So You Want to Work in Disaster Relief? Let’s Get Started

Register with the right agencies, spruce up your website and don’t be afraid to network with other PROs when looking to land big government contracts

So You Want to Work in Disaster Relief? Let’s Get Started

Jeff and Terri Wigley

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Question: With the multitude of natural disasters in 2018, how can my company get involved in serving first responders in these situations?

Answer: Governmental agencies — federal, state and local — have procedures that must be followed to become eligible to assist. While these procedures involve paperwork, this time of the year is ideal to begin the process before the event and, in some areas, the construction season begins in earnest. Be prepared for many acronyms and abbreviations. Remember: You are working with the government and the process may be time-consuming.

Registering with the federal government

Federal Emergency Management Agency is responsible for emergency response in natural disasters. Beginning in 2012, in an effort to streamline operations, the System for Award Management or SAM took over functions of FEMA’s Debris Removal Contractor Registry.

Step 1: Make sure that you have a DUNS (data universal numbering system) number. This is required for Step 2. The DUNS is a unique nine-digit identification number for each physical location of your business. If you need to obtain one, visit You will also need the NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) code for your wastewater business. (This was formerly known as the SIC code.) The NAICS code 562991 is for pumping and cleaning septic tanks and cesspools and/or renting and/or servicing portable restrooms.    

Step 2: Register your business with SAM at Indicate that you would like to participate in the Disaster Response Registry. According to the website, it takes 2-3 days to complete the registration process. The SAM Service Desk is available to help at 866-606-8220. You can also get free support from your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), which is an official resource for governmental contracting assistance. The available material says to expect a wait of up to 30 days before your registration is activated.

Step 3: Read the FEMA procedures, and then register your company at the following website:

Step 4: Now, to view federal contract opportunities over $25,000, create an account in Federal Business Opportunities, known as FedBizOpps. This website is where contracting officers post help wanted ads for contractors. The website is

Registering with state and local government

As referenced in Step 2 above, your local PTAC could be the best place to start since each state and local government will vary as to requirements, rules and regulations. The fact that your company is already in the SAM and FEMA databases for the federal government will be an advantage in this process.

Other suggestions as a result of our research include:

• Establish relationships with your municipal and county governments. When disaster strikes, FEMA often consults these offices due to their local familiarity.

• Maintain an informative, professional and highly visible website. Often FEMA will perform “quick and dirty” market research in order to get results.

• If you are familiar with another company that provides assistance in natural disasters, consider working with that company as a subcontractor in order to gain experience in this area.

• Contact your company’s insurance provider and inquire as to its knowledge of “approved contractor lists.” The Insurance Information Institute maintains a list of approved contractors they share with policyholders in a claim situation. Assuming that your company meets the qualifications, this is another way to increase your chances of being contacted in an emergency.

• Due to this often time-consuming process, consider working with companies that will guide you through these various registrations. Often the price you pay for these services could outweigh the cost to your own staff accomplishing these tasks. In addition, these companies promise faster turnaround on results.


Question: What is EBITDA? I have heard it mentioned in various financial discussions. Is this something I should calculate for my company?

Answer: EBITDA is “earnings before income tax, depreciation and amortization.” This is simply looking at your company’s financials on a cash-flow basis and its ability to create profit. EBITDA can determine the financial health of your organization in the short term. It can also provide a glimpse as to the value of your company in the long term. 

As far as financial health is concerned, a negative EBITDA indicates a business has problems with cash flow and profitability. A positive EBITDA, however, does not necessarily mean that the business is generating cash. That’s because this formula ignores changes in working capital and in capital expenditures. Working capital is needed in a growing business, and capital expenditures are needed to replace assets.

EBITDA gives you an objective view of the value of your company, which could be important in the long term. It creates a common method where companies in the same industry can be evaluated regardless of size or geographical location. When you are interested in selling your company or buying another company, the EBITDA multiplier will be important. Depending on the industry, market conditions and economic climate, a “multiplier” will be used with EBITDA to help determine the value of the sale. This is not an exact science, and the multiplier can range in value. Mike Adams, managing director with PolyJohn, reports that a multiplier of 3 to 6 times EBITDA is common in our industry.


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