PINE RIDGE, S.D. – Recovery efforts continue in the aftermath of severe storms and flooding that struck the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation last spring. In the nine months since President Obama’s disaster declaration, hundreds of households have received assistance funds and FEMA and the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) have engaged in the largest housing effort in the tribe’s history. To support this effort, FEMA has established offices on the reservation, as well as in Hot Springs and Ellsworth Air Force Base.
To address the severe housing need on the reservation following the disaster, FEMA initiated a permanent housing construction program used for the first time in the continental United States. Under the effort, more than 300 households have been identified as eligible for either repairs to their damaged home, or replacement with a new manufactured home. As of May 6, 143 new homes have been provided to individual households on the reservation, and another 31 homes have been repaired by FEMA contractors. The program will continue through an anticipated completion later this summer. The manufactured homes are being staged at Ellsworth Air Force Base prior to their final delivery and installation on the reservation.
In addition to the housing construction program, FEMA has provided more than $400,000 in direct financial aid to tribal members. Of that, more than $197,000 was for home repairs and $219,000 was for personal property losses and other emergency needs as a result of the May storm. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has approved $943,000 in low-interest loans to 58 tribal residents and businesses.
Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds will also be made available to the tribe, with the amount available based on total disaster response and recovery costs. This program will allow the tribe to develop and undertake projects that will minimize the impact of future disaster events. Projects will be based on priorities established by the tribe, can be done reservation wide, and do not have to be directly related damages caused by the May 2015 storm event.
A federal interagency disaster recovery coordination team has partnered with the (OST) Government to support long-term recovery. Joining FEMA and the tribal government are the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Agriculture Rural Development, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Federal Highway Administration.
The federal team recently completed a Recovery Support Strategy (RSS) addressing long term needs that is under review by tribal leadership. This RSS, once adopted by tribal leadership, will serve as a roadmap for addressing previously identified priorities of health, housing and roads and guide prioritization of efforts and resources moving forward.
Among the first steps being taken are a series of events focused on capacity building in the Tribal government sector, to include expanding expertise and capacity to conduct effective strategic management, mitigation and emergency management planning and operations. This will enhance the ability of tribal departments to effectively compete for additional funding from governmental and private sector programs to meet its priorities and objectives described in the RSS. A number of agencies are collaborating with the tribe to develop geographic information system tools for housing and roads data which will assist it in defining requirements in future grant applications.
The totality of the impact of these efforts goes well beyond just the tribal members impacted directly by the May storm event. The partnership of Tribal, Federal, State, and private non-profit entities is making a difference that will allow the Tribe and its members to become more resilient and better prepared to respond and recover from future disasters.