Community Response to Storm Emergencies - 5 Step Approach
If your community must request external help to address a storm emergency, then you will need to file information on impacts. The present reporting system for FEMA emergency declarations is aimed at meeting minimum thresholds to qualify for assistance, not at providing a comprehensive description that will help your community understand its risk exposure holistically. The Department of State has draft forms that can be used by any local government staffer to summarize impacts. These forms include generalized impacts to social and cultural functions, recreation and natural resources as well as development and infrastructure. Without such a report, your community will not have a good information basis to help prepare for future events, and you will not be able to present a complete picture of conditions in order to apply for assistance and channel your efforts in the most productive direction.
These reports will also help the state describe conditions state-wide, so that the full range of risk exposure can be understood and appropriate policies, laws and programs can be advanced.
Planning for infrastructure, land use, hazard mitigation, natural resource conservation and economic development must be coordinated with the post-emergency response. Assistance may be available from County or State agencies. You probably already contacted your County emergency coordinator to ask for assistance, but did you contact your transportation planning agency to ask about their plans to improve the affected system or address storm hazards? If other plans for the community do not have provisions to reduce storm and climate change impacts, they need to be updated. If they do have provisions they need to be coordinated with other post-event actions.
Community objectives must be shared in all plans through a unified vision, and carried out in post-event recovery to achieve efficiency and resilience. In many cases existing practices will have to change over time. The post-event response must dovetail with community plans. Avoid rebuilding the risk, or your community will continue to experience negative impacts that drain resources. Use the events in your community to update objectives and plans and carry out adaptation.
If you do not have a strategy and measures to manage storm impacts and achieve resilience, the need for such planning is demonstrated by the events you experience. Use the urgency of these events to get started by forming a planning group. Persons interested in these topics may speak up during the emergency. Make an opportunity for interested citizens to participate. Identify community champions willing to take on the role of advocating sustainable management plans. Be sure to include the broader community because they have a stake in future through both financial and quality of life interests. Without a comprehensive plan to address similar events in the future the urgency of the current situation will abate and the community may lose interest, leading to more emergencies and piecemeal measures. This is not efficient from the standpoint of human and economic resources, and it will risk the overall health of the community in the long run.
In too many instances owners of vulnerable property would be willing to sell if they could obtain a reasonable settlement, but no program exists that addresses the need. Consider partnerships with land trusts, conservation easements and recreation or public access programs. Funding assistance through FEMA may be available if the acquisition can be shown to reduce present or future federal costs. Contact the State Emergency Management Office or FEMA to find out about their programs and integrate resources with other community plans.
Establish a commitment to make a realistic evaluation of how your shoreline and waterways will change in the future and prepare to adapt. The contribution of federal or state resources will not end erosion, sea level rise, coastal storms or extreme rainfall. The measures your community takes to respond to these realities will determine whether your resources are used efficiently or wasted through measures that are overcome by natural events in the future. When storm damages occur there are many impacts that cannot be compensated or restored. Loss of business, loss of employment income, interruptions in school and loss of environmental quality are examples. Quality of life, security and well being are difficult to quantify, but essential to community welfare. Difficult decisions have to be made as conditions change over the course of time, including how communities respond to storms and natural processes. Your community must determine its goals and how wants to spend time and money. When damaging events occur, external assistance will not be able to restore time, reverse shoreline change or compensate all private losses. The more resilient your community is, the more likely you will be able to sustain your quality of life and enjoy the place where you live.