Prepare respond, recover, protecting your assets through a disaster
Whether natural or manmade, disasters do not just damage buildings and utilities — they leave responders without the infrastructure to effectively tackle problems. Hear how Mark Stephens, the former City Manager of New Bern, North Carolina, learned to prepare, prioritize, and respond to keep his city resilient.
Good morning or good afternoon. Welcome to prepare respond, recover, protecting your assets through a disaster webinar. Glad you've all joined us today. This will be a fantastic discussion, but first, I have just a few housekeeping items. The phone lines will be muted during today's please submit any questions you have through the Q and A feature at the bottom of your screen at any time during the session. If you're on a mobile device, you likely will have to tap the screen to get the Q and A, bucket box to show up.
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So without any further delay, I'll start, I'll I'll introduce our wonderful moderator who is Raven Sykes. She's a strategic enterprise solutions consultant here at Brightley. She's our moderator. She has a passion for empowering civic leaders and public sector professionals.
She has been instrumental in pioneering cutting edge solutions at Brightley for over fifteen years, liv leaving an indelible mark in both education and government for Her profound understanding of public service needs has forged her expertise in asset investment analysis and strategic planning, powerful tools that steer organizations short success. Welcome Raven. The floor is yours.
Thank you, Tracy. And I'm excited as well for the opportunity to moderate today's discussion, with Mark Stevens, who's my co host. And, chief growth officer at Withers Revenil to explore how your communities can take action to protect your assets before, during, and natural disasters workforce disruptions, economic worries, and agent infrastructure.
Mark brings twenty four years of experience in public leadership, land development and civil engineering, which gives him a deep understanding of the unique needs of WIVis Ravenale Public Sector clients.
Most recently, Mark was the city manager for New Burn in Craven County, North Carolina.
The seven years he developed, executed, and implemented policy for the sick During this time, he led the city through six significant natural disasters.
Today, he will share with us the best practice and lessons learned from these experiences.
We're very pleased to have Mark with us today to share his knowledge and experience with us.
So, Mark, before we dive in, can you share with us a little bit about your experience with natural disasters?
Sure. Thanks Raymond, and thank you for, the awesome introduction.
You you definitely, promote me well.
I, first off, let me let me preface my experience as not holistic for all disasters. I can speak, primarily from the natural disasters of hurricane. And the impacts associated with them. So I guess, almost qualifies me to, say that I slept in a holiday in select last night, but, appreciate that great interview. Most of my experience comes from, you know, like I said, hurricanes and impacts associated with them with wind driven impact. Tremendous amounts of vegetative and demolition debris.
Flooding of rivers, canals, storm surge, backing up into the sounds of Eastern North Carolina, significant rainfall events that created a tremendous amount of inland flooding, over my course of time in in, newborn as both the director of public works and the city manager. What's interesting is is, my first experience with impacts of hurricanes dates all the way back to Hurricane Hugo in nineteen eighty nine. I'm not sure how many of our people that are on the call here can can, attest to, being an experiencing, the impacts of hurricane Hugo, but I was thirteen at the time. I can remember being awoken, awoken in the middle of the night.
My mom was screaming because the large tree had crashed down our house just right over my bedroom. And luckily for us, the tree was fairly close to the house. It it did mess up some things, structurally to the house, but, didn't come crashing through like you see in some cases. So, I I lived to I lived to survive that event, but, it certainly was a wake up call and and kinda gave us our first, my first introduction to the impacts that storms can have.
And what's interesting is is I lived in, the foothills of North Carolina in small town called Hickory, North Carolina. It's about a population of, at that time, probably thirty, thirty five thousand people. It's probably about fifty thousand now. And we're two hundred and fifty miles inland from any coast.
So the impacts of a hurricane that far inland were were, very common and Hugo came up through Charleston and went through Charlotte and came up through Hickory and and really slammed us pretty hard when we woke up that morning. Was just a tremendous amount of trees down around our house since we kinda lived in woods. And, we spent weeks, cutting trees and digging out of that, over a period of weeks, and and trying to get ourselves restored back. But it was kind of my first indoctrination of of how severe storms can be, as a young child.
Moving on to my professional career, my first experience with disaster events was while I was working for the city of Newborn as director of Public Works.
I just started my role in January of two thousand eleven, so I was kinda hyper focused on getting to know my people to process the organization, what they did on their day to day basis, and things like that. And seven months into my tenure there, alone comes storm called Hurricane Irene. And, it, was a a pretty significant event. There hadn't been one, that hit our area in Newborn for probably, a good eight or ten years, I guess, maybe maybe a little less, I think it was two thousand five or six. I I went and they had Floyd and a bunch of other ones that came through and caused a lot of damage. But, significant vegetative debris, experience, some flooding that we saw there. I think it was about eight feet of, storm surge coming up the noose river into newborn and caused some significant impacts in that area.
After Irene, I went on to experience five other named events, that significantly impacted our region. There were some in between those We had, and all of those were as a city manager in two when I became city manager in two thousand fourteen, and those were Matthew in two thousand sixteen, floor two thousand eighteen, which was probably our worst.
