By Emily Banks Wooten
A new tool for reporting damages following a disaster was shared with the Rotary Club of Livingston recently when Jon Clingaman, the district coordinator for District 14 in the Lufkin office of Region 2 of the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), presented a program for the local club.
iSTAT, which signifies Individual State of Texas Assessment Tool, is a tool that may be accessed through a QR code or by visiting the TDEM website at tdem.texas.gov. Through the tool, Texans can report damage to homes and businesses using the damage survey. The information provided in the survey aids emergency management officials gain an understanding of damages that have occurred and helps officials determine if the state meets federal requirements for various forms of disaster assistance, as well as identify any immediate resource needs. Reporting damage through the iSTAT tool is a voluntary activity, however and is not a substitute for reporting damage to your insurance agency. Nor does it guarantee disaster relief assistance.
“Judge Murphy (Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy) and Courtney (Polk County Emergency Management Coordinator Courtney Comstock) will be pushing this tool. It is extremely important. Not only will it tell you where and what the damages are, it will also tell of unmet needs,” Clingaman said, adding, “It’s important you know this tool is out there prior to storm season.”
Clingaman explained that TDEM is now a division of the Texas A&M University System whereas it formerly fell under the Texas Department of Public Safety. He provided an overview of the state’s team, noting that their goal is to manage the state’s emergency management plan which is responding, recovering from, and mitigating disasters.
“There are four steps – preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery. Another of our goals would be to recognize the depth of the emergency management department here in Polk County. And at the state level we certainly recognize the depth that Judge Murphy and Courtney and Sam put into it,” Clingaman said.
“Judge Murphy is the local emergency management director. If she needs our help, we come. We don’t come unless she asks us. Judge Murphy is responsible for declaring an emergency in Polk County. The mayor is responsible in the City of Livingston,” Clingaman said.
He also referred to Chapter 418 of the Texas Government Code which details what the county judge may do in the event of a disaster. “She can put a curfew out. She can supersede a code. It allows them to supersede to provide support for the county,” he said.
Clingaman also explained that an integral step in the recovery process is reporting all the uninsured losses collaboratively for the State of Texas – things like debris removal costs, law enforcement costs, emergency protective measures, water systems, parks and roads, electrical, power lines – things that aren’t insured.
“This is what pushes the uninsured numbers up,” he said, remarking that there is a $47½ million threshold. He cited Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, commenting that the $47½ million threshold is per event. “That’s $47½ million for Katrina and $47½ million for Rita, so now we’re at $95 million.”
These are referred to as public losses and up to 75% may be recovered from FEMA. “Counties and cities are insured so that’s why these have to be uninsured losses. That’s the public side. Before you can receive assistance on the public side, you need to see 800, give or take, homes damaged or destroyed,” Clingaman said.
He also mentioned the opportunity for Small Business Administration loans. “They have ultra-low interest rates. They open what’s called disaster outreach loan assistance for uninsured losses,” he said.
“After a disaster, people automatically go, ‘Where’s FEMA?’ but FEMA won’t come to the state without the notification from us that we need their help, just like we won’t come without Judge Murphy asking us to,” Clingaman said, adding, “It would be unfair for us to provide assistance before the local resources are utilitized.
“You guys are fortunate here in Polk County to have the local leadership you have. They’re very engaged,” Clingaman said.