January 18, 2018

Building Blocks Podcast: What Does Better, Smarter, More Equitable Disaster Recovery Look Like?

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Recording the Building Blocks Podcast: Equitable Disaster Recovery

It has been almost four months since Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated coastal communities. As initial response efforts come to a close and residents return to their homes, many are looking for answers about what’s in store for the long road to recovery. It’s now that stakeholders look back on past disasters to identify best practices and think about applying those learnings to meet the needs of different communities.  

Post-Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and through my personal experience leading President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, I have seen varied levels of response from the institutions Americans look to first for support.  

Three Lessons From Past Disasters

We are only beginning to understand the true impact of this year’s storms; however, I find the same three primary lessons to be as applicable for Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma as they were for Superstorm Sandy. 

  • First, it is vitally important that both near and long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts start immediately following a disaster and that the Federal government takes a coordinated regional approach to assistance delivery.
  • Second, this must be an "All-of-Nation" approach to rebuilding. While the Federal government has a key role to play in recovery, State and local governments must be key partners in the recovery effort.
  • Third, the recovery effort must include rebuilding in a more resilient fashion, rather than simply recreating what was already there, so that we are better prepared for future disasters.

Taking the Lead to Protect Vulnerable Populations

A truly equitable recovery requires partners from across the federal government, state and local governments and the private sector to champion resiliency, especially for those populations most vulnerable to external shocks. With chronically low investment, poorly built and maintained infrastructure and a legacy of housing policies that have forced low-income groups and communities of color to live closer to otherwise undesirable land, a disproportionate burden has been placed on these communities. By identifying our most vulnerable areas and populations, we can target efforts to protect and prepare for future events. 

At Enterprise, our experience has shown that nonprofit organizations and their volunteers take the lead role in immediate response post-disaster; they are often the most connected to impacted communities and aware of gaps in resource delivery. We help bridge those gaps and assist local nonprofits and CDCs in providing for the most immediate needs and largest impact during response, e.g., transitional housing, case management, financial assistance and, ultimately, permanent homes.

Investing in these groups post-disaster is critical, but so is engaging them in the long-term rebuilding of the community. As we move from response to longer-term recovery, I believe the number one question for our field is how can we help communities recover better, smarter and more equitably?  

I invite you to dive into this and other questions on this episode of Building Blocks: Connecting People, Places, and Policies. With great insight on programmatic and policy responses in the U.S., Michelle Whetten and Marion McFadden join me for an important conversation on disaster response and recovery. 

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