By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT – Those working on Sea Bright’s and the area’s Sandy recovery efforts say lessons learned here will benefit recovery work in future disasters.
“I think this is the start of a more inclusive conversation about how we respond after disasters,” said Chad Carson, who is working as director of New Jersey Recovery for the St. Bernard Project.
The St. Bernard Project, which has been working with Sea Bright Rising, has most recently partnered with Farmers Insurance to assist in the rebuilding efforts. Together, the organizations conducted a workshop on Monday, Aug. 18, on how to share the lessons learned here with others in future disasters.
Representatives from the Louisiana-based not-for-profit St. Bernard Project joined those from Farmers Insurance and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. , D-6th, and staffers from the offices of U.S. senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, both D-NJ, at Sea Bright Rising’s offices, 8 River St., to go over the work that has been done. They also toured a home now being repaired. The session was convened to see what could be gleaned from these efforts that should be included in a comprehensive disaster response text.
Zack Rosenburg, founder and chief executive officer of the St. Bernard Project, said the primary lesson “reinforces the need for communities to enter the rebuilding phase as quickly as possible.”
Time is of the essence for local officials to reach out to private sector not-for-profits and corporate entities, as well as government agencies to get the process moving quickly, Rosenburg said.
That, and making sure communication with the public continues, let residents know what’s going on, he said.
In June, the Los Angeles, California-based national Farmers Insurance company offered its assistance to Sea Bright Rising and the St. Bernard Project. The company contributed $50,000 and provided employee volunteers who are working with the groups until the end of the year on the rebuilding of homes.
Farmers Insurance also provided its “Disaster Recovery Playbook,” a volume of best practices that was compiled from Farmers and St. Bernard Project’s work in Joplin, Mo., following devastating tornados.
“I think the best thing is that it’s a living document,” said St. Bernard’s Carson, who helped draft the playbook after his work in Joplin. Lessons learned here will be incorporated into the playbook for future use, he said.
“The involvement of the corporate sector is critical,” Carson stressed as one lesson learned. The St. Bernard Project has worked with Farmers, Toyota and other entities for recovery work in Joplin, post-Katrina Louisiana and post-Sandy on the East Coast. “They have supply chains that far exceed anything the not-public sector has.
“It seems like a logical conclusion to tap into that brain power for the best practices,” Carson said.
“The one thing we learned was we had expectations and they were not met,” Mayor Dina Long said.
Initially, she and other borough residents believed there would be assistance from every level of government, but it turned out to be slow in coming and frustrating when it did, Long said.
“One thing we learned is you have to take matters into your own hands, address our own problems.”
Pallone echoed Long’s frustration, especially with the state Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) grant program. Both officials complained about the bureaucracy and long delays in getting available money to homeowners.
“Our efforts on the state level haven’t borne fruit” in streamlining the process, Pallone said. Instead of looking at the whole program, his staff has been addressing it on a case-by-case basis, he added.
The St. Bernard Project has been concentrating on helping homeowners who have a financial gap in what they may be eligible for under RREM or other government programs, private insurance and what may still be needed to complete their homes, Rosenburg said.
St. Bernard Project and Sea Bright Rising have completed three homes so far, Carson said, and hope to have a total of 100 rebuilt by the end of 2015.
Rosenburg said there are approximately 230 Monmouth County homeowners remaining in the RREM pipeline who are facing that financial gap.