Michael, which followed up, Hurricane Florence about, a month later. I think it was. Dorian in two thousand nineteen. And, the the hurricane named Esais, which most people couldn't pronounce. So we we call it the hurricane which I'll go unnamed, in twenty twenty. That was the last storm that I dealt with as a city manager in Newvern.
So as you can tell, I've had my share fun with disasters and recovery from them. Each of them being unique in their own way, and each of them, I came away with a better understanding of how how better to respond to natural disasters in my community?
I know that there are some people on the call here. I saw somebody there. I think it was from the city of Wilmington, myself and my mayor and Bill Safo, the mayor of Wilmington and the mayor of surf city, Doug Medlin, and a couple others at the time.
We actually went to Washington, DC to try to keep focus on our community through our representatives, post Hurricane Florence, which was, like I said, one of the most impactful storms. As you can see in some of the pictures here, you know, moving from top left around the circle there kind of clockwise.
The the one in the top left, that's two of my electric crew workers, waiting through, hopefully nobody from OSHA is on the call because he's holding a chainsaw above his head as he's wading through some some floodwaters because they were trying to get some branches and limbs off of some power lines to try to restores and power. And then you can see that's the city hall of newborn, there in the center. You can see how significant the rainfall was at that particular point. We did call in the National Guard.
As you can see, there were some rescues going on in our area. We had a significant, presence them. We had to call in, in some mutual aid for that. We'll talk about that a little bit later.
And then in the bottom left, we actually had a structure fire during the event, even though we told people to evacuate somebody decided to stay. They had a, they they had a, a, a, a generator on their back deck, which was made of wood. The and the gasoline kind of got out of the generator as he was filling it up, caught the deck on fire burnt their entire house down, and our fire department was out there fighting here in the middle of a hurricane with about or four feet of water. That water is actually going down because you can see there's no structure left, but, the water had actually receded quite a bit from from what it was when, our guys were out there trying to fight the fire.
But, you deal with a lot and, a lot of decisions, a lot of quick snap solutions have to be made, and you always have to keep that safety and and thing in mind. So, that's kind of my experience, and and I'm happy to dive into a little bit further but that's kind of a a a brief overview of of some of the fun times that I've had with natural disasters over the years.
And Mark, just a quick follow-up to that, you mentioned that you served in a couple of different roles in in managing the the natural disasters. One being the the director of public works and one being a a city manager. So, could you speak, I guess, having that perspective as a director of public works and how that may be helped, in the city manager Bureau.
Sure. Well, you know, Irene, like I said, was kind of a indoctrination.
In in in my community, you know, public works was kinda catch all. We had, you know, we had our own electric department. We had our own water and sewer department. You know, they're very specific.
They they're dealing with convey it to water and sewer and lines are dealing with ensuring that the power stays on. But, when it comes to the, you know, it comes to public works, it's it's it you're kind of the catch all if it doesn't fit into another category. You know, you've got your fire that does their thing. Police does their thing.
But, you know, when it comes to to the flooding, when it comes to to, you know, the the pavement roads needing to be blocked off to to, debris management and removal and to, you know, roofs and structures and I mean, I had, even had the the the insurance was in my for all of our buildings and structures. I was managing the insurance for all of those losses. And so it was kind of a catch all and so it really it really afforded me great experience in understanding a a huge breadth of of kind of operations of a municipality that were outside of like public safety or specific things like water and sewer, but my past experience in, I was a system.
Popworks director in Statesville, and we had water sewer conveyance. And both of those entities, both newborn and and statesville were electric utilities. So I was pretty familiar with working with electric utilities as well. So, and I'll talk about know, the some of the some of the key, the key components of of disaster here in a in a little bit as we get into some of our questions.
But you know, having that breath was was really helpful in understanding some of the things that needed to be done. But the the issue again was is just my my infancy and my career at at at Newborn, when the first disaster hit that really opened my eyes to some things needed to be changed.
Mhmm. Awesome. And and, Mark, based on those experiences, we're gonna pivot to to some of the, mobilizing the people, processing technology.
So with that in mind, how did you prioritize people processing technology heading into a disaster.
Well, you know, the big keyword these days is you know. And and I don't even know that the word had been born at that point. You know, in two thousand eleven, I think maybe it was starting to kinda come to head. But now it's common term in the emergency management world and and and community planning and and, and emergency preparedness is is and resiliency begins with preparedness.
You know, coming into into newborn experiencing Irene I could tell that we were not very prepared, the way I would like it to be. Maybe the way they used to do things. We hear that a lot within organizations that we join in is this is the way we've always done it. Well, that was never an answer for me. I I really, hated that answer. I've abhorred that answer.
First thing I would say, well, there's a different way to do it. And have you explored that? I mean, it might have been they might have been doing it for twenty some years. And So I recognized very quickly that I was gonna do my best to fix that.
We were not well prepared to address large scale impacts of disasters. Much of this was due to our lack process and technology, data, collection, pre disaster procurement, lack of understanding of our needs for assistance with documenting and restoring the millions of dollars that were spent by our organization to recover from the losses. I mean, a lot of that stuff kinda come head. In my case, you know, prior to Irene, I was I was focused on understanding this organization, and many would say, Hey, anytime you take a new role, you know, or a new post, you know, you don't wanna really make a whole lot of changes in the first six months.
