BATON ROUGE, La. – Seven months after Hurricane Isaac slammed into the Louisiana coast, two Louisiana parishes are creating new paths to recovery with the help of state and federal partners.
Scores of residents and community leaders in St. John and Plaquemines parishes have gathered at open houses and community meetings over the past few months to learn how they can get involved in their communities’ recovery and to identify projects to help bring their visions of recovery to life.
In St. John Parish, a volunteer Citizens Advisory Committee launched the initiative “One Parish, One Future: Building Back Better and Stronger” in January to help rally public support for and participation in the local effort. Since then, residents of all ages and walks of life have contributed ideas and strategies for rebuilding — both in person at community events and through the parish’s online surveys. Plaquemines Parish, meanwhile, has held public input sessions and is forming committees to begin organizing its local initiative.
“This kind of grassroots participation lays the foundation for successful recovery in any community,” said National Disaster Recovery Coordinator Wayne Rickard. “When the people who live and work in affected communities set their own recovery priorities, they take ownership of the plan and their enthusiasm infects their friends and neighbors – and that can help jumpstart a community’s cycle of success.”
One motivation behind both of the local efforts is the pledge of federal assistance in developing their plans – and the potential that state and federal agencies will help steer dollars their way.
“To have the support at the state and federal level not only during the disaster and immediately after it, but during the long haul, is something we’re extremely grateful for,” said St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom. “With the Framework, there are other agencies at the table that have an understanding of other resources. Their presence with us has been extremely powerful.”
This assistance has come under the aegis of the new National Disaster Recovery Framework, which defines an overall process by which hurricane-affected communities can capitalize on opportunities to rebuild stronger, smarter and safer. Rickard is the recovery coordinator at the federal level; Mark Riley serves as Louisiana’s disaster recovery coordinator.
Although the Framework relies greatly on government resources, the private sector also plays a role. At the local level, businesses may be able to contribute resources or personnel as well as participate in community recovery planning. At the regional, state and national levels, corporations, foundations, individuals or other entities may be approached for technical assistance and grants or other resources.
To help parishes identify potential resources, the National Disaster Recovery Support team in Louisiana has developed a Community Recovery Resource Guide containing Louisiana-specific information. Currently available on CD, the guide profiles nearly 900 specific recovery assistance programs through which communities can seek funding possibilities, grant writing guides, planning manuals and even examples of how governments can create recovery-related staff positions.
Louisiana activated the Framework shortly after Hurricane Isaac hit the state in late August, opening the door for parishes to ask for technical assistance and guidance that fall outside the restrictions of the Stafford Act, the law under which the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides assistance immediately after a disaster. Plaquemines and St. John parishes soon named local disaster recovery managers to start the process. Additionally, Orleans Parish and the City of New Orleans sought technical assistance to add a recovery preparedness plan to the parish’s existing development plan.
St. John has used the Framework to organize local recovery and development planning around the economic development, health and social services, housing, infrastructure, and natural and cultural resources sectors. At the parish’s meetings and open houses, residents, business owners and others submitted dozens of ideas to move the parish’s recovery forward. Ideas have ranged from creating a farmers market to improving drainage capacity at critical points in the parish to initiating a St. John Parish cultural history project. Voting to prioritize those projects has just concluded.
Although state and federal agencies provide help, community leadership and local involvement are vital in developing recovery priorities and activities that are realistic, well-planned and clearly communicated.
“As the first parish or county in the nation to make full use of the resources outlined in the Framework, St. John one day may serve as a model for the recovery efforts of other communities across the nation,” Rickard said.
Indeed, St. John Parish officials note how working together has benefited the parish.
“This whole process has made St. John stronger,” Robottom said. “We’re very pleased to be a part of this.”
Further details about the Framework are available at http://www.fema.gov/pdf/recoveryframework/ndrf.pdf.
More information on Louisiana disaster recovery is available online at www.fema.gov/disaster/4080 or www.gohsep.la.gov. FEMA is also on Twitter at twitter.com/femaregion6 and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FEMA.
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.