Wanted: Your Recommendations re Improving the Recovery Process

Recently, the Diva was asked by a university researcher what her thoughts were on the need for improvements in the disaster recovery process.  She had a long list, ranging from lack of legislation regarding recovery, lack of federal guidance and assistance, lack of a body of case studies and a knowledge base, and problems with federal staffing for long term recovery efforts.

So, now it is your turn:  What recommendations do you , the readers of this blog, have? Some of you are practitioners, some are researchers or academics, some of you are outside of the U.S.  I would love to hear from you.  ( And next time I am asked for recommendations, I would like to have a bushel of them!!)

NOTE: If you prefer to offer them anonymously, send them to me directly rather than using the comment feature below. I will take care of masking your name.


Update:  Keep those comments coming. So far some really excellent suggestions.

7 thoughts on “Wanted: Your Recommendations re Improving the Recovery Process

  1. White Paper presented in 2013

    After Action Report Input Form

    Program Office: Individual Assistance Date: 12/16/13


    Can FEMA continue to excel at immediate and emergency response and still efficiently implement its traditional grants programs?


    Many in FEMA recognize that there can be friction between the recently implemented cultures of immediate emergency response and the needs of longer term response and recovery. This friction has been demonstrated in a number of recent major declarations with both the leadership of Operations and the three traditional FEMA Programs being surprised by each other’s attitudes and behavior. One would argue that this revelation stems from the divergent working styles, attitudes, professional experience and orientation of the participants as well as recent FEMA leadership initiatives which have added unfamiliar layers of supervision to the traditional FEMA programs.

    An example would be the IA program which has traditionally been administered as a grants program, with Mass Care being the exception. The three traditional FEMA programs (IA, PA, Mitigation) have previously interfaced directly with the JFO leadership and the Operations layer placed between the two was not present. For the past 30 years it has effectively and efficiently delivered the funds and recovery programs needed by survivors. The program has functioned very well in getting billions of dollars into survivor’s hands very quickly.

    There is no doubt that the recent changes implemented in JFOs around the country, involving the enforcement of an ICS structure, and increased oversight by operations leadership and planning have greatly increased FEMAs emergency and immediate response capabilities.

    However, in the eyes of many, the possible over-emphasis on immediate and emergency response has negatively affected the traditional grants programs along with the longer term response and recovery efforts. These new initiatives divert resources, greatly increasing staff time devoted to planning and cause an escalation of resources needed to comply with the new requirements of a geographical structure.

    Some have suggested that the traditional grants programs (IA, PA, Mit), do not benefit from a strictly adhered to structure designed to fight fires. Many personnel in the grants programs believe that such programs are hindered by the additional requirements that do not benefit the long term response or recovery effort and divert much needed resources.

    Recommended Resolution:

    Three possible solutions:
    1. As soon as possible, during a response, transfer the groups of the IA Program that are grants based, to the National Disasters Recovery Framework and out of the National Response Framework. In essence have the Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator take over from Operations the managing of the IA groups that are involved with dispersing grants. These groups would include
    a. Housing Group
    b. Direct Housing Group
    c. Voluntary Agency Liaison Group
    d. IA TAC Group
    e. DRC Group
    f. Human Services Group
    The Mass Care Group would remain under the direct supervison of the Operations Section Chief.

    2. Transfer the entire IA Branch to the NDRF with the exception of the Mass Care Group.
    a. Similar to the DSA cadre the Mass Care Group would still report to the Operations Section Chief while the remainder of IA would report to the Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator and function under the NDRF.

    3. Create 2 new Sections designed to be more compatible and functional in nature
    a. Emergency Services Section managed by the Operations Section Chief and include:
    i. Mass Care Branch
    ii. Disaster Communications Branch
    iii. Emergency Services Branch
    iv. Geographic Branch
    v. DSA Branch
    b. Programs Section managed by a Program Section Chief and include:
    i. IA Program Branch
    ii. PA Program Branch
    iii. Mitigation Program Branch

    Each of these suggestions would lead to a more natural grouping of functions and operational viewpoints. This would lead to more effective working atmosphere and mitigate the philosophical challenges currently being experiences.