You wanna see how the top rate, and they may have some better processes than you do or have from your previous organization. But, it's an opportunity for you to learn where some of the lacking areas are. And that's kinda what I did, and and understood that our current state of affairs within the organization you know, we needed some some large scale changes to occur.
And again, I did not really have during time period to review and come familiar with, our recovery and response plan for those major disasters. And it it it took a while. It probably cost our taxpayers a lot of money. Some things might have been left on the table.
There could have been I mean, I know there was a ton of inefficiencies and lack of understanding about, you know, the people in the process and the roles and and things that each person played how to communicate well during the disaster, things like that.
We had a very archaic way of collecting our data.
You know, a lot of people back in those days, were were coming into technology unfamiliar with it. They did not like the the, you know, take some some people didn't weren't accepting of technology, but still have some of those today actually in organizations.
But, you know, data was becoming a a very important part of a a community. And the lack of data, really hurt us. We had paper files and Manila folders and our work order system. Get this.
Our work order system, during that time, consisted of carbon copy, tick that got put in each division heads, box, to be completed during that time. I felt like I was noah going up on the mountain to get god to tell me, you know, to describe it into these tablets of stones so that I could go down and tell people what to do. So it really opened my eyes to the need of of having some some integrated data and technology, within our organization so that we could we we could properly manage and address, events. And even our day to day, I'm not talking about disasters.
I'm just talking day to day work order systems, day to day operations. It was just so archaic in some of the things that I noticed that really, really needed some improvement.
You know, post Irene, I became focused on ensuring our department was prepared as much as possible for any kind of future event that we had and and this ultimately transferred and transitioned into my role as the city manager, in in the preparation phase. We talk about being prepared for these storms. And there's, to me, there's three primary focuses. You've got the process, you've got the people, and then you've got the technology.
So establishing well defined disaster response and recovery processes is paramount. It's in to ensure our efficiency and effective.
And our operations, during, and even aft after the event, you need to take into account, you know, what would happen if you lost any of the seven primary lifelines that I mentioned previously that I kind of talked about. You know, those seven primary lifelines, you've got food, water, safety security, slashing between those communications, fuel, energy, and housing. And those are the seven lifelines, that that you have. And if you if you lose any of those, you know, it it it becomes critical for you to restore that.
And we experienced a lot of those throughout the disasters in various ways. We always lost power. Anytime you're having dealing with a a major storm, major wind event, you're gonna have trees online. Florence, for example, we lost pretty much about ninety six percent of our electric system.
That went offline. We had a few little areas that were close to two substations that got lucky and didn't lose power, but most of our system called had some kind of damage and we had lost most of that.
You know, learned a little bit of our lessons along the way Irene, it took, you know, sometimes a week or two to get everybody restored, and, of course, people are clamoring, raising hell, about, you know, all that. And and we had most of our system up within four days after hurricane Florence. And that's a pretty, pretty strong, improvement, from from where we were, and that was a significant amount of damage.
So, you know, again, you need to take into account any of those loss of primary lifelines.
Communications was a big one in in Puerto Rico. I was, in a I was in a conference session, this past week, Brock Long, former FEMA administrator.
He's an App grad, which I went to my I got my master's in public administration at appalachian. And, I know Brockwell, and and he was talking about, you know, during Puerto Rico that that was of the major impacts that that heeded, the response and improvements in Puerto Rico is just a lack of communications. So all of those are very critical. All of those seven ones, and you really need to focus on your preparedness to address each one of those if you have a loss or if you have a disruption in the supply chain or supply line.
You know, Wilmington, Wilmington, North Carolina during Hurricane, Florence cut off from all the major highways and supply chain lines that that was able to get resources into their community. Same thing with Newborn in Eastern, North Carolina. Whenever hurricane Florence came along. And that was primarily due to flooding.
I forty was I forty forty was flooded. Seventeen was flooded. I mean, it just we had flooding everywhere in hard to get the resources needed. I think they were bringing things in from helicopters.
So regarding the process, you know, our the the the organization that you work for you know, you're not the first to experience a disaster and you don't have to create a way to respond from that.
You know, this has been experienced over and over and over by many many governments and cross our nation in the world for that fact.
Firstly, you know, I would recommend that if if if if you need to get some resources and you need to find a path to get started, go to the ready dot gov site from FEMA. They have a tremendous amount of data toolkits prepared checklists, social media toolkits regarding how to communicate and how to effectively get preparedness documents out or how to, communicate during storms. There's a wealth of information there that exists, to better prepare your community for disasters. Secondly, you know, work closely with your emergency professionals, your organizations, at the state and local levels. I'll work from Annette Valley. You know, Cravan County was the county that ran they had a and actually a an emergency manager, emergency management, individual professional that work within the organization.
