Approaching Recovery: Getting Ahead of FEMA Reimbursements

This blog was updated on July 8th, 2020, in response to the spike in COVID-19 infections in the US, and to continue providing accurate information during this crisis.

The world communities is still responding to COVID-19, and will be for some time to come. This also means an eventual recovery phase for municipalities and organizations.

One of the biggest pieces of a recovery, for eligible organizations, is securing reimbursements from FEMA. These submissions require supporting documentation, which isn’t always captured during the response phase.

Since FEMA currently qualifies COVID-19 response related expenses in its Public Assistance Program, it’s a good time to explore how organizations can start streamlining their recovery now without interrupting their response.

Why FEMA Reimbursements?

Of all the tasks involved in recovering from a crisis, documenting expenses is one of the few (if not the only) that can be completed while an organization is not actually in the recovery phase.

Traditionally, the recovery phase includes rounding up documents for securing reimbursements and analyzing the response and implementing corrective actions. Some teams still do wrangle documents during the recovery phase, in fact. Looking back at a response holistically and drawing out the appropriate information makes sense – it’s a natural way to approach this task.

Response teams can get ahead in the recovery efforts by starting their documentation early (i.e., when an expense is generated). But it’s tough to do this during the response phase when a team’s focus is responding to the emergency. Jotting details down on a paper form or opening a spreadsheet is cumbersome, especially in the rush of a response.

As the US continues to see more COVID-19 infections, it’s clear that we’re only in the middle of this crisis. Despite the hectic state many governments, municipalities, public health departments, and healthcare bodies are in due to the pandemic’s current state, it’s the time to documenting expenses and spent resources if your organization hasn’t already.

Integrating Documentation and Operations

The traditional methods of creating expense documentation during an emergency are disruptive to a response, which is why many save it for the less hectic recovery stage of the response.

Are there any ways a team could integrate the creation of expense documentation and the response, and do so in a way that doesn’t place an additional burden on the personnel carrying out the tasks required by the response plan?

Approach the task with a new perspective. While paper forms and spreadsheets have filled this need for a long time, there’s no reason they have to continue doing so, especially with the wealth of options technology has created in the last decade.

A Modern Solution

In today’s world, technology is inescapable (and that’s a good thing). It’s made its way into the different facets of life, including the office (i.e., EOC).

Emergency management and crisis response have been no stranger to the benefits of technology. Technology’s role in these operations is far from one-dimensional, too. It’s pervasive, finding ways to assist response teams and professionals with the various functions and stages of responding to an emergency.

When it comes to creating expense documentation, and especially for FEMA reimbursements, technology has a hand to play. The right technology can shore up many of the pitfalls of the old traditional ways of creating expense documentation for these reimbursements.

The right technology, be it a platform or a tool, can put the ability to generate documentation directly into the pockets of those responding to a crisis. Most tools and platforms can be accessed via a mobile device.

What a platform allows a team to do is build a solution before a crisis is even in the picture. The uniformity and constant availability of the FEMA reimbursement forms means a team (or the team’s tool/platform administrator) can shape a solution to produce a recreation of these forms.

In that process, the person who configures the solution can address the tedious items of filling out one of these FEMA reimbursement forms in the midst of a response. While in the field, the process can be as simple as unlocking a device, filling in a few fields, and submitting the digital form.

Using the Solution

A solution seems great on paper, but what matters is what happens in practice. If your team won’t use the solution, how much of a difference will it really make?

What we should ask is how an EOC manager or incident commander can encourage their personnel to recognize that they can complete this recovery phase task in the middle of the response phase.

Demonstrate the value of the solution. Show them how simple it is and the peace of mind completing the task with this solution delivers. Also make the other savings this solution makes possible, like not needing to hold onto certain documents because they can be digitally cataloged for later reference.

Easing the Stress

Technology can help emergency and crisis response teams get ahead of emergencies in some ways, including in the recovery stage. Easing the process of creating expense documentation in the moment via technology can greatly streamline the recovery phase of an emergency for an organization. If you want to learn more about how FEMA can help during a disaster, read here.

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