Natural Disaster Response Tips

May 15, 2024

Spring has finally sprung! Flowers are blooming, grass is growing, and everyone knows the old saying, “April Showers Bring May Flowers”. If you live in the Midwest, you also know that those “showers” mean the potential for severe weather.

            After living and working through a widespread Natural Disaster in 2023, I would like to share a few tips and suggestions that I hope will leave you better prepared for the unthinkable. While this is not a situation that any of us hope to ever experience, it is the reality of living where we do. Below are a few things that I have put together, in the event we ever have to work through this again.

  1. Press Releases: Have a generic press release drafted and ready to be edited. The press release I sent out, outlined the steps to file the “PTAX-761 Request for Reduction Due to Destruction” form. It also clearly stated the date(s) of the storm/disaster, the number of days the taxpayers had to file, and the last date we would be accepting the form for that specific disaster. Also included was a brief explanation of HOW this reduction would affect their tax bill, and what year they would see it. The releases can be sent to newspapers, radio stations, shared on social media, or mailed directly to the affected taxpayers.
  2. Get Organized: Create a spreadsheet or similar database that tracks the affected parcels. Use this to track who you’ve mailed documents to, who have mailed them back, the type and extent of damage from the disaster, and whether or not they may qualify for the Natural Disaster Homestead Exemption.
  3. Go Mobile: Speaking of getting organized, GIS is one of the single greatest tools in assisting the Assessment Office after a Natural Disaster. Using ArcGIS mobile tools such as “Survey123”, you can create “smart forms” that can be filled out on a tablet or cellphone, that tie specific data collected from the field, to the structure/parcel/etc. that it pertains to. This information can be connected to a GIS map of your County/Township and will give you a visual representation on your map of the storm’s impact in your jurisdiction.
  4. Create Your “Team”: I cannot stress how important it is to have a pre-determined group of people whom will be collecting data in the field in the event of a Natural Disaster. It is my recommendation to consult with your Township Assessors, County Board and State’s Attorney about the possibility of developing intergovernmental agreements between Townships and/or Townships and the County, to provide services outside of their jurisdiction(s) in the event that a disaster specifically affects one or more jurisdiction’s staff. During the April 2023 tornado here in Fulton County, my Chief Deputy Assessor lost her home, barn and all vehicles. She had MUCH more important things to worry about and take care of, than the field work for this County.
  5. County Coordination: Finally, ask to meet with your County Board Chair, ESDA Director, Sheriff, Highway Engineer, Zoning Officer and/or anyone else that you think would be immediately affected by a Natural Disaster. Formally create a “team” that will communicate with each other throughout the disaster response, whether it be via online web meetings or in person.

This is obviously not an all-inclusive list of ways you can prepare yourself for a Natural Disaster, but I feel like it is a good start, and proved to work well in our County. I always think that it’s better to be prepared for a situation, and never need these tools, than to be hit with a disaster, and have to start from scratch.

Hopefully our “April Showers” ONLY bring May Flowers this year.



Julie Russell, CIAO-S, is the Supervisor of Assessments in Fulton County. She also serves as the Chair of Area 2 for the CAOA, President for the Illinois Chapter of the IAAO, and volunteers on the DEI Committee for the IPAI State Conference, is. She was also recently awarded the 2023 Outstanding Achievement in Property Assessment (Small Jurisdiction) Award by the Illinois Property Assessment Institute.

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