And most of the in North Carolina, the way it structured those counties, you know, they report up to the state level, during these events and, you know, kind of they're communicating with the state C. And then you got the county EOC. We had our own EOC because we had a lot of our own resources and things that we needed to operate with and especially with the electric utility, which County didn't really have as much of a interest in that, but it was very important to our community. So each community is gonna be a little bit different, but it's important to maintain those relationships And thirdly, you know, procure vendors, contractors, consultants ahead of time.
You know, with the most stringent procurement bidding rules, and procedures in place, whether that's to see how far federal regulations, if that's state regulations or local because you know, that that comes down to ensuring that that FEMA has ensure that you procure those contracts appropriately.
So that's important I call these blue sky contracts because the best time to do those or whenever the skies are blue and it's really pretty outside and you're not in the middle of a disaster or you're not trying to cover from a disaster. You need to have these things in place, on call engineering contracts, debris management contracts, in different contracts to procure the needs for this community lifelines. What are you gonna do if if you have uh-uh week long outages and your your your uh-uh grocery stores and your your fuel stations are impacted they can't get fuel to put in generators. The
generators, aren't running. So then the refrigerated items are are are going, you know, going bad. There's all kinds of things impacted whenever you think about that as far as supply chains on food and water and housing. You have you have contracts for bottled water if you need it.
If you needed to bring those in, if you needed to drop a hat and say, hey, somebody in Indiana send us, you know, fourteen truckloads of water. Because we need that. Those are all, you know, important things to procure as much as possible ahead of time.
Different power companies, you know, have it having them come in and roll in, you know, set up stage up early on. You see often times prior to a hurricane you know, or disaster event, you'll see trucks upon trucks going down the interstates that our power companies staging up for different municipalities or different co ops or different energy providers like Duke or or progress or or, some of the others. So those those are all important to procure and get get done ahead of time. And finally, you know, develop clear plans procedures and communication protocols that's so critical, in in everything that you're doing in your disaster recovery.
So regarding people, you know, you need to ensure that the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. And, everyone understands her functions, disaster response in in that disaster response recovery. I mean, train to educate your personnel and disaster preparedness. They offer a ton of ICS courses one hundred, two hundred, four hundred.
I mean, it goes up all the way up into the, you know, fifteen hundreds or more. You know, I I I know that, we we required a minimum depending on the level. Of the individuals that were within our organization, whether they took one hundred two hundred only, or whether they took one hundred two hundred four hundred seven hundred eight hundred you know, it just depended on the level of which the person was operating from and their role that they had in the incident command.
Finally, you know, cut cut conduct some drills. I'm sorry regarding people. Conduct drills, you know, you got to, you gotta do exercise. You gotta practice, you know, don't get good at anything unless you practice.
And so there was a lot of times where we would have these smaller storms, not the five that I listed, but some of these other events where we would use those practice opportunities. We would use those as opportunities to kinda go through our procedures. What do we do if, you know, what, you know, put together an EOC? How quickly can we put it up?
Accurately can we, you know, get it operating, get it hot. Some some will have, you know, some organizations have warm EOCs. That's where, you know, they're they're pretty much ready to go. Everything's operating.
You just gotta bring in the people and and start. Hot means you're operating fully cold means that it's a shell of a building and you've gotta really put some time in to bring it up to a full EOC status.
So, you know, conduct those drills, understand what your where your weaknesses are and improve upon those through those practice opportunities.
And then clear chain of command, a lot of that's covered in the ICS stuff. The decision making across the, different process and, crisis. And then ultimately that training, and and going through those exercises better prepares you to understand who's got what role, what their role is, what their responsibilities are, who reports to who. So all of that is is really important when you talk about people And finally, you know, technology, gosh.
Invest as you see here, and I'm I'll get in the kind of the work order system when we saw that. That was one of the the big breakdowns in in our system. You know, I I talked about the noah going up and and having the tablets chiseled in stone, you know, or the it it was we had a very, very weak, work order system and technology. So you gotta invest in the necessary technology and infrastructure to support your disaster prepared and efforts. You know, this may include setting up communication systems, data backups, recovery solutions, emergency notification systems, code red is a big one here in North Carolina, that you can use that, you know, puts out alerts to your entire community.
And again, work order systems, Bradley's got one here that that's shown on your screen. This is a asset essentials, which great for taking inventory of your assets, understanding what all assets you have, what the condition of those are, what the maintenance logs are, knowing and understanding what you have so that when they get damaged, you know what the pre disaster condition was. You can prove that you are working on them and that you you are actually, maintaining those. And then, obviously, when they get damaged in the storm, it makes your makes your work, a lot easier in documenting all the things that you have done so that you can speed up the process and recovery.
That was one of our, like I said, this was one of our largest breakdowns during Irene. We just did not have a good a good work order inventory since we didn't know what all the assets were out there. People have them in little black logs about, you know, when they had worked on this, they had to go back for for black log after black log after black log of of little notebooks of of trying to find out the last time they maintained something or or, you know, did some improvements on something. So it it was very, very laborious, to try to get the information needed so that we could submit the documentation to prove that we were maintaining this and that we were doing it appropriately.
And here's the records that we have to show it so that we could actually get the funding or the grant resources back from FEMA to to restore that.
So as you can see here, a great opportunity here where you can take information, plug it in, it's data that can be used by anybody that comes and goes in your organization.
