With hurricane season upon us, employers are justifiably concerned about the potential impact of a natural disaster on their business. A hurricane, natural disaster, or any other crisis in the workplace can bring a business to a screeching halt and devastate the lives of a business’s most valuable asset, its employees.

To minimize the impact of a natural disaster, employers should have plans in place before disaster strikes, including, for example, a crisis management plan, a communication plan, and a disaster response and recovery plan. These plans must take into account the effect a catastrophe may have on workers and include ways to help impacted employees return to work as soon as practical to ensure continued productivity at the workplace following a natural disaster. Any enacted plan should consider the application of relevant federal and state laws to ensure compliance and avoid any employment-related lawsuits or any agency enforcement action following a natural disaster. Continue Reading Planning for a Catastrophe

Louisiana’s legal community has grown accustom to offering pro bono legal assistance to Louisiana storm victims. After addressing foremost concerns like shelter, food, water, and clothing, disaster victims are left to grapple with more intricate setbacks like insurance claims and FEMA appeals, landlord-tenant disputes, contractor fraud and contract disputes, custody and domestic disagreements, consumer issues, and lost legal documents, to name a few.

The 2017 hurricane season has largely spared Louisiana relative to other U.S. states like Texas and Florida, and U.S. territories like the USVIs and Puerto Rico, where millions were left without power and basic necessities weeks after Hurricane Maria. Louisiana lawyers are paying it forward and expanding a “disaster legal hotline”—normally reserved for low-income Louisiana residents—to help those devastated by the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the USVIs.

Louisiana’s efforts are a leading example of a national program established in 1978 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in partnership with the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) to provide pro bono disaster legal services to low-income survivors of a federally-declared disaster. When the Federal Government issues a disaster declaration in a particular state, FEMA and the ABA YLD, through the state’s young lawyer representative, coordinate with bar associations, legal aid groups, and law firms to implement the program, known as Disaster Legal Services (DLS). In Louisiana, the Disaster Legal Services program is administered with the Louisiana State Bar Association through the Louisiana Civil Justice Center (LCJC), which was formed after Hurricane Katrina and works to expand access to justice to low-income populations around Louisiana. The LCJC operates a year-round civil legal aid hotline, which is adapted to intake disaster-related calls for the Disaster Legal Services program.

the largest intake in the history of the Federal Disaster Legal Services program.

Louisiana displayed its pro bono capacity following the historic Baton Rouge flooding in August 2016, when more than 4,300 individuals called into the disaster legal hotline—the largest intake in the history of the Federal Disaster Legal Services program.

Louisiana’s legal community, all too familiar with disasters, is now graciously leveraging its experience to help our fellow Americans as their needs transition from “boots on the ground” to “suits on the ground.” Storm victims who qualify for Disaster Legal Services can contact the Louisiana Civil Justice Center at 1-800-310-7029.

A federal disaster declaration has been issued in Louisiana for Orleans and Livingston Parishes following the tornadoes and severe storms that hit South Louisiana on February 7, 2017. The declaration was issued on February 11, 2017, by President Donald Trump upon the request of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

FEMA individual assistance will be available for residents and homeowners in Orleans and Livingston Parishes, including grants or low-cost loans for temporary housing, home repairs, and uninsured property losses, among other programs. To register with FEMA, visit DisasterAssistance.gov, call the FEMA Helpline at (800) 621-FEMA (3362), or download the FEMA mobile app.

Homeowners may be eligible for up to $200,000 to replace or repair their primary residence through the Home and Personal Property Loans program administered through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Homeowners and renters may be eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.

Businesses of any size and most private nonprofit organizations may be eligible for loans of up to $2 million to repair or replace real property, machinery, equipment fixtures, inventory, and leasehold improvements through the Business Physical Disaster Loans program administered through the SBA.

Small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and most private nonprofit organizations may be eligible for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster, regardless of property damage. The SBA’s economic injury program extends beyond Orleans and Livingston Parishes, to the contiguous Louisiana Parishes of Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Helena, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa.

More details on the SBA programs, including loan details and interest rates, can be found at the SBA Fact Sheet for Louisiana Declaration #15045 & #15046.

FEMA has provided a summary of key federal aid programs that can be made available as needed under the disaster declaration.

A Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) is opening in Orleans Parish effective February 13, 2017, at East New Orleans Public Library, 5641 Read Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70127. Homeowners, renters, and businesses can visit the DRC to apply for or seek information regarding federal disaster assistance. Representatives will be on site from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Small Business Administration, the City of New Orleans, and other volunteer groups and agencies.

FEMA can be reached by phone at (800) 621-FEMA (3362).

The SBA Customer Service Center can be reached by phone at (800) 659-2955.

Tom Cook’s article in the Baton Rouge Business Report provides helpful insight on the meaning and application of FEMA’s “substantial damage” standard to Baton Rouge homeowners affected by the August floods. Cook explains that determining “substantial damage” is a bit of “a mystery,” and that online research of the term may prove bewildering.

In short, Cook explains that affected structures are inspected by FEMA representatives who estimate damage to said structures in terms of a damage percentage. Using the percentage rating, FEMA determines an overall building damage calculation. FEMA compiles these determinations of damaged homes and provides them to municipal building departments for use in determining whether to issue a building permit with or without raising the damaged home’s slab elevation–a potentially costly endeavor for affected homeowners.

Ultimately, Cook points out that “the final decision lies with the municipalit[ies],” which Cook describes as having “worked hard to make the process as painless as possible.” Under this framework, Cook believes that very few homes will be rendered worthless due to costly slab elevation requirements.

Louisianans in parishes affected by August flooding now have until Monday, Nov.14, 2016, to register for federal disaster assistance. The State of Louisiana and FEMA advise that the deadline to apply for disaster assistance has been extended, so that all eligible residents have enough time to apply for assistance. Federal officials hope this additional time will ensure that everyone affected by the August severe storms and flooding has an opportunity to register for FEMA assistance. The goal is to reach all flood survivors who still need help.

Registration is open to survivors in Acadia, Ascension, Avoyelles, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, St. James, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Vermilion, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana Parishes.

This new deadline also applies to homeowners, renters and businesses submitting applications for low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

FEMA mitigation specialists will be stationed at the Home Depot at 9460 Cortana Blvd. in Baton Rouge from October 17, 2016 through Oct. 29, 2016 to answer questions, offer home improvement tips, and explain methods to prevent and lessen damage from future disasters. Free reference booklets on protecting your home from flood damage will also be available. More information can be found online.

The East Baton Rouge City-Parish government has launched the Private Property Debris Removal program, authorizing debris removal teams to collect flood debris extending 30 feet beyond the public right-of-ways and onto private properties. FEMA authorized the City-Parish to move forward with the program as long as homeowners sign a right-of-entry agreement. To participate, homeowners must provide proof of homeownership to a city-parish Private Property Debris Removal program coordinator and complete a right-of-entry agreement. Residents can apply for the program online or in person at the Private Property Debris Removal Application Center, 10201 Celtic Drive, Suite B.

Satellite applications centers have also been established at the following locations:

•Chaneyville Community Center, 13211 Jackson Road

•Pride Library, 13600 Pride-Port Hudson Road

•Jewel J. Newman Community Center, 2013 Central Road

•Charles R. Kelly Community Center, 3535 Riley St.

•Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, 4000 Gus Young Ave.

•Jones Creek Branch Library, 6222 Jones Creek Road

•Leo S. Butler Community Center, 950 E. Washington St.

•Fairwood Branch Library, 12910 Old Hammond Hwy.

Applications are being accepted from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week at each location and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Jewel J. Newman Community Center location. To apply online, residents need to download and complete a right-of-entry agreement and email it to BRdebris@thompsoncs.net with the subject that reads “your name-your address,” along with a copy of a valid Louisiana ID matching the property address.

Effective August 29, homeowners impacted by the flooding in Louisiana can apply for Shelter at Home. This is a new program, announced by Gov. John Bell Edwards last week that allows flood victims to live at home while they continue to rebuild, rather than stay at a hotel, shelter or rental property.

If a damaged home can be made livable with up to $15,000 in repairs, then the state will provide a crew to do the work on the property.

The program is not intended to cover the cost of a full rebuild of a home and will only cover minor repair work such as basic electrical and plumbing inspections; carpet and insulation removal; air conditioning and hot water heater repairs; and installing temporary bathroom fixtures. The program will also pay for small kitchen appliances.

Residents eligible for the program can call 1-800-927-0216 or register online at shelterathome.la.gov.