The Commissioner — Winter 2013

Commissioner's Voice

Planning's Response to Hurricane Sandy

By James C. Schwab, AICP
Senior Research Associate and Manager, APA Hazards Planning Research Center

For the second time in the past 10 years, American coastal communities have been devastated by massive hurricanes. Throughout the days of October 22 to 29, 2012, tropical storm Sandy grew into a hurricane, flooding communities throughout New Jersey and New York.

How have planners and the American Planning Association responded to this disaster? Planning is forward thinking and planners are not first responders, so how do they contribute? The answer is simple, even if the work to be done is not — rebuilding in more resilient ways.

Building on the coalition of partners developed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the American Planning Association began developing a broad response strategy. APA CEO Paul Farmer, FAICP, opened conversations immediately with APA New Jersey Chapter President, Charles Latini, Jr., AICP, and APA New York Metro Chapter President, James Rausse, AICP. Living in the affected areas, Latini and Rausse provided and continue to provide assessment of impacts and needs.

APA also put social media into action and made Sandy's aftermath the focus of its blog, Recovery News (http://blogs.planning.org/postdisaster). Drawing upon APA's wide network, the blog provides updates on news and resources. In video interviews, the blog also called upon the expertise of planners such as Gavin Smith, executive director of the Coastal Hazard Center (part of the Department of Homeland Security's Centers for Excellence). Other interviews (being posted in January) include Chad Berginnis, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, explaining changes in federal flood insurance that will affect Sandy recovery, and Doug Marcy of NOAA's Coastal Services Center, explaining how planners can use NOAA's Digital Coast tools to further recovery goals.

Latini and Rausse also helped set the agenda for how planning issues would be approached. Recovery News reported on their article for the Newark Star-Ledger, in which they wrote: "We can't afford more Sandys, so let's rebuild intelligently." Latini and Rausse point out that damages from Sandy are estimated at more than $68 billion in New Jersey and New York alone. Given changing weather patterns, increased coastal development, and the likelihood of more frequent catastrophic storms, they urge communities to think beyond cleanup to developing long-term strategies to make them less prone to disasters.

According to the authors, "We must consider not only the standards of construction for the thousands of damaged and destroyed homes and businesses along the New Jersey coast, Lower Manhattan, Staten Island and elsewhere, but whether previous development on barrier islands should be rebuilt at all."

The APA Hazards Planning Research Center is in the midst of editing a substantial overhaul of the definitive guide to Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction (PAS 483/484, published in 1998). Two sessions at the 2013 National Planning Conference in Chicago will delve into the new guide and current practice. More immediate assistance is provided. Chapters 3 through 5 of the current publication are available for free on FEMA's website, and selected segments are posted on the APA website at www.planning.org/research/postdisaster. In addition, FEMA has available on its site all of PAS Report No. 560 (2010), Hazard Mitigation: Integrating Best Practices into Planning.

Perhaps the most valuable contribution planning, planners, and APA can make is to facilitate communication and resources. For example, APA has participated in broader discussions with FEMA, representatives of the Netherlands Embassy, and the Association of State Floodplain Managers, and met face-to-face with regional and local agencies on rebuilding efforts. APA is also working with the New York Metro and New Jersey chapters to plan a series of recovery workshops in the two states, using the expert team that is also developing the new PAS Report. These are anticipated to occur at the end of February. In the meantime, two members of that team (Laurie Johnson and I) will present a two-hour workshop at the New Jersey APA conference in New Brunswick on February 1, as well as in New York City the day before.

Now that the immediate needs of hurricane-stricken residents have been addressed, APA efforts at the national and chapter level are beginning to focus on communities most in need of professional planning assistance. Discussions are under way concerning planning assistance teams for targeted communities.

Follow planning efforts on Recovery News. Avail yourself and your communities of resources on the Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery site at www.planning.org/research/postdisaster. And for those who wish to support recovery efforts financially, consider a donation to the APA Foundation (www.planning.org/foundation) or a charity working in the New York-New Jersey region.