University of Florida System Assesses Disaster Damage Faster

Posted by Chris Koger on Tue, 09/11/2018 - 15:20

In the wake of 2017’s Hurricane Irma, University of Florida agriculture economists have created a system to report disaster damage to crops faster.

The university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences food and resource economics department recently debuted a comprehensive online assessment form for hurricane, flood, drought, wildfire and other large-scale disasters to help university Extension staff assess damages.

“After the danger has passed, UF/IFAS Extension agents will go into the field to make first-hand observations and interview producers,” Christa Court, an assistant scientist with the department who co-developed the form, said in a news release. “This information is critical to relief efforts – state and federal agencies rely on UF/IFAS Extension to do this work because our agents have the expertise and the contacts to collect the raw data that’s needed.”

Extension agents and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel will use the forms to gather information from growers, and the information will be sent to the food and resource economics department, where estimates of damage to crops and other assets will be compiled. The information then goes to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the state offices of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), according to the release.

Justin Teuton, FSA acting state executive director for Florida, said after a trial run, his agency sees the new assessment tool as beneficial.

USDA declares a crop disaster only if 30% loss in a particular county has been documented. “Damages” refers to physical harm of crops, animals and property, and “losses” refers to revenue decreases from the disaster, according to the release.

Extension and USDA agents can gather information through the system on mobile devices, laptops and desktop computers; accessibility was a high priority in developing the system.

“You want to provide solid estimates to state and federal agencies as quickly as possible – ideally, within a few hours, or a few days at most,” Alan Hodges, IFAS Extension scientist who helped developed the form, said in the release. “If it takes months, that may have a negative impact on the assistance that's provided, because when the process takes too long, peoples’ attention can get focused on other things.”

Information from individual operations will not be seen by other growers or the public.