Framing the future striving for Resilient Communities: a strategy Session on Long Term Recovery in fema region 1

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June 2-5 2008
Striving for Resilient Communities: A Strategy Session on Long Term Recovery in FEMA Region 1

(1ST Breakout Session of Tuesday June 3, 2008 1:00 – 2:40)


Joshua Anchors

Community Planner

FEMA Region I
Ivy Frances

Floodplain Management and Insurance Branch Chief

FEMA Region I

Striving for Resilient Communities: A Strategy Session on Long Term Recovery in FEMA Region 1

Prepared by:

Nicholas LaBruna

Emergency Management Graduate Student

Adelphi University

What is Long Term Community Recovery About?

This breakout session was a small forum conducted by Josh and Ms. Frances and open to a lot of input and participation by everyone in the room. The session started out with six cards that were handed out by the panel to some members in the room. On the front of the card outlined an overall issue, and one the back were specific questions based on the dilemma presented. Each person who read the card out loud and began the answering process of the dilemma. The cards were hypothetical, but potential issues that may have to be deal with by emergency management for long-term community recovery.
Card #1: Economic Recovery. Dilemma: The tobacco industry was wiped out in a specific area in CT, where it is shade grown. This is certain to have an economic impact on the south, west and to retailers. Who should rebuild? Is there a state Agency to help?

Response: The person who read the card felt that in order to answer this, we would have to know how much tobacco is grown in the United States and what percentage of the economic pie the tobacco industry is. How can or should a community decide whether or not to bring back a devastated industry?

Card #2: 1.6 billion is given for rebuilding Connecticut. Dilemma: What agency or agencies gets the check? How does it get distributed?

Response: The governor should probably get the check because if you give it to the legislative branch, this would just take too much time. When should this decision be made, before a disaster, during response, while trying to recover? Not planning for this ahead of a disaster can slow the process down of receiving critical recovery funds.

Card #3: Economic Development. Dilemma: After a disaster, the streets are cleared out and homeowners are allowed back to their homes. Some, but few stores are open. What agency should step in? What actions should be taken?

Response: The immediate recovery effort needs food for its citizens to begin to repopulate. How do we/should be invite people back if there are no resources? This could lead to criminal actions if resources are limited and people start fighting over the limited resources.

Card #4: Housing. Dilemma: All of the houses are destroyed. The low income areas have funding to rebuild, but not affordable housing. What agencies should take control? Response: This is an example of potential victimization as a product of disaster. How can this be prevented? Are there processes or government regulations to prevent this type of economic regrowth following a disaster?
Card #5: Education. Dilemma: FEMA Public Assistance has funding to rebuild a High School, but rumor has it the neighborhood is not coming back? How can we use those funds for building back elsewhere? How do we coordinate these efforts? How would Public Assistance coordinate with City Planning or the neighborhood?
Card #6: All health services are wiped out in a 100 mile radius. The National Guard, ambulances, HHS have been there for two months and they want to leave; their response is over. How do small towns get services? What state agency should make priorities? Is that the only thing preventing them from moving back?

Response: Health and Human Services. Can we make them stay? It could take years to build back these services, how do “fill” this gap?

These are real life scenarios and questions asked. No one has a lifetime of experience in rebuilding communities from catastrophic disasters (thankfully there aren’t enough of them). It isn’t necessarily how much experience one has; people are needed who are skilled at problem solving. There is no one way to do community recovery. It is now recognized by the Federal government that a process needed to be developed for long term community recovery. So the government established Emergency Support Function (ESF) #14 which is “Long-Term Community Recovery”. But how should this process play out? FEMA is good at creating lists, job aids, creating manuals and teaching in classrooms, but long term recovery is different. Every environment is very unique. We need to create a PROCESS for development to involve the community in their own recovery. People are needed who are particularly good at problem solving and working with the community information and citizen input. The intention is to increase community resilience through the involvement of community input.
Mr. Anchors and Ms. Frances posed the questions, “why ask which state agency is involved?” “Why not just involve the community?” The answer is that if the state does not have experience in recovery, then recovery is very difficult. This exercise and these types of questions help to get states to think about disaster scenarios. It is not the time of disaster to ask these questions. Also, money from FEMA always comes through the state first.
Mr. Anchors and Ms. Frances have reflected on their experiences, reviewed national and international studies and have found no formula for long term recovery strategy. They developed case studies to see what methods did and did not work. They talked to disaster recovery and community members, public officials and responders. They found it very valuable to speak to those people. Mr. Anchors and Ms. Frances have found is that social processes were the center of recovery, not the technical aspects (which can also be covered in ESF #14). They felt the need to create information/template based more of the social infrastructure verses the need for technical expertise. They are interested in pre-disaster recovery plans but found if there were plans, they were rarely used and capacity gaps were a problem.

So where has their research led them? Since it wasn’t really helping out even if there were plans a paradigm shift may be needed. They are advocating for the outcome of long term recovery to be determined more by the community, with less of a pre-defined product by FEMA or the state, that does not require “buy ins” but is created by the community so “buy-ins” are not necessary, and it is the community’s recovery . It is very good to rebuild, but the process of rebuilding physical structures does not take into account for the community; what is behind those buildings and infrastructure so we must also assist the community in HOW it recovers, not just create a list of projects.

Recovery outcome:

What priority does the community want to have to define their own success? The federal government does not and should not define this. The state should be more involved in this process. There are three types of processes to concentrate on, and they should be scalable and based on the community needs:

  1. Direct: One-to-one. One person to work directly with a community or state (public involvement or a technical specialist).