And it it's a great way to issue out work orders when things done if something needs to be worked on and quite frankly building upon your capital improvement plan. I mean, gosh, you know, if you know what what what the future holds in in the improvements you need to do to your assets, then you can build capital improvement plans outside of disasters.
And and work work in those systems to try to try to, develop those plans and set your financials up for the next year.
You know, it's important to figure out ways to collect and safely store all of this. Obviously, that's important. You know, you're gonna have disaster events that impact things regularly scheduled maintenance, digital tools, enhancing your data accessibility, efficiency collaboration, and, I think it it's paramount for you to have good data, good access, and understand what you own and what you've got to maintain and keep because you certainly don't wanna leave money on the table because once the disaster's over and your your window of opportunity to to reimburse yourselves for those kind of things. If you don't know what your assets are and then you come back and find something's damaged, then you're just out of luck. You know, and that's not a good place to be. It's not a good position to put your taxpayers in.
Awesome. Thank you, Mart. That was a wealth of of great information and and and talking about making sure, there's clear, direction around roles and and what, you know, what people will be expected to do doing these disasters, building good habits, leveraging, technology to make sure your process or be it at here too. So really great points.
That leads us into our our first poll for for the audience. We're gonna get some participation And, and so the first poll question we are going to present is, very simple. Yes or no. Do you have a system for recording maintenance activities and its impact on the infrastructure condition?
So as as you respond to that, we'll we'll definitely take that into consideration as we get into some of the other elements of our conversation, but really, really great, beneficial information, Mark, you just shared there. So And it looks like most of you have, responded. So, it's it looks like it's a a mixed, fifty percent, reply yes, and fifty percent, of you said, you do not have a maintenance, system. So With that in mind, we're going to kind of shift into the second portion of our conversation, Mark, and and that is really gonna consist of, your based on your experience, what are the actions you recommend while a storm or natural disaster is unfolding?
That can be taken to minimize risk of damages, injury, and on a more serious note.
Seen some of the headlines more recently with, the wildfires and and Hawaii and and the impact of that. So just give us some of your exactly be done, while that's unfolding.
Well, you know, one of the key points, you know, you gotta, you to coordinate with your other governmental agencies.
I will tell you that in in, you know, and I'm gonna speak specifically more from Hurricane Florence. As you can see, that top left picture that's on your on your screen there. That was, a community, low line community within Newborn.
We had thirteen feet of of, storm, related surge, within our community. And, it impacted this community significantly. The top top part of that picture up there. This is a recreation facility we had called Stanley White Recreation Center, and this is probably after a pretty good amount of water had receded at that but there's tons of homes around this particular area that were impacted. And, you know, we we spent a lot of time, prior to this storm as it was coming in. Hey, you know, let you guys need to consider evacuate.
And a lot of times it goes on deaf ears. And and then we continue to send out information. Hey, looks like the storm's getting worse. You need to evacuate.
Eventually, we got to the point where the day before the storm, we actually were we actually had a activity bus activity buses, going through these communities that we knew were low lying areas, begging people door to door with lights and sirens, fire and police right behind the the activity bus offering to take these people and get them out of these communities, these low lying areas because people were still refusing to have you can't make people evacuate. Even though it's a mandatory evacuation, you can't make people evacuate.
So that that was that wasn't issue.
We ended up probably, I think it was seven or eight hundred water rescues during Hurricane Florence. During the middle of this storm, we were cutting people out of roofs, you know, cutting the roofs off of houses to try to get people who were stuck in attics. We were I mean, we had the Cajun Navy had had come up from Louisiana and and some places down there. And we had we had the National Guard from that one picture. I remember showed showed earlier, they were going around rescuing people in in, you know, some of those, large higher vehicles that they have, fifth wheels and and going around just trying to trying to rescue people all over our community. So, you know, we fortunately didn't have even though we had to do eight hundred water rescues, did not have a single loss of life during the event, but that is not the case in a lot of disasters.
There was a disaster. You know, Florence did have this. We didn't have any new room. They were they were other places where they occur.
But, you know, it it's difficult when you start having to make decisions, not necessarily just for your immunity, but I'm sitting here having to make a decision whether or not I'm gonna send my firemen out to rescue somebody that we knew had been warned had been knocked on the door and everything else that you need to get out. This is an extremely dangerous event. The flooding is gonna get bad, and they refuse to leave. So it's it's a it's a difficult call.
You know, we we had, again, I've talked about mutual a contracts and and and making sure to do those in blue sky. You know, security after an event. When all of this stuff is damaged, people have to leave their homes, all their belongings, so forth, and so on. Unfortunately, you've got some really bad people in the world come in and start looting in these situations and and securing and and, having mutual aid contracts for police departments across state to come in.
We had people from Gastonia, people from Raleigh, people. We had all kinds of different, relationships that we had, with with people coming in to help, ensure security and safety within our community and we quarantine certain areas of air you know, that were severely damaged because we knew that there's gonna be people come in to take advantage of that. And that's very unfortunate, but it's it's so it's it's so much part of the preparedness, but during the event, you've gotta make the decisions whether to send people out to rescue. You've gotta make the decisions whether or not to call in the mutual aid And so, making sure to try to minimize again the risk and the damage and the injury and the loss of life, those are important decisions that you've gotta make and and, within your community.
