Podcast: Resilience Roundtable
Long-Term Disaster Recovery Planning in Florida
In this episode of the Resilience Roundtable podcast series, host Jim Schwab, FAICP, speaks with Julie Dennis of OVID Solutions about her experiences working as both an independent disaster-recovery consultant and as a previous director of community development for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Julie's vast experience in Florida saw her working in the Florida Keys when Hurricane Irma hit; she says that the department's focus on relationship building in the region helped enormously to lay the groundwork for assisting post-disaster and guiding redevelopment.
The conversation shifts into the personal when Julie shares her experiences with Hurricane Michael, which destroyed her parents' and other family members' homes in another part of the state: the Florida Panhandle. Listeners hear not just about the harsh reality of surviving in a post-disaster environment but also about the moving displays of cooperation that Julie witnessed again and again after the event. Julie and Jim discuss the work she's focusing on now, including guiding some communities in the Panhandle in their first-time planning work. Throughout the episode, Julie shares invaluable insights from working in a state that's on the nation's frontlines of disaster-recovery planning.
[00:00:11.820] Jim Schwab, FAICP: Welcome to the American Planning Association podcast. This episode continues our series that looks at how different communities prepared for and responded to natural hazards, such as floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and more. How have planners in these communities promoted resilience in their hazard mitigation and disaster recovery planning? We'll find out on this episode of Resilience Roundtable, brought to you in conjunction with the American Planning Association's Hazard Mitigation and Disaster Recovery Planning Division. I'm your host, Jim Schwab, FAICP. I'm chair of APA's Hazard Mitigation and Disaster Recovery Planning Division. Our guest today is Julie Dennis. Julie is the owner of OVID Solutions in Tallahassee, a firm specializing in planning, disaster recovery, and grant management. She previously worked as director of community development for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. So, Julie, welcome to the podcast.
[00:01:12.130] Julie Dennis: Thanks so much, Jim. I appreciate the opportunity to be with you here today.
[00:01:16.330] JS: Great. So, Julie, could you please tell us a bit about your entry into the field of urban planning, some of your background, and how that has led to your involvement in disaster recovery in the state of Florida?
[00:01:28.910] JD: Oh, absolutely. So as an undergrad at FSU [Florida State University], I found urban planning really probably by accident. [I] was getting a bachelor's degree in political science and stumbled into an urban planning class and I was hooked. And I'm, I'm glad I did it. How I found disaster recovery was really probably more of a product of when I graduated from college. So when I graduated with my master's degree in 2004, it was December following the hurricane season of 2004, where our entire state was a mess. Four hurricanes had crisscrossed our state back to back, and we had a full-state disaster declaration from Pensacola to the Florida Keys. So there were opportunities in that field, and in January 2005, I started my career, my post—grad school career, as a FEMA mitigation planner, and worked on mitigation planning all over the southeastern United States to help communities have plans in place so that when mitigation funding came along, they could access that. After that, really, my focus shifted even more so into long-term recovery, and I really say that, I mean, really the focus of the entire state kind of shifted into long-term recovery. Because after you go through a 2004 hurricane season followed by a 2005 hurricane season, people begin to think, man, this might be something that's going to happen more often, and we need to think ahead of time how we're going to plan for long-term recovery. So during that time period, I was part of a team that wrote the very first post-disaster redevelopment planning guidance from a statewide perspective for Florida. And, and ironically, I developed — with a team of folks — the first post-disaster redevelopment plan for the City of Panama City, which is, which is my hometown. And that was kind of a, I guess, a premonition, really, of what would come later in my career. And I think this is when you and I met, Jim. I'm pretty sure it was around that time period. So I've really enjoyed working with you.
[00:03:36.460] JD: You know what I've really loved about working in long-term recovery, and I think honestly, what made it stick for me is, I'm impatient [laughs]. And from a planning perspective, we know that when we lay out plans for communities, they can take 30, 50 years to achieve sometimes, and, and if at the end of that you've received — you've done about 50 percent of what you set out to do, you've really, you've done something good. And after a disaster, plans can go much quicker. And that's really because you have three things that are needed to make a difference. So in some cases, you've got a blank slate or in some, some areas within a community, you've got a blank slate. And that creates kind of an openness and a willingness for communities to think about change and think about doing things differently, and something they even kind of crave that change. And last but certainly not least, the biggest thing is you've got money to make it happen. So after disasters, a lot of money flows into communities, and when done well, you can, you can really harness that opportunity to implement a lot of what you put into place, your plans. So in more recent years, I took on leadership roles at the state of — as of, let's see, I guess it was 2017 to, to early, really early 2019. I was the community development official for the State of Florida, as you mentioned earlier, Jim. And I guess over the last five years, until most recently, my broad — my shift from community development kind of got — got a little bit more broad as I was in those leadership roles. But I have to say that what I did in my first 10 years of my career really prepared me for that more broad role as the director of community development as we went in to more active hurricane seasons again.
