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FEMA's Public Assistance Grant Program Available to Water and Wastewater Utilities

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can provide federal funding under the Public Assistance (PA) Grant Program after a presidentially-declared disaster for: 
  • States
  • Tribal nations
  • Local governments
  • Private nonprofit organizations (PNPs)

Applicants may receive funding to restore and repair the facility to its original state. FEMA can also provide funds to mitigate damage from future disasters. For example, if a road was washed out during a flood, FEMA would consider funding to upsize the culvert, increase pipe capacity, or redirect stormwater flow.

The program requires matching funds from local and state governments. The federal share is at least 75% of the eligible cost. The state determines how the non-federal share (up to 25%) is split between the state and local government.

For more information, review the following resources:

Eligible Work

Eligible work is either emergency or permanent. Emergency work responds to immediate threats to public health and safety. Permanent work restores or repairs a facility to its pre‐disaster design and function.

The work is further divided into seven categories.

FEMA Public Assistance Categories of Work
Category Type of Work
Emergency Work A Debris Removal
B Emergency Protective Measures
Permanent Work C Roads and Bridges
D Water Control Facilities
E Buildings and Equipment
F Utilities
G Parks, Recreational Facilities, and Other Items

Water and wastewater utilities can qualify for grants under any of the categories.

  • The most likely category for utilities is Category F (Utilities). This category includes the permanent repair of publicly owned water treatment and delivery systems and sewage collection and treatment facilities. The PA Program will generally only pay to return the facility to pre-disaster levels. It may also cover upgrades to meet certain codes and standards.
  • Utilities can use Categories A and B because of their public health mission. Under Category A, FEMA may reimburse costs for removing debris to allow access to the damaged utility. Under Category B, costs for temporary generators may be reimbursed to keep the utility operational.
  • Category D includes the permanent repair of water control facilities. It does not include permanent repairs to flood control works and shore protection measures, which are eligible for assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Resources Conservation Service.
  • Category E covers buildings, structural components and interior systems such as electrical or mechanical work, equipment and contents furnishings.

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Application Process

The process for obtaining FEMA Public Assistance Grants is shown below.

Chart showing the process for obtaining FEMA Public Assistance Grants

  1. Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA)
    State and federal teams conduct a PDA to determine whether federal assistance is required. Utilities may need to answer questions about the status of, and damage to, their water and wastewater systems.
  2. Governor's Request
    If federal assistance is needed, the state's governor will issue a request.
  3. Declaration
    A Presidential declaration may be made based on the governor’s request. FEMA will designate the areas eligible for assistance.
  4. Applicant Briefing
    Utilities or your local government should attend a state-sponsored Applicants' Briefing. This gives information about available funding and requirements.
  5. Submit Request for Public Assistance (RPA)
    Applicants should complete a Request for Public Assistance Form within 30 days and submit it to the state. FEMA will assign a Public Assistance Coordinator (PAC) to work with each applicant throughout the disaster recovery period.
  6. Kickoff Meeting
    The PAC will meet with each applicant at a kickoff meeting to provide technical assistance and discuss eligibility requirements and project formulation.
  7. Project Formulation
    The PAC will help the applicant develop the project. Applicants will document the eligible facility, damage, scope of work and itemized costs. Applicants must provide FEMA the documents needed to approve the project.
  8. Project Review
    FEMA reviews the project expenses and worksheets. FEMA also makes sure the project complies with all applicable federal and state laws.
  9. Obligation, Grantee, Subgrantee
    FEMA provides the federal share of the approved amount to the state (grantee) who then provides the funds to the subgrantees (local government or utility).
  10. Project Closeout, Disaster Closeout
    Closeout certifies all work is complete, appeals are resolved and all costs are reimbursed.

Review a Checklist of Activities and Associated Deadlines for FEMA Public Assistance Grant Program.

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Damage Assessment

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What is Damage Assessment?

Damage assessment is the process of determining the location, nature and severity of damage after an incident. It includes the impact on public health and safety and other losses to the community.

Local and state officials will use the damage assessments to justify requests for disaster declarations and state and federal aid. Also, the information can be used to formulate projects to repair damage and restore operations.

