Guides for Substantial Improvement/Damage


FEMA Releases Damage Assessment Operating Manual

March 31, 2016

The FEMA Damage Assessment Operating Manual establishes national damage assessment standards developed from lessons learned and best practices already in use and is intended to increase the accuracy, consistency, and efficiency of damage assessments by empowering emergency management at all levels with clear information and defined roles and responsibilities.  The Manual is aimed at clarifying FEMA damage assessment guidance, promoting standardized information collection, and assisting in the development of requests for federal disaster assistance.

The FEMA Damage Assessment Operations Manual is intended to expedite decision-making and the delivery of assistance by defining national standards for assessing damage and clearly outlining the information considered when evaluating requests for a Major Disaster Declaration.  To support this overall objective, this manual aims to achieve three major goals:

  1. Promote accuracy by clearly defining the information and documentation that should be collected to assess damage and support requests for Stafford Act assistance;
  2. Promote consistency by standardizing the criteria used to assess damage to residential homes and offering clear guidance on assessing damage to infrastructure;
  3. Promote efficiency by empowering emergency management at all levels with the structure and information needed to streamline damage assessment efforts.

The standards put forth in the manual will be the national standard utilized by states and tribes conducting damage assessments after disasters.  Link to the FEMA Damage Assessment Operating Manual.


Local Official Guidance

Substantial Improvement/Damage Regulations

To participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), communities must adopt and enforce regulations and codes that apply to new development in SFHAs.  Local floodplain management regulations and codes contain minimum NFIP requirements that apply not only to new structures, but also to existing structures which are “substantially improved (SI)” or “substantially damaged (SD).”  

This Desk Reference provides practical guidance and suggested procedures to implement the NFIP requirements for SI/SD.  FEMA issued a SI/SD Desk Reference in 2010.


Substantial Damage Estimator (SDE) (2015)Cover photo for the document: FEMA P-784 CD, Substantial Damage Estimator (SDE) (2015)

Community floodplain managers and code officials who handle proposals to do work on existing buildings in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) should add FEMA’s Substantial  Improvement/Substantial Damage User Manual to their book shelves. And those who cope with making substantial damage determinations, especially after floods (or other events) that damage large numbers of buildings, should check out the revised Substantial Damage Estimator. This Desk Reference provides practical guidance and suggested procedures to implement the NFIP requirements for SI/SD.

The SDE tool was developed by FEMA to assist State & local officials in determining substantial damage for residential & non-residential structures in accordance with a local floodplain management ordinance meeting the requirements of the NFIP. The tool can be used to assess flood, wind, wildfire, seismic, & other forms of damage. It helps communities provide timely substantial damage determinations so that reconstruction can begin following a disaster.  To download this publication, link to the Substantial Damage Estimator (includes a user’s manual, workbook, and the software) (FEMA P-758 CD).

Link to FEMA’s webpage to download different sections of the SDE.  While the SDE data collection and reporting engine remains relatively unchanged from Version 2.1, SDE 2.2 has been updated with a new look and feel to allow for ease of use on Microsoft Surface tablets. SDE 2.2 is compatible with Windows Operating Systems up to and including Windows 8. Other new functionality includes a Damaged Undetermined checkbox with a list of dropdown options for users to select why a property could not be inspected. Dropdown options include; No Physical Damage Sustained, Vacant Lot/Property, Resident Refused Inspection or Address Does Not Exist.

The Substantial Damage Estimator Best Practices (see below) was developed to provide suggested approaches for dealing with some of the challenging situations users may encounter while using the SDE Tool.


Substantial Damage Estimator Best Practices

SDE is designed to help Federal, State, and local officials manage data collection and assessment of substantial damage. Often the complexity of field conditions, limited access to technology, or inspection work in the field present situations that require additional organization and planning. This document contains suggested solutions to some common situations SDE users may encounter. The information and methods can be used by Federal, State, and local officials when developing SDE-based inventories of potentially substantially damaged residential and non-residential structures. The guidance is organized into three phases of SDE management: 1. Planning Data Collection, 2. Field Work, and 3. Data Management.

The Substantial Damage Estimator Best Practices was developed to provide suggested approaches for dealing with some of the challenging situations users may encounter while using the SDE Tool.


Others Guides for Substantial Improvement/Damage


FEMA SDE Tool Frequently Asked Questions

Follow the links…





KAMM mailing address: KAMM, PO Box 1016, Frankfort, KY 40602-1016.

Have questions, contact us at  Don’t forget to join the KAMM group on LinkedIn.