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Recovery Accelerating in Communities Damaged by Hurricanes

Click here to download a copy of the report.

The pace of the recovery in communities damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is accelerating as money and long-term rebuilding plans come together, according to a new study released today by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.

At the same time, local officials who once talked optimistically of rapid rebuilding now talk in terms of 10-year time frames for recovery. Housing, insurance, and flood elevation requirements top the list of ongoing obstacles to recovery, followed by labor shortages, construction costs, and infrastructure repair needs.

GulfGov Reports: The Role of Community Rebuilding Plans in the Hurricane Recovery examines the regional and community recovery planning efforts undertaken in both Mississippi and Louisiana. It covers areas still working hard to recover – Cameron Parish, St. Bernard Parish, and New Orleans in Louisiana and Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, and Gulfport in Mississippi – as well as some of the areas that are doing well in the wake of the storms – Lake Charles and St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana and Hattiesburg in Mississippi.

“In both states, the planning efforts were complex and multi-layered, and focused on helping officials and residents develop creative visions of what the future could look like,” said Jim Brandt, president of PAR and co-principal investigator for the GulfGov Reports project. “The officials were faced with the challenge of translating those visionary plans into reality by deciding on specific projects and putting together federal, state, local, and private sources of funding to implement them. Now their persistence and planning appeared poised to take off.”

The study, by PAR Special Projects Manager Karen Rowley, is the sixth installment of the GulfGov Reportsseries and shows that major community recovery and rebuilding projects are finally gaining some much-needed momentum. “The plans are there, much of the money is there, and the will is there,” Brandt said.

In addition to examining and assessing the recovery planning process, the study also finds some steps that officials can take to expedite recovery the next time disaster strikes. They include:

  • A clearly-defined disaster response plan should be in place well before a disaster strikes in an effort to shorten the time it takes a community to move into the long-term recovery aspect of a catastrophic event.
  • The long-term recovery planning process should be started almost as soon as the immediate danger from the disaster has passed.
  • Specific people within state and federal recovery offices should be designated as liaisons for local officials. These liaisons would be the key contacts for local officials as they try to navigate all the paperwork and other bureaucratic requirements necessary to gain access to recovery money.
  • Federal recovery funding rules should be revised so that a new category is created to handle large-scale disasters. In addition, the application and disbursement procedures for that new category should be designed to allow the government to disburse recovery money as quickly as possible.

With the release of this study, the GulfGov Reports project is entering its final phase. The last installment in the project will be a comprehensive book.

“This being the third and final year of our GulfGov project, we think it is appropriate for us to take a long look at the lessons of Katrina and Rita and what they suggest for the country as a whole for dealing with mega-disasters of the future,” said Dr. Richard P. Nathan, co-director of the Rockefeller Institute and co-principal investigator for the GulfGov Reports project. “How can we learn from the past to respond better and faster and help devastated communities rebuild? There is a little bit of good in everything. In this case I hope it will be that we learn from our mistakes. To help assure that we do so is the ultimate and crucial aim of our study. Research should not be just for the bookshelves.”

This report is part of an ongoing research project being conducted jointly by the Rockefeller Institute and PAR with the help of a grant from the Ford Foundation. In addition, the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University and the Center for Urban Planning and Policy Assessment at Jackson State University are partnering in the research network for this project, as are researchers affiliated with Louisiana State University, the Southern University Law Center, and McNeese State University. The Advisory Committee for the project is chaired by former Mississippi Gov. William F. Winter.

The report is available online at www.rockinst.org/gulfgov or www.la-par.org.

Previous reports in the project are also available online:

GulfGov Reports: One Year Later
GulfGov Reports: Education. An Examination of the Impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the Public School Districts in 15 Communities
GulfGov Reports: A Year and a Half after Katrina and Rita, an Uneven Recovery
GulfGov Reports: Spending Federal Disaster Aid. Comparing the Process and Priorities in Louisiana and Mississippi in the Wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
GulfGov Reports: Response, Recovery, and the Role of the Nonprofit Community in the Two Years Since Katrina and Rita
GulfGov Reports: The Role of Community Rebuilding Plans in the Hurricane Recovery

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