Metro’s Adherence to FEMA Rules Pays Off

 In News

Proper FEMA reimbursement was the result of attention to detail and an enormous amount of forethought in the days and weeks following Nashville’s May 2010 flood. Metro Nashville could not have been prepared to prevent the devastation that came with this historic flood, but they were able to respond quickly and systematically, thanks to help from staff, its contractors, and thousands of volunteers. Through existing contracts, MPW has enlisted Collier Engineering to manage the Construction Engineering and Inspection (CEI) portion of the roadway repair projects necessitated by the flood.

The first part of the emergency repairs was the creation of the Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDAs) required by FEMA’s Public Assistance Guide 322. The PDA process, managed by Metro Public Works, used roadway inspectors and all non-essential personnel to visit, photograph, and establish documentation suitable for engineering estimates on over 1100 damaged roadway locations across Davidson County. A geographical information system (GIS) database was created to match the XY coordinates of each damage site with the appropriate inspection records, photos, and damage assessment. When the FEMA representatives arrived approximately two weeks after the initial event, Metro was able to hand FEMA a report documenting all the damage locations in the form required by the reimbursement guidelines.

Metro decided that, for the purpose of managing roadway repairs, the county would be broken up into five zones. Once an Invitation to Bid could be advertised, bid, and awarded to a contractor for the roadway repairs in each zone, a pre-construction meeting was held and the estimation phase of the project began. There were initial estimates based on the PDA originally done by MPW and Collier Engineering staff, but actual cost data could be calculated once unit price construction contracts were in place. This allowed Metro to project actual cost data with each location and issue a Purchase Order for each numbered damage location.

Once assigned projected costs, Metro was able to package and categorize projects according to the Large or Small Project designation as required for FEMA reimbursement. Large Projects have a projected cost greater than $63,200, and Small Projects are projected to cost less than that amount. Large Projects are reimbursed to the municipality from records of actual costs associated with a construction project (after a detailed FEMA audit) once the project is complete. Small Projects are paid for from the original cost estimates followed by a FEMA-audit of a small representative sample of invoices at the end of all repairs to justify the initial payments in the process. Keeping projects in the Small category as much as possible, even if that requires management of multiple small projects in an area, means faster reimbursement to the affected municipality.

Construction began once all emergency repair projects were inventoried and contracted, with inspectors on the projects at all times checking tickets and deliveries and construction progress to ensure all quantities reconciled on a daily basis and that the contractors were following all local, TDOT, and federal standards and specifications outlined in the plans for each project. For a repair to be eligible for FEMA reimbursement, it must be done in accordance with existing construction guidelines at the time of the disaster. The municipality must also show that it follows its own guidelines or the repairs may not be eligible, and it is incumbent on the municipality to be able to prove that is the case. As of this writing, construction has been completed on 75 of the 215 viable Metro Nashville roadway repair locations, and work will continue until all of the projects are completed sometime next summer.

This biggest hurdle anyone has when dealing with reimbursement for a declared disaster is managing the information that is required by the FEMA guidelines. PDAs, estimates, plans and specifications, daily construction reporting, unit-price quantity reconciliation, final inspections, and thousands of photographs are required to maximize FEMA’s reimbursement after a flood that causes as much damage as this one did.

Any municipality that cannot adequately document repairs performed as eligible for FEMA reimbursement can rest assured that the reimbursement will be minimal. Metro’s recent experience proved that the best tool you can have when working toward FEMA reimbursement is a system to allow representatives to access and review digital inspection reports, field notes, tickets, and lots of associated photographs. In Metro’s instance, a geodatabase application allows authorized parties to quickly access and review all documents related to the emergency repair projects — from the PDA through the estimate, and on to the final repair, Metro’s documents are easily accessible using common point-and-click map navigation and search tools. This rich set of project-related documents and the quick method established by Metro for authorized parties to access it has proven to be a very effective way to maximize FEMA reimbursement for flood-related roadway construction across Metro Nashville.

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