Debris Management

Natural Disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wind storms, ice storms, floods, fires, earthquakes as well as man-made disasters such as civil unrest and terrorist attacks can generate large volumes of debris in a very short period of time. Normal public works processes and systems are inadequate for managing these large volumes of disaster generated debris.

Debris removal, regardless of the source, becomes a high priority following a disaster as it is a visible sign of action and helps to restore a sense of public confidence and normalcy to a shocked and stunned population. Debris removal often represents the first visible step towards recovery. Debris removal operations normally consist of the removal of debris from public rights of way which is determined necessary to ensure the orderly recovery of the community and to eliminate less immediate threats to health and safety.

Depending upon the type of debris generated by the disaster, the original volume may be significantly reduced using one or a combination of several methods. The more typical methods of debris reduction are open burning, air curtain incineration, and grinding. Metals, Household Hazardous Waste (HHW), and mulch are processed for recycling. Other debris streams such as electronic waste and small engines are also recycled when markets are available.

Final disposal is needed for debris not suitable for recycling or beneficial reuse. The original volume of debris may have been reduced. Most often, debris in this stage of the operation is destined for an appropriately approved landfill.

Debris Removal from Public Property Overview

Debris removal is the clearance, removal, and/or disposal of items such as trees, sand, gravel, building components, wreckage, vehicles, and personal property. Public Assistance funds are available to eligible applicants for debris clearance, removal and disposal operations. Eligible applicants include State and local governments, Indian tribes, and certain private nonprofit organizations. In order to be eligible for FEMA funding, the debris removal work must:

  • Be a direct result of a Presidentially declared disaster;
  • Occur within the designated disaster area; and
  • Be the responsibility of the applicant at the time of the disaster.

In addition, debris removal work must be necessary to:

  • Eliminate an immediate threat to lives, public health and safety;
  • Eliminate immediate threats of significant damage to improved public or private property; or
  • Ensure the economic recovery of the affected community to the benefit of the community-at-large.

Examples of eligible debris removal activities include:

  • Debris removal from a public right-of-way to allow the safe passage of emergency vehicles; and
  • Debris removal from public property to eliminate health and safety hazards.

Examples of ineligible debris removal activities include:

  • Removal of debris, such as tree limbs and trunks, from an applicant’s unimproved property or undeveloped land;
  • Removal of pre-disaster sediment from engineered channels;
  • Removal of debris from a natural channel unless the debris poses an immediate threat of flooding to improved property;
  • Removal of debris from Federal lands or facilities that are the authority of another Federal agency or department, such as Federal-aid roads, USACE navigable waterways, and NRCS canals. See Public Assistance Fact Sheet 9580.202, Debris Removal Authorities of Other Federal Agencies, for a description of these authorities.

Debris Management Forms.xls
Debris Management Forms.pdf

FEMA 325 Debris Management Guide.pdf
FEMA Debris Management Plan Workshop Student Handbook.pdf