Community recovery and economic development are core elements of a successful disaster response and recovery strategy. For many communities who have been hit by a major disaster, a return to normalcy for their community has taken between 5 to 7 years.

Community recovery encompasses all facets of disaster recovery and includes:

  • assessing the damage,
  • gathering and tracking data,
  • establishing systems and protocols,
  • organizing volunteers,
  • applying for federal, state and local aid,
  • mobilizing and/or establishing local VOADVoluntary Organizations Active in Disaster’s and Long Term Recovery Groups,
  • rebuilding infrastructure (roads, bridges, power lines, water and sanitation facilities, etc.),
  • cleaning up environmental damage,
  • rebuilding schools, hospitals, and other public and private buildings,
  • rebuilding private single and multi-family homes and rental properties,
  • establishing community and small business loan programs,
  • supporting and promoting mental health and wellness programs,
  • establishing and funding grant programs to support 5 to 7 years of recovery efforts.

Advance planning and preparation are essential for communities to recover quickly and efficiently.

Philanthropic leaders can play an important role in convening stakeholders and creating an environment that supports collaboration, transparency and accountability.

Rebecca Ellis discusses setting up organizational capacity to respond to a disaster. (Credit: Video courtesy of Vermont Community Foundation).

Innovative Practices

Philanthropic organizations have led the way in responding with bold and forward-thinking initiatives when their communities have been hit by disaster. These efforts have included:

  • embedding long-term recovery managers and resiliency coordinators in hard-hit communities to work directly with the local government officials, local community nonprofit leaders, long-term recovery group members and others;
  • deploying staff to help coordinate and activate an assessment process in order to gather reliable data that can inform early response priorities and long-term needs;
  • supporting complimentary retail design consultation and implementation grants for small businesses;
  • establishing disaster relief funds (especially for special populations);
  • supporting community-wide meetings and convenings that foster a culture of collaboration, share information across sectors, and build trust and a shared vision of recovery among community members;
  • supporting multi-media storytelling with curated data, research and calls to action that amplify the voices of community members working towards a just, equitable and fair recovery;
  • seeding investments to establish a small business loan program;
  • investing in “human capital” to help communities organize and implement a recovery program, engage citizens and impacted populations in the recovery process in a meaningful way, and access State and Federal funding.

Community foundation experts weigh in on three ways to help communities following a disaster.

Key Takeaways

  1. Immediate relief is completed relatively quickly.
  2. Full community recovery takes many years, as such, philanthropic leaders can continue to give voice to the importance of taking the long view and supporting initiatives that focus on long-term recovery.
  3. Nonprofits and/or local governments will need to increase their capacity in order to handle an influx of funding.
  4. Community Leadership Development will be essential.
  5. Recovery of local businesses is essential to the community’s long term economic recovery.

Those involved with Vermont's recovery from Hurricane Irene discuss the many things affected and the long recovery (Video courtesy of the Vermont Community Foundation).