Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

How to Use Disaster Funds to Maximize Recovery: Lessons Learned from the 2019 ICMA Conference

Hagerty Consulting, Inc.’s (Hagerty’s) Executive Chairman Brock Long and Vice President Matt Hochstein recently took the stage with disaster impacted City Managers Mark McQueen and Sean McGlynn at this year’s International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Annual Conference in Nashville, TN, to discuss how to access and subsequently leverage disaster funds at the local level.

Highlights & Esteemed Panel from 2019 ICMA Conference. From left to right: Matthew Hochstein, Mark McQueen, Sean McGlynn, Brock Long

As the panel discussed, federally-focused approaches to disaster response and recovery are not sufficient to meet all of the needs of a community after a disaster. With the requirement of supporting ever increasing numbers of disasters across the United States (US), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is overextended and experiencing strains on personnel, capabilities, and finances. In order to decrease the unsustainable burden placed on FEMA after a disaster, it is important to engage the community to be more involved in their own recovery operations.

There are three main take-aways from the discussion that local city managers, finance directors, and emergency managers should consider in order to bolster their community’s recovery:

1. Local Leaders Should Take Ownership of Their Recovery.

Local leaders have the deepest understanding of the impacts of a disaster because they intimately know their communities and its existing infrastructure. Sean McGlynn from the City of Santa Rosa underscored this point as it applies to the use of post-disaster mitigation funding to enhance resilience. Unlike catastrophic hurricanes with more forecastable paths, wildfires are chaotic and can take unpredictable turns. Applying mitigation dollars to activities requires a local sensibility and historical understanding of where the wildfires have been – and continue to be – most detrimental. The knowledge of local officials is key to help identify areas and facilities for potential mitigation activities, as well as to apply to modeling and known issues in the community to make the smartest investment possible. Santa Rosa City leadership strongly advocates for the community and potential mitigation efforts in order to ensure the community recovers and becomes more resilient.

2. Maximizing Funds Means Knowing What Funds Are Available.

Community leaders should set and prioritize strategic goals that can be actualized through an incremental approach to recovery, ensuring progress over time. This position is reflected in City Manager Mark McQueen’s ambition to make Panama City the premier City of the Panhandle. Panama City’s local leaders developed actionable plans that provide the City with resourcing solutions to build back bigger, better, and stronger. Before Hurricane Michael, the City served as the economic engine of Bay County and the surrounding region. Panama City plans to revitalize its economy and make its infrastructure more resilient to not only recover but also chart a future for the City. A community’s recovery and resilience goals can be varied, from rebuilding a particular building to better maintaining the care of local response staff. In order to meet a community’s needs during recovery, the City Managers and Hagerty panelists encouraged local leaders to expand their understanding of disaster dollars that exist through a variety of funding sources at all levels of government.

At the federal level, there are dozens of different recovery grant programs scattered across multiple agencies, each with its own set of requirements and ambitions. While these federal grant programs can be daunting to navigate, it is important to recognize the purpose of federal support. Hagerty’s Executive Vice President Brock Long emphasizes that federal monies are not designed to make communities or individuals “whole” after a disaster; rather, federal funding helps communities gain the momentum necessary to begin their recovery or mitigate damage before a disaster strikes. In addition, huge amounts of pre-disaster funds remain untapped each year. FEMA reports show that $8.2 billion is available across the nation in pre-disaster funding through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) alone. Having an understanding of the federal grant program terrain and being able to understand the funding opportunities that exist before and after a disaster are critical for a successful recovery and improved resiliency.

3. Create a “Team of Teams” to Support Comprehensive Recovery.

In order for recovery to be successful, communities should have a dynamic team that understands how to use the resources available to meet the needs of the community. There are many ways to approach disaster recovery, but the most efficient and effective approaches focus on local ownership, a knowledgeable team, and a willingness to innovate. It is important to consider your options to ensure that, as one panelist said, “You’re at the table, not on the menu.”

Ruth Anne Holiday is a Managing Associate at Hagerty, supporting both the Preparedness and Recovery Divisions. Ruth Anne was instrumental to Hagerty’s Long-Term Recovery Planning support for the City of Panama City, developing the City’s Unmet Needs Assessment which quantified Hurricane Michael’s impact on the community. Ruth Anne serves on the Situational and Status Blog Team, providing timely updates on major events and disasters impacting communities around the nation. Prior to Hagerty, Ruth Anne supported community-building preparedness initiatives and continuity of operations (COOP) activities, exercise and workshop development, and strategic recovery planning.

Will Brown is an Associate at Hagerty, supporting project delivery for our Preparedness Division clients. Will previously worked on New York City’s Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) project, supporting data collection and analysis, and supported communications efforts for the City of Panama City’s Long-Term Recovery Planning project. Will recently received his Master of Science in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.