[00:05:32.300] JS: Julie, you were right that I believe we did first meet while you were working on the post-disaster redevelopment plan guidance or shortly thereafter. I don't remember which. But it may be very interesting for you to know that I was a great admirer of the work that Florida was doing in that respect at the time. And it had formed some of the kind of philosophical and theoretical basis for what we were doing in the Post-Disaster Recovery: Next Generation project, as you may have noticed in that report. So Florida did some great work at that point, and it's really interesting that you were in the middle of all that.
[00:06:13.120] JD: I was, I was proud to be part of that team and, and really admired the work that the American Planning Association was doing right along the same time. And I know that through the work that you all did and through some of the foundational work that that Florida did, I think that really helped to spur what we have as — or create as what we have as the National Disaster Recovery Framework today, which, which is really taking the right step towards more organizational structure around long-term recovery.
[00:06:45.310] JS: Absolutely. And speaking of long-term recovery, in your last couple of years with the State of Florida, you were involved in Hurricane Irma recovery. And can you tell us a bit more specifically about your involvement with the Florida Keys and Monroe County in planning for recovery after Hurricane Irma in 2017?
[00:07:09.460] JD: Absolutely. I do love the Florida Keys. You know, as the director of community development for the State of Florida or for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity [DEO], prior to Hurricane Irma, we had a lot of involvement in the Florida Keys. The reason being is that the Florida Keys is what's called an area of critical state concern. And what that means is that Florida, at the state level, has a lot of say in how local decisions are made, to make sure that we're balancing the environment and economic development and all of the things that, you know, we think of from a planning perspective when you're, you're kind of dealing with that in a series of really a chain of islands. And so one of the things that I really think was really beneficial during that time period is when I took on that role my first day on the job, my boss, who was the executive director of DEO at the time, she told me that if we're going to be making decisions that impact the lives of people just on a daily basis, we need to get to know them. And so she said, you need to be in the Florida Keys at least four times a year. I want you down there, I want you meeting with business owners, residents, whoever. And, one, that's the best first day on the job ever, when someone tells you to go spend time in the Florida Keys, and so you make it happen. But I think this is really important because by the time Hurricane Irma struck that year, we had some really solid relationships down there in the Florida Keys from a state and a local government and local community perspective that really, I think, made, made us very good partners there. And I think that, you know, one of the key pieces to long-term recovery in that state and local relationship is having that strong relationship on the forefront and in kind of understanding where that community wants to go. So when Hurricane Irma hit, you know, we were ready to stand by their side through redevelopment. And our relationship with the Keys changed drastically overnight, because now we were not just kind of a regulatory organization there, but the division that I led at the time was also in charge of Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery dollars, and I'll probably use "CDBG-DR" from here on out. And really, and essentially what that is, it's a, it's a big congressional appropriation that comes out after disasters that can help communities rebuild in a really flexible way. But having that pre-existing relationship made it easier for us to ask questions and get the information that we needed to know about how the state should program those dollars out to address some of the most critical challenges that they were facing at the time: affordable housing, sea-level rise, resiliency. And what was also interesting about that time period from a state perspective is Florida was really enjoying kind of a ten-year grace period of relatively uneventful hurricane seasons. And while we were enjoying that grace period, the way that CDBG-DR funding was rolled out, the way it was implemented, and the amount of money that the state received or, you know, that was given out post-disaster had really changed. So the most money up unto that point that the State of Florida had ever received through CDBG-DR — and you can probably insert your own Dr. Evil from Austin Powers [laughs] face here — was, was one hundred million dollars, and we thought that was a lot of money. And we did big things with that. But now, in the face of Hurricane Irma with, you know — we're talking about past Hurricane Katrina, past Superstorm Sandy — the state was getting ready to receive about 20 times that amount of funding, and it required a big shift in the way we do things.
[00:11:06.630] JD: So, you know, I really, I think what was good about that time period is, and what I would say were my key takeaways, is really going down and meeting one on one with those community's leaders, you know, to build those relationships. Because the way you are programming those dollars to be spent in those communities will drastically shape how those communities are going to be redeveloped and designed. And, you know, in the same way that we as planners, you know, would want public input and know that such an important part of the entire process for buy-in and other things, it's really important for states to do the same thing when they find yourself in that role to establish those relationships and remember that, that your job really is to get that money out to address those needs that local governments identify first and foremost. And in doing that I think that face-to-face communication is really essential. It's not — you know, right after a hurricane, it can be overwhelming to go into local governments. And really, it's not the time to be talking about CDBG-DR anyways because it's so long-term in scope. But they need to meet — the people that are local decision makers and are, you know, in those communities, they need to meet the people at the state level who are making these decisions. They need to get to know them and build confidence and trust with them, to know that they have, you know, that they understand their issues and are taking those into consideration. And I think we did that pretty well in the Florida Keys following that, following Hurricane Irma. And I really believe that a lot of that was because of that pre-existing relationship.