What are the Phases of Damage Assessment?

The damage assessment process has three phases:
  1. Initial Damage Assessment
  2. Preliminary Damage Assessment
  3. Detailed Damage Assessment
Phase of Damage Assessment Purpose/ Level of Assessment  Timeframe  Who Conducts the Assessment?  What is Covered? 
Initial Damage Assessment Quick "back of the envelope" assessment Immediately after disaster; 12- 24 hours after disaster  Technical and nontechnical utility staff with local government officials.  Forwarded to state government. Public and private utilities focusing on % outages, % population not served, number of facilities or pump stations damaged or non-operational, access to facilities, boil water orders, mutual aid requested, status of repair crews 
Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA)  Justifies presidential declaration and release of federal disaster funds 2-4 days after disaster  Team of state and federal officials.  Could include utility engineers during visit. Utility may verify impacts, provide photo logs, and show damage.  Immediate expenditures for emergency repairs.
Detailed Damage Assessment Helps plan for repairs; justifies disaster funds  After presidential declaration and before permanent repairs; 1 to several weeks after disaster Utility engineers, technical staff, emergency or permanent repair crews  Detailed damage information to justify emergency and permanent repairs and costs  

Examples of Damage Assessments

Consider the hypothetical situation of a hurricane in Anytown, USA.  In this incident, wind causes damage to an elevated water tank.  Below are  examples of initial, preliminary and detailed damage assessments for this incident. 

Disaster in Anytown

Sample Initial Damage Assessment for Anytown Disaster

Hurricane John came ashore in Anytown at 7:45 a.m. on June 1, 2015. At approximately 3:00 p.m. after the high winds subsided, water utility officials (working with local Emergency Operations Center [EOC] officials) conducted initial damage assessments and safety reports.

Utility officials and members of Anytown's damage assessment team reviewed monitoring data on the utility's computer systems to determine what percentage of pump stations were offline, the approximate number of service interruptions, type and location of critical care sites affected, and impact of interruption on public health and safety.

A damage assessment team visited off-line pump stations and suspected water main breaks to determine if debris removal was needed before repairs could begin, or if the location of the pump station and water main was completely destroyed. This information was transmitted to the local EOC for its review.

The initial damage assessment showed that all residents of Anytown were without water and sewer service. There were several large water main breaks, the water tower that services the city was destroyed during the storm, and the wastewater treatment facility sustained major damage. All of the information was documented with photologs and on initial damage assessment forms. Public health and safety are at risk.

Sample Preliminary Damage Assessment for Anytown Disaster

Hurricane John came ashore in Anytown at 7:45 a.m. on June 1, 2015. Extensive damage and critical utility service interruptions as identified by the Initial Damage Assessments. The local emergency management agency (EMA) has contacted the Governor's office to request state assistance and if needed, federal disaster aid.

In response to the request for state aid, the Governor sent several Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) teams to Anytown to confirm the Initial Damage Assessments and gauge the level of cleanup and recovery efforts needed. Members of the PDA team requested that utility officials send a representative to confirm the service interruptions.

Since there is a total service interruption, the utility representative provided receipts from emergency water distribution stations that have been established to provide residents with drinking water. The utility representative also provided the PDA team with copies of mutual aid agreements that have been executed to bring in additional emergency repair crews to reduce the length of service disruptions.

Sample Detailed Damage Assessment for Anytown Disaster

High winds from Hurricane John came ashore in Anytown at 7:45 a.m. on June 1, 2015. The winds caused a 100,000 gallon elevated water tank serving the municipal water system to collapse. Wind loads on the tank appear to have caused structural failure of the anchor bolts connecting the lower legs to the foundation. The tank was supported by four steel lattice-type legs, each anchored by a single anchor bolt to a concrete foundation.

In addition to the tank collapse, debris from the falling tank caused more infrastructure damage. Below is a listing of all damage.

