Lessons from the Storm: Case Studies on Economic Recovery and Resilience

Today’s post is written by Megan McConville. She manages the National Association of  Development Organization (NADO) disaster recovery and resilience program. We (Rick Atterberry, Steve Cain, Abby Hostetler and Virginia White)  met Megan during a recent visit to Washington, D.C.  You can contact her at mmcconville@nado.org

Downtown Cullman, AL following 2011 tornado

In 2008, a series of storms—including Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and several tornadoes—swept across Arkansas.  Seventy-two of the state’s 75 counties were affected one or more times over the course of the year.  Only three Arkansas counties escaped Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster declarations in 2008.[i]  Hurricane Gustav made landfall as only a Category 2 storm, but it hung over the south-central United States for days and inundated the region with tremendous amounts of water.  Hurricane Ike, the third-costliest hurricane ever to make landfall in the U.S., followed just two weeks later, spawning 13 tornadoes in Arkansas over a three-day period.[ii]

As the storms subsided and the floods receded, communities were left with the daunting tasks of cleaning up and repairing damaged infrastructure.  Bridges and culverts needed replacing, roads needed resurfacing, and drainage ditches needed clearing.  What’s more, this series of natural disasters made it clear to state, regional, and local leaders that businesses are tremendously vulnerable to extreme weather.  They can suffer costly damage, be cut off from supply lines, lose sales, and experience interrupted operations.  In some cases, they may even be forced to close permanently.  When businesses and industries fail or falter, the communities they serve can feel serious impacts, ranging from the lack of access to goods and services to the loss of income and jobs.

“Ike and Gustav had huge effects on our infrastructure, our businesses, and the health of our state and regional economies,” says Renee Dycus, the executive director of the Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District (SWAPDD).  “After the storms, we were getting calls from some local elected officials, but in the chaos of the recovery process, they had so little time to figure out what assistance was available and ask for it.  We would have liked to have had good baseline information to help us identify needs—especially the needs of the small businesses that play such an important role in the economy of rural Arkansas communities—and reach out proactively to local government and business partners.”[iii]

In response to this need, SWAPDD—one of Arkansas’ eight regional planning and development districts—used disaster recovery funds from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to develop a comprehensive database of information on the employers and infrastructure in the region.  The database will help southwest Arkansas recover from future disasters much faster and more effectively, as it establishes a baseline for the region’s economy which can be overlaid with geographic information about a disaster’s impacts—such as floods and tornado tracks—to immediately estimate the number of affected businesses and employees, identify damage, and mobilize repair and assistance efforts.  SWAPDD is also using it to identify potential federal and state funding opportunities for local partners, submit applications, request letters of support for projects, and fill out environmental review and other forms with the touch of a button.

Want to know how SWAPDD created such a great tool?  Check out the new case study series from the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation, titled Lessons from the Storm: Case Studies on Economic Recovery and Resilience.  The series highlights how regional development organizations have used 2008 disaster recovery funds from EDA to address the impacts of natural disasters, become more resilient to future events, and increase long-term economic competitiveness and quality of life in their regions.  SWAPDD’s story is posted there, and more case studies are coming soon.

NADO is a national membership association that provides advocacy, capacity-building, and research services for the network of over 500 regional planning and development organizations across the U.S.  Regional planning and development organizations—known locally as regional planning commissions, councils of governments, area development districts, or similar terms—play a key role in community and economic development, transportation planning, business development finance, technology and telecommunications, workforce development, GIS analysis, and other issues important to their local government partners.

Disaster recovery and resilience is a key area of work for the NADO Research Foundation and for our members.  Along with Lessons from the Storm, we are collaborating with the International Economic Development Council to provide training, technical assistance, and best practice research on economic resilience for communities and regions in the northeast and southeast that were affected by disasters during fiscal year 2011.  We have hosted several peer-to-peer workshops on disaster preparedness and recovery and have produced reports and policy briefs on topics such as integrating hazard mitigation planning, sustainable community development approaches, and economic development strategies; transportation system recovery; and frameworks for regional development organizations to use in preparing and responding to economic shocks.  Additionally, we are helping our members incorporate disaster resilience into their EDA-required Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies and other regional plans.

Severe weather and climate change have become costly and unpredictable parts of our lives.  However, local leaders can learn a lot from each other about planning for disasters during so-called “blue-sky” periods, building partnerships, pursuing non-traditional funding sources, encouraging community engagement, and seizing the abundant opportunities to build back better following an event.  By sharing stories and strategies neighbor-to-neighbor, across networks like EDEN, and through case studies and other online resources, we can be better prepared the next time the storm clouds gather.

 


[i]EDA Disaster Response and Preparedness Plan. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute for Economic Advancement. 2010. http://iea.ualr.edu/pubs/2010/10-04%20EDA_DRPP.pdf.

[ii] Hurricane Ike Impact Report. Federal Emergency Management Agency. 2008. http://www.fema.gov/pdf/hazard/hurricane/2008/ike/impact_report.pdf.

[iii] Dycus, Renee. Personal interview. June 17, 2013.

Recommended Viewing: From the County Up: Toward a 2030 Vision of Disaster Resilience

Post by Julie Smith, UVM Extension Dairy Specialist and Chair, EDEN Agrosecurity Program Area Work Group (PAWG)

I attended a webinar on disaster resilience conducted by the National Association of Counties (NACo) on March 27, 2013. The speakers presented an overview of the findings and recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences report, Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative. Local resilience and community engagement are priorities of NACo in the year ahead.

Cameron, LA 5-20-06 FEMA asbestos Inspectors, George Legere, Walter Coleman Jr, and Rocky Craigen check this house for asbestos the Hurricane Rita Damaged. FEMA is checking every house to be demolished for asbestos which may be in roof shingles and insulation, before demolition. Marvin Nauman/FEMA photo
Marvin Nauman/FEMA photo

 What is this vision of resiliency? “In 2030, the nation, from individuals to the highest levels of government, has embraced a “culture of resilience.” Information on risks and vulnerability to individuals and communities is transparent and easily accessible to all. Proactive investments and policy decisions including those for preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery have reduced the loss of lives, costs, and socioeconomic impacts of disasters. Community coalitions are widely organized, recognized, and supported to provide essential services before and after disasters occur. Recovery after disasters is rapid and includes funding from private capital. The per capita federal cost of responding to disasters has been declining for a decade.” (p. 14)

In the NAS report, resilience is defined as the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events (p. 16).  In a world with seemingly increasing numbers of adverse events, it is important to understand disaster risk. Disaster risk comprises four elements: hazard, exposure, vulnerability, and consequence. Ask yourself how you can help your local emergency managers assess hazards and reduce vulnerability in your community.

Additional resources

  • The webinar is available. Enter your email and you will be able to view the recording.
  • The NAS report can be downloaded for free from the National Academies Press site.
  • In July, NACo published a Hot Topics County News Special Edition on resiliency. You will find in this edition many great articles and links to useful information pertinent to building resiliency at the county level.