Having a central place for shelter access to food for people that that have lost, the ability to do so. Those are imported as well. Uh-uh communicating where opportunities are or what what's open, where who still has power, who still has fuel.
You know, granted it creates a a madhouse. The lines get long at certain gas stations that, you know, have fuel and they have power be able to do that, but it it it's important to be able to communicate that.
But, you know, communicate communication challenges and the use of technology are great for record keeping during an event. So, during Hurricane Florence and and all the other after Irene, instead of doing the old work order hand me down paper system, we we started having it documented, in in data and and through our work order system, And that way guys could be out of the field. They get their work orders. They're out there in the field.
They move on from the next item to the next item. Or they have a damaged asset they can actually, you know, take condition of that asset while it's while they're out there in the field and it's damaged. And then, you know, or shut down a street, whatever it may be, those are opportunities where you have accurate documentation of the damage that's happening so that it eases your ability to to, you know, restore and actually get refunded through FEMA process of of of, you know, submitting those, for post disaster, restoration back to pre disaster conditions. So it's it's such an an important vital part of of you know, that during the process, as you can see here, this is an example.
I mean, this is probably a blue sky opportunity here, but you've got potholes. You've got water main breaks. You've got things that you're tracking. And this may be over time, you know, within this work order system here, but it can be used for disaster events too, where you have documentation, videos, pictures that are linked to specific segments within your GIS system or whatever, your work order system to where you can show maintenance logs.
And post disaster, you see, oh, we've got three new potholes because a sub grade's been damaged on this road. So we could probably get refunded to restore some of this this pavement or of the subgrade with on the that's on this street or, you know, we had, a a a sewer line that that, you know, had an issue. There was caving in of of the pavement, which go, you know, it was due to, surcharge within the sewer system because of water, infiltrating in and other places that call just wash out. That was a a disaster related event, which ultimately could could cause, for an opportunity to mitigate that in the future post disaster.
So Workorder systems are great. The technology is there. You're able to work from it. During the event, pre the pre the event, post the event, and it it just speeds up the process to which you can restore your community back to its predes after condition.
Thank you, Mark. All great points. You mentioned a few things. Just being able to build those habits in, so that in the midst of a storm, or post storm, your team is already acclimated to capturing data, speeding up the process for reimbursement so that that information's accurate, and the taxpayer at the end of the day is is not having to, flip that bill or or that cost being wasted. So that that's gonna lead to our our second, we have a two part poll question that we're gonna present.
And again, this question, the first one is going to be around, do you have a comprehensive inventory of your community's assets?
And it's just yes or no. So while you're responding to that, Mark, you you brought up some great points and and knowing beforehand what the the pre disaster edition is, so that you can more accurately paint the picture for, FEMA and other agencies, your insurance, companies to, to better explain, why that that investment is necessary and and the funds that are needed.
And so, it looks like, most of you have, responded. So, you know, based on the results, it looks like a third of you, responded that you do currently have a comprehensive list And then about two thirds of the group, responded that, that you do not. So with that in mind, I'm going to pivot to the second part of that two pole question is what software or medium do you use to store these inventories?
So you'll see that there are some responses, one B and GIS, paper records, you know, Mark brought that up. In in terms of some of the archaic nature of of where, the the city was prior. And then, of course, you may have an asset management software. You may also be using your work order system or, anything that we haven't mentioned, you can select other, for for that response.
And so, while we're waiting on, you respond to that, Mark, I know we talked a little bit prior to this and and how you, really saw the value of having a system, you know, after you've kinda gone through this one time.
Maybe can you talk about some of the things that you did to get your team acclimated you know, with technology, because that's always, you know, a hurdle change management. And you've already mentioned there are people who embrace technology, those who don't.
Well, the embracing the technology is the hardest one because you're always gonna have folks that that just do not want to change how they've done things. It goes back to the who moved my cheese, theory. I think if anybody's read that book, I can't remember the guy that was the author of it, but but anyways, you know, you had him in awe and then you had the, the two mice and the the mice ran off, because their cheese moved and and and you had the other ones just refused to change. They didn't wanna do it. So you're always gonna have those that just refuse change.
And and of course at that point, you've got to design? Are are they in the right role? Do they get it? Do they want it? Do they have capacity to do it? You know, are they in the right are they right people in the right seat? That that's a decision if you've gotta make as a leader organization, especially if you're looking to move it to a to a to a different, phase and error.
But but, you know, you've got to start with the training. You gotta start with the people. You've gotta, you know, find out their willingness to do so, and then you've gotta train them. They're gonna have some issues. They're always gonna be hiccups. The other part of it is is you've gotta take, you know, what data, what records you have that are in the paper form or in some other form and get it into a digital format.
Scanning documents is a tremendous thing for an intern to do, you know, or or or finding somebody that's willing to volunteer within your organization and we need all this stuff scanned. We need it, you know, properly, fold, you know, in a in a proper folders documented correctly, put in the right spots.
