Perspectives

Preparing for Better Outcomes with FEMA and Fannie Mae

Mike Hernandez, Fannie Mae and Alex Amparo, FEMAIn 2019 alone, we've experienced 36 major disasters – that's an average of four per month – and the year isn't even over. Disaster resiliency and relief are priorities for Fannie Mae and the communities we serve, and it's central to our mission of helping ensure access to sustainable and affordable housing.

In honor of National Preparedness Month, we sat down with Alex Amparo, Assistant Administrator of FEMA's National Preparedness Directorate, along with Mike Hernandez, VP for Housing Access and Disaster Response & Rebuild at Fannie Mae, to discuss the importance of preparing for better outcomes.

  1. Preparedness is not just about sand bags and shuttered windows. How can people prepare more than just their homes for a disaster?

Mike: After a disaster, you likely won’t have access to your home – let alone the mortgage and insurance documents you keep in the bottom drawer of your office desk. Take pictures of your home and important documents that you may need and keep them on your phone. It’s a step that's often overlooked, but it was critical for me when my home was affected by a fire two years ago. Without those pictures, I would not have the appropriate evidence of loss for insurance purposes.

Alex: I agree, Mike. It's no secret that saving money and having insurance are some of the best defenses against disasters, but aside from preparing your home and bank account, it's important to prepare your families. Preparedness can begin with a conversation around the dinner table – talk to those you love about what you'll need and how you will stay in touch during an emergency. It can be a tricky conversation to navigate with children, but my spouse and I have found it was easier to talk through the topic using resources on Ready.gov/kids. National Preparedness Month is a natural time to start the conversation.

  1. According to the Institute of Business and Home Safety, 25% of businesses don’t reopen after a severe weather event. If a person's place of work is destroyed, it could disrupt their income long-term. How can people financially prepare for a disaster?

Alex: Being financially prepared is one of the most important things we can do. To start, keep emergency cash at home to have on hand if you need to leave your home quickly. To stem the impact of lost income, focus on savings. Sticking to a budget can be hard but saving even a small amount from every paycheck can make the difference during recovery.

Mike: It's true, savings cushions can make a world of difference. Knowing this, we've created the Disaster Response Network, which provides support for homeowners with a Fannie Mae-owned loan, including financial evaluations, insurance reviews, and long-term shelter planning when a borrower is impacted by a natural disaster. If a homeowner's income is affected for a long period of time, bills can stack up. That's why we offer mortgage relief for homeowners whose residence or place of work has been impacted by a disaster. For more information, please visit KnowYourOptions.com.

  1. What should a comprehensive preparedness plan cover?

Mike: Preparedness should include far more than financial steps and logistics. A comprehensive plan starts with building for resiliency. We know that not all homes were built with that in mind, and as events like hurricanes test the weather-resistance of housing, our HomeStyle Renovation product helps homeowners finance upgrades and renovations that impact resiliency, including retaining walls to protect from flooding, storm-resistant windows, and roof upgrades.

Alex: That's certainly an important way to prepare your home. Another way is to keep supplies at home, in the car, and at work to stay safe in an emergency. Assemble an easy-to-carry emergency kit, stocked with things like water, non-perishable food, flashlights, and a battery-powered or hand crank radio with extra batteries. Then, practice leaving the house and traveling evacuation routes. Take the time to think through your plan fully.

Mike: Great point, Alex. When my family had to evacuate our home, we thought we had it all figured out. Except, we hadn't considered where we'd shelter with our 50-pound dog. If we would have practiced our plan as you suggested, we would have certainly had an easier time finding a place to stay with our furry family member.

There is a lot you can do to prepare for better outcomes. To celebrate National Preparedness Month, start today with these three steps:

  1. Download a weather app and activate alerts that can help you stay in-the-know about storms.
  2. Take pictures of your key documents and possessions. Keep the documents safe by downloading and storing them in a password protected folder. For more information, visit Your Disaster Checklist.
  3. Call the Disaster Response Network at 877-833-1746 to see if you're eligible for a free assessment from HUD-approved housing counselors, which can help you prepare financially for a disaster.

Mike Hernandez
Fannie Mae Vice President – Housing Access, Response, and Rebuild

Alex Amparo
FEMA Assistant Administrator of the National Preparedness Directorate

September 23, 2019

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