[00:12:44.020] JD: You know, and I think another thing that was important that we were learning as a state and other states had also already learned is that nothing about CDBG-DR is quick. And you have to manage those expectations from all levels. And this goes from congressional appropriators to, you know, see that there's, you know, billions of dollars that they just, you know, passed and wanted to know when you're going to do something with it down to local governments, who see the announcements and the press releases about this money being passed and, and wondering when they're going to receive it. And I'd say you can — I mean, anybody could probably give you something, give you a different period here. But I would say on a good day when things are going really fast, you can bet it'll be a good solid two years before anything starts to happen in a community as a result of CDBG-DR dollars. And that's really when things are going well. And by change, I mean — I don't mean when announcements are being made and press releases are out there or outreach is being done. I mean, like when people start seeing hammer to nail, when people start moving back into their homes, or, you know, we see infrastructure projects completed. And, you know, that's, that's just when that ramp-up period starts. And so building those expectations around those funding sources I think was incredibly important. You know, really, fast forward to now, I'm very fortunate in my new capacity. I'm no longer with the state, but I have a small business and I do disaster recovery consulting. And I'm so fortunate to be able to continue to work with the Florida Keys. I felt like I started — you know, we kind of started that journey together and I'm really happy to continue to be part of it.
[00:14:23.720] JD: A couple of the things that have come out most, most recently from Hurricane Irma recovery is a long-term recovery plan. And this, this is important to them because it lays out millions of dollars in projects that once completed will help strengthen the Keys against really what you could say is their everyday disaster declaration and sea-level rise. You know, when you think of a span of islands connected by over — I think it's over 40 bridges. You know, when you think about sea-level rise, they really are on the frontlines of that issue — and our nation, really. And so they are taking Hurricane Irma and thinking about the future and thinking about the major infrastructure projects, the voluntary buyout programs, and all of the things that they're going to need to be able to, to respond better to sea-level rise in the future. And that's — that recently was, was adopted by the County Commission actually, actually just last month. So that's exciting to see that moving forward. And then another more recent thing that came out was a little bit more [of an] operational approach, but I think it's important. After Hurricane Irma, Monroe County did a lot of things really well. And it's because they were nimble. It's because the people that were in decision-making roles, that were in planner roles, that were in budget roles, human services roles, all of those things. You know, they were — they thought about how they did things and they — some really great success stories came out. So, you know, we went through an exercise of thinking about what went well, putting — aligning that with the National Disaster Recovery Framework and building out a pre-disaster recovery plan, so really just thinking about, you know, if this happens again, how will we organize and put together a structure so that when this happens again in the Keys, that institutional knowledge isn't lost. You know, we think, OK, we've got the knowledge now and we're good. But people retire. People move on. And before you know it, you've got a brand new set of folks and they're making decisions. And there's a lot to be learned from the past. And so I'm really hoping that this document can kind of help especially those leaders who have been very important in the recovery from Hurricane Irma that don't play traditional emergency-focused, disaster-focused roles. Those folks and the folks that may come after them can remember the things that they did well and kind of hit the ground running.
[00:17:03.190] JS: Good. Well, I'm going to take you from the Florida Keys back to the other end of the state, which is where I believe you grew up, in the Florida Panhandle? It's been your home for a long time? How —
[00:17:17.490] JD: That's right.
[00:17:17.550] JS: — has that led to much of what you're doing currently in connection with recovery planning? Because I know you're involved in, with some communities on Hurricane Michael.