  2. The Stafford Act amendment on Disaster Case Management Services is broken as it is an unfunded mandate for non-profit (VOAD) organizations. While FEMA provides funding for the case management programs (salaries, administration), non-profits are supposed to provide all the resources that recovering vulnerable populations need. Trends in philanthropic giving to NGOs post-disaster support response work and not recovery. These funds simply are non-existent. Thus, the system is essentially providing case management services to tell survivors they cannot be helped in state after state. The Disaster Relief Fund should be mandated to support the resourcing of the NGO programs as well as the establishment of case management service, otherwise the Emperor will continue to wear no clothing with these programs.

    In terms of the NDRF, the move to making FEMAs Community Planning and Capacity Building (CPCB) function a clearinghouse to link communities in need with organizations that have recovery expertise, but may not have funding or resources to support recovery is ill-fated. It is akin to a matchmaker selling partners that have little incentive to invest in one another. The hard work of supporting communities in recovery needs to be done by CPCB staff and not passed off to other parties that may or may not carry through. We need to continue to get our hands dirty and do the hard work rather than try to find ways to pass the buck.

  3. Recognition that “crisis action planning” (ie – IAPs) only work effectively for short-term planning and shouldn’t be used once an operational period has moved beyond 24 hours. At that point the majority of response (life saving and sustaining) operations should be completed and you’re into recovery. Project planning, done from the desired end date and working towards the current date, should be used which would allow much better assessments of time and cost, as well as allowing much more focused resource utilication.

  4. Shaun Donovan at OMB and in charge of RESILIENCE should be copied on this effort.

    IMO a statutory line-drawing on crossing from the RESPONSE PHASE to the RECOVERY PHASE should be accomplished. RESPONSE is large life-saving and property saving within the first 120 days of a declaration. The RECOVERY PHASE is the period after the passage of 120 days from declaration to 18 months and is largely about RESILIENCE!

    FEMA is an “Emergency” agency and long term resilience and recovery for FEMA should be confined to the 24 month perioed fro date of event so FEMA can handle then next one [the Big one?]!

  5. * Significant support for local community-based planning. This means money, technical assistance, information. * Information clearinghouses and communication channels.

    Recovery is accomplished by multiple actors, who will act no matter what government does. So our goal is to help them act more intelligently, by providing lots of information and assistance, and facilitating their ability to coordinate with each other. -Rob

    Robert B. Olshansky, FAICP, Professor, Department Head Dept. of Urban and Regional Planning University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  6. The common meme in FEMA is “measurable metrics”. Yet the ideas presented were very often convoluted and very hard to measure. These are answers to a questionnaire that was circulated five years ago. As far as I am aware of nothing further was done on this issue.

    Here are the IA housing suggestions I submitted years ago. I believe they could be used for individuals, private sector, public sector and the infrastructure. They are simple and measurable.
    • How would you define a successful disaster recovery?

    Success from a FEMA perspective should be when all survivors who where housed before the disaster are living in a safe, secure and permanent housing solution.

    • Are there clear phases in the disaster recovery process that are useful milestones?

    1. All survivors have found a safe and secure housing solution including hotels, congregate shelters, staying with relatives/friends, damaged but habitable homes and apartments.
    2. 80% of all survivors have a housing plan.
    3. 90% of all survivors have received their grants and loans and are implementing their housing plan.
    4. Voluntary, local, state and federal agencies have identified all survivors who are homeless and or still have disaster related unmet needs.
    5. Disaster trained Case Managers have been assigned to every family with unmet needs.
    6. All survivors who where housed before the disaster are living in a safe, secure and permanent housing solution.

    • What features of Federal disaster recovery assistance are most important to you?

    1. Immediate short term housing solutions
    2. Disaster crisis counseling
    3. Financial and disaster case management provided by voluntary/state/local/federal agencies.
    4. Support for voluntary agencies

    • How would you measure progress and what specific metrics should be considered for a successful disaster recovery?