  2. Collaborative/team approach. A coalition of FEMA, state, community, technical specialist, works on recovery.

  3. Long term: Long Term Recovery Advisory Committee (LTRAC). Complex problems may need large groups and lots of expertise. National experts need to work with local-community think tanks. These are so called MEGA communities; a coalition of national with locals. Need various people and resources, people that can do creative problem solving.

What type of public involvement? How should we get the community involved? Mr. Anchors and Ms. Frances have developed a basic idea of what they feel the process of community recovery should be like. When the federal and state governments say yes to long term recovery they will establish what are some of the success criteria, clearly articulate parameters that agencies can do or not do, and take that result to a public forum so communities can look at those parameters to approve or disapprove. This process gets the community involved in the recovery process. The goal is to find a process for meaningful involvement with the community.

In addition to mere involvement, the community must be educated on disaster, rebuilding, hazard and risk issues. This education process must start before meeting with the community. The community cannot form a vision without education. Other factors that must be considered when involving the community is the size of the community and ensuring the community capacity, or the ability to carry out the process and implement activities. Also, there will most certainly be technical challenges and a need for innovation. The community cannot think the same way after event, otherwise it will remain as vulnerable as it was before the event.

The role of the federal and state governments is to assist the local governments and communities. The process will conclude when the community has the ability to survive on their own.


The questioning part of the forum lead to much discussion, disagreement at times, and outreach/networking among those who were in the room.

One person asked if this happening in recovery phase or prior? Answer: The idea is to do the homework before the recovery phase when possible.
Someone asked about the social impact and how this plays across different sized events. Someone answered that they felt that this may work for just small events. Whereas after large events, the logistics involved with a large amount of people and resources make this process very difficult. They felt that this process may not work for a catastrophic event. It is definitely true that there are more difficulties involved when reaching people across states and large areas. Businesses may also have their own plans.
One person challenged as to whether this is really a new process. She didn’t feel that this different from what is already/currently done? Are these ideas of involving the community in reconstruction new/innovative? She argued that Port Charlotte was great with their community participation in their recovery process after a large event that they had. Mr. Anchors and Ms. Frances replied that they feel that this type of public process and community involvement should be studied and applied consistently throughout the nation. Their case studies that they looked at did now show this to be consistently the case. For example, New Orleans has developed some very formulated plans, but that does not mean that the communities were involved, and it does not mean that they are better off on their own. The process also strives to make communities better able to survive on their own. Mr. Anchors and Ms. Frances feel that this process could be done with large communities.
What do we do when there is tension in the community about rebuilding and some want to go back to the way things were instead of rebuilding? What do we do about this tension? The response was to use education during public planning to help choose a new way.
One person proposed that this may not be a FEMA process at all. Other agencies, maybe state and local agencies should be more involved. (This got a good response from the people in this session). Many felt that the planning process should not be interfered with if it is being taken care of.
One person asked if there has been any consideration of the psychological effects of community planning. Mr. Anchors and Ms. Frances replied that they have identified some psychological concerns and that if rebuilding is a community process, then they hoped that this is being addressed throughout the process.

One question that drew a lot of attention was asked by someone who said they agree with the community based planning methods, but wants to know what do we do if the community has formulated a bad plan and wants to take rebuilding in the wrong direction? What should to role of FEMA and businesses be? Mr. Anchors and Ms. Frances felt that the nature of this particular question is not asked enough. We know how to build bridges but often cannot help local communities to better work together. What if community is making very bad decisions? This does happen and the answer is that if the federal government sets up parameters, it will provide the money to rebuild and prepare against the next disaster. Someone else from the crowd pointed out that this is or at least should already be happening. The authority for this already exists during a presidential declaration. The problems are that authority and reality is not always the same thing. It was said that follow up on this is not always adequate, and that the rules/follow tend to change after changes of political offices.

Someone asked at what point do we stop using Federal money to rebuilding in bad areas? At what point is it solely the community’s responsibility to provide that money? The answer given was that there needs to be some parameters for requesting money.
Someone raised the question, what if communities do not comply? The fear is that they can then jump to media to cry out and make Federal government look bad. The answer was that this can/may certainly happen, but we don’t completely pull out of ESF #14. Someone then asked why should Federal money be involved for local and state mistakes? The answer given was that ESF #14 and a national working group has come a long way. It now talks about community planning and using the skillsets of communities.
Some questions were raised about whether or not there should be databases and teams put together before an incident? Should we have DAEs (Disaster Assistance Employees), databases, recruitment ahead of time? (LTRAC) One of the presenters asked how or if we should keep a group of national experts and SWAT teams ready to respond who are familiar with the specific type of response? Groups of experts could be sent to work with local communities. Someone in the session responded that this was attempted in the past, but there may have been some problems with them wanted to plan the way they wanted to, and not what the community wanted. ESF-14 also tabled these attempts/programs. Someone else felt that this had been done, worked, and disappeared. This would have to be an ongoing process (database, training, etc.). This did not happen in Katrina. There was no direction for these groups, contractors made bad decisions. There was no DAE program to help out and give direction. Professional organizations for relief and the applications of them are not formulaic and a formulaic approach is difficult. (Some people in the session felt that that is was done before and previous models could be used.) Communication within FEMA and its intra-organizational methods needs to be improved. Someone in the session provided a website link that they are working on that could be useful to this topic She is welcoming people to take a look at it and provide feedback.
Mr. Anchors and Ms. Frances said that they need help with capturing success stories associated with recovery. They need more case studies. Success stories are not always as well known, published and presented. Someone proposed that they utilize college students to help with this. Funding is always an issue. But increased partnerships with government and higher education is needed. Mileti’s milling idea will help out. Someone pointed out that graduate students always need research topics. Mr. Anchors and Ms. Frances feel fortunate to have the support from their directors, but their time to devote to this is limited.

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