[00:17:27.480] JD: Oh. I will tell you, as a disaster recovery professional and someone who's been doing this a while, nothing can prepare you for when a Category 5 hurricane literally hits home. Seriously nothing. Like you mentioned, I was, I was born and raised in Panama City, graduated high school there, my family lives there. Fourth generation of the Florida Panhandle, and when I moved, I didn't move far. I only moved about two hours up the road, where I live now. So I, I say all this to say that the Florida Panhandle was really my stomping grounds, and, and really my entire family still lives there. And it changed the focus of my career dramatically when you see people that you know and love and places that you know and love suffering in, in such a major way. It really kind of did — it flipped a switch for me and really made me think about things differently. I can tell you a little bit about my story. You know, following Hurricane Michael, just to kind of give you a flavor of some of those things, my parents, who live in Panama City, unfortunately evacuated to my house for the storm. And once residents were allowed to go back in to Bay County, I'll never forget that drive going back in to Panama City to my parents' house with my mom and dad. There really, there's really no words to describe what it feels like when you see your childhood home wrecked or you see your aunt and uncle's house with— without a roof and family friends that are, that are dealing with the same things — it's just there's, there's no way to describe it. And it's, it's strange the things that kind of stick with you after that. Like, I'll never forget the sound and kind of the bump of driving over a power line, a downed power line, you know, after, after the storm and just thinking, Oh my gosh, like, I would have never imagined driving over a power line and how that feels. But it just, it sticks with you. And then that feeling that, you know, kind of utter feeling of, I don't know, of lack of control, when you see family members, friends, and, I mean, even a small-town mayors, I mean, with guns strapped to their belts, because the chaos that occurs when the sun goes down and, you know, kind of putting yourself in their place and knowing you may, you may do the same thing. It really, it shifts the way you feel. Driving around, I couldn't, I couldn't identify roads of family members where people, where aunts and uncles had lived my entire life. And I'd overshoot them by blocks. And, and that's not just because there weren't any road signs. I mean, you know, directional signage is important. But it's because you don't really understand what things look like when there are no trees. And the only way I can explain is that a place shrinks in this very odd way when the trees are snapped in half and you can see what's behind them. Trees really kind of contribute to that sense of place and our space and what we do and kind of function as buffers and make things seem farther away than they really are. And it just, you know, I'll never forget that. And those were some of the, you know, the things that really stuck out for me from, from that experience.
[00:20:43.280] JD: But on a more positive note, I have to say that some really moving moments shifted my perspective, too. So, you know, back to that first day of going back and, and, you know, seeing Panama City post—Hurricane Michael, it's so incredibly humbling and overwhelming when you see linemen and power companies from all over the U.S. there to support your hometown. So you see, you know, New Jersey trucks, New York trucks, Texas, I mean, you name it, they were all there. And it's, it's like a, it's like a "proud to be an American" heroic moment. I mean, it may take you four hours [laughs] to get where you need to go or four times the amount of time to get down, you know, to get four blocks down the road, but every single person that you see there that's doing their job is really a hero. And there's honking. There's thanking. There's, there's just this really big sense of pride that comes with that. And, and that was kind of an incredible moment to see that out of such devastation, even days afterwards, there were such uplifting moments. And really, as a planner and as a practitioner, there was another moment that stuck out to me and really helped kind of shape kind of what I'm doing now. I was working for the state at the time, and we — it was about a week after, after the storm, I'd already been there from a personal perspective with my family, but I was going back in my job capacity. And we went to the Bay County EOC [emergency operations center]. And when we walked in there, you know, it was, it was overwhelming to see your hometown and people doing the things that you'd seen other communities do, but now all of a sudden, it's people that you know, and it's, it's very, it's very different. But as I'm sitting there and I'm thinking and kind of overwhelmed by all of this, I see people in there, I see some familiar faces, and they're coming down the hallway. And it was the county administrator for Monroe County and the Florida Keys, and it was assistant county administrator, and it was their resiliency coordinator. And they were in the Bay County EOC just a week after. And, you know, they were there to share with Panama City and stand hand-in-hand with them to say, "We were OK and you're gonna be OK, too." And, you know, as somebody who had been working in Hurricane Irma and then now working in Panama City and seeing it from a personal perspective, that was a very emotionally overwhelming moment for me. And, you know, lots of hugs then [laughs], for sure, to see those people there, because the Florida Keys, I mean, that's, that's a very, very, very long way away from Panama City. You have to make an effort to do that. And they did. And, and they came up there and they said, you know, "We're — you're OK. You're going to be OK. Look at us, we're OK." And, um, you know, that — that instilled upon me kind of the need from a professional perspective to pay it forward and really thinking about it from a long-term recovery perspective. As, as we look at long-term recovery, as we look at people where people are a year from now and the things that they may be going through and hearing from them, hearing that it's going to be OK and then helping to learn from what others are doing, I just really, you know, I think that that is probably the reason the state's so good at emergency management, is because they have those networks and ties. And, and I think that long-term recovery deserves that, too. So when I transitioned out of state government with Governor Scott little over a year ago, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to take anything, everything that I've learned over the course of my career and, and really apply it to the Panhandle and do what I could to help. So I'm, you know, through my small business that I have, OVID Solutions, I feel really fortunate to, to be doing just that. And I'm working — I'm fortunate and blessed to be working in the communities that were directly impacted and hit all the way down to some of the more rural communities you don't hear about as much. But while professionally, it's, it's great, it really for me, it's more of a therapeutic thing, to be kind of part of that solution. As you kind of are watching your hometown, your stomping grounds go through this, to be able to play that role has been humbling for me and I'm appreciative of it.
