FEMA Disaster Inspections vs. Home Inspections: What’s the Difference?

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When you take home inspection courses to become certified as a home inspector, you learn a lot about home systems, how they work, and how to assess what is safe and what isn’t safe.

These home inspection courses, such as the one offered by ICA School, prepare you to take your state licensing exam and begin the important work of inspecting homes.

In the last couple of years, with storms increasing in number and intensity, a lot of attention has been paid to FEMA and the job this organization does. FEMA employs thousands of workers who have training in a variety of areas to help victims of natural disasters, and home inspectors are some of them.

But how does a FEMA home inspection differ from the type of home inspection you are used to performing? Is FEMA home inspection something you could do?

The answer is most likely yes. It is not so much the technical nature of the inspection that differs than the circumstances under which it is performed.

Home Inspection vs. Disaster Inspection

When you do an ordinary home inspection, more often than not, most home systems are adequate and functioning properly. You check the plumbing, electricity, air conditioning, furnace, foundation, roof, and other important systems. You check structural integrity, and you make note of any damage or other problems you might find.

When you perform a FEMA inspection, you can be fairly sure you will find damage. After a natural disaster, any homeowner whose property has suffered damage must file a claim with FEMA. Then the organization sets up an appointment for an inspector to come out and visit the home, so you are there to document the homeowners’ claims of damage (or lack thereof).

PB Disaster Services, one of two government-approved agencies that hire FEMA inspectors, has outlined a few inspector duties in their service contract.

These include assessing damage based on your background and knowledge as a home inspector. Note: You do not have to be a licensed home inspector to be a FEMA inspector; PB Disaster Services accepts applications from those with relevant construction experience.

An important duty FEMA inspectors have that home inspectors do not have is verifying the ownership of the home. Homeowners who file for FEMA assistance are told they must provide documentation that they own the home in order for the inspection to take place.

Although homeowners are allowed to appoint a designee to be present for the inspection in their place, proof of home ownership is still necessary. This is traditionally done by providing a copy of a deed, proof of mortgage payments or documents from their insurance company.

Safety First with FEMA Home Inspections

You also must verify that is it safe to perform the inspection before doing so. Disaster areas are often unsafe, and the municipality will post “Do Not Enter” signs if this is the case. Even absent these, if there is standing water in the dwelling, it is deemed unsafe for inspection.

While inside, you must enter every room (as long as it is safe) and measure and record the size of each. Then you must record any damage you find inside the room, including damage to appliances and other possessions.

You must also assess damage to the roof, but this must be done from the ground, or the attic or crawlspace if there is one.

Although FEMA inspectors do not assign values to any damage they find, they do judge whether appliances can be repaired or if they should be replaced, and they make note of this in their reports.

Similar to regular home inspections, FEMA inspectors also document their findings with photographs.

FEMA Inspections Can be Psychologically Draining

The job of a FEMA inspector can be not just grueling, but heartbreaking. They see desperate people who may have lost loved ones in the disaster and who now must combat the most trying of living conditions.

Many may be living without power or access to plumbing. They are likely to be dirty, hungry, thirsty, or even injured or ill. Local disaster relief agents and the Red Cross are usually on hand to work with the victims, but many must wait hours, days, or even weeks for relief.

It can be difficult to witness people suffering and in pain. But FEMA inspectors can take comfort in knowing they are there to help victims too, and their work is what gets repair funds into the hands of those who need it.

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FEMA Deployments Turn Your Schedule Upside Down

One of the pluses of being an independent home inspector is the ability to make your own schedule. When potential customers call seeking a home inspection, you make an appointment with them to do the work at a mutually convenient time. This means you can decide to work one day a week or seven if you want. You could work only mornings or only evenings. You could balance the work with another part-time job or even a full-time job.

When you’re a FEMA inspector, you are in the disaster area usually for one to two weeks, but sometimes longer. Workdays are 10 to 12 hours, and inspectors are often responsible for their own lodging, meals, and transportation. A deployment can put a kink in your home inspector business.

If you are a sole proprietor, you will likely have to suspend operations while away. If you work for a company, getting the time off for deployment might be easier, as the work could be redistributed among other employees.

The word “deployment” has a military connotation, and it is appropriate to use for FEMA inspectors. Although members of the military are paid, we say they serve their country because no amount of money could fairly compensate soldiers who put their lives on the line as part of their job. While FEMA inspections are not considered inordinately dangerous, inspectors do this difficult work less for the money and more for the experience and the satisfaction that helping those in need brings.

There is currently a backlog of home inspectors seeking government clearance to become FEMA inspectors, and one of the approved contractors, Vanguard EM, has temporarily suspended taking applications. However, it’s worthwhile to keep an eye on the status of the program, because the certification process takes time, and once you have completed it, you will be ready to deploy.

If you are not yet a home inspector and would like to know more about our home inspection courses, Check out our website today!


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