The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides two main types of assistance to people affected by major disasters: financial assistance and “direct housing” assistance.

Receiving direct housing assistance means that FEMA acquires and provides a temporary place for you to live. The main options for direct housing are:

For more details about each option, see Table 1 of FEMA’s Direct Housing Guide (February 2020). For further context, see the Congressional Research Service’s overview of FEMA’s individual assistance programs.

FEMA tracks its direct housing operations through its Housing Operations Management Enterprise System (HOMES), which the Direct Housing Guide calls “the Direct Housing system of record.” HOMES is a component of of FEMA’s National Emergency Management Information System (NEMIS), and specifically NEMIS’s “Individual Assistance” subsystem, NEMIS-IA.

The Data Liberation Project has been unable to locate public documentation concerning the specific structure of HOMES or a comprehensive accounting of the fields it contains. But the Direct Housing Guide describes some aspects of it. For instance, HOMES appears to track:

To our knowledge, vanishingly little data from HOMES is available to the public.

Our FOIA request 📄 to FEMA seeks all database records stored in HOMES (excluding data fields containing personally identifying information), plus all relevant database documentation.

The release of this data would shed invaluable light on a core component of FEMA’s response to major disasters, which journalists and watchdogs have criticized. (See, for instance, recent coverage in The New York Times and The Washington Post.)

The records could also clarify how well the system itself is working, another issue of potential concern. As a 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office noted:

[…] program officials said this system—which is FEMA’s system of record for tracking direct temporary housing assistance—lacks controls; is inconsistently used by field staff; and has incomplete information, contributing to information-sharing challenges.

Even if inconsistencies and incompleteness ultimately prevent certain types of analysis, the public deserves to understand the specific nature of those problems.

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