Insightful Discussions
Sep 16, 2021

Did We Waste This Disaster?

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On September 14, 2018, Hurricane Florence made landfall in the Cape Fear Region, bringing 15-30” of rain, 11 tornadoes, and 90 mph sustained winds and causing over $16 billion in damage in North Carolina. Immediately after the storm, leaders of businesses, nonprofits, churches, and government came together to develop response and recovery plans.

A few months later, I wrote about the formation of Long Term Disaster Recovery Groups (LTRGs) in each county to coordinate efforts to restore our community to wholeness.

A visitor from an LTRG in Houston, one year into Hurricane Harvey recovery, advised the New Hanover County LTRG to establish our coalition as a permanent group: to recover from Florence, prepare for and respond to future disasters, and address the chronic problems exposed and exacerbated by the storm.

“Recover from Florence, of course. But don’t just return to pre-storm normal. Use the connections, resources, and awareness generated by the storm to make your community even better than before,” he said. “Don’t waste this disaster.”

WARM Field Supervisor, Dwayne Goodman, oversees volunteers repairing a home damaged by Hurricane Florence.Three years later, I can tell you that we have taken his advice. The LTRG’s are still making a difference to Florence survivors and making broader change in our community. During this time, we have also responded to Hurricanes Dorian (2019) and Isaias (2020) as well as the Covid-19 pandemic… unified.

When hurricanes bear down, county Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) are activated. Each LTRG has a representative in their EOC, helping manage storm response and serving as a connection to the community partners. After the the EOC deactivates, the LTRGs keeping working.

Gov. Roy Cooper is still closely monitoring the recovery effort following Hurricane Florence, with a particular interest in the work being done in the Cape Fear region regarding home repairs. As the chair of each LTRG Construction Committee, WARM maintains a list of ongoing, needed, and completed hurricane-related repairs. Phil Triplett, State of North Carolina Voluntary Agency Liaison, shares this list in a weekly briefing with NC Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry and the governor, keeping them aware of the on-going unmet needs in the Cape Fear.

Today, LTRGs are still very active in hurricane response, with the focus shifting to resilience through urgent home repairs and disaster planning.

In Pender County’s LTRG, construction partners are working closely with county leaders and the Office of State Budget Management to make sure every penny of Disaster Recovery Act money is used to repair or replace homes for qualifying homeowners. They engaged Legal Aid of NC to assist residents with their FEMA claims and appeals, as well as rectifying Heir Property issues, which can complicate proof of ownership that FEMA requires.

On September 11, 2021 Brunswick County’s LTRG, known as Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (BRUNSCOVOAD), successfully hosted their first Hurricane Preparedness Expo with many partners participating to share valuable resources and information to the residents of Brunswick County. “BRUNSCOVOAD is the only LTRG in the state to respond to a disaster without a state or national declaration,” said Triplett enthusiastically, in reaction to BRUNSCOVOAD’s response to a February 2021 tornado.

In New Hanover County, the LTRG known as New Hanover Disaster Coalition (NHDC) works closely with the City of Wilmington and county governments to provide ongoing Covid-19 response, including providing locations for vaccine clinics, disseminating information to the public through trusted sources, and providing food and financial assistance where necessary.

WARM recently began serving Duplin and Onslow Counties. Their LTRG’s are also very active; the members welcomed us with open arms and helped us get plugged into the communities.
 
As I reflect on the struggles and achievements of the past three years, I can honestly say we’ve given our best to our community’s long-term recovery and addressing its chronic problems… together. We have absolutely not wasted this disaster.
 


This content is by co-authors Andy Jones, M.Div. WARM’s Deputy Director and JC Lyle. 

JC Lyle has served as WARM’s Executive Director since January 2009. Under her leadership, WARM's annual revenue and productivity have more than quadrupled. Prior to working in the nonprofit sector, Lyle worked at McKim & Creed on subdivision design, rezoning and permitting throughout coastal North Carolina. Lyle earned her Master of Business Administration from UNCW's Cameron School of Business and has presented workshops on affordable housing issues and nonprofit management at state-level conferences. Lyle serves on the Planning Commission for the City of Wilmington and the North Carolina Housing Partnership, the board that oversees the state's housing trust fund. In 2012, Lyle was named Wilma Magazine's first Woman to Watch in the Nonprofit Category. In 2014, she accepted WARM's Coastal Entrepreneur Award in the Nonprofit Category, given by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In 2018, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Cape Fear Chapter named her Outstanding Fundraiser of the Year.