September 2005

APA's Response to the Devastation from Hurricane Katrina

To our members,

We now know that the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in our Gulf Coast States represents our nation's greatest disaster in the last 100 years. Since the San Francisco earthquake and fire, the Galveston hurricane and flood, and the Chicago Fire of 1871, we have not experienced losses of such magnitude. The media reports from New Orleans and communities in coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama only begin to convey the ongoing human misery.

As I reported earlier this week, we are working with our Chapter leaders on a coordinated response and assistance program so that all members of APA can assist in a manner that meets their own personal and financial situations. Many members in the impacted areas, of course, are dealing with personal losses or job-related responsibilities.

First, I continue to urge everyone to be as generous as possible in order to meet the most immediate needs of victims and those assisting them. You may want to pause now and make a contribution.

Second, in a phone call on September 2 with Chapter leaders in Louisiana and Mississippi, we were able to learn more about the situation and discuss the contributions that we, as planners, might make now and in the coming months. In addition to those communities directly impacted by Katrina, communities within several hundred miles are now struggling to meet both the needs of refugees and development pressures already being felt as businesses seek temporary or permanent homes. These communities of secondary impact are facing the need to assure an adequate supply of decent and safe temporary housing. They are also facing an increase in building activity, straining their ability to properly process applications and inspections to assure adequacy of new construction. A big challenge will be to provide a planning perspective so that development doesn't just occur in greenfields, far from transit, other infrastructure and social services. Planning assistance for these communities may be needed quite soon.

Rebuilding in the devastated areas is likely to be unprecedented for these communities. The history of disaster recovery and reconstruction demonstrates that many, many decisions have to be made quickly. There is a tendency to demolish damaged buildings as soon as possible. Another tendency is to rebuild infrastructure exactly as it was before the disaster. Many communities throughout the coastal states do not have a planner on staff and do not have planning commissions. APA will be reaching out to the Leagues of Municipalities and others so that planning assistance and education can be provided in collaboration with our chapters.

Next Week. APA will provide a "Katrina" section of our website that will allow us to continue to add both educational materials and functions. For example, we will have a resume posting function for members who wish to provide pro bono services. Many of our members have experienced floods, wildfires, earthquakes, and other disasters and can offer valuable assistance to their colleagues and communities in these states.

We will also add to our collection of research materials and articles available on the web.

We will also continue coordinating our efforts with other professional organizations and associations.

As planners at the local level are making contacts with local representatives of Senators and Congress people, our Policy Staff here in D.C. will be making contacts as well.

We know that many of our members have been directly affected and may need housing or jobs. We are coordinating our efforts with local planners and will be adding a section to the web next week so that we can begin to match those needs with offers of assistance.

This Month. We are modifying our "Safe Growth" workshop offered as part of our AICP Training series so that it emphasizes disaster recovery and reconstruction a bit more. We are inviting federal agencies to send staff since they will be asking many staff to assist in various efforts and many of those staff will not have had training or experience in disaster planning.

A Disaster Recovery Audio/Web Conference will be held Monday, September 19, 2005, from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The faculty will include planners who are international experts in this area. The conference will focus on emergency permitting, visioning the next steps, rebuilding local businesses, historic preservation, and FEMA long-term recovery planning.

At APA's Leadership Meeting in Buffalo in late September, we will be continuing conversations regarding APA's assistance ad the various ways in which members can contribute to recovery and reconstruction efforts.

Next Month. We will provide a workshop at the Louisiana Chapter Conference; Mississippi planners are also expected to attend. Faculty will be staff and members that have provided assistance in places such as Australia, Sri Lanka, Japan and several countries of Latin America as well as the U.S. The Louisiana Chapter will make contacts with other organizations whose members would benefit from attendance at the workshop. Other conference sessions will also address the issues facing communities.

We will continually update information on the web and on list serves as we have new information. As you make personal contact with your colleagues, please let us know how they're doing and how members and the association might assist them and their communities. Please keep your ideas coming at PublicInfo@planning.org; we will continue to review possibilities with members in the affected areas. I think that our members throughout the country can make very meaningful contributions given the extent of the devastation.

You may also wish to consider a gift that will be used exclusively to support the planning efforts that will be undertaken by APA and our Chapters in Louisiana and Mississippi. While we will be coordinating pro bono efforts of members, those efforts, and others, will require financial support. Tax-deductible donations to the Planning Foundation should be noted as "Katrina relief."

Many, many members have sent e-mails, called or become engaged in list-serve discussions. I have been impressed with the passion, commitment, generosity, and humanity that is so evident. It is again obvious that we all went into planning to make a difference. We will do everything we can to see that our members' ideas and skills are made available as communities recover and rebuild.

Thanks for your generosity,

W. Paul Farmer, AICP

W. Paul Farmer, AICP
Executive Director
American Planning Association