2011-09-22 / Front Page

Get in touch with FEMA for hurricane loss claims

Those who still need to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about losses suffered as a result of Hurricane Irene can do so in person or by phone, Internet or U.S. mail.

There are a number of communication tools available to help New Jersey residents on the road to recovery, according to a FEMA press release.

“New Jerseyans having to rebuild after Hurricane Irene have a big challenge ahead of them,” William L. Vogel, federal coordinating officer, said in the press release. “We don’t want the disaster assistance process to become a part of those challenges.”

The disaster assistance process uses step-by-step methods intended to simplify registering and speed aid to those who need it. FEMA experts work one-on-one with survivors as needed and important information flows back and forth by phone, the Internet and U.S. mail, according to the press release.

While information is available from mobile FEMA sources, such as Web-enabled smart phones, Twitter alerts and email, the agency does not use these formats to communicate personal information to survivors. For example, FEMA would not send a text message to a cell phone to announce a grant receipt, or request additional information, the press release said.

Survivors can get in touch and stay in touch with FEMA in person at Disaster Recovery Centers, which are one-stop shops that provide individual assistance to survivors who have registered with FEMA. Representatives from federal and voluntary agencies, including the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), are available at all New Jersey Disaster Recovery Centers to answer questions and provide recovery information, according to the press release. The centers are established at locations throughout a disaster area. Hours and locations are publicized in local media or online using the DRC locator, www.fema.gov/assistance/ opendrcs.shtm.

FEMA also maintains a toll-free phone line to help survivors register for disaster assistance and follow up on their status. Multilingual operators are available. The number is 800-621-3362 (FEMA) or (TTY) 800-462-7585 for individuals with access or functional needs. Once registered, survivors may access the helpline at the same number and by following the voice prompts. Telephone lines are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., according to the press release.

Residents may also register for assistance 24/7 at www.disasterassistance.gov. A series of on-screen prompts navigates users through the registration process. Those registering will need basic contact and insurance information. The process can take less than 20 minutes. Once registered, people can return to the site periodically, as needed, to check the status of a claim. The website also offers a variety of resources for rebuilding after a disaster and provides action-oriented advice for lessening the effects of future disasters, according to the press release.

New Jersey residents can also find disaster information and recovery resources directly via a smart phone at FEMA’s new mobile website at http://m.fema.gov.

Those who receive federal disaster assistance are notified by mail of their eligibility status and the intended use of any grant they may receive. FEMA also uses the U.S. Postal Service to notify survivors when they are not eligible for assistance, the reasons they are not eligible and how to appeal a FEMA decision, according to the press release.

Those who receive mail from either FEMA or the SBA are encouraged to open it immediately, respond promptly and/or call the phone numbers provided for answers to their questions.

“Providing accurate, timely and complete information is crucial to recovery,” said Vogel, “regardless of the way you decide to communicate with FEMA.”

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