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Moore Waits To Apply For FEMA's Safe Room Rebate Program

Wesley Fryer - Flickr Creative Commons

After last year’s tornadoes in central Oklahoma, FEMA allocated $4 million in hazard mitigation funding for communities to safeguard against future severe weather.

The City of Moore didn’t qualify for that money because of an expired hazard mitigation plan. Moore has since updated the plan and is now eligible for future FEMA money. But it doesn’t look like officials plan on applying for that funding any time soon.

After the 2013 storms, around 4,500 Moore residents applied for storm shelter rebates. FEMA couldn’t help, so The Red Cross stepped in, donating enough money for a third of those people, including Shirley Fogler.

“It gave me the incentive to go ahead and do the deal. I'm still out quite a bit of money but it's going to be worth it,” she said.

Not everyone was as lucky. Thousands of residents were still left waiting for help. But in April of this year, the hazard mitigation plan for Cleveland County – where Moore is located – was finally approved.

“We're now eligible for those FEMA mitigation grants,” said Moore’s emergency management director Gayland Kitch.

“Whether we apply for them or not, we'll probably apply at some point for something. We probably won't apply immediately for shelters simply because we're already running a shelter program.”

He’s referring to The Red Cross rebates that helped pay for Shirley Fogler’s safe room. Kitch says he’s currently understaffed and has too much on his plate to request additional shelter funding for Moore residents.

That doesn’t sit well with Brian Gelvin, who was too far down the list to qualify for Red Cross funds. He’s unhappy with Kitch’s handling of the matter.

“He wouldn't like it if he took his car to someplace and they said, ‘Well we can't get to it until next week. You've gotta walk between now and then.’ He wouldn't like that,” Gelvin said. “He's paid a salary. He's not paid for working 40 hours. He's hired to do a job. He should be helping the citizens that he's hired to help.”

To be clear, even if Kitch did apply for the funding, the money probably wouldn’t come anytime soon. That hazard mitigation money would only come after a future presidentially declared disaster.  

But having an up-to-date application on file with Oklahoma Emergency Management is crucial, says the agency’s deputy director Michelann Ooten

“It can be a tedious process,” she said. “But we wouldn't encourage you to wait. We always say if you have a good idea and you have a project that's going to meet the need of especially life-saving situations, money is going to come through.”

Gayland Kitch realizes the need for more rebates in his city. But he says he doesn’t want to apply for safe room funding right now because of potential complications the federal money could bring.

“Trying to mix two programs that have different rules probably wouldn't work very well.”

Multiple rebate programs with different funding mechanisms may be too confusing for the public to handle, Kitch says. He’s currently trying to hire an assistant emergency manager to help out, but he says it could be awhile before his office even thinks about applying for the money.

That frustrates Brian Gelvin, the man who was unable to get a shelter rebate from the Red Cross. He says it may be too little too late if the city delays applying for funding much longer.

“If there's money out there on the table, it shouldn't be left out there on the table. Somebody's going to get it. Why shouldn't it be our turn?”

Until Gelvin receives some kind of rebate to make a shelter affordable, he says he’ll just continue leaving town when the threat of severe weather comes up. That’s what he did on May 20, he says, and it worked just fine.

Kate Carlton Greer was a general assignment reporter for KGOU and Oklahoma Public Media Exchange.
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