FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT/When disaster strikes
News coverage of the cataclysmic tsunami in Asia and rains in California have reminded Americans of the importance of emergency preparedness. In addition to shattered lives, disaster carries a financial burden. By using work management software, local government can focus on emergency recovery knowing that costs are being documented for later reimbursement.
Most natural disasters are small ones, such as a washed-out road or hail-damaged facility, which can be expensive but manageable. Some large disasters, however, can overwhelm a community. For catastrophic emergencies, financial assistance often is available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Homeland Security office charged with consequence management.
In incidents where local and state resources are over-run, the president can declare a federal emergency, making federal funds available. Under such a declaration, municipalities can be reimbursed for labor, equipment use and repair, and materials for emergency response and recovery. The trick is documenting efforts during an incident response.
In the middle of a crisis, documentation is seldom a priority, and long hours and sleep deprivation cause details to fade quickly. “Mobilizing equipment in a timely way can make the difference in not only overcoming the crisis but limiting the damage incurred,” says Larry Bullock, St. George, Utah, public works director. January flooding there forced hundreds of residents to evacuate and prompted a presidential disaster declaration. “But it is important to have someone writing down costs: equipment, manpower and resources.”
Mark Frazier, project coordinator for the Hardee County, Fla., Road and Bridge Department, agrees. “The first 72 hours they pay for equipment and materials, plus any overtime for storm-related work,” says Frazier, who keeps track of diaster-related costs with work management software. By developing an inventory of municipal assets and cost codes for each piece of equipment, each type of material and each labor resource, the software helps managers keep track of all project costs. Local governments that already have complied with GASB34, the Government Accounting Standards Board ruling that requires cities and counties to account for the value of all improved assets, can expect to spend about a month and a half populating their databases. The cost of purchasing work management software and getting it up and running can range from $5,000 to $100,000.
Brian Pettet, Pitkin County, Colo., public works director, says during a 2001 plane crash the county was responsible for controlling access to the site, site cleanup and containment of toxic materials in the midst of a media frenzy. “There is no way we were thinking that we needed to keep track of our time and equipment,” he says. “But because of our work management system, we did our normal log sheets at the end of each shift and all the details came out in the reports.”
Natural disaster can be a life-altering experience for any community. Keeping track of emergency and daily expenses with software is one way to make the public dollar work hard daily, while at the same time easing the fiscal burden of a catastrophe.
The author is president of Snowmass Village, Colo.-based Tracker Software.