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Brian Luke Community Blogger, WGRZ-TV

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Looking to the Future as Rebuilding Begins

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Whole towns in Alabama were destroyed in April when more than 60 tornadoes ravaged the state in one day. A study by the University of Alabama found that the April 27 tornadoes killed 244 people in Alabama and destroyed or made uninhabitable 14,000 homes. Job losses related to the tornadoes topped 13,200 and the state gross domestic product is expected to decrease by up to $1.3 billion. As communities begin to reconstruct, many are considering rebuilding in a manner that reduces future damages through sustainable and resilient rebuilding. Several communities are working to rebuild with the help of state agencies including the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency in a program called long-term community recovery. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is another member of the team that works to facilitate the rebuilding by assisting with damage assessments, planning and acting as a resource for funding sources, among other services. The goal of the program is a recovery document that maps out the rebuilding process based on community needs and wants as well as how to get funding to offset the costs. While simply building and repairing to pre-storm standards may seem quicker and easier, communities may find their efforts erased by the next storm that comes along. This reality is why some communities that experience a major disaster commit to building stronger, more energy efficient buildings and protecting natural resources. “Building in a manner that minimizes loss is worth the extra effort because it lessens disruption to people’s lives, reduces the cost of storm repairs and saves jobs,” said John Boyle, a senior planner and contractor with FEMA. Boyle has been a community planner for 25 years and for the past six years has focused on Long-Term Community Recovery for FEMA. “If you use sustainable practices to build a library, your operating costs can be reduced,” he said. “While it can cost more to construct, it will save money in the long run and if you add resilience, it will be more storm resistant.” Sustainable building practices meet present needs without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs. Techniques include using the orientation of the building to increase natural sunlight for heat and light, using LED lighting and reducing water consumption through low-flow fixtures. The construction is also “tighter” to minimize air leaks that cause the loss of heating and cooling. Resilience in building makes a structure able to withstand forces of nature including storms and earthquakes. It also means reducing risks, by building to higher standards and locating buildings away from hazards such as flooding. “Building a home with insulated concrete foam block makes it highly resilient,” Boyle said. “It’s also highly energy efficient ©¤ heating and cooling costs can drop by 25 percent,” he said. “It may cost more initially, but it will save money and be resistant to storms. Add a safe room and you know your family will be safe.” A number of grant programs have been established by private foundations, state and federal governments and companies to offset the increased costs of building safer and stronger structures. Grants are also available through faith-based and non-profit organizations. Information about funding opportunities will be available as part of the long-term community recovery program. FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

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