  1. Anchor bolts failed on four foundations
  2. Latticework legs supporting elevated water tank collapsed—4 each
  3. 100,000 gal, galvanized steel plate, 28 ft tall x 26 ft diameter, elevated water tank collapsed— 1 each
  4. 150 hp, 4,000 GPM pump and associated electrical power to supply water to the elevated tank damaged by falling debris—1 each
  5. 5Cast iron piping and associated valves connected to water tank damaged by falling debris— 200 linear feet (lf)
  6. 100 kW diesel fueled emergency generator damaged by falling debris—1 each
  7. 8 ft high, 6 gauge chain link fencing damaged by falling debris—30 lf
  8. 5 ft high x 20 ft wide opening, double-wide swing gate damaged by falling debris—1 each

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Project Planning

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Need Help? Turn to your FEMA Public Assistance Coordinator and Project Officer!

From the Presidential declaration through the funding approval, the Public Assistance Coordinator (PAC) will work with the impacted utility. The FEMA Project Officer (PO) will help the utility to develop scopes of work and cost estimates for large projects. Utilities should also contact their State Emergency Management Agency early on in the process.


What types of projects will FEMA fund?

  • Small Project: Project with a cost estimate of less than $68,500 (FY 2014). The funding is at minimum 75% federal.
  • Large Project: Project with a cost estimate greater than or equal to $68,500 (FY 2014).The funding is at minimum 75% federal.
  • Improved Project: Any project (large or small) where the applicant makes improvements while still restoring the facility to its pre-disaster function and capacity. The funding for improved projects is limited to the lower of either the federal share of the original project or the actual cost of the project.
  • Alternate Project: This type of project can result when a damaged facility is no longer needed or the public would not benefit from the facility being restored.

How do I formulate a repair project?

In FEMA's Public Assistance Grant program, project formulation is the process of creating Project Worksheets (PW). A PW is the basis for funding and includes the following:
  • Project Description
  • Project Location
  • Description of Damage
  • Project Costs
  • Description of Eligible Work (Scope of Work)

For more information, see the FEMA document Elements of a Project Worksheet (PDF)(5 pp, 1.4MB, About PDF).

Sample Scope of Work

Consider the hypothetical situation of a hurricane in Anytown, USA.  In this incident, wind causes damage to an elevated water tank.  Below are  examples of how to develop a scope of work and a cost estimate, and how FEMA equipment rates are used.

Disaster in Anytown

Sample Scope of Work for Anytown Disaster

Work completed - None

Work to be completed - Replace (subject to repair vs. replacement rule) and install the following:

  1. Foundations to restore anchor bolts elements—4 each
  2. Latticework legs to support elevated water tank—4 each
  3. 100,000 gal, steel plate, 28 ft tall x 26 ft diameter, elevated water tank—1 each
  4. 150 hp, 4000 GPM pump and associated electrical power to supply water to the elevated tank—1 each
  5. Cast iron piping and associated valves connected to water tank—200lf
  6. 100 kW diesel fueled emergency generator—1 each
  7. 8 ft high, 6 gauge chain link fencing—30 lf 8. 5 ft high x 20 ft wide opening, double-wide swing gate—1 each

NOTE: If a repair costs less than 50% of the cost to replace that item, then the applicant is required to repair the item. However, a utility could work with the PAC to see if this rule applies. For instance, a pipe repair may lead to a weak joint in the system so replacing it could eliminate subsequent problems. 

Sample Cost Estimate for Anytown Disaster

Item Units Quantity Unit Cost Total Cost Source of Estimate
Foundations to restore anchor bolts elements  EA 4 $5,135.35  $20,541.40  Contractor bid
Latticework legs to support elevated water tank EA 4 $1,500.00  $6,000.00  Vendor pricing
100,000 gal, galvanized steel plate, 28 ft tall x 26 ft diameter, elevated water tank EA 1 $25,789.00 $25,789.00 Vendor pricing
150 hp, 4000 GPM pump EA 1      
Cast iron piping and valves   LF 200      
100 kW diesel-fueled emergency generator EA 1      
8 ft high, 6 gauge chain link fencing LF 30      
5 ft high x 20 ft wide opening, double-wide swing gate EA 1      
TOTAL COST (materials)       $52,330.40  

EA = Each    LF = Linear Feet


Sample Estimate of Costs Using FEMA Equipment Rates for Anytown Disaster

For equipment rates, look up the equipment code on the FEMA website that best matches the equipment you have listed. If the exact equipment is not listed (different horsepower or size) then "round up" to the next closest horsepower or class of equipment. 