[00:25:11.740] JS: That is a fascinating set of insights. And, you know, most people don't get to see it from the perspective that you just described. They see a lot of the devastation on television from places like Mexico Beach because that was in the news and, you know, some of that dramatic footage. But you're also, you're combining the aspects of seeing this as a person who grew up in the area, has relatives who are deeply affected, and yet also attacking this as a planner. So I want to ask you from, from your own experience and involvement what light you feel you can shed on the planning that's underway in those communities that you have seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael and what impact you see from the state and federal decisions so far in supporting those communities.
[00:26:09.790] JD: You know, so there's, there's a tremendous amount of planning that is being done in, in — all across the Panhandle right now. And I think one of the good things is, you know, we are as a state starting to learn and maybe it's those lessons learned that are being shared. But in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, you see local governments kind of leaning in a little bit more, making their, their needs known a little bit more, understanding maybe a little bit more some of the resources that might come down in preparing for some of those things. And you see communities doing planning for the first time in some cases. So, you know, what I think that you don't see that, you know, honestly probably made a big impact on me is the trauma that people are going through mentally. And, you know, and I think that that's a really important part of this from a, from a planning perspective too, and I'll explain why. You know, we, we talk about post-traumatic stress disorder after wars, and we know it's a real thing, but you don't really talk about it after a hurricane and how it affects children, parents, teachers, first responders, and city and county governments. And, you know, what we think we know but we don't truly get as disaster recovery professionals as that people are forging on with restoring their life every day, and they're probably going home to live in an RV in their front yard or fight their own battles with their insurance company. I mean, their job doesn't stop at five o'clock anymore at all. And it's a personal struggle every day. And I get that now in a way that I didn't, because my parents lived me for a year. I witnessed their journey firsthand. And so from a planning perspective, what really made an impact on me is — that I think is sometimes overlooked, especially as those of us that are in the disaster recovery field that go in to help. You know, we go in to help from a long-term recovery perspective, and there's a great deal of compassion that's needed with working with these communities. So as planners, we're trained to deal with infrastructure, the built environment mostly. But, but the people that make up the communities are often in need of rebuilding, so when you go in to have a simple conversation with somebody about, you know, an infrastructure project or something that seems somewhat benign at the time, you might set off a trigger and people may seem mad or frustrated. And really they're just incredibly stressed. And I think it's something that, you know, going into that, if it's your first time in disaster recovery, if you're a year out, if you've got resources and you're coming in to share in some way, I think the best thing that we can do is a lot of listening and not taking anything personally. So, you know, if people get mad at the situation, things aren't happening fast enough and they take it out on you, it's really not personal. I mean, the best thing we can do is smile, listen, do what you can do to help, but don't make promises. So, you know, I think that that was, that really helped me, and just recognize that every time that we go and ask people how they need help, we're asking them to retell their story, which is an incredibly painful experience. And, and so, you know, doing, understanding that and understanding how it feels when you have to kind of go back through that story again each time and how draining it is, it kind of shapes the way you ask questions as a planner. It shapes the way we do public outreach.
[00:29:38.280] JD: So I'll tell you an example of one of the things that's, that's coming out of Calhoun County that I'm kind of proud of. In — Calhoun County is a small community. It's just, just east of Bay County and it's, it's rural. And we're, we're doing some incredible planning work there to think about their economic development strategies and things that they've wanted to do for years and how we can, you know, match that up with appropriate funding sources. But in addition to that, we're, you know, we're involving the community in a pretty neat way, partnering with the 4-H organization down there, which has an incredible presence in the community. We're doing a poster contest and an essay contest that, you know, really gets input from kids from elementary, middle, and high school on, you know, the Calhoun County of their future. So not really tying it too strongly back to Hurricane Michael, but really thinking about, you know, what can we do in the future? And I think that — I'm excited about that. I'm excited that we're getting ready to kick that off and excited about, about what that's going to result in in terms of real input and in terms of, you know, getting, getting kids engaged with and building that next role of leaders in that community. So that's kind of a silver lining and a fun one there. But back to what you asked me earlier, too, but — from a planning perspective, I think really two big things contributed to the impacts after — from Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle. One, I would say the age of buildings. So I remember from when we wrote the Panama City Post-Disaster Redevelopment Plan, almost 10 years to the date of Hurricane Michael, believe it or not, 90 percent of the housing stock was built before 1980. So and, you know, if you're a disaster recovery professional in Florida, you, you'll know that that's significant because the state overhauled the Florida building code in light of Hurricane Andrew in 1994. So what it meant is that we had a lot of really vulnerable homes and businesses, too, that were completely wrecked. And, and another thing that really shaped the impacts there is that, with the exception of, really, Bay County and some of that, you know, kind of, ring