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City of Central Lessons Learned: Navigating Disaster Recovery

Disaster Recovery

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Debris from flooded homes lines a neighborhood street.

No matter how prepared and well practiced your locality is to handle post-disaster recovery, putting these plans into action amidst the disarray after a major natural disaster presents unforeseen challenges that put even the best-laid plans to the test.

Below, the City of Central, Louisiana, shares some of the strategies they successfully implemented to work with citizens and navigate complex recovery program requirements after the August 2016 rain storm flooded 60 percent of the City’s single family homes.

Document everything and establish a system for the documentation process.

  • Have a system for scanning and uploading documents to cloud storage to protect them.
  • Ensure staff know documentation procedures.
  • Have a pre-determined file-naming protocol that is grouped by vendor and includes the function, vendor name and invoice number.

Ensure that residents are given respect and privacy.

  • Affected residents may feel uncomfortable with receiving donations. Be sensitive when communicating the availability of donated goods and services. Make it clear that support is provided because of the disaster; this is not an everyday occurrence.
  • Work with local businesses to provide coupons and discounts to residents for necessities. Make every effort to give residents autonomy and privacy. For example, ensure that media do not photograph residents without their permission.

Be a good listener.

  • Residents generally expect interactions with the City to be transactional; it is easy to go beyond expectations.
  • Allow residents to share their stories. Train employees in good listening skills; if possible, enlist help from a grief counselor.
  • Be compassionate and understanding, but do not make promises that your locality may be unable to keep.

Communicate best practices for working with FEMA.

  • Ensure that homeowners know to photograph all damage and debris before, during and after repairs, and to save all receipts related to repairs.
  • Recording and live streaming FEMA meetings allows the community to hear FEMA’s plans directly, and provides your locality with a record of discussions with FEMA.

Hold – and prepare for – a town hall meeting with local leaders and FEMA, SBA, and other involved state and federal representatives.

  • Town hall meetings are useful for disseminating information to the community at once and allowing homeowners and business owners to ask questions.
  • Be prepared for questions on FEMA’s manufactured housing units, FEMA assistance and insurance. Brief FEMA representatives ahead of the meeting to ensure their answers are consistent with the city’s recovery approach.

Ensure community leaders and homeowners understand NFIP requirements.

  • Staff and homeowners must understand the details of substantially damaged properties; homeowners in Special Flood Hazard Zones must be aware that they may need to raise or demolish their homes.
  • Staff should not give details to the community on NFIP until they are certain they understand the requirements and process.

Verify contractor licenses and insurance information.

  • Once contractors submit their license numbers, these can be verified online through state-provided databases. Verify the general contractor’s insurance information, and ensure it won’t expire in the middle of recovery projects.
  • Cross-train office staff before the verification process beings to ensure all contractors meet the same requirements.

Consider a third-party contractor to help manage the grant process and paperwork.

Have a separate process in place for issuing different types of permits.

  • Create separate lists for homes that are substantially damaged (and therefore need an inspection before being issued a permit), and those that just need a permit to begin rebuilding.

Ensure homeowners understand manufactured housing unit (MHU) requirements.

  • MHUs are intended to be a temporary solution only; homeowners living in an MHU must demonstrate that they are working toward a permanent housing solution.
  • Ensure that homeowners contact their utility company for water and electricity permits and installation.

 

See more tips from Central’s 2016 flood experience on disaster planning and disaster response, and read IBTS’s full case study on the City of Central’s August 2016 flooding.

 

IBTS has performed municipal services for the City of Central since 2011 and worked alongside City staff to navigate the disaster response and recovery processes. Learn more about IBTS’s unique public nonprofit partnership with the City of Central here.

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