Imagine you are a local official. Your county was struck by a Category 2 hurricane. Extensive flooding destroyed homes and wiped out crops. Now, you have to navigate the complex road to recovery.
“I’m a one-person department in an agricultural county where 100 percent of the farms were damaged by Hurricane Irma,” said Janet Papinaw, grants writer for Hendry County, Florida. “Suddenly, I’m living in the world of acronyms.”
After a disaster, communities and local governments are often forced to make decisions about a wide range of issues. The choices they make will largely determine how successfully a community recovers, but many communities lack the experience or resources to evaluate offers of assistance, maximize recovery opportunities and develop strategies that lead to long-term, sustainable development.
To help communities recover from Hurricane Irma, the Interagency Recovery Coordination Group was established. The group joined Florida agencies in surveying all of the state’s counties to determine the impact of Hurricane Irma and identify existing capacity gaps.
Based on the survey, teams of experienced recovery professionals from FEMA and other federal agencies were assembled and dispatched to the areas that sustained the most damage: Collier, Hendry, Lee and Monroe counties. The Coordinated Place Based Recovery Support Teams included staff from the Community Planning and Capacity Building Recovery Support Function as well as our Hazard Mitigation, and Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation programs.
The teams embedded in the counties helped local officials identify and take advantage of technical and financial assistance.
“They were a few steps away from my office,” Papinaw said. Pointing to a series of binders, flyers and folders she said, “I have a stack of information about grants, low-interest loans and educational programs from the team.”
The support teams held weekly calls to discuss recovery issues with state officials, subject matter experts on recovery support, and advisers on mitigation, sustainability and the Unified Federal Review process.
“The teams put experts at our disposal,” said Lee County System Performance Analyst Joan LaGuardia. “We were offered guidance on mitigation issues and suggestions for alternate sources of funding. They also connected us with FEMA’s liaison to philanthropies and nonprofit groups that offered additional assistance.”
The teams facilitated a series of economic recovery workshops sponsored by the joint field office’s economic recovery support team, helped organize a conference in Lee County on sheltering vulnerable populations, and assisted Hendry County’s successful effort to acquire funding for two AmeriCorps VISTA positions.
Over the course of three months, the teams worked with local leaders to prioritize issues and develop appropriate, cost effective strategies. More than 60 recovery issues and strategies were identified to help rebuild, restore and revitalize Collier, Hendry, Lee and Monroe counties.
“You can read all you want about recovering from a disaster,” Papinaw said. “But when someone comes in who has done it before and says ‘this is what your county can do, here are some ways to do it,’ that takes it to a whole other level.”