of areas that surround Bay County and, and that economic engine that, that it really is for the Panhandle, we have some rural areas that were really struggling before the storm, and now it's just gotten worse since the storm. So I think as we, you know, use that as an opportunity to, to really harness how that region will look, you know, how, how they can rebuild back, become and, and even be a stronger economic engine for that entire area. But also those rural communities that often really sometimes get overlooked in terms of funding and things like that, just — they're small, they have small populations. It's, it's kind of how things go, you know, when you've got budgets at state levels of other things, it's not, not really any fault of anybody's. But these communities have kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to, to do things differently. And, you know, we're seeing things like, you know, for the first time, a super-council is being formed in, in one of the rural areas over there to bring together decision makers across all jurisdictions and think about it from a county-wide perspective, where, where typically things are only done within their own jurisdictional boundaries. And my hope really is, as we continue to work on these plans and — which will be completed in the spring of this year, that this really is kind of an opportunity for communities to, to have a plan in place now that helps them in the future. You know, one example, when I was working at the state, I worked on an economic development strategy for Okeechobee County, which is a small county along Lake Okeechobee in south Florida. And after Hurricane Charley, they were, I mean, they were big-time impacted from Hurricane Charley in 2004, and a long-term recovery plan was developed out of that. And when we went down to that community about, about 10 years later, when we were down there and we asked to see, "Hey, what kind of, you know, what is your economic development strategy for your community?" That's what they pulled out. They pulled out their Hurricane Charley long-term recovery plan. And it was cool to see that they had accomplished a lot of the stuff that they laid out for themselves. And so that's really what I'm hoping for a lot of these rural areas is that they have that same story as Okeechobee, that 10 years from now, you know, they pull out these plans and they're able to see that they made some tremendous progress from some of this work.
[00:34:35.710] JS: Yeah, I want to take a second to thank you for highlighting something that I think is really kind of a universal lesson for planners and particularly for younger players who haven't been through this as much as you have at this point. And I'm going to use an, an example from a completely different part of the country, [but] being an ex-Hawkeye who's been to Cedar Rapids and Iowa City and that area of many, many, many times, particularly since the 2008 floods, that was a major lesson for the community development director in Cedar Rapids as they were handling post-disaster recovery there, was: Let people ventilate, let them express their frustrations. Then they're prepared to move on to actually talk about those plans, but not before. That they really have to, you know —
[00:35:29.670] JD: That's right.
[00:35:30.260] JS: — express that. It's just a natural part of the human process, so let me use that to move on to a different question, which is, you know: Florida is among the most experienced and sophisticated states in addressing a lot of these issues, natural hazards issues, because it just happens so often down there in the first place. What can you tell us about the evolution of policy and practice in Florida with regard to hazard mitigation and disaster recovery in, say, the last decade? Because there's been a lot of movement on this issue. And you're, you're learning lessons faster than virtually anybody else, except maybe California.
[00:36:13.410] JD: [laughs] That's right. That's right. You know, and one of the good things is, is after a disaster, traditionally, Florida makes a lot of really great strides. So, you know, after Hurricane Andrew, we recognized our wind vulnerability, and now we have the strongest building code in the nation. So that was, that's a success story that has proven to be a success story in disasters that followed in the more recent decades. And I'd say after 2004, that's when we really started to learn that lesson of, you know, we really need to begin to think about about long-term recovery and think about the roles that people outside of emergency management will be playing in long-term recovery and help them to prepare for that. You know, I think that we did a lot of work during that time period to do that. One of the things that we're really blessed with is that we didn't have any disasters to really test that out on. And, you know, luckily the, the nation as a whole began to evolve and, you know, in that way of thinking as well, Jim, through your work, through APA's work, through FEMA's work, with the National Disaster Recovery Framework and really thinking about putting a structure to that and how we evolved the practice of long-term recovery. And now I'm starting to see, you know, more and more that, in Florida, two things. And I'll talk about [the] community development one first. In Florida, from a community development perspective, we are really starting to really get, even more so, that long-term recovery is, is really community redevelopment. It's community development in and of itself. Something that really sticks out in my mind is about, I don't know, about three months ago, I was at a Monroe County Florida Keys Board of County Commission meeting. And it was not a special meeting per se. There was no major focus on Hurricane Irma, like you might see. But I happened to be listening and looking through the agenda items there as we went through the meeting, and over half the agenda items tied to Hurricane Irma in some way. And all these people weren't stand— that were standing up there to talk about these issues, they, you know, yes, emergency management was definitely in the room and they certainly had a presence and [were] part of the conversation. But it was the budget directors. It was the planners. It was the building-code inspectors. It was, it, there were other people that were rising to talk about these issues, and now we're starting to kind of really put that into practice. You're seeing that at the state level, you know, in terms of HUD dollars and how those flow through different agencies