Weeks after Hurricane Ian devastated Florida, the American Red Cross is wrapping up one of the largest damage assessments the organization has ever undertaken.
Ian destroyed or caused major damage to more than 22,000 Florida homes, and this number could still increase. The Red Cross is providing emergency financial assistance to help many of these households jumpstart their recovery.
Red Cross teams have conducted more than 225,000 door-to-door detailed residential damage assessments to help determine how many homes have been affected and the extent of that damage. Information from this massive effort is used to plan what support — including financial assistance — families may need in the coming weeks and months.
WHAT DO DA TEAMS DO? The Disaster Assessment (DA) team is an important part of a Red Cross relief operation. These “boots on the ground” volunteers survey homes in affected communities to gather the information needed to plan recovery efforts. This includes calculating how many homes have been affected, the extent of the damage and the overall impact to a disaster-affected community.
Field DA teams, usually consisting of two trained Red Cross volunteers, visit homes one at a time to determine the level of damage. Disaster assessments can range from “no visible damage” to “major damage” or even “destroyed”. Using a special smartphone app, teams document the damage with photos, then categorize the level of damage and drop a pin on a GPS generated map to provide the precise location.
The criteria used for damage assessment by the Red Cross are the same that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses. Red Cross teams are trained to this clear set of standards, and “we use our best judgement on how the property was affected,” said Barbara Monteilh, a Red Cross DA volunteer. “We also have other guidelines once we make the assessment, and then we send the information to our supervisors.”
“Disaster assessment is key to guiding people as to what their next steps are,” said Angelica Hopkins, another Red Cross DA volunteer. “It lets us tell them what resources can be provided when moving forward.” Angelica said witnessing destruction can be emotionally difficult, but the work is rewarding because it helps those affected as they begin to recover.
“I’m able to tell them what we’re doing and give them Red Cross contact information to acquire the resources we provide. I can see they feel relieved a little bit and think, ‘Okay, I don’t have to sleep in my car tonight,’ or, ‘I know where I can get a hot meal.’ That makes me feel good,” Hopkins said.
The information gathered by DA teams supports two major recovery functions. First, it helps the Red Cross determine which neighborhoods need hot meals, water and snacks delivered, where to establish locations for distributing emergency supplies, and where to establish disaster aid stations. Second, it helps determine the number of households that may be eligible for financial assistance. This initial information also helps determine where the Red Cross should set up locations for affected residents to meet with Red Cross recovery caseworkers.
DA information is also shared with Red Cross partner organizations to enable the highest level of recovery assistance possible, ensuring that everyone affected gets help.
At the height of the Hurricane Ian disaster relief operation, more than 225 DA teams were on the ground visiting tens of thousands of homes. Weeks later, approximately 225,000 assessments are now complete, and 41 DA teams continue to assess affected neighborhoods.
DA GUIDES ASSISTANCE During nearly every Red Cross disaster response, from single family home fires to large-scale disasters, the Red Cross provides some financial assistance to those affected.
“We know that if a person’s home is destroyed or has suffered major damage, they will have immediate disaster-caused needs and that is what the financial assistance program is designed to address,” said Seth Gardner, a Red Cross Disaster Operations and Logistics director.
Financial assistance is distributed using the method most easily accessible for each affected resident. Some receive the funds via a pre-loaded debit card. Others with bank accounts receive the funds electronically.
“Our goal is to provide each eligible resident with initial financial assistance they can use for whatever their disaster-caused needs are,” Gardner said. The financial assistance allows people to make their own decisions and prioritize what their family needs most to start recovering. Funds can help families replace clothing or food, offset transportation costs, or support any other immediate need.