Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Maximizing Donated Resources After a Disaster Event

Deputy Director of Recovery Kevin Fuller discusses the Kilauea volcanic eruption in the State of Hawaii and the ways to realize the full fiscal benefit of receiving donated items and services after a disaster. You can learn more about how Hagerty Consulting can help you structure your recovery here.

The eruption of new fissures on the Kilauea volcano on the Island of Hawaii has been actively ongoing since May 3, 2018 causing destruction and dangerous hazards to the surrounding residents. Lava pouring through neighborhoods has not only destroyed private property, public roads, and homes but has also released volcanic gas emissions such as sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide and caused subsequent earthquakes. On May 11, the president issued a major disaster declaration for the volcano and affiliated earthquakes for Hawaii (DR-4366).  The Civil Defense and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reports that Fissure 8 continues to be very active, as of July 26, and lava continues to flow into residential areas. Volcanic disasters, such as the eruption from Kilauea, pose a challenging threat to communities since the timeline of eruption is long, and it is difficult to calculate when it will end.

Photo from USGS as of July 22, 2018 -Fissure 8 on Kilauea continues to erupt and have flowing channels of lava.

Common Challenges for Use of Volunteer Time and Donated Resources

The effects of the ongoing volcanic activity have been devastating for residents and communities around the Big Island in Hawaii. A disaster and its aftermath can be one of the most trying times for a community, but it can also be one of the most unifying. The Kilauea eruption is no exception. In addition to support from local and federal government agencies, many community and non-profit organizations have rallied to provide donated services, goods, and volunteer hours to those impacted by Kilauea’s activities.

Photo from USGS as of July 21, 2018 – A braided lava channel from Fissure 8 damages property and homes in its path.

When I have deployed after past disasters, I’m consistently impressed at how often I have an exchange similar to this:

Me: “In addition to the emergency labor expenses, did you have any costs related to feeding emergency staff?”

City Manager: “No, meals were provided by the local Rotary club.”

Me: “Oh, great. Moving on, did you have to set up any shelters to house people displaced immediately after the storm?”

City Manager: “We did have shelters set up, but they were established and run by a few of churches in town. We only had to provide a security role.”

Fortunately, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes the value that volunteer labor and donated supplies have for a community. To encourage volunteerism, FEMA has established protocols for communities to claim certain donated resources costs to lessen the overall financial burden that comes with recovering from a disaster. Many labor or materials costs that go towards emergency protective measures or debris removal activities can be used to offset the 25 percent cost share that a local municipality must cover for all FEMA eligible work.

In addition to giving goods, materials, or equipment, volunteering time is a wonderful way that communities can rally to support one another after a disaster event. If tracked properly, hours worked volunteering can be reimbursed by FEMA under the guidelines for “volunteer labor” (44 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 13.24 (c) (1)). FEMA advises that volunteer labor can use a “rate” normally used to pay for similar work. More broadly, FEMA has recognized the value in National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), an association of organizations serving communities in the event of a disaster, since voluntary organizations play a critical role in emergency response, management, and recovery. Whether considering volunteer labor or donated items, the validation process is key and typically the biggest hurdle in claiming donated resources costs. While I’ve heard the above conversation many times, it’s all too often followed up with the following exchange:

Me: “That’s great that you had so much assistance from the community, but how well is it documented? Do you know what days meals were provided, and how many? Do you have sign-in sheets for shelter workers?”

City Manager: “We have some sign-in sheets, but they’re not dated and don’t have the location listed, and only half the people have both a sign-in and out time.”

Recent FEMA Policy Changes Affecting Donated Resources Eligibility

The previous discussion and examples have been focused on emergency protective measures, however FEMA has recently updated their Donated Resources policy to expand eligibility to permanent work as well. The policy change retroactively applies to all disasters declared on or after August 23, 2017.

The other major change included in the policy is how Direct Administrative Costs (DAC) are treated for donated resources. DAC is essentially the cost that the applicant incurred to put together a Project Worksheet (PW) for FEMA reimbursement (you can read more details about DAC in our previous post here). For a PW written to capture donated resources, this DAC would be time associated with collecting, reviewing, and calculating the hours and cost documentation for FEMA. These DAC costs previously had to be included on the Donated Resources PW itself, but the new policy requires that DAC be included on the separate PW that is related to the donated resources being claimed.

This change in DAC claims does raise a number of questions, which will have to be sorted out with FEMA. For instance, donated bulk meals can be eaten by police, fire, utilities, and roads department staff in the hours and days after a disaster event. That emergency work could be spread over multiple PWs, so where does the donated resources DAC get attached to? While the policy changes look like a means to maximize the benefits of community involvement in response to a disaster, these procedural questions are important to work out to ensure communities are making efficient decisions with the resources at their disposal.

Best Practices for Maximizing Volunteer Hours and Donated Resources

While it’s possible to try and reconstruct documentation after the fact, most communities only get a fraction of the donated resources reimbursement from FEMA that they could potentially have received. To both be prepared to help the community and avoid missing out on potential benefits, it’s vital to have a volunteer plan in place before disaster strikes. Having template documents readily available and staff trained to coordinate and track people, materials, and costs in the event of a disaster can not only lead to better financial benefits down the line but will also likely make volunteer efforts more effective by cutting down on duplicated work.

To help claim all of the benefits of donated resources as allowed under FEMA’s existing and new donated resources policies, consider some of the tips below:

  1. Donate and Volunteer Responsibly – If you’re considering donating your own time or resources, read FEMA’s tips for volunteering or donating responsibly.
  2. Keep Records and Time Sheets – If you’re monitoring volunteer hours as an emergency manager, non-profit leader, or simply a volunteer supervisor, ensure you track hours and tasks as much as possible.
  3. Generate Receipts for Donation of Goods, Materials, and Equipment – If you’re receiving donated goods, materials, equipment, or any other items, ensure each item is carefully logged and a receipt is provided to the donor.
  4. Carefully Calculate the Donation “Credit” – If you’re an emergency manager or grant manager trying to determine applicable equipment, materials, or labor rates to calculate the credit that’s eligible, consult FEMA’s rate guidance.

As described in FEMA’s Strategic Plan, “Every segment of our society, from individual to government, industry to philanthropy, must be encouraged and empowered with the information it needs to prepare for the inevitable impacts of future disasters.” Building a culture of preparedness must include measures that encourage volunteers to respond to disasters. Developing policies to make sure that the generosity of individuals and organizations is recognized is a key tool in achieving this goal.

As the season progresses, Disaster Discourse will continue to monitor Atlantic hurricane activity and provide situational awareness updates.

Kevin Fuller is a Deputy Director of Recovery for Hagerty Consulting based out of our Washington, DC office. When he’s out of the office, he enjoys art history/museums, annoying his wife with his television watching decisions, and being continually frustrated with the state of the Georgetown basketball program. Hagerty Consulting is always looking for intellectually curious people with a commitment to the public sector to join our team.