Hurricane Debris Cleanup: Tips, Resources, and Understanding FEMA

Hurricane Debris Cleanup: Tips, Resources, and Understanding FEMA

Hurricane season lasts from June to November, and primarily affects the Southern and Eastern states. Hurricane season peaks in September, when Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria both caused massive damage to the U.S., as well as Puerto Rico. 

Debris cleanup is a time-consuming process that requires patience from homeowners, contractors doing work on your home or business, government officials at all levels of government (municipal, county and state), as well as all other volunteers involved in the Hurricane cleanup.

It is important to understand that if you are facing Hurricane damage, there may be additional factors at play when it comes time for debris removal. In addition to Hurricane-related debris on your property, hurricanes can also bring with them a variety of other debris, such as:

  • Municipal solid waste — general household trash and personal belongings.
  • Construction and demolition (C&D) debris — building materials (which may include asbestos-containing materials), drywall, lumber, carpet, furniture, mattresses, plumbing.
  • Vegetative debris — trees, branches, shrubs, and logs.
  • Household hazardous waste — oil, pesticides, paints, cleaning agents.
  • White goods — refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers, stoves, water heaters, dishwashers, air conditioners.
  • Electronic waste — computers, televisions, printers, stereos, DVD players, telephones. 

The first step is to contact your city or town hall, and ask what their Hurricane clean up protocol is for Hurricane damage cleanup in the area where you are located. In some areas of Florida, local government officials opened dump sites which residents could drop off Hurricane-related waste free of charge. However, Hurricane debris can also include products such as roofing materials from damaged buildings, which you may not realize until Hurricane cleanup.

Don't forget to ask local government officials if they have any additional information on Hurricane damage associated with mold remediation and other health issues that arise after a hurricane or flood event. In addition to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Harvey also caused massive damage to Texas throughout August 2017. Hurricane debris cleanup is a time-consuming process that requires patience from homeowners, contractors doing work on your home or business, government officials at all levels of government (municipal, county and state), as well as all other volunteers involved in Hurricane clean up.

How to Stay Safe When Cleaning Up After a Hurricane

Debris cleanup can be a dangerous and overwhelming process. Cleaning up after hurricanes can take weeks or months depending on how extensive the damage is; however there are some important precautions that you should always keep in mind when Hurricane debris cleanup.

Many Hurricane-related injuries can be traced to individuals who are not wearing proper safety gear and using power tools while exposed to potentially harmful conditions such as:

- Hurricane damage associated with mold remediation, which is an environmental hazard that must be mitigated properly by a professional restoration company before entering the home or business. Hurricane damage and Hurricane debris cleanup can also include hazardous materials, such as:

- Flooding which carries all kinds of mold issues that can be dangerous for your health and the air quality inside a home or business if not properly mitigated by an experienced restoration company. During Hurricane Irma in Florida, several homeowners fell while walking on pieces of Hurricane debris which had not been properly cleaned up. Hurricane damage cleanup can be a very slow and arduous process that requires patience from homeowners, contractors doing work on your home or business, government officials at all levels of government (municipal, county and state), as well as all other volunteers involved in Hurricane clean up.

It is important to understand that Hurricane debris cleanup and safety is the first step to removing Hurricane damage from your property.

Governmental Roles in Debris Removal

The majority of the federal agency's response to debris removal following a hurricane event is in line with provisions of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (The Stafford Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5206) and the NationalResponsePlan.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created the National Response Plan (NRP) to help responders collaborate and provide supporting tools for significant national incidents that the Secretary of DHS designates as "Incidents of National Significance." Hurricane Hurricane debris cleanup and safety is included as one of these incidents.

The Hurricane debris cleanup National Response Plan (NRP) was developed in 2004 to help responders coordinate their efforts when a significant incident happens at the national level, such as a hurricane or terrorist attack. The NRP outlines how different agencies should work together during emergencies while also providing supporting tools for responders. Hurricane debris cleanup and safety is included as one of these incidents, which means that FEMA plays a large role in the aftermath of storms like hurricanes.

Separating Waste and the Return of Residents

After most storms, landfill capacity is typically limited, therefore communities do all they can to avoid waste from going into a landfill by recycling and reusing it, burning it, or composting it. Vegetative debris, for example, can be chipped, composted, or burned; metals may be recycled; C&D waste can be partially recycled; hazardous household wastes can be separated and disposed of in specially designed landfills or incinerated, and refrigerators/freezers are emptied of spoiled foods and reused or recycled.

To ensure that disaster debris is managed appropriately, waste is generally segregated and managed as follows:

  • White goods — collected separately, drained of freon and recycled.
  • Metals — collected and recycled.
  • Vegetative debris — collected, and often ground, for re-use or burned; when mixed or contaminated with other wastes, burning is not an option.
  • Electronic wastes — collected separately and recycled, to the degree possible.
  • Household hazardous waste — collected separately and disposed of in specially designed landfills.
  • C&D waste with asbestos-containing material (ACM) — separated and disposed into asbestos-permitted landfills.
  • Tires — collected and recycled. 

Conclusion

Hurricane debris cleanup can be a timely and potentially frustrating process, but understanding the basics of Hurricane cleanup before you start or as you continue to work will help ease some stress. For more information consult the FEMA website or contact your local municipality after a natural disaster such as a hurricane.