Document weather damage

While it is hoped Pennsylvania won’t experience another weather event necessitating a federal disaster declaration anytime soon, that is uncertain, thanks to Mother Nature’s unpredictability.

Rather than wasting time worrying about what might or might not happen, communities would spend their time much more productively by watching the recovery work under way in the 10 Pennsylvania counties hit hard by rainstorms in late June and early July.

There is an important lesson to be learned from that recovery operation, and it revolves around one key word – “documentation.”

Federal disaster aid is built upon a foundation of documentation, as the municipalities that experienced damage as a result of the weather system in question are finding out – possibly in some cases much to their dismay, if they weren’t careful from the start in regard to their disaster record-keeping.

The first important hurdle that the hard-hit region – from DuBois to Lock Haven – had to surmount was showing that the rainstorms were a single weather event.

After some understandable anxiety stemming from an initial Federal Emergency Management Agency denial of the request for aid, based on FEMA’s thinking that the storms weren’t a single event, proof of eligibility was established after help was enlisted from the Pennsylvania congressional delegation and National Weather Service.

A single disaster qualified the counties for federal aid; being victimized by a series of lesser occurrences would usually have disqualified the counties from getting assistance.

Once it was proven that the counties met the requirements for aid, President Barack Obama officially declared the counties a disaster area on Sept. 30. That set in motion a process under which millions of dollars for repairs will be pumped into the area to do what the affected counties and communities, on their own, do not have the financial resources to accomplish.

But whether there might be anxiety yet to come as a result of improper documentation will remain an open question as work moves forward. Some costly efforts might not be eligible for federal aid or reimbursement if there isn’t proper data to back up what was damaged or destroyed, or repaired over the past three months.

Counties and individual communities throughout the commonwealth should watch closely what issues are encountered regarding this latest disaster, just like they should have done in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Probably, many didn’t.

Officials of this summer’s affected counties will be meeting with their FEMA managers to discuss the storm-related destruction. Leading up to that meeting, municipal officials in the counties, including Huntingdon, Clearfield and Centre, have been urged to photograph emergency repairs in order to be eligible for federal compensation.

They’ve been told that if there isn’t documentation, it’s doubtful whether they’ll get federal money.

The federal government’s coverage of 75 percent of the infrastructure damage – the state has historically paid the remaining 25 percent – is generous and a lot to lose.

Because Mother Nature is so unpredictable, all communities should have documentation procedures in place, so detailed record-keeping can be implemented immediately if serious weather damage occurs.