Mark Harrell - LOHSEP

Mark Harrell - LOHSEP

LIVINGSTON - Governmental entities are audited on a regular basis, usually through programs to which they are attached.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) recently audited the parish's post-disaster response mechanisms and discovered deficiencies. According to Director of Homeland Security Mark Harrell, the letter the parish anticipates receiving next week will not be a pleasant one.

"It won't be favorable to the parish," Harrell said, "but we can fix it."

According to Harrell, who spoke to both the Ordinance Committee and full Parish Council Thursday night, FEMA has stated that the parish's methods of post-disaster home inspection, as well as designating a home or structure as 'substantially damaged,' and the method of condemning buildings which flooded do not comply with FEMA regulations.

"And I agree with that assessment," Harrell said on a phone call with the News Friday morning.

Harrell cited the number of buildings that flooded, close to 26,000, and said that the parish only had four inspectors.

"Did we make it into all those buildings?," Harrell asked, rhetorically, "absolutely not.

"Some people finished their repairs too quickly, some never even pulled a permit."

Harrell's office has been tasked with designing a 'Corrective Action Plan,' which will take the points from the audit and use them as a road map to fix the process.

One of the first tasks Harrell will absorb is post-disaster inspection work, including substantial damages and condemnations.

Substantially damaged, for example, requires inspections and appraisals that prove that damage to the structure was not to exceed 50% of the value of the structure, else it would need to be demolished or elevated. Land value does not factor into that calculation.

"In the future, we'll put out a WebDOC request for inspectors if we need them. That hits the state, and then the nation," Harrell said.

WebDOC is a collaborative software for governments who need assets.

Those requests will have to wait until the letter arrives and Harrell's office designs the action plan. Harrell says he intends to bring the plan to the council for adoption as an ordinance because, he explained, he believes its that important.

"That way it will be law," Harrell said, "this is important. We have almost $360 million in federal dollars at stake, that we could lose if we don't comply with this letter and put together an action plan.

"This is (FEMA's) way of keeping us in line."

Harrell told the council that items such as 'freeboard' - which is a minimum height requirement for new structures over the base flood elevation - are great to help the parish, but adopting the corrective action plan is a priority.

Neither Denham Springs or Walker will be affected by the audit letter, as both cities passed their recent FEMA audits. Currently, both municipalities handle floodplain management, disaster response, and inspections through the building and permitting offices.

Denham Springs and Walker recently participated in the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland which identified issues with their disaster response plans for them to improve.

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