and, and, you know, and I think that's kind of the evolution that we're starting to see now from a community development perspective is really that role. And, you know, personally, from my own perspective, I think it makes sense. You know, I always say that, one of the analogies that I use is, you know, a disaster — if you think of a disaster kind of like a major car accident, you know, and a community is the survivor from that car accident, the first place they go into — is into the emergency room for all the lifesaving measures that need to take place to keep that person — to get them stable. And that's kind of like an emerge— the role of an emergency manager. And then there's kind of this transition period where it goes from emergency management to — that person kind of goes into an intensive care unit. And that really is still that emergency management role that shifts into short-term recovery. But at some point, as the person begins to heal, or in this case, as the community begins to heal, it no longer makes sense for an emergency room doctor or somebody who is a nurse in intensive care to take care of that individual. It really focuses — the shift, the shift focuses to rehabilitation. And, and that's really where I think, think that our role as planners comes into play where, you know, we're not the the truly heroic, you know, emergency management role that is there. But we're really more of that long-term rehabilitation. You know, somebody that has gone through a major car accident, it's going to be years before they're probably back to normal in some way and not seeing — if ever, you know, back to normal — but, you know, seeing kind of things get back to where they feel a, you know, a sense of recovery. And I think that, you know, our role is really akin to that of, you know, those physical therapist and rehabilitation specialists and, and kind of helping to move communities forward. You know, and, really, the last thing, and this is, this can't be understated either, I really think that in terms of disaster recovery and hazard mitigation, over the last decade, you're starting to see a shift, you know, in the way that our communities focus on vulnerability to flood and storm surge. And I've got this, you know, we do really well in the State of Florida when it comes to wind. As a matter of fact, I've got this great picture that I took in, in Marathon, which is a community in the Keys that shows a building that was built — excuse me, a house that was built right before Hurricane Irma hit sitting right next to the slab of one that was completely destroyed that was built not to current code. And to me, there's no better kind of example of wind mitigation in action than looking at that picture. And I use it, I used it a lot to describe kind of how that works. But, you know, now we're starting to think more about flood and storm surge and honestly sea-level rise and how that's going to exacerbate that issue. And, and that is really where Florida's headed now. We know that if we don't plan correctly in the way that we grow our cities, develop our infrastructure, and think about the implications of our long-term investments in communities, we won't have that same success story, but I have a lot of confidence we will, because I see some of our communities in south Florida really on the forefront of that issue. And I see our state government taking some major strides on that issue. And so I hope, I hope that in 10 years that, that kind of really becomes the big success story that people take away from the 2017–2018 storm season.
[00:42:47.610] JS: Well, that leads directly to a question that I was sitting here waiting to ask you, which is how this is changing public perceptions in Florida on issues like sea-level rise and climate change and development practices. What changes are you seeing?
[00:43:05.100] JD: Major changes. One of the biggest ones — so, you know, and I think there's, so there's, there's two things I'll highlight here. One will focus on, on south Florida. Our south Florida communities have been preparing for climate change and have been preparing for sea-level rise. As a matter of fact, just this past year, they had their 10th annual summit focused — it's the Southeast Regional Climate Compact, which is a collaboration between Palm Beach County, Broward County, Miami-Dade County, and Monroe County. So some of the most populated areas of the State of Florida but also some of the most vulnerable. They had their 10 — 10th summit to really get together as a region and think about climate change and think about sea-level rise. And what is really great to me to see is that we're starting to make the shift from planning for these things to really doing something about these things. You know, and I think that's what you saw come out of the long-term recovery effort from Hurricane Irma. You saw a community that put together — and not just the county. I mean, this is, this was a plan that was signed off on by all of the municipalities and all of the utility providers, the private utility providers in the communities, too. You saw communities coming together and saying, "All right, it's time. We've been planning. We've got a little bit left to go in terms of a planning perspective. But we need to start making some major investments in, in the way we are building our infrastructure and where we're putting things." And so it's — that's what's exciting for me to see is that real shift occur. And a lot of that really in Florida has been led at the local level, you know, but — and, you know, but you are seeing some wonderful things at the state level, too. So last year, the governor appointed a chief resilience officer and there is some additional legislation that's going through this year that will enhance the way Florida thinks about — really kind of plans for and coordinates resiliency from a sea-level rise perspective. And so I think we still have a long way to go from a Florida perspective, I really do. You know, but it's exciting to see that we are kind of making the shift from saying it's an issue to then planning for it to now doing something about it.
[00:45:32.130] JS: Great, that really leads me to my final big question. It's really a combination of — I'm combining two questions here, but I think they're closely related. One is what you see as the biggest indicator of success from Florida's approach to post-disaster recovery. But the other is what big opportunities you see arising for Florida from this whole process. Is there some big silver lining you'd like to point out?
