Experiences Gained: Team Building After a Disaster – How to Plan and Pay for It
Immediately after disaster strikes, localities must quickly pull together disaster recovery teams and find funding for recovery efforts. Although any natural disaster can be devastating, community leaders can take a few strategic steps at the very start of post-disaster response to set the community up for immediate and long-term recovery success, allowing them to rebuild stronger and smarter.
At the start of post-disaster recovery, it’s intuitive to focus on immediate needs, yet according to Mike Spletto, president and director of disaster management for 3PL Consulting Inc., it’s even more important to focus on what must be accomplished long-term. Spletto, a veteran of HUD‘s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (DBG-DR) program management, recommends developing a playbook in the planning phase that can help your locality quickly setup and begin rebuilding, in addition to integrating long-term staffing, funding and recovery needs. Localities can work with FEMA or other disaster recovery agencies to create a disaster response plan that identifies key players and action items.
Localities should also consider contracting with a public relations specialist from the start to help manage media inquiries and ensure that consistent messages are sent out throughout the entire recovery process. This will help give the community a clear understanding of how the process will work and what they can and cannot expect assistance with from the local jurisdiction.
“It may sound easy just to talk about what you’re doing, but getting the right message out consistently is very important to success,” Spletto says.
A Versatile Recovery Team
When assembling a recovery team, select specialized and experienced professionals that can tackle every aspect of recovery – from housing and emergency shelters to infrastructure repairs and emergency preparedness. “You need them on your immediate team because they’ll be leading groups who will be carrying things out in the field, on the local level,” Spletto explains.
When looking for team members, Spletto also recommends casting a wide net to build the strongest and most experienced team possible. Ideally, jurisdictions can hire local specialists, yet when not possible, localities should be prepared to look beyond their geographic area to find team members who have worked through the disaster recovery process before.
“It’s important for your success to get help from experts who have been through it before,” Spletto says. “With all the unique rules, regulations, duplication of benefits (DOB), changes in rules and regulations, bringing in the right expert can really help. You want to make sure things will get accomplished very quickly.”
If local governments already have experts on staff, make time allocation a priority – overworking staff during disaster response can lead to burnout and even resignation. If funds are available, hire additional staff or consultants to ease the stress on staff members and allow them to focus on regular tasks.
Spletto advises looking for alternative, unique sources of funding to cover specific costs. HUD’s CDBG-DR program, for example, has strict limits on administration costs, but jurisdictions can use HUD’s project delivery fees to hire expert help for assistance.
Localities have a wide range of interpretations when it comes to eligible recovery activities, so HUD looks favorably on providing waivers – as long as they show benefits and do not violate the statute. For example, CDBG-DR regulations stipulate that localities can’t use CDBG-DR funds to help rebuild buildings for general use of government, however jurisdictions can ask for a waiver that allows them to assist in the rebuilding of that governmental structure.
“There are tons of things that the government gives waivers for,” says Spletto, who was in charge of quickly creating a program to assist over 200,000 homeowners that applied for HUD support after Hurricane Katrina. Spletto and his team spent 12 months distributing over $7 billion to homeowners.
However, Spletto stresses that communities must meet the stringent HUD deadlines to avoid losing money before the locality even has a chance to use it. Consulting with recovery management professionals can help maximize funding and ensure that all documentation and paperwork meets HUD requirements.