UPDATE: Newer FEMA flood maps were released on January 28, 2013, revealing twice as many structures in flood zones.
After Hurricane Sandy devastated sections of New Jersey, the recovery process has begun. In conjunction with rebuilding, FEMA has released new flood maps aimed at prompting major changes in areas prone to flooding. FEMA Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer Bill Vogel told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that there are assistance programs to help residents rebuild stronger and smarter and that the delayed vote on a $60 billion aid package will not affect the job FEMA is doing to help people recover.
Changes to the flood maps was in the works prior to Hurricane Sandy, Vogel explained. “This is a result of a long, ongoing study because those maps needed to be updated. And with new information and the data that we’ve got, this information will be able to allow people to build stronger and in better shape so if we ever have an event like this again that they would be able to survive,” he said.
Depending on the location of certain homes and the conditions, recommended elevations could be one to five feet. While homeowners will have to bear some cost of raising homes, Vogel said there are assistance programs. “It’s not going to be able to pay for the entire cost of elevating all the structures, but there is some help that is available,” he said.
When asked what has been the most surprising part of the recovery experience, Vogel said, “I think the thing that surprises me the most is the great effort that the entire state and federal team has done in order to be able to help people.” He said more than 250,000 people have registered with FEMA and about 56,000 of them have been approved. The agency has given out more than $330 million in individual assistance and Vogel said FEMA has nearly 8,000 projects that he believes the group will be able to help municipalities complete.
“There’s a great team of public assistance coordinators who work in conjunction with each one of the applicants from the state of New Jersey and they work directly with those people to figure out just exactly what kinds of projects are going to be required and then they scope that project out and conduct the necessary work. And then we’re able to reimburse the state who then pays each one of the applicants for those projects,” Vogel said. “Right now the cost share is 25 percent for the non-federal share. The federal share will pay 75 percent of those projects.”
Many politicians have criticized the delayed vote on a bill that would provide $60 billion in relief aid, but Vogel stressed that FEMA is able to do its job without those funds. “We have plenty of money in the disaster relief fund to be able to fund everything that the individuals and — as far as we know — all of the public assistance projects go,” he said. “We also have money that’s available for mitigation to help people build stronger and higher in the future.”
Vogel explained the relief aid bill is supplemental, but FEMA still wants it to become available. “We’re certainly hoping that we get it. We’re certainly doing everything we can to show the need for that additional funding,” he said.
According to Vogel, there are plenty of temporary housing units available for New Jerseyans who need them. Fort Monmouth is one of the places offering temporary housing. “We’ve got people that are in the first building that has been completed,” he said. “We’re working on another building and we’re working on 21 of the duplexes that will be available to them by the end of January.”
Vogel said he doesn’t believe additional temporary housing will be necessary, especially since the number of people using temporary housing decreases daily. “That means that they have found another alternative housing solution until they have their permanent housing solution taken care of,” he said. “So I think that’s a real positive sign. We’re working real hard with the state to identify those necessary facilities for people.”
The state-led disaster housing program has been working out well, according to Vogel, who said FEMA has a great relationship with New Jersey. He also said the volunteer effort has been fantastic with 425 agencies and 15,500 people involved.