January 2024 Storms: Frequently Asked Questions

Posted 2024-01-19

On January 16, 2024, Island Institute hosted a webinar to share information and resources to help community members navigate the devastating impacts of the January 2024 storms. During the webinar, many questions were submitted into the Q&A, and we’re following up here with further information about the most frequently asked questions. Please see additional resources, including help navigating insurance, mental health, and more, on our Resources page.

How do I report damage from the storms?   

Maine is currently in the damage assessment phase and the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is grappling with assessing the magnitude of the damage across the coast.

MEMA Reporting Deadlines

Deadline Update: Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) will accept damage reports submitted through January 31, 2024 for either storm. Previously, deadlines were January 18, 2024 and January 22, 2024 for the storms on January 10, 2023 and January 13, 2024, respectively.

 Reporting Templates

  1. Individuals & Households Initial Damage Assessment: Online Survey or PDF form.
  1. Business and Agriculture Initial Damage Assessment: Online Survey

With two storms, businesses and homeowners may file two damage assessment reports. If filing one damage report, MEMA requests that the narrative provide information about which storm caused which damage.  

MEMA will not be extending the assessment timeframes and storm damage reporting deadlines. MEMA needs to receive this data and pull together the necessary information to get the federal disaster process rolling as quickly as possible  

Filling a damage assessment does not mean you are in line for money, it just helps the state make the case that enough damage was done that the Federal Government should step in. This is the first step in a long process.  

The process for the State to receive federal funds starts with the initial damage assessment phase. Each county has a specific threshold of damage incurred on public infrastructure that must be met before the State can ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to perform a “joint preliminary damage assessment” to validate these county-level damage estimates. This part of the process is primarily focused on public infrastructure. 

MEMA is looking to submit a major disaster declaration by mid-February. The last five national disaster declarations have been approved within about 2 weeks. However, Rhode Island’s recent disaster request took 2.5 months to approve. Accessing federal funds will take time, and although hard to ask for during this time, patience is needed. 

Additionally, FEMA has an individual assistance program that the State may also qualify for. Qualification for this program depends on a variety of factors: the number of primary homes damaged, how much they were damaged, the extent to which they were insured, and other information. This program is harder for the State to qualify for, as it requires a greater level of damage incurred. 

Are there ways to expedite or avoid lengthy permitting or regulatory process in rebuilding? 

Standard permitting processes and requirements remain in place. Absent specific guidance from state or local agencies about expedited processes or exemptions, it is safer to assume you still must follow existing state and local rules. There may be additional guidance coming out from the State.  

In response to the severe flooding in western Maine this past December, the Maine legislature is considering adjusting the State’s Natural Resources Protection Act. A new bill that would make it clearer that emergency response related activities, the elevation of buildings in a flood plain, and the one-time elevation of an existing pier by up to 2 feet are exempt, is working its way through the legislative process.  

It is important to note, depending on the activity and location, other regulatory processes may still apply. 

When can I expect to receive Federal disaster assistance? 

There is a process the State and Federal government must go through to qualify recipients for Federal disaster assistance.  

This process will enable Federal dollars to start flowing to impacted communities. This may take months, and again, we stress the need for patience. This assistance is unlikely to cover the full cost of the damage or the additional expenses incurred due to storm damage. Several nonprofit and community-based organizations are working to help with storm recovery and rebuilding. We’ve heard from several local businesses willing to help with cleanup and reconstruction. Mainers are doing what we are known for – banding together as a community in times of crisis. 

We know that these events have placed a massive financial strain on communities, businesses, and families. The uncertainty around if, when, and how much funding will be available increases this strain. 

We encourage people to reach out to local resources for assistance or check in with the State by dialing 2-1-1. We will continue to share and distribute relevant updates and information as received.  

How will recovery funding be prioritized between supporting municipal, residential, and businesses? 

Different forms of relief funds are available to different kinds of entities. Public infrastructure can receive funding from FEMA. 

For residential damage, the first step is to contact your insurance provider. Your insurance company is likely to be the fastest and most successful way to recover from the disaster. Other resources like FEMA are designed to bring people back to a “stable situation” where basic immediate needs are met (shelter, food, heat, etc.) FEMA funding is not designed to build back stronger and higher – and is in no way meant to help folks “return to normal.”

Keeping receipts, pictures, video, of the damages is essential for documenting the kinds of things that can be reimbursed through FEMA programs.  

Direct assistance for businesses is harder to come by. The Small Business Administration has an emergency program. This program will likely be the quickest source of relief once the State has received an official disaster declaration. These are low interest, 30-year loans, with no payback during the first year.  

Island Institute has pivoted our Business Resilience Grant program to focus on working waterfront businesses that directly support fishing and aquaculture on islands and in fishing-dependent communities. You can access more information about eligibility here. 

How do we build back higher and stronger for long-term resilience?  

In the face of climate change and sea level rise, rebuilding wharves and infrastructure back exactly as they were leaves communities exposed to the same risk and potential for damage in future storms. We are prioritizing efforts to rebuild Maine’s working waterfronts higher and stronger. 

The Maine Climate Council will have a special meeting on Tuesday January 23rd to discuss the storms and start to consider how the Climate Council can help guide the State’s efforts to build resilience.  

Looking further down the road, the community resilience partnership, that is run by the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and Future, is a community-driven planning process that can help build resilience to storms like these. The application process for this program is currently open through March 29th. 

How can I help? 

  1. Give to Island Institute’s Storm Response Business Resilience work, including grants and support from our marine economy and climate teams. We are focusing our staff’s capacity and expanding our Business Resilience Grants to support the critical infrastructure that is the backbone of our coastal economy. A generous individual donor has issued a challenge gift of $50,000 that will be used to match your gift dollar for dollar to support the work in community and grantmaking direct to businesses.
  2. Support Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association’s Working Waterfront Support Fund created in response to the January storms, or their Fishermen Wellness Program, including efforts to support the mental health and well-being of the fishermen and harvesters who are facing loss of income. For other suggestions for how to give to Maine nonprofits working to provide direct support to those affected by the storms, please emailmembership@islandinstitute.org we’d be happy to share a growing list of partner organizations accepting gifts towards the storm response and recovery.
  3. Share our resource page with your network and community . The more people and businesses who have access to the damage reporting surveys and resources for assistance, the better the solutions from the local, state and federal agencies that are responding to the disaster. Sharing information is critical at this stage, and we pledge to keep adding to this resource page as new information is made available.