    1. Percent of survivors in safe and secure housing.
    2. Percent of survivors that have a permanent housing plan.
    3. Number of survivors with unmet needs.
    4. Percent of survivors with unmet needs who have been assigned to and contacted by, a disaster trained Case Manager.
    5. Percent of all survivors who where housed before the disaster and are now living in safe, secure and permanent housing.

    • What unmet needs are common to most disasters that do not seem to be adequately addressed under the current systems and programs?

    1. Short term affordable housing from up to a few days to 3 months available on demand.
    2. Immediate muck and gut out assistance with mold remediation as the focus.
    3. Real immediate disaster crisis counseling
    4. Disaster case management by trained personnel including financial management
    5. Debris clean up on private property by local government/Corps of Engineers/National Guard.

    Three main factors slow up the nonprofit integration into the recovery process.
    1. Access to the disaster site and addresses of survivors at an early enough stage to assist with the debris cleanup/muck outs to stabilize the damaged dwelling and to deliver services
    2. Nonprofits can provide volunteers but often they lack an infrastructure to support them.
    3. Lack of communication between local agencies, particularly county/parish agencies and the nonprofits. A more robust effort needs to be supported to develop Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) from a federal level. We should hire regional Voluntary Agency Specialists on a full time basis to help develop these critical organizations.

    • What are best practices for marshaling Federal assistance — both financial and professional support – to support state and local efforts to recover from a disaster, and how can we work together to better leverage existing Federal grant dollars?

    The easiest and most cost effective method is by supporting voluntary agencies. In a properly run and timely Long Term Recovery Committee operation. Federal dollars can be enhanced by up to 300% using donated labor and materials. The American public and faith based organizations can mobilize both manpower and materials in massive numbers when properly motivated and supported.

    Organization and timing are the key. If the American public knows that their volunteer efforts will be utilized to their fullest and their efforts will be organized, they will respond in almost overwhelming numbers. If properly trained FEMA personnel are on hand in the initial stages of a disaster incredible amounts of work can be done. Americans have traditionally heeded the call to help their fellow man and will not disappoint if properly led.

    What is lacking is immediate infrastructure and leadership for voluntary agencies. This should be provided by FEMA and as soon as possible turned over to the local agencies. FEMA currently is the only agency with the resources and expertise to immediately provide both the infrastructure and leadership to coordinated the volunteers who can really make a difference.

    Proposed solutions

    1. FEMA Voluntary Agency Specialist would continue their work with agencies to form Long Term Recovery Committees.
    2. If required… FEMA would fund, secure and or build Volunteer Worker Housing including…
    a. sleeping facilities
    b. kitchen and feeding areas
    c. Showers and laundry facilities

    3. If required… FEMA would secure, fund and hire a Construction/Clean up Coordinator and provide office space and office supplies for the first 6 months. This individual could be a FEMA employee who would later be replaced by a coordinator hired by the Long Term Recovery group as soon as possible.

    a. The first priority would be to coordinate debris removal and clean up to facilitate the access to survivor’s homes. If the incident can produce mold; muck outs, gutting and mold prevention would be a priority.

    4. If the need is evident, FEMA would fund, secure or build enough warehouse space for the volunteer rebuild effort. This would be provided for a period of up to two years if required. The size would depend on the scope of recovery effort. Volunteer agencies, under FEMA supervision, would be responsible for warehouse operation.

    5. Supervision of this initial voluntary infrastructure effort would be coordinated by a strike team leader either a Reservist or CORE position and designated by the FCO. This strike team leader would have the necessary skills to work within the voluntary agency world, the Corps of Engineers, FEMA logistics and FEMA IA branch. In addition they would have the authority to make the needed infrastructure a reality without delay. We want to stress “without delay”.

    6. All the normal voluntary agency organizational efforts would occur in parallel of this initial FEMA funded effort. As soon as possible the Long Term Recovery Committee will take over the long term recovery effort and FEMA financial assistance and supervision would cease.

    Provided with this infrastructure the voluntary agencies would be able to maximize their resources and in the end save tax payers money. The initial use of FEMA funds would be greatly enhanced by the greater efficiency and urgency of the voluntary agencies efforts.

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