Initiative addresses community needs post-Matthew

Dr. Gavin Smith, who heads the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery & Resilience Initiative, walks along Main Street in downtown Fair Bluff, N.C., one of six communities that is the focus of the project. Photo by Darien Williams.
Dr. Gavin Smith, who heads the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative, walks along Main Street in downtown Fair Bluff, N.C., one of six communities that is the focus of the project. Photo by Darien Williams.

Matthew work continues in 6 impacted communities 

Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) researchers, state officials and students from the University of North Carolina system have begun field work to address the unique needs of communities in eastern North Carolina impacted by Hurricane Matthew.

They are working as part of the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative (Initiative), which began earlier this year to address recovery and rebuilding issues in six communities: Princeville, Fair Bluff, Seven Springs, Windsor, Kinston and Lumberton. Since early spring, a team led by CRC Director and UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Dr. Gavin Smith has met with leaders from the six communities to learn about the particular challenges the communities face.

The Initiative is funded by the State of North Carolina (through disaster-recovery appropriations and through the N.C. Policy Collaboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, through the Flood Apex program.

The towns face unique issues and are located in four distinct watersheds: Fair Bluff and Lumberton along the Lumber River; Kinston and Seven Springs in the Neuse River watershed; Princeville in the Tar-Pamlico watershed; and Windsor along the Cashie River.

Several projects underway

Princeville, N.C., officials give a tour of the damage to the town museum, which was damaged by Hurricane Matthew. Photo by Jessica Southwell.
Princeville, N.C., officials give a tour of the damage to the town museum, which was damaged by Hurricane Matthew. Photo by Jessica Southwell.

Within the larger Initiative, recovery planning is underway to support each of the six communities, which involves deep community engagement throughout the process. The recovery planning process includes creating a broad community vision, a set of associated goals and the identification of policies and projects. Common themes addressed in a recovery plan include housing, infrastructure, public facilities, public health, hazard mitigation, economic development and finance. Recovery planning projects intended to help residents turn their communities’ vision of recovery into reality include:

  • A team from North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) College of Design, led by Professor Andrew Fox, is designing housing prototypes for residents who are being bought out and will relocate. The proposed housing designs will ultimately inform bid specifications used by builders to construct replacement housing in the affected communities, but located outside the floodplain.

The NCSU College of Design has also developed open space guidance to be used by communities participating in the buyout. Once acquired, the home is demolished and the land turned into open space. Appropriately designed, this open space can serve as local amenities and as community greenways, pocket parks and flood retention areas. The housing designs and open space guidance have been combined in a report titled “HomePlace,” and will be placed online once completed.

  • Dr. Mai Nguyen, of the Department of City and Regional Planning at UNC-CH, is leading an effort along with several UNC-CH graduate students to focus on housing and relocation strategies. This effort focuses on families who have chosen to accept buyouts of their properties, including interviews with residents to ascertain family size, whether they would be able to return to a new home nearby (but outside of the floodplain) and other factors that can inform the types and locations of replacement housing to be built.
  • The HMDRRI is also working with North Carolina Emergency Management, including Lea Sabbag, a former Career Development Grant recipient at the CRC. Sabbag is part of a group studying affordable housing solutions for impacted communities.

    Princeville, N.C., Commissioner Milton Bullock (orange shirt) gives HMDRRI staff and students a tour of Hurricane Matthew-impacted areas of the town. Photo by Jessica Southwell.
    Princeville, N.C., Commissioner Milton Bullock (orange shirt) gives HMDRRI staff and students a tour of Hurricane Matthew-impacted areas of the town. Photo by Jessica Southwell.
  • Sarah Odio of the Development Finance Initiative, part of the School of Government at UNC-CH, is leading a study focused on the financial viability and associated economic development opportunities in three hard-hit communities.
  • The N.C. Rural Center is funding an effort to identify varied flood retrofit techniques for historic downtown buildings. These funds will enable experts from the Association of State Floodplain Managers to conduct this study. The results and estimated costs will be used to inform efforts to identify funds to implement the techniques identified.

Community needs assessed

As part of the process of gathering information to assist in recovery planning for six communities impacted by Hurricane Matthew, Initiative staff, students and partners made community visits from May 15-17, 2017. During visits to Fair Bluff, Kinston, Seven Springs, Windsor and Princeville, the project team toured damaged historic downtown and residential areas, and spoke with local stakeholders on issues faced on the road to recovery.

N.C. State University Professor Andrew Fox, right, discusses redesign options for buildings in Seven Springs, N.C., with Mayor Stephen Potter, second from right. Photo by Mary Lide Parker.
N.C. State University Professor Andrew Fox, right, discusses redesign options for buildings in Seven Springs, N.C., with Mayor Stephen Potter, second from right. Photo by Mary Lide Parker.

An important objective of the HMDRRI is to link schools within the University of North Carolina system through resource-sharing agreements to assist targeted communities with unmet needs. Initiative leadership is working with local governments and the N.C. Governor’s Office, in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Planning and Capacity Building group.

All six communities have faced significant impacts from Hurricane Matthew and subsequent flooding, and have modest-to-low capacity to address recovery needs, which will necessitate working with them for 1-2 years.

Another important aspect of the Initiative is to provide a hands-on learning environment for students, who gain practical experience not found in the classroom.

“Working with my peers on this project, outside of a more prescriptive experience, and dealing with many unknowns, has presented a different set of challenges than working in a classroom,” UNC-Chapel Hill student and CRC Education and Workforce Development grant recipient Colleen Durfee said. “I am working through these situations with talented, passionate individuals on the project who want to impact change in these communities. Recovery can be unpredictable, and we can use what we have learned while being challenged – you don’t get that in the classroom.”

For instance, some design concepts for impacted communities were proposed during a student competition, DesignWeek, which was held at NCSU’s College of Design in January. Students from multiple North Carolina universities came together to assess the best ways for two impacted communities studied under the Initiative – Windsor and Kinston (and a third, Greenville) to rebuild.

About 70 students worked in teams, along with participating schools’ faculty, industry representatives and community leaders, to research and create designs that mitigate flood damage and improve resiliency in the towns. Some student perspectives can be found on the CRC blog.

Four teams of students won student awards – three Analysis & Planning Honor Awards and one Analysis & Planning Merit Award – at the 2017 American Society of Landscape Architects Southeastern Regional Conference in June.

Other efforts

Seven Springs, N.C., business owner and resident Ronda Hughes, center, discusses the impacts of Hurricane Matthew on her property. Photo by Mary Lide Parker.
Seven Springs, N.C., business owner and resident Ronda Hughes, center, discusses the impacts of Hurricane Matthew on her property. Photo by Mary Lide Parker.

Additional researchers are working with the six communities, including some involved in other CRC projects. CRC Principal Investigator Dr. Jen Horney has proposed working with the Department of Health and Human Services to apply her CRC project’s disaster recovery indicators in impacted communities.

Another project is closely tied to CRC’s participation in the Flood Apex project, a FEMA initiative that brings new and emerging technologies together to increase communities’ resilience to flood events and to provide predictive analytic tools for floods. A Floyd-Matthew Study component of Flood Apex will explore the hazard mitigation policies, plans, investments, activities and actions taken by the State of North Carolina after Hurricane Floyd (1999) to increase resilience. These actions, which could have lessened the impact of Hurricane Matthew, will be studied to improve understanding of the impacts of state- and local-level mitigation actions over the course of repeat disasters.

For more information on the CRC’s involvement in Hurricane Matthew recovery, and to find resources for other UNC-CH involvement, visit the Hurricane Matthew Information page. To see images from site visits, visit the CRC Flickr account.