How contractors can get disaster cleanup work in the Hurricane Florence recovery efforts

A NOAA satellite image of Hurricane Florence on September 14.

Following Hurricane Florence’s September 14 landfall in Wilmington, North Carolina, emergency officials are bracing for record flooding and damage in the state, as well as throughout South Carolina, before the storm heads north where it is expected to cause more destruction.

With high winds and double-digit estimated rainfall amounts, disaster recovery work will take months before long-term rebuilding occurs.

In most cases, contractors have secured federal, state and local government contracts months or years in advance of hurricane season.

However, the extent of the damage could result in more help needed. Last year, for example, Florida and Texas were in dire need of more debris-removal and rebuilding assistance following Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, even leading to bidding wars in some cases.

Federal contracts

When it comes to getting a Federal Emergency Management Agency contract, your company first must be registered with the System for Award Management (SAM), which took over the functions of FEMA’s former Debris Removal Contractor Registry.

Created in 2012, an active SAM registration is required to do business with the federal government. The SAM Service Desk at 866-606-8220 is available to answer questions regarding the SAM process. (The wait time on September 14 to reach a customer service representative was about 8 minutes.)

We did have some trouble accessing the website on September 13. The customer service representative recommended using the Firefox web browser if having trouble. This link – click here – worked for us in both Safari and Google Chrome when the link did not.

This summer, SAM changed its log-in format following a phishing scam on the site in which government payments were directed from legitimate bank accounts to ones set up by con artists. According to SAM, the new log-in procedure is as follows:

The first time you log in to after June 29, 2018, you’ll be asked to create a user account (if you don’t already have one). Going forward, you will use your username and password every time you log in to Your current username and password will no longer work. is a service that offers secure and private online access to government programs, such as federal benefits, services, and applications. With a account, you can sign into multiple government websites (including with the same username and password.

For more details on the log-in process and the fraud investigation, click here.

Also new this year, SAM requires a notarized letter stating your firm’s “entity administrator.” However, it no longer requires having the letter approved before SAM registration is activated.

SAM-registered companies are assigned a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) code, a five-character Identification used within the federal government, which is issued by the Department of Defense Logistics Agency to identify a specific facility at a specific location. The CAGE code is connected to the SAM registration, which must be renewed each year.

FEMA says its goal is to “seek local companies within the disaster area for goods and services related to a specific disaster when practical and feasible.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is tasked with helping FEMA with debris removal in disasters, may also issue contracts. It becomes involved if the damage and debris are so extensive that it exceeds local and state capabilities. The Corps was on the ground in North and South Carolina and in Virginia to provide emergency debris removal and other assistance as of September 13, according to FEMA. We reached out to the Corps to get further details on its contracts and will update this information when we do.

State and local contracts

Expect a wait of up to 30 days before your registration is activated with SAM. For this reason, you might want to seek other sources if you’re hoping to move quicker.

FEMA also suggests that contractors pursue state opportunities since federal grants to states “make up half an agency’s budget in some cases.”

In North Carolina, the lead agency is the N.C. Emergency Management, which is under the state’s Department of Public Safety. The N.C. Department of Transportation is seeking subcontractors for such duties as hauling, including asphalt, clearing and grubbing, removal and demolition, pipe installation, debris removal, as well as possible bridge repair.

In South Carolina, the lead agency is the S.C. Emergency Management Division; in Georgia, the Georgia Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency.

In Virginia, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management keeps lists of approved contractors for various work, including emergency debris removal, with contact information.

These state agencies should also be able to put you in touch with local governments that need disaster recovery help.

Fee-based registry

Instead of going through the SAM registry process on your own, another route is to use the services of a fee-based “professional registry service.”

“There are companies that replicate services of the Federal Government entities and there are typically fees associated with their services,” FEMA says. “Most Federal Government services, if not all, are free of charge. Always make it a practice to reach out to the appropriate Federal agency first to inquire about the validity of the service, specifically if a fee is associated with it.”

To anyone who’s dealt with federal paperwork hoops, however, the sales pitch on these registry services can be compelling, especially in a time-sensitive environment such as disaster relief. One such service is the U.S. Federal Contractor Registration Service (USFCR).

Huff Bhatia, acquisition specialist with USFCR, says SAM registration is now taking his company anywhere from 25 to 30 days, up from 10 to 12 days last year. He says that doing the registration on your own can take six to 12 weeks.

The longer activation time is due to security safeguards put in place following the phishing scam on the SAM site last year, he explained.

The company charges $599 a year for its service, which also includes a bid notification tool that emails bid information to clients and an educational portal with videos on how to submit a bid and other information to help companies win government contracts. The company also makes sure the company’s registration remains current.

To contact Huff, call 727-897-5411 or email

Insurance companies

According to the Insurance Information Institute, most insurance companies maintain a list of approved private contractors they then share with their policy holders in a claim situation. These approved contractor lists are not shared with the public. Now is the time to get on these lists, assuming you meet each company’s qualifications.

To get on a list, the Institute suggests contractors call the insurance companies and ask to be directed to the “property repair program” in the claims department. Each company will have its own requirements for insurance, bonding, etc.

Marcia Gruver Doyle contributed to this article.