Urban Forest Strike Teams

In the Southern United States, the question is not if disaster strikes, but when. Disasters can leave a trail of destruction in their wake — and can change people’s lives. They can also change a community’s tree canopy and potentially cause long-term risks to safety. Urban Forest Strike Teams come to the aid of a region whose urban forest has been impacted by a natural disaster. Strike teams provide tree damage and risk assessments and Federal Emergency Management Agency public assistance information to communities.

UFST Georgia
UFST Georgia

The Urban Forest Strike Team program works to increase public safety and to retain the viable urban tree canopy that is so important in our southern communities.

Browse photos from storm response deployments and strike team trainings

Watch the Urban Forest Strike Team in action after Hurricane Harvey in Rockport, Texas, 2017

Watch the Urban Forest Strike Team in action after a tornado in Albany, Georgia, 2017

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

The Urban Forest Strike Team program was created to provide systematic mobilization, deployment, organization and management of state forestry agency personnel and arboriculturist resources.

By working with the USDA Forest Service, state forestry agencies, local emergency management, and communities, the Urban Forest Strike Teams help assess, document and provide recommendations to help mitigate the effects of disasters to a community’s tree canopy throughout the South and nation. 

Urban Forest Strike Teams mobilize when requested or needed by the affected communities, using local and state resources to respond both at home and across the country. Since 2007, when the first strike team trainings began, the southern urban forest strike teams have been activated 10 times and have mobilized hundreds of team members across the South in response to disasters such as Hurricanes Gustav, Ike, Irene and Matthew, tornadoes in Georgia and Missouri and ice storms in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kentucky.

Tree Damage Assessment

Strike teams accomplish this by conducting tree damage assessments following disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, ice storms and wildfires.

Tree assessments help municipalities provide information for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) public assistance applications for debris removal.

For consistency and standardization, strike teams evaluate tree damage based on FEMA guidance on debris removal and arboricultural risk standards.

A full strike team is composed of two team leaders, 10 task specialists (five crews) and one GIS Specialist.


Trees in Our Southern Communities

Rockport Texas church tree
Rockport Texas church tree

Well-maintained urban forests can help address climate and extreme weather impacts by reducing storm water runoff, buffering high winds, controlling erosion and minimizing the impacts of drought.

Communities can act now to help make urban forests more resilient. Start by developing an Urban Forest Emergency Management Plan, conducting thorough inventories and risk assessments along major roads, and follow up with recommended maintenance. Learn more at Trees and Storm Safety. When our urban forests are more resilient, our southern communities are more resilient to disasters.

Trees provide environmental, economic, social and health benefits. And although beautiful, restoring the urban forest following a natural disaster is more than beautification. Trees are a critical part of the community’s infrastructure and should be considered in restoration planning.

No one agency or entity can do it alone. We are here to help. State forestry agencies have numerous resources available to assist communities in creating preparedness plans for unexpected damage to their urban forests.


 Frequently Asked Questions

 What does an Urban Forest Strike Team do?

The Urban Forest Strike Team’s mission is to provide additional professional capacity to municipalities impacted by natural disasters during the late stages of response and during recovery.


Who can request assistance? How does a community request assistance? When does a community request assistance?

Once a disaster is declared and the initial incident response is complete, municipalities may request urban forest strike team assistance.

 Local, Intra-state Deployments:

Affected community initiates request for assistance for available strike teams through Mutual Aid channels or directly from Urban & Community Forestry Program Coordinators https://www.arborday.org/programs/treecityusa/forestrycoordinators.cfm  A phone call must be followed up by written request.

Requesting community provides U&CF program coordinator with information including a description of size and scope for which assistance is needed, specific place for staging of personnel and point of contact at that location.

A qualified strike team is mobilized and notifies the requesting community of strike team assigned, status of mobilization, and estimated time of arrival to agreed-upon staging area.

Inter-state Deployments:

State of Emergency or Disaster is duly declared by the Governor and Federal Declaration is obtained.

Authorized representative of affected state initiates Request for Assistance for an urban forest strike team from party state(s) authorized representative.

Requesting State provides Assisting State with information including a description of size and scope for which assistance is needed, specific place and time for staging of assisting party’s personnel and point of contact at that location.

