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Community Development

FEMA's New Disaster Recovery Resource Offers Support in Community Rebuilding

June is hurricane preparedness month, which corresponds with the start of the hurricane season. Looking ahead, September is national disaster preparedness month, a reminder to community and economic development professionals of the importance of preparing for natural or manmade disasters. Community and economic development professionals must be ready to offer assistance when homes have been damaged or destroyed and small businesses disrupted. Rebuilding after a disaster mimics the work conducted in community and economic development, but often at a lightning pace and in a more complex and complicated environment.

Community rebuilding requires collaboration among community organizations, state and local governments, and financial institutions to bring back amenities, buildings, and infrastructure. Effective rebuilding requires visionary leadership as well as dedicated, educated organizations and individuals. And capital is needed—seed capital, long-term patient capital, bridge loans for small businesses, and other sources of financing to address both individual and organizational needs.

Atlanta Fed Community and Economic Development Team's Role in Disaster Recovery

Banking regulatory agencies like the Atlanta Fed can play a role in responding to disasters. The most basic role is insuring that there is cash available for residents and that banking and payment systems operate as normally as possible. Over the past few years, the Southeast has experienced hurricanes, floods, ice storms, tornados, and environmental disasters. In the aftermath of the storms, Atlanta Fed community and economic development (CED) staff members have supported community rebuilding efforts after disasters. They have also helped raise awareness of long-term recovery efforts and general disaster preparedness. After Hurricane Katrina, for instance, CED staff supported the outreach efforts of financial institutions working with homeowners. CED staff also engaged with federal, state, and local agencies to craft financing for rebuilding. In Tennessee, following the 2010 floods, staff also worked with partners to identify housing needs and funding gaps to repair or replace damaged homes and help stabilize families, many of whom had no homeowner's insurance. More recently, in Alabama CED staff worked with a variety of stakeholders to guide residents through the financial landscape of mortgage lending and affordable housing after their homes were destroyed in the tornadoes of 2011 and 2012.

For more information on disaster recovery resources for community and economic development practitioners, the Atlanta Fed's Disaster Planning, Recovery and Rebuilding site includes important news; publications for consumers, individuals, small businesses, and communities; and essential information links.

Identifying these resources and understanding how they can be knit together to fund recovery activities can be overwhelming. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has responded to this need by launching a new online tool. The National Disaster Recovery Program Database (NDRPD) is targeted toward state, local, and tribal governments as well as emergency managers, planners, and organizations working on disaster recovery. The database allows users to find funding programs from federal, state, tribal, for-profit, nonprofit, and charitable entities that offer support for recovery efforts. One helpful feature is that the database can be sorted using different criteria to identify resources specific to each situation's unique conditions. A recent search on long-term recovery yielded nine federal sources that included staples such as the U.S. Small Business Administration's Disaster Home Loans and links to lesser-known resources such as the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, a nonprofit that offers emergency preparedness resources and relief for working artists. Mitchell Wyllins, the project manager for the database, noted that the database was created  "to help those involved in community recovery identify resources from all levels of government, foundations, and other funding sources that are free of commercial use." FEMA's community recovery teams, which help with long-term planning in heavily affected communities, recently used the database to educate community leaders on available resources in the wake of Hurricane Irene in New York and Pennsylvania. FEMA's goal is that the database will become a useful resource that provides local responders and emergency managers with the ability to share real-time information.

The tool also catalogs philanthropic resources available to communities affected by disasters. Since these sources and the target uses of these funds can vary depending on the mission of the foundation or the geographic region, the database is particularly useful to foundations interested in providing support to remote communities or those that have a specific set of needs. Wyllins said that after its initial launch in March 2011, the database has incorporated feedback from users from the various organizations assisting in recovery.

The database has also grown in the number of programs included. For that process, interested parties can request that their information be uploaded. NDRPD then vets the source to validate authenticity and posts those that meet its criteria in the database. NDRPD encourages organizations not only to use the database to find programs, but also to help in adding program information. When asked about the importance of finding new programs to add to the site, Wyllins remarked, "We've built the car, now we need to make sure that we identify the drivers who can help communities get on the road to recovery."

A companion database, the Lessons Learned Information Sharing, comprises best practices, innovative ideas, and lessons learned. It provides first responders and emergency managers with information and expertise on effective planning, training, and operational practices.

To request training on the NDRPD site or if you have any questions, please e-mail Mitchell Wyllins. For information on current disaster zone declarations, FEMA's website houses information on the 2012 Federal Disaster Declarations.

By Nancy Montoya, senior regional community and economic development manager, New Orleans branch