Using the Lessons from Hurricane Katrina and Other Disasters to Strengthen Future Effective Recovery Efforts
By: Michelle Whetten, Vice President and Market Leader, Gulf Coast
As communities in New York and New Jersey come to grips with
the scale of the damage from Superstorm Sandy, it is important that response,
recovery and rebuilding efforts build off of the lessons learned and best
practices gleaned from response to previous disasters. Soon after Hurricane
Katrina, Enterprise was in the Gulf Coast to assist with recovery. Seven
years later, we continue to work in the region, having invested over $200
million to date towards rebuilding nearly 7,500 affordable homes in stronger,
more resilient communities. We've learned many lessons along the way, and are
applying them to our work in helping Sandy-impacted communities to rebuild.
There is still much to be learned about rebuilding from disasters, but several principles will help ensure that rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy is done in the most effective way possible:
- Coordinate resources and communicate clearly with stakeholders. As multiple agencies, companies, charitable organizations and individuals work to help the affected area, coordination will help speed the recovery process and maximize the effectiveness of resources. Communication with affected households should be transparent and consistent, providing the information necessary to access available resources and make informed decisions about rebuilding.
- Establish and communicate local priorities. Local government leadership can encourage private-sector investment and philanthropy that will help achieve local recovery and rebuilding goals by clearly communicating specific short- and long-term needs and priorities.
- Focus on permanent housing solutions. While temporary shelter is a necessary component of disaster response and recovery, adequate resources should be dedicated toward permanent housing from the beginning. FEMA's innovative STEP program and the City of New York's Rapid Repairs program are promising examples of building programs directly from lessons learned after Katrina. Investing in allowing households to 'shelter in place' is far less stressful on families, and a better use of federal dollars
- Invest in infrastructure. While a place to live is important, community facilities, schools, transportation and other services are necessary for resuming day to day activities.
- Take advantage of existing human capital and organizational expertise. Engage the region’s high-capacity and experienced local and private sector community development organizations and utilize their knowledge of local markets.
- Employ proven community development tools that leverage private-sector investment. These tools include the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and New Markets Tax Credit.
- Set realistic timelines. Disaster housing vouchers and other forms of temporary housing assistance should have deadlines that sufficiently account for the length of the recovery. Inadequate durations can necessitate one or more extensions, which increases housing insecurity and stress to households fearful of prematurely losing assistance.
- Document and Share Lessons. As work is done to help the people and communities affected by Superstorm Sandy, it is important to take the time document and disseminate new lessons learned for rebuilding sustainably to apply for future disasters.
- Harness the energy of volunteers. Volunteer labor and donations, while well-intentioned, can be very time-consuming to manage and use effectively. Local leaders should consider creating a system for volunteers to easily plug into. The New Orleans Catholic Charities Operation Helping Hands program is one example of an organized system that was able to manage thousands of volunteers who over time gutted and/or rebuilt over two thousand homes. Local volunteer coordination centers can be another effective model- setting up a hotline for interested volunteers who could then be referred to local organizations in need of volunteer labor, rather than volunteers having to call around to every church and organization to find someone in need of volunteers.
- Assist Homeowners. Many property owners are going to need help understanding the maze of options, assembling the necessary documentation, accessing recovery/rebuilding resources and putting these resources to effective use. Nonprofits with experience in single family rehabilitation and case management can play a critical role in this process- ideally from the beginning of the process.
- Finally: Have patience and perseverance. Recovery takes time, and stakeholders should be prepared to engage and invest in recovery for the long-term. This takes patience and commitment, as implementation of this vision occurs one home at a time.