You know, this particular asset, this particular street, whatever it is, maintenance logs, whatever, so important to get all that. And it that's a lot of work. It it takes a ton of time, to do that. You've gotta have somebody that's gonna manage it within your organization.
Obviously, if they're gonna do it themselves, that's great because they're gonna have a lot more your reality. But if it's somebody's volunteering in in turn, you're gonna have to have somebody. It's gonna have some oversight over that, and somebody's gonna have to own it. You gotta have somebody's nectarine if it doesn't turn Right?
So, you know, that so that's the important part. You know, you've got to you you've got to work on the people and then you've gotta work on actually getting a base to start with, but you gotta start somewhere. And if you don't start somewhere, then you're gonna constantly be be behind.
The eight ball when it comes to disaster events or or your asset, maintenance or records and and taking care of your community's assets. Absolutely.
Yep. Starting, where they are today and then kinda build on that gradually so that as you stated, wonderfully where you're not in the midst of a a disaster and then you're trying to, you know, get people to acclimate. So It's like going and talking it's like going and talking to a financial adviser adviser, Raven, you know, a financial advisor is like, you know what? I don't you you may not have a lot of money now saved up in the bank, but you gotta start somewhere and just start.
Start start now, start, you know, you gotta do something. You know what I'm saying? You just can't continue to wait. So so get it get it rolling.
And in the end, you'll catch up some point, it'll be a it it'll be a huge benefit to your community.
Well, we're gonna move into a little bit more of the post disaster. You've you've hit on some of these key points already, but, just wanted to just make sure we, touched on this. What are some of the critical things that you see during the recovery phase. And just thinking about communication, and and then also dispatching your team to help get back online as as quickly as possible.
Sure. You know, the well, communication dispatching our teams, cleaning up repairs, you know, once that storm's gone, you you've got weeks of of of, clean up that's necessary. And I will I'll give you I'll give you an experience that we had. So Irene, very bad storm, but not nearly as bad as Florence, and it took us a long time to recover from from Irene.
A lot of it was because we were trying to do stuff ourselves. We did not procure a lot of great debris contracts prior to. We should have, we did some post, but we you know, to help us out, but it wasn't to the level that we needed to be.
And and it it really impacted the speed of which our recovery, was done. It it created worrisome things on my, there's a lot of sleepless knots I had because, you know, if it wasn't done correctly based on the c c f r, regulations of FEMA, then, you know, you lose the potential funding reimbursement.
Lots of sleepless knots on whether or not we're doing it the correct way. Get all that stuff done beforehand. There was a huge difference. It was a notable difference between that and Florence. Florence was the worst storm that we dealt with in in two thousand eighteen, tremendous, impacts to the newborn area.
I told my public works director sitting in the EOC and I and and it it it happened. I can't remember the exact dates now, but it was it was the early part of September. And I always we always have the mumfest festival.
It was always the the latter part of of or the first part of October. It was a month later. And I told him, I said, my gosh, we are going to have this place cleaned up and we're gonna have that festival because that festival is gonna be critical for our community. They're gonna need a break.
They're gonna want some positive to come out of this after such a bad disaster and they busted busted their tails. We had great contracts in place. The efficiencies were there. We knew what we needed to do.
And we had that place cleaned up and had a festival of a hundred thousand people at that, mumfest that, and it was four weeks later. And it is tremendous tremendous impacts that we had with our group, in noticeable difference because we had good data. We had that. We knew where stuff was.
We had access to resources. We contract set in place, and it just made such a huge difference.
On the backside of that, because we had some contracts in place, it made a huge difference in the timeliness of our submissions to get reimbursed.
Timely submissions of reimbursement are critical anytime you're dealing with the disasters because all of that money is coming out of your phone balance, out of your organization to start with. It is massive amounts of money. Our our our I'd hate to know what the the number was, but it was a pretty large number. I'm talking in the ten to twenty million dollar range that we were coming out of pocket to actually recover from this. And that's money that your organization, your community, your your city taxpayers are eating at that time until you can show that you've properly documented and that you've had damage and you can justify that reimbursement from them. And so to have all the data, have all the assets in place, and and know what their conditions are, and be able to submit that stuff timely recoit it it allowed us to get our reimbursement back a lot faster on a lot of things. It also allowed us to position ourselves better to get on things that we didn't even know about.
And and so that was super important. So strong fund balances, you're gonna have to carry that weight for a while and make sure that you've got the data and the and and everything in place so that you can accurately and and and, aggressively, get your funding back through the female reimbursement process.
Awesome. Thank you, Mark. Great points. We're gonna move into our last poll question for for the today, and this one is going to focus on your your point about fund balances.
So this poll question, what percentage of fund balances does your community maintain to address disasters and unforeseen, expenses. So you can see a couple of different options here.
Ranging from zero to ten percent. Maybe you, budget for ten to twenty percent and on up.
So if you take a moment there to respond to that and we'll we'll capture the results on that. But, Mark, while the while that's being filled out, just curious in terms of your experience and and going through these different, disasters, is there sort of a best practice or, or certain range within, having a fun balance that seems to work best.
