To the Editor:
Four months after Sandy, there is no shortage of proposed solutions to finance and rebuild the massive damage along New Jersey’s coastline. Governor Chris Christie and other leaders are supporting buyouts of entire neighborhoods that want to relocate. A recent joint Assembly-State hearing has included a proposal to increase the governor’s contingency fund for expenses not covered by FEMA from $40 million to $100 million. Leaders of badly flooded areas are recommending permanently raising specific buildings or, potentially, the entire town.
While municipal government agencies in cities up and down New Jersey wait for recovery money to flow, they should also prioritize development of comprehensive recovery plans – to have at the ready – which can set the stage for a swift and efficient response, reduce the cost to build, ease human suffering and minimize the aftereffects of a future natural disaster.
Post-Sandy and pre-future disaster planning can ensure that ravaged communities quickly regain essential functionality and receive the full funding to which they’re entitled. Because disasters vary in size, scope and type, cities should continuously identify potential threats and develop plans based on those public and private assets they most need to protect, both to minimize impact and to expeditiously restore infrastructure and services. Effective planning requires collaboration between federal, state and local government agencies and specialized local knowledge from the private sector. Government agencies can benefit from working with private sector engineers, public works experts, economists and other infrastructure experts who know the communities and have established relationships that allow them to quickly assess areas of risk and develop a customized recovery and rebuilding plan scope.
Our economy and way of life depend on a strong, resilient public and private infrastructure that can rebound quickly from the ravages of disasters. All resources must be brought to bear to accomplish this critical effort in the public interest. Based on post-Hurricane Ike and Katrina work, there is an important role for consultants who possess experience and specialized knowledge in managing, administering and maximizing cost recovery from FEMA, the Federal Highway Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other federal agencies. These federal entities do not guarantee project funding, despite the total dollars approved by Congress. Instead, after the work has been completed, they review how resources have been expended and decide, based on certain guidelines, reimbursement amounts to communities.
In New Jersey, it’s important to engage qualified, experienced recovery and building professionals to bridge gaps between agencies and directly collaborate with state and local officials managing Sandy-related programs. This can increase the chances for communities to receive timely, full and maximum reimbursements by coordinating dialogue between agencies; soliciting input from stakeholders and residents; identifying policies and procedures that may positively affect communities’ recovery efforts; and determining roles and responsibilities to guide implementation of a holistic disaster response plan.
Recent history shows that incorporating planning into recovery efforts provides long-term benefit to disaster-stricken regions. The cities and states that have engaged in inclusive, collaborative planning beforehand will have established processes for government and the private sector to work together to address the complexities of disaster response and redevelopment. While recovery may never be as fast as those affected would want it to be, having a plan that includes private sector expertise can certainly help streamline and strengthen the results.
Senior Vice President