TS Irene Damage

Damage to roads, bridges, and homes are displayed on the map. The availability of geo-located data of damaged sites was unprecedented in comparison to previous flooding events in Vermont and the data provided a unique opportunity for spatial analysis.  Most of the data came from FEMA paperwork that they require from towns and from the state detailing damage and the scope of repair work to obtain public funds after federally declared disasters. The damage that this data represents; however, is by no means comprehensive and only gives a picture of the most dramatic and costly damage that occurred. This data came from three sources:

  • Detailed Damage Inspection Reports (DDIRs) for damage to state roads and bridges
  • FEMA Project Worksheets for damage to town roads and bridges
  • Hazard Grant Mitigation Program Applicants (HGMP) these blue points on the map show homes that experienced extreme damage from the flood and applied for buyouts.

The process of data collection and damage mapping

Detailed Damage Inspection Reports (DDIRs): Any infrastructure that is part of the Federal-Aid Secondary Highway System (FAS) and damaged during a federally declared disaster is eligible to receive Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief funds (FHWA-ER).  To receive FHWA-ER funds, state officials must submit a Detailed Damage Inspection Report (DDIR) for each of its qualifying projects.  In general, the FAS includes all state-owned roadways (which typically carry a route number) and town-owned major collector roads (those that pass through and connect several towns).  DDIRs are therefore a good resource for damage to state-owned infrastructure. They are otherwise quite similar to Project Worksheets (see above). For our project we obtained all available DDIRs from Hancock, Rochester, and Plymouth from Joe Segale at VTrans. As with PWs, DDIRs are typically only held for three years after the project closes, and we were unable to obtain any DDIRs for flood events prior to Tropical Storm Irene.

Project Worksheets: Roads owned and maintained by towns and damaged during a federally declared disaster are eligible for FEMA Public Assistance (FEMA-PA) funds. To obtain FEMA-PA funds, local or FEMA officials must submit Project Worksheets (PWs). PWs are FEMA forms that document the scope of work and cost estimate for a disaster-related project. They are useful for obtaining data on damaged local infrastructure. PWs provide FEMA with the information necessary to approve repair plans and itemized costs prior to funding (http://www.fema.gov/government/grant/pa/faq.shtm#Q15). PWs are submitted to Public Assistance Coordinators and if approved are used as the basis for funding under the Public Assistance Program. Each project (usually an individual road, bridge, or building) must be documented on a separate PW, but individual sites of damage can be combined under a single project.

FEMA has specific guidelines for the type and format of documentation included in Project Worksheets, much of which is useful for Repeat Damage Assessments:

  • “Damage Location”: In this section, PWs must describe the exact location of damaged sites. Whenever possible, this should come in the form of latitude/longitude coordinates. These coordinates especially aid the mapping process as they allow researchers to geolocate specific sites of damage.
  • “Damage Description and Dimensions”: In this section, “damage must be described in terms of the function of the facility, and its feature or items requiring repair.” The result of these guidelines is a very specific report of the damage to each of a site’s component parts (in the case of a road, one would not simply report that ‘a section of roadway was washed out,’ but instead separately describe damage to the guard rail, asphalt, gravel sub base, and earthen embankment). This information is critical to a detailed Repeat Damage Assessment.
  •  “Scope of Work”: In this section, “the scope of work necessary to repair the damage must be completely described and correspond directly to the cause of damage. The work should be specified in quantifiable (length, width, height, depth, capacity) and descriptive (brick, wood, asphalt, timber deck bridge) terms.” This information is useful for establishing how particular segment of structures were repaired–it may be used to relate specific qualities of sites (i.e. what material a bridge was built with) to damage (or lack thereof) incurred at a later date.
  • “Project Cost”: In this section, all incurred and estimated repair costs (including the cost of materials, equipment, and labor) are listed and itemized. This information is useful for the cost-benefit-analysis part of a Repeat Damage Assessment.

Unfortunately, FEMA only requires that Project Worksheets be kept by sub-grantees for three years from the date the State closes a grant.  FEMA may need to be contacted directly to access older PWs, something our group attempted, but with which we achieved little success. A Freedom of Information Act request for all PWs related to flooding in the towns of Hancock, Rochester, and Plymouth was submitted. While Irene-related PWs for Plymouth and Rochester were directly obtained in the offices of the Town Clerks, the Hancock office (which was flooded during 2008 and Irene) did not have these documents. They were obtained from Hancock’s FEMA Project Specialist (Roland Luxenberg) via the Hancock Road Commissioner (James Leno).

Hazard Mitigation Grant Program: Geo-located points of damage to homes were mapped using data of homes that applied for Hazard Grant Mitigation Program buyouts. Because this data included the names of the applicants I did not display any of the information on the maps other than the locations of applicants. The points do not represent points that received buyouts it only shows the locations of homes that applied.

The HMGP program is funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after a Presidential disaster declaration. The funds are administered by Vermont Emergency Management, federal funds are available to cover up to 75% of project costs; however, there is a 25% local match requirement that is the responsibility of the applicant, a portion of this share is sometimes covered by the state or the town. The purpose of the program is to remove structures from flood hazard areas so that future damage does not occur. A key part of this application process is showing that the location has been damaged before. This makes repeat damage mapping particularly important. Applying for HMGP funding is more burdensome than PA funds because a cost/benefit analysis is required in addition to demonstration that there have been historic losses. The funds are designed for structures and properties affected by the natural disaster, and the scope of work includes hazardous property allocation through buyout programs, relocation of structures to a safer place or elevation, or flood proofing.

Learn more about the HMGP on FEMAs HMGP Site

Read more about the HMGP buyout process in Stockbridge in this Burlington Free Press Article.