Obviously, the more you have, the better. But Sure.
Yeah. So so, you know, in in every state, every every location is different. North Carolina, they have a local government commission and, that that requires. They do audits every year. They they they, require municipalities to maintain a certain fund balance percentage. I think the minimum is seven or eight percent of of your typical operations cost, which is very low.
I we when when I joined newborn, they had actually got the big nasty gram letter from the LGC that their fund balance was too low. There were some things going on. They weren't making decisions appropriately. And actually, the LGC come in and take in North Carolina can come in and take over municipality if they're not properly, maintaining their financials and the fund balance to support the services that they need to provide to a community.
We were at that level less than that, you know, minimum requirement. And, we had made a point that we were going to try to improve that. And I'll I'm I'm happy to say that whenever I left there, I think it was somewhere around forty five percent. It bounced back and forth between a year, year over year. But, you know, we we tried to maintain a pretty healthy fund balance because if we didn't, it it severely impacts your ability as a municipality to operate and function appropriately.
And And keep in mind, all of this money is expended, to get your communities. Let's say your electric utility experiences tremendous amounts of losses, and you've got to cure and buy all of these assets to be able to get your electric system back up. You're carrying the weight of that cost until you connect submit that and get the reimbursement back from FEMA. So FEMA is a grant program.
I mean, it literally is, and you've got to prove that you've followed all the rules seizures in order for you to get that back. So I I would urge and encourage people to to, you know, number one, you've gotta understand the assets that you own what the potential loss is that you could experience what your, you know, your higher risk factors. And and you need to really set those aside to understand. Okay.
Well, here's our assets. Here's how much potential risk that we have in losing.
And then here's our cost to actually recover from the storm through contractual, you know, whatever those may be, whether that's debris, whether that's vegetative, or if it's, demolition debris, or if it's if it's, contractual and make your own on call engineering services or whatever it may be, and then you got your own personnel that you gotta maintain, call cause you gotta have a tremendous amount of overtime for them working hours, in the EOC and and and restoring your community back So you you really need to factor in all three of those things, to determine what an adequate fund balance policy you should get adopted.
I I would recommend that you get adopted by the board because then it kinda puts a little bit of teeth puts a little fire under them to say, you know what? If it drops below this, our responsibility to ensure that we're bringing in the revenue to do that and that may require, you know, an increase in the tax rate or it may require, you know, some other, cup or, of expenditure in some sort or delay in some programs you wanna do, whatever it may be. So in the end, you've got to be prepared financially to meet the demands of any kind of disaster event. Gonna have and be and be faced with, with your community.
So that's some of the recommendations that I would have. Awesome.
Well, we got just a few minutes remaining.
And, Mark, just before we close out, any final thoughts that you wanna leave, with us. Yeah. Just, you know, emphasis on process, you know, people and and, technology, know what your documentation is, make sure you've got it documented, make sure you understand what you own, what you what you maintain, all the records for it. You know, try to push your community to be as resilient as possible, you know, where you did have damage, what's the way in which you can prove that in the future so that you don't have to deal with it and, you know, what what's a way that you can become more resilient to, impacts of of disaster type events.
And again, I'm speaking strictly from my experiences, hurricanes, you know, I I I am not the expert in fire, that, you know, you're dealing with in California or you're dealing with in Hawaii and things like that. But just from a from a from a hurricane standpoint, I can tell you from my experience that it's important for you to to have the technology, have the data, have the information be quick in what you do and and effective in in your recovery.
It's so important. And then, you know, restart your day to day operations as quickly as possible. You know, that that's always important. And through the procurement of, blue sky contract, you can start that process earlier because you're bringing in that help, that assistance, whether that's on call engineering services, whether that is, you know, through through debris management contracts and and stuff like that.
Have that stuff ready to go because if, you can you can you can enact it. It's good to go. Those people, they start ramping up their resources show up, it's just so critical and speed of what your recovery happens. And that way, you, you know, when a disaster happens, you still got your day to day operations to do.
Still gotta do these things. These these same calls are gonna get in that you're getting daily on top of all the other stuff that you gotta do recover from storm. So so don't delay, you know, get those contracts in place in the blue sky, and then that way you can get to your day to day operations better because that's what your staff know and are good at.
Really, really appreciate it. Mark, you've shared a lot of great wisdom and and information with us. So we really appreciate that. And, Tracy, I will turn it back over to you.
Thank you very much Raven. Thank you both. Really fantastic information for our audience. Thank you to everybody who joined us today.
You will get a and, like, email that links to this recording tomorrow so you can watch it. On the screen now, the twenty twenty three FEMA Brick Program, This is a really important program for you all to pay attention to. There's grant funding for hazard mitigation efforts available. You need to get your plans in, at specific deadlines for North Carolina.
That's coming up really quick on October second. All of the states have varying dates.
So check on your date. Also connect with Mary. She is really an expert in this place, and she can help you work through, all of these, all of these efforts. I'll make sure that this information is available to you in the emails that follow this webinar as well.
So thank you all for joining, Mark. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. And Raven, thank you for guiding us through the discussion. Have a fantastic day.