NEW CASTLE —
When disaster strikes, everyone pays.
That summation was given by Lawrence County officials and local emergency responders who have been involved in storms, flooding and other disasters.
“We all pay,” county administrator Jim Gagliano said. “It all comes from taxpayer dollars.”
Who bears the cost for response and cleanup is determined by whether a disaster is caused by man or is natural, and whether the community — and ultimately the state and federal government — declare an emergency.
In the event of a man-caused incident, such as a bombing or widespread fire, the person found to be responsible more than likely will be required to make restitution.
In the event of a natural disaster, such as a tornado or flood, a community can become eligible for federal reimbursement by declaring a state of emergency.
“That opens the door for funding,” Gagliano said, but is not a guarantee.
Initially, the municipal officials will decide whether to declare an emergency, then they will approach the county commissioners to do so, too, he explained. “That supersedes the need for them to advertise for bids to hire companies to get the (cleanup) work done.”
The only time federal dollars come through in a disaster is if the area is declared a disaster by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the destruction is large enough to meet national thresholds, explained Brian Melcer, the county public safety director.
The only post-disaster funds available are federal, which go through the Federal and Pennsylvania emergency management agencies, he said.
According to the website www.readypa.org, FEMA primarily considers structures that are destroyed or have major damage, with a target of 100 to 200 homes per county.
Otherwise, the county or local communities foot the bill, along with help from local service agencies such as the Red Cross, Pennsylvania’s departments of public welfare or transportation, Gagliano said.
When a widespread storm hit the county several years ago with flooding as a result of a hurricane, county and municipal officials assessed the damage, then a disaster assistance center was set up with various agencies in one place to provide a one-stop shop for people needing housing or other assistance, he said.
“Every emergency situation is different,” Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler pointed out. “No two are the same.”
In the event of damage to a house, a person’s homeowners’ insurance kicks in first.
Gagliano noted that when the 1985 tornado hit a multi-county area, “there were insurance people all over the place.”
He added most insurance companies are quick to respond after a storm or disaster.
“As a homeowner, that’s the first call I would make,” Vogler commented.
If it is a manmade disaster, the person or people responsible could ultimately be held accountable for the losses, he said.
A brush fire that destroyed 500 acres in Shenango Township last month cost local fire departments in man hours, fuel and equipment damage.
Forester John Brundage of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said the state forest fire warden is reviewing the information from that blaze.
Brundage estimated the total damage could exceed $10,000.
The Bureau of Forestry can reimburse fire companies for fuel and equipment damage, he said, and most fire engines and tankers are repaid at $25 per hour.
“The law allows us to go after the responsible party” for those costs, Brundage said. “The actual property damage is between the landowners and the responsible party and doesn’t involve us at all.”
Once the responsible party is identified, the state will send that party a bill for the damages. If the party doesn’t pay, it goes on to a civil lawsuit. If the party still doesn’t pay, it will go into a lien process, Brundage said.
An explosion that flattened houses on Franklin Avenue in New Castle eight years ago was ineligilble for federal funds, because most of the homeowners had insurance, Melcer pointed out.
John Krueger, Shenango Township emergency management coordinator, noted that when a disaster occurs, local businesses also step in and donate services.
During the Shenango Township brush fire, several businesses donated food and water for the responders, he said. “They kept people overtime and never charged a dime.”
NEW CASTLE —
When disaster strikes, everyone pays.
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