[00:46:04.740] JD: You know, so the big success that I'm seeing — I'll go back to what I've said before, which is really, you know, the community development role in disaster recovery, taking more prominence to where it's, you know, it's, it's really no longer at some point, it's no longer long-term recovery. It's just business as usual and community development and redevelopment. And seeing that, that take place has been very encouraging. Another big success that I think has come out of this is really the state's focus on the human aspect of resiliency and the human aspect of, of recovery. You know, we now have a professional individual housed within our division of emergency management that is focused just on that, on the mental health aspects of disaster recovery. And you've got leaders in our state who are emerging — somebody that comes to mind, I've got a friend, Amie [Readdy], who owns Capacity Path Solutions, who's doing just this very work and saying, "OK, so we know that there is going to be stress and trauma after disasters. How do we not only, if we're hardening and building our resilience from an infrastructure perspective, how do we harden and build our human communities and our people to also withstand these kind of pressures and stresses? If we know that these things are going to become more common, how do we kind of lean into that?" And I've really, I think that's a success to see that we're taking that approach to it as well. And really, I mean, out of disasters, and this is, this is the great part of it — right? — is that there's always some sort of silver lining. And, you know, I really do believe that, out of these two seasons, when we look back on it and when disaster recovery funds do hit the ground and they are running, we're gonna have more stronger, more resilient communities, especially in north Florida. We're going to have funding going to the small towns that often don't get a lot. And I, and I really hope that, you know, in 20 years from now, we see that these two storms change the way that not just south Florida but also north Florida approaches the way we think about vulnerability and the way we prepare for storms, for sea-level rise, for all of these things. You know, there's, there's a lot of fundamental growth that can occur from learning experiences that come out of a traumatic experience. I mean, you know, I've done some research in the past, on another note, on behavior change. And it's usually like out of traumatic experiences that people decide to do something different with their lives, with the way that things are going at that time. And it's almost kind of necessary in some ways. And so out of these experiences, that's, that's, that's the hope, right? That's the silver lining, is that, is that we learn from them, and we build back stronger because our state and you know, as a — having been born and raised in Florida and just loving the communities here, loving all of the people, you know, it's my home. And, and I feel a great sense of pride and ownership in helping to hopefully bring about some of those changes. So, you know, if you ask most people in north Florida if they ever thought a big hurricane would hit, they'd say no. You know, my own family would say that, and I got to say even I was shocked, as somebody who's been in this recovery business for as long as I have, to see a Category 5 hit that part of the state. But that's no longer the case now. The sense of vulnerability is there and the need to build back stronger and to make different decisions is also there. You know, like we talked about earlier, with sea-level rise in south Florida, the shift from planning to doing has been gradually occurring over the last five years. But now I feel like it's really in full force. So, you know, that's really, that's the silver lining, you know, and I'm looking forward to being able to — well, I don't want time to go by quickly, because I'm enjoying, you know, enjoy life and where I am at this very moment, but I do look forward to that opportunity to be able to look back 10 years from now and see what that fundamental shift was that occurred out of, out of these experiences.
[00:50:39.970] JS: Great. You've shared a substantial number of really interesting insights with us. So let's close by letting you tell us how listeners can find you online. Are there particular resources that they should know about? How do they find them? How do they find you?
[00:50:57.840] JD: Awesome, yes. And I, and I have to say, I love to share what I can with anyone who's going through disaster recovery. You know, I think it's probably now — before it was just because it was, you know, part of the professional community, and I like to get back, but now it's part of, it's really kind of a truly healing thing, in terms of my own personal recovery after, after the storms. So I hope that, you know, anybody would reach out and ask me questions, share new insights and information or just brainstorm, because it's how we all kind of get better at what we do is by learning from the experiences of others. And so it's — so I always like and look forward to listening to that. There's, there's a couple of ways you can find me. One is through my website, which is www dot OVID solutions dot net [www.ovidsolutions.net], and that's O-V-I-D Solutions dot net. You can also find me on LinkedIn. I'm on Twitter as well. But there's a, there's a link on my website for free resources, and it's kind of a collection of things that are free and out there that I've found incredibly useful over the years. And so I try to keep that up to date and going as I find new things. And in the coming year, as I enter past my one-year anniversary as OVID Solutions, I'm going to be growing that list and adding some of the projects that my own team is developing and, and have developed throughout this year so that we can share projects and share information. So, really, I look forward to talking to anybody to learn from their experiences, share mine, and kind of grow our knowledge on long-term recovery as we all move forward.
[00:52:35.130] JS: And thank you, Julie.
[00:52:36.870] JD: Thank you, Jim. I — I so appreciate this opportunity. It's been fun to share with you and to, to get to talk a little bit about the experiences in Florida and where we're going from here. So I appreciate the opportunity.
[00:52:53.200] JS: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the American Planning Association podcast. For resources on hazard mitigation and disaster recovery, visit planning.org/resilience. To hear past episodes of the APA podcast, visit planning.org/podcast. You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. Have an idea for a podcast? Send it to email@example.com.
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