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FEMA team to aid NC’s disaster response efforts

April 17th, 2018

— One day after state lawmakers complained about slow disbursement of federal Hurricane Matthew recovery funds, officials on Tuesday announced a federal initiative that could mean faster and better disaster response in North Carolina.

North Carolina will be the first state to have Federal Emergency Management Agency employees permanently stationed within state emergency management offices.

A FEMA Integration Team, or FIT, will move into Division of Emergency Management offices in Raleigh in a couple of weeks, FEMA Administrator Brock Long said. The team will work with first responders to help with preparedness, planning and long-term recovery, and Long said he hopes the program can help streamline the federal aid process and offer states expert assistance in navigating it.

“We’re going to be focusing on post-disaster mitigation needs. We’re going to be focusing on better recovery planning and learning how to take disaster funding that can come down from 17 different federal government agencies and doing the greatest good at the local level,” he said.

State Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said he’s happy to host the first FIT.

“We’re very excited about it. We think that it’s going to make North Carolina a more resilient and responsive state,” said Sprayberry, who is also president of the National Emergency Management Association.

On Monday, one of Sprayberry’s lieutenants was upbraided by lawmakers over North Carolina’s failure to spend any of $236 million in federal housing aid 18 months after Hurricane Matthew inundated several eastern counties.

Sprayberry said Tuesday that his agency had never handled U.S. Housing and Urban Development block grants before late 2016, when state lawmakers shifted such recovery efforts from Department of Commerce to the Department of Public Safety. Officials had start from scratch last year to set up a way to manage them, he said.

Long also defended the state, saying the HUD grants have been slowed by red tape.

Sprayberry said he expects the grant funds to start being released next month, and he noted that the state has already doled out more than $500 million in other hurricane recovery funds.

North Carolina is the first of 10 states in the first phase of the FIT project, and Long said he hopes to have a permanent FEMA team in place in each state and territory by 2020.

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