Step 4: Screen the damaged areas

It is important to quickly determine where people can make repairs and where reconstruction needs to account for mitigation opportunities. Where large areas are affected or the time is tight, a rapid building condition assessment can collect some preliminary data needed to help set priorities. The assessment should categorize properties into one of three categories:

  • Category A – Apparently safe: No exterior signs of structural damage. People can be allowed back in, but they will need building permits for repairs.
  • Category B – Building obviously substantially damaged: The building is gone, it has collapsed, or it is missing one or more walls. The building cannot be reoccupied without major structural work.
  • Category C – Could be substantially damaged: The building was flooded several feet deep and may be substantially damaged, but such damage is not obvious. More time and a closer assessment is needed to determine its condition.


Screening is important to help focus resources where they’re most needed. Areas that are obviously destroyed do not need building by building evaluations. Areas that had minimal damage are not likely to be targets for redevelopment. Those residents could be allowed to begin cleaning up and repairing right away.

Where it is not clear how bad the damage is (Category C buildings), more time is needed to determine if the properties are substantially damaged.

One rule of thumb that has been used is to consider all buildings with more than two feet of water over their first floors as Category C buildings. This does not mean that they are substantially damaged – only that they warrant a closer look before residents are allowed to begin cleaning up and repairing.


  • Most communities or counties conduct damage assessments following a disaster. The Red Cross may conduct a similar assessment. These are intentionally quick, but they may provide enough information for some preliminary screening. Check with the local emergency manager.
  • Section 27 in the Floodplain Management Desk References discusses a building condition survey. Figure 27-3. provides a manual approach that has generally been replaced by FEMA’s Substantial Damage Estimator. The initial screening does not need to be so detailed, but eventually each Category C building will need such an evaluation (see also Step 1 and Step 8).
Conway was hit with different types of flooding in different areas, but one area had more damage than the others. Residents of that area were not allowed to initiate repairs until a mitigation plan was prepared. The City prepared the Flood Hazard Mitigation Plan – Interim Report for that area within two weeks of the original prohibition to rebuild.
Next→ Step 5. Identify target areas