When severe thunderstorms and two tornadoes hit the Omaha and Bellevue areas on June 16, 2017, they caused major damage to OPPD’s transmission and distribution (T&D) systems. The storms knocked out power to 76,500 or 20 percent of OPPD’s customers.
The fourth-worst incident in terms of outages in OPPD history, this was the most recent example of storm destruction that qualified for partial reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“When T&D opens up its storm centers, we work with them to get a preliminary, high-level damage estimate within the first couple of days,” said OPPD’s Larry Kaipust, a corporate accountant who has years of experience compiling such information.
“At the same time, we communicate with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), and work with them to establish which counties the damage is in,” Kaipust added. Disaster declarations are made by county first, with set dollar thresholds for each county, based on population.
In turn, the total damage within the state must meet a threshold for the governor to declare a disaster at the state level. If the costs exceed what the state can bear, the governor makes a formal request to FEMA. To gain federal assistance, the president must make a disaster declaration.
When submitting a request for federal reimbursement, entities like OPPD must meet FEMA requirements and provide many supporting details. For example, FEMA requires that areas of damage must be tied to a specific GPS (global positioning system) point, Kaipust explained.
“We write up damage repairs by various projects, which NEMA reviews, and then FEMA reviews,” he said. “During and after the 2011 flood, we submitted more than 50 project worksheets over about three years.”
As part of the process, OPPD answers any questions raised by the government agencies and provides more information and clarifications, as needed. In addition to project details, OPPD passes along photos and news accounts to corroborate that extensive damage occurred in a specific area.
“FEMA reimbursements pass through the state,” Kaipust said. “OPPD receives 75 percent of eligible approved costs.”
Over the years, OPPD has received millions in FEMA reimbursements. In addition to the June 2017 storms and 2011 flood, some of the more notable events for which OPPD received FEMA assistance were for the 1997 snow and ice storm and for significant straight-line wind damage in 2008.