Getting Ready to Recover from Florence

From Sandy and Katrina to the disasters of 2017, there are many cases to illustrate that long-term recovery is very different from short term disaster emergency response and is often under-managed. There are different disciplines and different objectives involved, but too often, communities do a relatively great job with the immediate response, and then allow the recovery process to drag on for years and years.

In order to have a successful recovery, the time to start planning and working to achieve it is not after the short-term disaster responders have done their thing, but concurrently. Otherwise, communities get stuck with certain faits accomplis that make their recovery process much harder. In other words, just as decision makers are getting ready for hurricane Florence to make landfall, and are planning their response, they should also be planning their recovery process too.

Short-term disaster response success can be measured in terms of lives saved, prompt restoration of critical services, maintenance of law and order, swift response to emergencies and crises, keeping people out of harm's way, and clean up. Long-term recovery is about getting schools and clinics and community services functioning normally, getting houses fixed, community protective infrastructure repaired and upgraded, and small businesses back up and running, and so on. Working with fire and rescue, police, relief agencies, health care workers and short-term responders requires very different skill-sets than working with planners, construction crews, financiers, architects, engineers, developers, contractors, investors, and businesses. Too often, decision makers have tended to lump the two disciplines together, but more sophisticated practices are starting to emerge.

As folks get ready for Hurricane Florence across the Carolinas and Virginia, here are some ideas that might help with the long-term recovery process.

(1) Create a dedicated long-term recovery and resilience office at the state level that is as connected to commerce and infrastructure as it is to housing. The key metrics will not just include repair of pre-existing infrastructure, but reducing identified vulnerabilities and weaknesses exposed by the storm and upgrading regional assets and capabilities. This team will study the evacuation process, the long-term flood impacts, the communications and energy grid, the housing and neighborhood protective systems, the storm water run-off, school, health, arts, housing, transportation, and logistics integrity and other systems that are foundational for community functioning. This needs, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses assessment function will support future planning, budgeting, and project management and make it more targeted and effective.

(2) Create a dedicated recovery fund. The Rebuild Texas Fund (https://www.rebuildtx.org) was seeded with a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and has helped serve as an impact investment fund and issued grants that have helped under-served and under-resourced individuals, families, businesses, organizations, and communities fill in the gaps.

(3) Create a vehicle to support a shared services recovery help desk for small municipalities and small businesses. The Institute for Sustainable Development (www.isdus.org) conducted numerous focus groups with our partners in the aftermath of the 2017 disasters, and one of the things we uncovered was how stretched small municipalities and small businesses were, and how much they lacked basic information and basic support functions that larger companies and communities take for granted. Just because there are programs available for these constituencies doesn't mean that they can access them or know how to comply or adjust themselves to conform to their requirements.

(4) Work with emergency responders and relief agencies like the Red Cross and other volunteer agencies active in disasters (VOADs) on short-term issues that have long-term impacts like mental health counseling, debris removal, and clean-up. In some cases, extreme weather events have been known to cause significant post-traumatic stress, even among leaders and decision-makers, and can have debilitating effects that are hidden or misunderstood. Similarly debris removal and clean-up provides many benefits at multiple levels, not the least of which is psychological. One of the keys for recovery is that people feel like they are taking back control of their future, and that the disaster may have caused damage, but that it was only temporary. Managing community psychology and public perceptions of competency is a key ingredient for successful recoveries.

(5) Have a housing task force ready to go - particularly for low income and old neighborhoods. One of the biggest hold-ups in recovery for low income neighborhoods is the extent that there are difficulties over issues like titles and claims processing. In Puerto Rico, as much as 50% of the housing damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria was "informal" or unpermitted or without clear title, and this has delayed claims processing, FEMA public assistance, land swaps and other recovery efforts significantly. Homeowners should also be aware that companies like Fannie Mae often deploy significant post-disaster assistance programs such as the one instituted for Hurricane Lane: http://www.fanniemae.com/portal/media/corporate-news/2018/hawaii-hurricane-lane-mortgage-assistance-6751.html. There are strict eligibility requirements so people should not take for granted that outside assistance will always be there, but they should definitely take the time to research corporate citizenship programs, and monitor the US Chamber's corporate aid tracker: (https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/corporate-citizenship-center/corporate-aid-trackers)

The best recoveries begin with strong resilience and preparedness programs. Right now, homeowners and businesses should be getting their records and insurance in order, securing their valuables, plant, property, and equipment, shoring up their houses, and anticipating their needs in case the power goes out or other damages occur. Doubtless, the utilities, the state agencies, and their support systems at the federal level are getting prepared as well. If all goes well, there won't be major disruptions, and the impacted areas will be able to recover swiftly and get back to normal without too much hassle. However, even if the disaster is enormous, by building on lessons learned from previous disasters, states can make sure they have successful recoveries, and not leave this to chance.

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N.B. The Institute for Sustainable Development will resume its weekly briefings on long-term recovery, resilience, and transformational issues on Friday, September 21, 2018 at 3pm ET. If you would like to be on the call list, please register at www.isdus.org.

 

Stephen JordanComment