Disaster Assistance

Response to West Virginia's November 1985 Flood Shows Need for Improvements Gao ID: RCED-88-5 February 4, 1988

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the November 1985 West Virginia flood, focusing on: (1) state and local disaster planning and preparedness; (2) the effectiveness of existing warning systems and planned improvements; (3) the federal government's responsiveness to victims' needs; and (4) the type and amount of assistance the government provided to flood victims.

GAO found that, of West Virginia's 55 counties: (1) less than half participated in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Emergency Management Assistance (EMA) Program; (2) some may withdraw from EMA because of program changes; and (3) all had poor emergency plans, according to FEMA guidelines. GAO also found that: (1) primary county flood warning systems consisted of civil defense sirens and loudspeakers and media weather warnings; (2) some flood victims did not receive or recognize warnings; and (3) the National Weather Service's (NWS) Integrated Flood Observing and Warning System (IFLOWS) was ineffective for those counties unable to maintain it. In addition, GAO found that: (1) although the Small Business Administration was revising its procedures to reduce loan processing time, federal agencies generally took too long to complete and approve applications for initial and supplemental public assistance and frequently underestimated amounts necessary for initial assistance; (2) West Virginia averaged 26 days to pay recipients; (3) the Soil Conservation Service and the Army Corps of Engineers began cleanup work almost immediately after the flood, but without the required request from FEMA; (4) FEMA spent about $27 million in individual assistance programs; (5) family grant program limits did not meet the basic needs of about a third of the flood victims; (6) FEMA issued some supplemental assistance payments without reinspecting claimed damage; and (7) FEMA instructed the state to build 647 mobile home foundations, of which only half were used.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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