Multiply the total number of hours by the listed rate to obtain the cost. 

Sample Cost Estimate Using FEMA Equipment Rates


How are costs estimated and calculated for FEMA Public Assistance Grants?

Grant amounts are based on actual costs for completed work. However, a utility must first get approval using estimates based on unit costs (see example below). Final payments will be based on actual payroll information, equipment logs or usage records.

How are FEMA equipment rates used to estimate project costs?

FEMA's equipment rates give a unit price per hour for applicant-owned equipment. These rates account for equipment operation, insurance, depreciation, fuel and maintenance.

FEMA also recognizes rates developed by both state and local governments on a case-by-case basis:
  1. State Rates: Applicants may claim state rates up to $75 per hour for normal day-to-day operations. Rates over $75 per hour may be approved by FEMA on a case-by-case basis.
  2. Local Rates: Applicants using local rates may claim reimbursement based either on local rates or FEMA rates, whichever is lower. If applicant shows the local rate does not reflect actual costs, the higher FEMA rate may be used.

Equipment rates are applied only to the time equipment is actually working. Standby time and idle time are not eligible. FEMA's schedule of rates is updated yearly.

See FEMA's schedule of equipment rates.

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Mitigation Funding

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How do I Incorporate a Mitigation Proposal into a FEMA Public Assistance Project?

FEMA, the state or the subgrantee (affected utility) may propose hazard mitigation measures as part of permanent work projects. This is especially helpful at sites where damages are repetitive and a simple repair will solve the problem.

Hazard mitigation measures are identified by preparing a Hazard Mitigation Proposal (HMP). HMP is not a form; it is a written description and estimate of what it will cost to repair documented damage in such a way as to prevent it from happening again. The HMP is submitted with the Project Worksheet.

The FEMA Public Assistance Coordinators (PACs) can assist in preparing an HMP or in identifying mitigation projects.


Cost-Effective Mitigation for Water and Wastewater Utilities

FEMA may reimburse utilities for certain cost-effective hazard mitigation actions. These actions must prevent the reoccurrence of the damage. The Hazard Mitigation Funding provision under Section 406 of the Stafford Act authorizes mitigation measures. FEMA has already pre-determined certain cost-effective measures for water and wastewater treatment plants.

Review a table of Mitigation Projects Considered Cost-Effective by FEMA for Water/Wastewater Utilities.

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Keys to Success

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How can utilities prepare to take advantage of FEMA's Public Assistance Grant Program?

Partnerships. Work closely with your state and tribal officials on submitting applications and obtaining funds or technical assistance. FEMA and the states assign staff to help you.

Training. Consider completing FEMA’s on-line training on the PA Program:

Procedures. To help technical and financial staff to comply with FEMA PA reimbursement requirements, utilities should include procedures in their emergency plan.

Recordkeeping. Utilities must keep detailed records to be reimbursed. Set up basic protocols or procedures, such as establishing a project number for a disaster and tracking overtime hours.

Review EPA’s Fact Sheet on Reimbursement Tips for Water Sector Emergency Response and Recovery.

What advice or lessons learned do other utilities have?

Review an EPA fact sheet on Lessons Learned from Water/Wastewater Utilities that Participated in FEMA's Public Assistance Program.

How can utilities get disaster funding more quickly?

Although reimbursement occurs after eligible work is completed, FEMA's Public Assistance Grant Program has two provisions to approve and fund projects with a public health mission prior to completion:

  • The Immediate Needs Funding Standard Operating Procedure (PDF)(24 pp, 130KB) meets an applicant's urgent needs in the initial aftermath of a disaster. Within the first 60 days after the disaster declaration, FEMA can provide funds for emergency work that an applicant must perform immediately.
  • Expedited Payments, as described in Chapter 3 of FEMA's Public Assistance Guide, are for applicants who conducted a preliminary damage assessment and who have applied for public assistance. FEMA pays 50% of the federal share of Category A work within 60 days of the first estimate. This will be no later than 90 days after the Request for Public Assistance was submitted.

Contact your state emergency management agency about expedited FEMA financial assistance.

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