Friday, November 2, 2012

An outline for Commercial District Disaster Recovery

By Jeff Eichenfeld

Jeff is Vice President of Retail & Commercial Assets at New York City Economic Development Corporation. A Bay Area transplant, he is well versed in helping commercial districts with disaster planning and recovery efforts. This outline is a helpful primer for communities dealing with the challenges associated with post-hurricane clean up and recovery. 

I.             Access and Entry Procedures
a.    For damaged buildings—emergency personnel will be able to get inside damaged buildings, but communities need written processes and procedures in place to allow business owners access to their inventory and records, and property owners need access to inspect damage for themselves, while at the same time making sure their safety is ensured.
b.    For a district as a whole—again, emergency personnel will be able to get into damaged areas, but other local and state officials and business and property owners, media, etc. will also need safe access.

II.           Building Damage and Repair
a.    Damage assessment procedures—FEMA and local building officials will do this, but make sure historic preservation experts who understand historic building systems/issues are included on these teams; also develop a communications plan so that the public understands what FEMA “red tag, yellow tag, green tag” designations mean.  The goal is to avoid unnecessary “red tag” designations that might lead to premature demolition.
b.    Demolition controls
                                 i.      Historic preservation—discuss how local and state historic preservation and environmental review laws will be applied in an emergency.
                               ii.      Shoring and Stabilization—discuss and develop shoring and stabilization procedures so that building owners and local officials will have adequate time to determine the fate of severely damaged buildings that have significant economic or historic significance to the community.
c.    Repair standards and procedures—determine to what design standards buildings will be required to be repaired to, and if “as-was-before the disaster” repairs can be made via a more streamlined process than would be used for demolitions, new constructions or major additions or modifications.

III.          Economic Recovery
a.    Business relocation plans—identify alternate locations for displaced businesses, as well as parking lots where temporary tents (large hard shell tents) and trailers can be erected; identify who will be in charge of facilitating and promoting the relocations.
b.    Promotions and public relations—develop potential strategies and who will be responsible for organizing local “back-to-business” news and tourism recovery programs.
c.    Financial assistance—discuss loan, grant and private fundraising options.
d.    Attracting new anchor uses—anticipate the need to attract new anchors to replace displaced businesses---i.e. temporary pop-up businesses, street vendors, farmers markets and crafts markets.

IV.         Business District Management
a.    Staffing—anticipate the need for additional BID or city staff and the possibility that existing staff may be injured or displaced or otherwise unable to come to work.
b.    Rumor squashing/communications—hold frequent community meetings and publish flyers/newsletters; anticipate that electricity and internet access may be limited.
c.    Organizational recovery—anticipate the need to boost the organizational capacity of existing local non-profits, BIDS and government units that will have to take on disaster recovery duties.
d.    Organizational preparedness—conduct annual disaster drills at the local level that include local business organizations, historic preservation and cultural arts allies, as well as local building and emergency response officials.

e.    Buildings—develop long-term plans, ordinances and financial programs to retrofit buildings to withstand damage.
f.       Infrastructure—develop long-term plans and financial mechanisms to upgrade utilities, roads, and other community infrastructure to withstand damage.

V.           Vision Planning
a.    Desired land uses—update zoning, land use and design plans to reflect the way in which a community or district would want to re-build after a disaster.
b.    Recovery plans—develop disaster preparedness and recovery plans that include economic as well as physical recovery.

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