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disaster-management3Federal and state governments across the U.S. are becoming better prepared for natural disasters. They work to ensure extensive destruction is avoided or minimized by planning and preparing for such events, as well as providing funding and guidance for a long-term recovery and mitigation after a disaster has occurred. Even with this, there is still room for improvement. Having a clear vision in the aftermath of a disaster is fundamental.  Local officials are not only dealing with structural or material losses, but also with the trust of their communities to get back to normal life as soon as possible.

The recovery process should begin when the situation is no longer deteriorating. Regardless of the community size or the nature of the disaster, it is the local government’s responsibility to lead immediate response and oversee the four phases of emergency management: Preparedness, Response, Recovery and Mitigation. The emergency management cycle is an ongoing process that could take several months or even years before completion.

Effective communication and collaboration will play a key role in any successful recovery strategy. Government officials at every level, from hospitals to businesses, should become involved as the crisis unfolds. Focusing on a long-term recovery goes beyond performing an evacuation, removing debris or restoring power.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), long-term disaster recovery is about “the need to re-establish a healthy, functioning community that will sustain itself over time.”

As part of the Mitigation phase of the Emergency Management cycle, relocation programs have been implemented in many communities in order to break the disaster cycle. Dependent on the scope of the disaster, rebuilding and repairing structural damages may be the right path. For communities facing significant destruction, public acquisition of developed land–also known as buyouts-may be a better long–term strategy to avoid further disaster affecting the same communities again.

FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) allows states to use federal funds to purchase properties destroyed or damaged by a natural disaster. As a voluntary program, it includes the purchase of vacant property, relocation of existing structures and the demolition of disaster-damaged buildings. Buyouts permanently reduce a community’s vulnerability to disasters by moving people out of harm’s way.

The buyout program includes taking applications for assistance, carrying out appraisals, surveying lots, searching titles and the demolition or relocation of single family homes. States must review and prioritize every application and then submit them to FEMA for approval. Once FEMA approves the application, the state begins its acquisition process. Properties are purchased by the state at a pre-disaster market value and transfer of title must be conducted for every property. Once the buyout and acquisition process is finalized, the state may auction the properties off to investors.

Unlike disaster relief, acquisition provides permanent protection by ensuring open space is preserved and no additional disaster assistance could be granted in the future. By doing this, local governments are able to save money. This is because it is cheaper to buyout properties than to repair or rebuild the same structures multiple times. Furthermore, public costs are significantly reduced by avoiding not only emergency services, but also evacuation and emergency shelters in case another disaster strikes again.

Helping homeowners and serving the community after a disaster should be the first priority of local governments. Natural disasters are stressful as is and performing numerous tasks simultaneously could be challenging for local governments. In order to take leadership and create a well-defined recovery plan, it is a good idea for agencies to find expert guidance and resources to better understand federal regulations and funding.

Panorama Government Solutions is the only firm that deploys proprietary case management software that allows for automated HUD compliance tracking at the transactional level.

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Written by Adriana Mateus, Capture and Marketing Analyst for Panorama Government Solutions. 

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