Assisting State will mobilize a qualified strike team including call-out of personnel, identified mobilization point, coordinating transportation requirements and providing logistical support until strike team is on scene.

Assisting State will notify the Requesting State of the strike team assigned (Team Coordinator) status of mobilization, and ETA to agreed-upon staging area. Team Liaison will keep Assisting State informed of mobilization progression until arrival at staging area.


How are strike teams funded? Is there a cost to the community?

Urban Forest Strike Teams are supported by a USDA Forest Service grant. The cost of a deployment is dependent upon several variables, including: the number of responders and from where they come (in state, out-of-state, federal, etc…), the duration of response, resources needed, per diem rates and location.

If the disaster has a federal declaration, our preferred mode of deployment of all out-of-state resources is through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.  In that case, FEMA would cover 75% of costs of deployment and the state and city usually split the other 25% (often 12.5% city and 12.5% state emergency management). The Emergency Management Assistance Compact is not used for in-state responses and non-federal disasters.

When in-state resources are used the salary, benefits, housing and per diem line items are reduced (and the respective 75%:25% sharing) since in-state resources are not reimbursed through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. Resource availability at any given time determines the intrastate vs. interstate makeup of the strike team. When EMAC is used, alternative funding sources may be available to assist with the community portion of the shared cost. Communities should contact their respective state Urban and Community Forestry Coordinator https://www.arborday.org/programs/treecityusa/forestrycoordinators.cfm.

Who are the members of a strike team? What training, experience or credentials do strike team members have?

Deployed as a team of trained personnel to perform rapid tree risk assessments to identify storm-damaged trees that pose a risk to people and property on publically managed land, and to document trees that meet FEMA debris management criteria for Public Assistance reimbursement.

Strike teams are a stand-alone resource that use an Incident Command System structure with strike team leaders who are Qualified Tree Risk Assessors (ISA TRAQ) and who directly supervise Task Specialists.

Strike teams may be intra-state or inter-state deployments depending on local and state capacity.

Intra-state (state and local) mobilization requests may be called by an agency or community for a Governor’s “Emergency or Disaster Declaration” declared disasters or for federally declared disasters where state capacity is sufficient for response.

Inter-state mobilization requests can be made for

1) Governor’s and Presidential Stafford Act Emergency or Disaster Declaration or

2) to exercise the Emergency Management Assistance Compact system among cooperating states.


How do strike teams conduct tree damage assessments?

Tree risk assessments are conducted on trees that:

•           are ≥6” in diameter

•           are within the designated boundaries by the community

•           represent a risk to improved, public property or users of that property

•           have been damaged by the current natural disaster

Tree risk assessments are conducted on stumps that:

•           are the result of the removal of storm damaged trees during disaster response to clear streets for initial emergency access and response activities

To help prioritize mitigation efforts, the strike team shall:

•           identify of the likelihood of failure

•           identify of the likelihood of impacting a target

•           evaluate of the severity of the associated consequences of the failure

How is the information gathered by the strike teams used by FEMA or used to determine removal, pruning or tree replacement?

This assessment is made for the tree defects that are eligible for FEMA Public Assistance reimbursement as defined in the FEMA Public Assistance Debris Management Guide. 

In addition, the strike team will identify the existence of other tree defects that may represent risk after any mitigation (i.e. residual defects). The timeframe for this post-disaster risk assessment is one year or a length of time as agreed between the strike team and the municipality.

An inspection includes identification of defects on:

•        publicly-owned trees that could potentially impact targets on public or private property

•        privately-owned trees ONLY IF they could potentially impact targets on public property

•        the assessment protocol as outlined above in the Scope of Work

The assessment data shall include the:

•        tree species or genus

•        diameter

•        latitude and longitude

•        recommendation on eligibility for mitigation reimbursement

•        the three risk rating components for the defect identified

•        other data collected during the assessment

•        risk mitigation recommendation

•        existence of residual defects following mitigation

Data helps the strike team determine appropriate mitigation recommendations and helps the  controlling authority identify and prioritize the most appropriate post-storm hazard mitigation plan for storm damaged trees that includes those eligible and not eligible for FEMA debris reimbursement.


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