FEMA now offering virtual inspections for winter storm damage

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People affected by the recent winter storm may be able to use technology for virtual inspections of their homes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a news release.

“FEMA is leveraging technology to deliver the agency’s programs at the highest level possible, while preserving our workforce and survivors,” the agency said, with virtual inspections in designated counties.

After applying for FEMA assistance, uninsured or underinsured Texans may be contacted to schedule a virtual home inspection for applicants who reported that their home is not safe, sanitary or functional.

Taylor County and others in the area are listed as being eligible for disaster assistance.

Earlier this week, City Manager Robert Hanna said the Abilene City Council plans to vote to extend its disaster declaration on Thursday to make sure all those eligible are “able to fully capture the benefit of federal dollars, if needed.”

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More: Abilene streets see storm damage, but Taylor county roads mostly OK

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How to Apply

The fastest and easiest way to apply is at www.disasterassistance.gov, then select “Apply Online.”

During the application process, select the cause of damage as snow/ice.

Applicants who have insurance and are applying for disaster assistance must file a claim with their insurance company as soon as possible.

By law, FEMA cannot duplicate benefits for losses covered by insurance. If insurance does not cover all damage, applicants may be eligible for federal assistance.

FEMA’s Individual and Household Assistance program is not a substitute for insurance and may not pay for all losses caused by a disaster. 

If it is not possible to register online, call 800-621-3362 (TTY 800-462-7585). The toll-free telephone lines operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. CDT daily.

Those who use a relay service such as a videophone, Innocaption or CapTel should update FEMA with their specific number assigned to that service.

What you need

Those who apply must have the following information readily available:

► A current phone number where you can be contacted.

► Your address at the time of the disaster and the address where they applicant is now are now staying.

► Your Social Security number, if available.

► A general list of damage and losses.

► If insured, the insurance policy number, and the agent or company name.

Applicants who self-reported during registration that they received minimal damage and can live in their homes will not automatically be scheduled for a home inspection.

Instead, they will receive a letter from FEMA explaining that they may call the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585) to request an inspection if they find significant disaster-caused damage to their home after they applied.

What else to know

Inspectors will initiate the virtual inspection process by contacting the applicant via the telephone numbers listed in their application.

The inspector will ask the applicant if they would like to perform the inspection, and in many cases be able to offer it via video streaming solutions, including using Apple FaceTime or Zoom Video Communications.

Inspectors are trained to help the applicant with downloading and/or signing-up to Zoom Video if necessary.

Applicants who need help such as translation or ASL interpreters may respond to questions about people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs.

They may also request the accommodation or service at the time of the inspection or at any time during the recovery process.

Those communicating through Zoom or FaceTime may request an interpreter through Facetime or an interpreter and captioning through Zoom.

A household member, relative or friend also may assist.

Applicants will answer questions about the type and extent of damage sustained.

During the video streaming, the applicant will have the opportunity to show the inspector their areas of concern such as roof, windows, floor, ceiling, basements, access points, habitability, rooms, furniture, appliances, Americans with Disabilities Act items (such as ramps and grab bars), etc.  

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A busted pipe floods inside the Abilene Independent School District board room during the winter storm Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.

Abilene Reporter-News

A video assessment can be combined with an exterior-only inspection, when necessary.

What you can get

Based on existing eligibility criteria, FEMA may provide grants for home repairs and replacing certain essential personal property items.

Home repair grants are provided based on the type of residence and the applicant’s responses during the virtual inspection. FEMA assistance is limited to making essential repairs to make certain areas of a home livable. Those areas include the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and currently occupied bedrooms.

Part of the FEMA disaster assistance registration process includes providing a call back phone number for FEMA to contact the applicant to set up a virtual home inspection for damage caused by the disaster and other helpline information.

It is important to update the contact information if it changes. Applicants may update contact information online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov, by downloading the FEMA app or calling the helpline number.

Applicants who use a relay service, such as InnoCaption or CapTel, should provide their specific number assigned to that service.

Applicants should be aware phone calls from FEMA may come from an unidentified number.

Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News.  If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com. 

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Friday May 13, 2022