FEMA Renews Focus on Pre-Disaster Counseling Partnerships

Pre-disaster management counseling and training issues are high up on the agenda of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The agency said it expects further growth in counseling demand and the need to provide continued education and training to those who are directly involved in crisis management. The trend started to pick up in September 2010 pushing FEMA to plan more workshops this year and year-over-year thereafter.

The 2011 tornado season and how to provide effective pre-disaster counseling is expected to be at the top of the agenda at FEMA’s upcoming National Flood Conference in New Orleans.

This year tornados spread from the Lower Mississippi Valley to the Upper Tennessee Valley, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and the Florida Panhandle, causing unprecedented damages. During the spring and early summer, thousands of other tornadoes will strike the United States so FEMA is renewing its efforts to minimize damages.

In an effort “to strengthen and expand” pre-disaster financial counseling assistance to homeowners and their families so they can “recover in the shortest time possible,” FEMA recently renewed its partnership with Operation Hope Inc.

The agency called on “corporate America to join” an endeavor that assists everyone in their communities.

Following the new memorandum of agreement Hope Coalition America will provide free counseling and educational workshops designed to prepare natural disaster survivors for the financial challenges they need to face in the aftermath.

The goal is to provide tips and information to potential disaster victims so in case of emergency they are prepared to manage their debt obligations, such as their mortgages, or their mortgage insurance.

According to the FEMA-Hope Coalition agreement, services will be offered through various actions including the development of publications, manuals, seminars and brochures.

Operation Hope is specialized in mobilizing volunteers from various financial services industry entities that offer guidance before, during and after natural disaster emergencies in coordination with FEMA’s disaster recovery centers.

Craig Fugate, the agency’s administrator, said FEMA sees this pre-emptive approach to disaster counseling as the best way to increase financial counseling efficiency when a disaster strikes.

Various third-party service providers of learning management services have partnered with FEMA to provide adequate training and counseling.

SumTotal Systems Inc. of Gainesville, Fla., is one of the partners to FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program training initiative for the education and training of insurance agents, mortgage lenders and claims adjusters.

According to SumTotal CEO John Borgerding, in partnership with FEMA SumTotal helped over 20,000 communities across America to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA’s mitigation ordinances are proven to limit future flood damage. FEMA evaluations show that flood damage is reduced by nearly $1 billion a year if communities implement their area specific flood management requirements and property owners purchase flood insurance.

Additional benefits for residents and businesses that adopt and enforce National Flood Insurance Program mitigation ordinances in their communities include the eligibility to participate in a federally backed flood insurance plan.

The program also provides training to local agents, adjusters and lenders in cooperation with third-party service providers such as SumTotal. These partnerships have enabled FEMA to develop and deliver new content, support services and training.

For example, during the first year of its partnership with SumTotal, FEMA conducted 240 workshops that facilitated the training of over 13,000 agents, adjusters and lenders. The second year, the number of workshops increased to 378 and that of participants to 19,000.

FEMA has combined more aggressive community outreach efforts with improved technology and streamlining of operations and training delivery. The agency said it has seen a dramatic increase in demand for Web-based training. Responding to that market demand FEMA plans to increase the number of educational webinars from only 10% of all training efforts to approximately 40%.