Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition and Disaster Recovery Research Consortium Send Letter to FEMA Regarding Data Clearinghouse

Writing on behalf of NLIHC’s Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) and the Disaster Recovery Research Consortium (DRRC), NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel sent a letter on October 12 to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell regarding ways to improve the agency’s data sharing initiative, OpenFEMA.

OpenFEMA is currently the only online repository for publicly available disaster recovery data at FEMA. With large data sets detailing multiple FEMA programs, such as Individual Assistance (IA), Disaster Mitigation, and Public Assistance, the resource provides a crucial tool for impacted communities, researchers, and policymakers working to ensure a complete and equitable recovery after disasters. Yet while the data it contains are tremendously useful, reforms to the initiative would make these data even more valuable and strengthen efforts to ensure disaster recovery programs are equitable. Reforming OpenFEMA has become even more important now that FEMA has begun to collect demographic information on applicants for assistance. If made more accessible, such information would dramatically improve our understanding of how disasters and FEMA programs impact households with low incomes.

The NLIHC-led DHRC is made up of more than 850 local, state, and national organizations, including many organizations working directly with disaster-impacted communities and with first-hand experience recovering after disasters. Together, the coalition members work to ensure that federal disaster recovery efforts reach all impacted households, including those with the lowest incomes.

The DRRC is likewise led by NLIHC and includes university researchers and housing advocates from across the country working on disaster-related research and policy. The group regularly meets to share updates on disaster research activity, identify additional opportunities for collaboration, improve data transparency, and affect policy for equitable disaster recovery.

Included in the letter were recommendations that FEMA:

  • Collect and make public key data on race and other demographics.
  • Disaggregate data from past and active disasters on as granular a geographic level as possible.
  • Collect and make public detailed data on mitigation funding.
  • Identify but not remove erroneous datasets.
  • Provide additional data sets in interactive and accessible formats.

“Where such [applicant] information has been accessible, it has greatly improved disaster response efforts in the past,” reads the letter. “During Hurricane Harvey, individual assistance application data showed that recovery programs were highly variable by household income. During Hurricane Sandy, access to FEMA IA data allowed advocates to identify severe deficiencies within New Jersey’s CDBG-DR program… When presented in an accessible fashion, data can inform disaster recovery by volunteers and disaster survivors with little background in data science. Doing so is a necessity for the completion of FEMA’s equity-based objectives and its standing commitment to transparency.”

Read the letter at: https://bit.ly/3TlGld4

Visit OpenFEMA at: https://bit.ly/3S3Cmk0