By Robin A. Barnes, Executive Vice President & COO, Greater New Orleans
As we reflect on the 2017 hurricane season, we need to take the lessons gleaned from past events in places like New Orleans and other resilience-focused geographies, and share them with the disaster-stricken communities who are looking up the steep hill of recovery now.
The after-effects of a disaster warrant immediate attention and distribution of resources to ensure that communities have adequate shelter, food, medical supports, infrastructure and the like. Local governments, philanthropists, and NGOs must familiarize themselves with the federal recovery process, establish relationships with federal agencies, understand and follow the government’s money and assistance, and secure other resources available to meet their needs.
With each disaster, capacity is being built into affected locales to manage and build resilience. In Louisiana, with many disasters under our belt, multiple effective strategies for economic recovery have been implemented and continuously improved. These experiences, can inform recovery and rebuilding in other communities.
Bringing Back Business
Economic development organizations (EDOs) are overlooked in the recovery process and yet are key to building the long term strategy for economic recovery. EDOs create and project jobs and wealth, therefore they are critical partners. Furthermore, EDOs may have the capacity to plan forward as local governments and other stakeholders are managing the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Greater New Orleans is an example of an EDO that has been catalytic in the recovery and rebuilding of its region. And, a key federal partner, the U.S. Economic Development Agency, has resources for planning, revolving loan funds and infrastructure that can be accessed for recovery and rebuilding. Some key strategies for economic recovery are to:
• Catalyze the recovery by assisting small businesses – Small businesses are major employers in all communities, in addition to providing critical services. The Louisiana Business Recovery Grant and Loan Program provided 3,600 businesses with grants, with hundreds also receiving loans and technical assistance after Hurricane Katrina.
Do not discount the need to continue to engage in marketing your region and establishing that it is ‘open for business
• Invest in innovation – Entrepreneurship programs can be effective in replacing those businesses that were unable to reopen, and also to grow the small business ecosystem as a whole, while protecting them and creating jobs.
• Diversify the economy – Conduct market research in order to assess new opportunities for businesses and explore opportunities to diversify local economies post disaster.
Building Long Term Resilience
Reserving resources for exploring and innovating new approaches for rebuilding and creating long-term resilience are key to surviving the next disaster and other shocks and stresses.
• Engage community residents in planning for their future – Facilitate partnerships between neighborhood associations, NGOs and local government as means to structuring public input and involvement in long-term recovery action planning. Examples include: Louisiana Speaks and The Unified New Orleans Plan. Business leadership also can be early organizers of recovery plans, the New Orleans’ Bring New Orleans Back Plan is a good example.
• “Live with Water” – for communities impacted by flooding, consider innovative ways to reduce flooding and “live with water” (as do the Dutch). The Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan has become a national model for building resilience. Similarly, the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan is a $50 billion plan for coastal resilience and flood protection. The Resilient New Orleans strategy illustrates how to build resilience on multiple levels.
Marketing, Tourism and Business Development
Do not discount the need to continue to engage in marketing your region and establishing that it is “open for business.”
• Get in front of the narrative – It is critical to provide data and information that conveys a true picture of the event. If you do not do this, the media will do it for you, to your own detriment. Following Hurricane Katrina, images of the devastated Lower 9th Ward became the de facto images for all of New Orleans. Even though iconic neighborhoods like the French Quarter were not greatly damaged, everyone thought “Bourbon Street was under water.”
• Communicate with your stakeholders – Communicating with local and external stakeholders will demonstrate that you are in control, and are still in business (or will soon be back). Also, for those in distress, the communication will be reassuring. Silence after a disaster is deafening.
• Find the silver lining – It is a somewhat uncomfortable, but historically true fact, that disasters are cash flow positive events. While money can never compensate for the suffering and loss, it is an extraordinary opportunity to invest in the physical and organizational changes that would have otherwise been impossible. The historic turn-around of the New Orleans schools would not have happened absent Katrina.
• Get boots on the ground – The best way to demonstrate the progress of the rebuilding effort is to bring in key opinion-makers for tours. When these people can see/touch/ feel the recovery, they will become evangelists for it.
There is no manual for comprehensive community recovery. All too often, we see newly disaster affected communities succumb to panic, general amnesia, or not knowing who to call. But with the help of these tried-and-true strategies, cities can jumpstart recovery.