Curled Fern Leaf
 Curled Fern Leaf

Digital Modernization, Intelligence, Homeland Security 3 MIN Read

FEMA Recovery Modernizations and Potential Technology Upgrades

May 24th, 2024

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With the number and severity of disasters growing each year, people continue to turn to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for help on what is often their very worst day.

But when disaster survivors look to FEMA for help, hard-to-navigate processes or delays in assistance are the last things they need.

In late March, FEMA formally implemented several changes to its Individual Assistance program that significantly advanced the way FEMA helps survivors recover from a disaster. There are three main thrusts to these reforms: Establishing New Benefits; Cutting Red Tape and Expanding Eligibility; and Simplifying the Application Process.

These are not small changes. All three reforms represent transformational shifts in how FEMA and the Federal government assist people recovering from the impacts of a disaster efficiently, effectively, timely, and with survivor’s needs always top of mind. These reforms specifically support the ability of underserved communities and small businesses – who are often disproportionately impacted by disasters – get back on their feet. Some key changes include:

  • New benefits, like providing a standard $750 payment for all those receiving individual assistance for immediate emergency supplies and access to up-front funding to assist with short-term housing needs
  • Reduced process complexity for small businesses to apply for loans and helping underinsured disaster survivors with recovery costs
  • Provide more streamlined and survivor-centric application processes, such as reducing the reporting requirements for late individual assistance applications

Individual Assistance policy and benefits updates are one key pillar in improving outcomes for survivors. A related pillar is the plethora of technology modernization opportunities present to drive FEMA’s Individual Assistance mission into the future. Opportunities exist to leverage the rapid innovations presented by artificial intelligence as well as modern, cloud-based infrastructures to enable data management and analysis capabilities at lightning speed. FEMA can leverage the power of technology to advance mission outcomes while balancing the needs of survivors to have direct interaction with a human. Potential technology-driven opportunities may include:

  • Expanding the telephony capabilities for survivors calling FEMA to request assistance through the adoption of Intelligent Virtual Assistant – or IVA – capabilities. IVAs today have the ability to provide empathic user experience, responses in multiple languages, and omni-channel engagement to best meet the survivor where they are in their recovery journey.
  • Leveraging artificial intelligence to automate processes whenever possible. AI has the ability to significantly increase the speed and automation of the application process, provide the applicant with real-time status, enhance the ingest and analysis of data such as photos from survivor properties, and correlate data geospatially to support ongoing recovery efforts.
  • Modernizing back-end systems used to administer and track disaster assistance to communities. Adopting cloud-based and software-as-a-serviced-based solutions, upgrading to modern system infrastructures leveraging microservices and loosely-coupled architectures, and advancing data analysis and reporting capabilities would offer greater scalability, integration capability, and data-driven decision useability for FEMA headquarters in support of disaster survivors.

FEMA’s reforms to the Individual Assistance program have the potential to be some of the most impactful changes for disaster survivors in decades. With the addition of new capabilities offered by technology, FEMA will be well positioned to help meet the ever-increasing survivor needs into the future.