and federal dollars to help with the rebuilding.

Statewide, FEMA coordinated $63.2 million in aid from various federal agencies in 2011 and issued $71.5 million in hazard mitigation grants. Statewide, 10,286 individuals or households registered for disaster aid, and more than $95.5 million was provided. The U.S. Small Business Administration also approved $257.2 million in low-interest loans.

Erik Ramstad Middle School replacement in Minot was the largest single FEMA public assistance project at more than $24 million.

Pietramali said many FEMA staff gained experience in helping North Dakota through flooding events from 2009 to 2013. One of those staff members, Deanne Criswell, is now FEMA’s administrator.

“We have 15 emergency support functions that deal with various facets of recovery and every single one of them was activated for this event,” Hvinden said of the Souris River flood. Of those support functions, FEMA representatives particularly learned a great deal in managing the scope of the emergency housing needed in the Minot area, he said.

Because of the oil boom, traditional solutions such as rental housing, relocation or use of commercial lots to set up housing weren’t available. The northern climate also required a different focus in ensuring emergency housing was suitable, he said.

FEMA had brought more than 2,000 manufactured homes to the Minot area for a temporary housing mission that would last 27 months. All residents needing housing were in emergency units by Christmas 2011 – a notable accomplishment considering the shortage of contractors and inhospitable weather, according to FEMA.

Going forward, FEMA continues to develop new flood plain maps, which when finished will bring a number of properties into higher risk zones and raise flood insurance premiums. Currently, FEMA is reviewing an appeal from the City of Minot over technical aspects of a draft map.

Pietramali said the FEMA team will eventually get back to the community with a new timeline on the mapping process. In the meantime, he said, people need to realize that flood risk remains, and the most important step they can take is to purchase insurance.

Pietramali and Hvinden are pleased with the comeback shown by the Minot area since the 2011 flood, though.

“Looking back, it’s been just really kind of remarkable,” Pietramali said. “Observing over the last 10 years just the resilience of the people here in Minot and Ward County, and what they’ve been able to do collectively to help rebuild this community has been just kind of magical to watch, and I’m really happy that FEMA has been there to help them on that path.

“We provided some money and some technical support, but it’s really the people here in Minot that have done just a fantastic job,” he added. “Looking back at where they were on that really rough day and where they are now, it’s remarkable.”

By the Numbers:

– 6 long-term recovery open houses conducted by FEMA in Minot and Burlington.

– 488 National Flood Insurance Program claims of $59.3 million paid in the Souris Valley.

– 850 lots constructed at three group sites for emergency housing.

– 1,958 FEMA housing units occupied at the peak.

– 2,168 SBA disaster loans for $240.9 million approved for Souris Valley residents and businesses.

– 12,477 visits made by individuals to federal/state Disaster Recovery Centers in six Souris Valley communities.

Source: FEMA


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