How to work as a Disaster Inspector

P1010008-reducedDo you want to have a job that is exciting, can earn great money and you can make a difference in people’s lives?  You may not be aware but becoming an F.E.M.A. Disaster Home Inspector can meet all those criteria.  This posting is specific to Disaster Inspectors in the United States but there may be similar positions in other countries.

In the United States, the Federal Government branch that is primarily responsible for Natural Disaster responses is F.E.M.A. (which stands for Federal Emergency Management Agency).   F.E.M.A. facilitates all the various resources and involvement from all arms of the government, including the need for military support such as a use of the National Guard to help with sand bagging during floods, or the Air Force for helicopter rescues.

One of F.E.M.A.s largest responsibilities is to provide aid to citizens after they have been a victim of a disaster.  This aid can take many shapes, including temporary shelter, repairs to their home, retraining for new jobs, burial cost help, psychological counseling, replacement of work or school supplies and a host of other services.  A home inspection of a damaged home is done for F.E.M.A. by large private companies that have won the bid to act as F.E.M.A. Disaster Housing Contractors.

These private contracting firms then contract with private individuals to qualify and train those individuals to become certified to act as F.E.M.A. Disaster Housing Inspectors.  The role of the individual Housing Inspector is to conduct home inspections of victims who have applied to F.E.M.A. for assistance.

That inspector will go onsite to do the home inspection, talk to the applicant, ask a series of questions, prove the occupants residency and identity, document the physical reality of the damages with measurements, photographs and computer data that they gather onsite.  The Inspector will have the occupant sign legal documents and then review and upload all that information through the F.E.M.A. provided tablet computer to headquarters.

It is the Housing Inspectors job to provide a professional, compassionate face of the Federal Government to the applicant, and provide detailed assessment of damages, backed up with facts to F.E.M.A. to determine eligibility.

There are some special skills that you typically need to have to qualify as an Inspector.  Some experience or a background in construction is desired and some basic computer skills. Additionally you have to go through a thorough background check including Police Record search and Finger Print Scans.

The job has some serious cool aspects and some strong negatives, so it should not be something you take lightly.

The Pros are:

You are one of the early responders to a disaster and this can be very exciting.

You get to be the compassionate person that is helping people who are in extreme need.

The pay can be excellent, in the range of $200-$500 a day for weeks at a time. You get paid per approved inspection. The better you get at doing the inspections, the faster you get through your work.

You get to travel to various states and protectorates of the U.S. including Guam, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska and some South Pacific islands.

If you do a good job, more work is likely.

We receive our Comment Cards months later with really nice comments from the applicants that we did inspections on.  Some of these have really touched us.

The Cons are:

You have to be able to get on a plane (F.E.M.A. pays the round trip ticket) within 12 hours of being called.  So you have to be on call all the time for deployment.

As an independent contractor all costs other than your plane ticket are yours. Your first paycheck will typically take a few weeks, so you have to be able to float all your costs like rent-a-car, all your meals, hotel, fuel, inspection tools , office supplies, cell phone and printing costs yourself.

You can be in some really rough environments with no heat or air conditioning, mold, mud and no place to clean your clothes.  This is not the right job for a germ-a-probe or neat-nick.

You are required to stay a minimum of time (usually at least 30 days or until you are officially released).

The hours are LOOOONG.  The day usually starts at 7 with you at your first applicant’s door and ends about 11 p.m. when you upload your day’s applications and have made all your appointment calls for the next day.

There are no days off. If you slack off, your applications will slow down and you are likely to get a warning.  In Puerto Rico we worked for 7 months with 1 ½ days off (½ day off on Christmas and all of Election Day).

There can be a lot of driving, sometimes hundreds of miles a day.

The work is erratic and there can be long dry spells between disasters.

Even with all the negatives, we found this work rewarding both emotionally and financially as a revenue stream that we fit in when available.  We have known a number of people that have done this work for decades as their sole source of income and they’ve made great money some years and not so good others.

If you think this type of work is of interest, the Contracting Companies offer 1 Day Classes on a public schedule from their websites.

We have worked for a variety of companies, some who are no longer in business or did not win the latest round of Government contracts.  Our experience with Parson Brinkerhoff (PB) has been a very good experience.

The current F.E.M.A. Housing Inspector Contract winners are:

PB Disaster Services

PaRR Inspections


3 thoughts on “How to work as a Disaster Inspector

  1. As a former disaster inspector I can relate to and confirm all of the info above. It was long hours but very rewarding to help people. Enjoyed a lot of new places but usually saw them at their worst time. It is a great job for retired people who aren’t ready to sit around all day!

    • Dorla, your rich experience in this field is a resource to all that are interested in the concept of working in the Disaster Assessment field. Thank you for chiming in and sharing your own reflections on this very interesting line of work.

  2. Dorla, do you remember me, we worked together in Iowa..I can attest this is ALL TRUE.. Hope your doing well.

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