Hurricane Series: Post Hurricane Recovery

Hurricane damage of a home that has had a tree fall through the roof.
on 11 September 2020
  • hurricane season
  • recovery
  • damage

In this series so far, we have explained two major effects from hurricanes, debris and stormwater, as well as how engineers and planners work to mitigate those effects. Another effect of hurricanes is physical damage to residences and homes.

Once the debris is removed and the floodwater recedes, how can people start to rebuild and strengthen their communities? And where does that money come from? One possible answer is the utilization of CDBG and HMGP funds to structurally enhance and elevate homes that are damaged and/or in need of relocation.

If you are confused about those acronyms or what “structural enhancement” is, don’t fret! We’ll explain those right now.


WHAT IS CDBG, IN TERMS OF POST-HURRICANE RECOVERY?

CDBG stands for a “Community Development Block Grant”. These grants are provided by HUD (Housing and Urban Development) to state and local governments, and they must be used for the purpose of strengthening and rebuilding local communities. These purposes include community facilities and utility infrastructure improvements that aren’t necessarily storm related. There is even CDBG grant money available to help communities which have been economically devastated by the current pandemic.

In terms of post hurricane recovery, we focus on CDBG-DR (disaster recovery) grants. These grants are intended to help communities rebuild following natural disasters (hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, wildfires, etc.).


Icons for Hurricanes, Tornados, Earthquakes and Fires.

North Carolina and Virginia governments have been awarded many grants over the last ten years to assist citizens who have been victims of devastating storms. These funds have been used to provide repairs to damaged homes or replace homes which have been damaged beyond repair. This money is generally allocated shortly after a storm event, often as part of a federal disaster relief bill. Summit has been privileged to work actively in facilitating this grant process, which can last many years beyond the time when the rain stops falling and the wind stops blowing.

Our planning team specializes in helping communities find and apply for these grants, as well as helping to administer them once awarded. With federal programs, there is quite a bit of paperwork involved in assuring the money is properly spent and accounted for, which requires specialized training, knowledge and patience.

Once the grant is awarded, various engineering and architecture professionals work together to assess the needs of individual properties and determine the best way to address them. Summit is currently assisting one agency with assessing damaged homes after storms and specifying repairs and/or replacements. As a part of this project, our architecture and structural teams in Raleigh are currently in the process of designing a catalog of affordable housing plans, ranging from 1 bedroom to 5 bedrooms, which can be constructed throughout the state as needed to replace homes destroyed by natural disasters.


Rendering of a home that is included in the catalog of replacement homes.

Rendering Example of a Home Included in the Catalog of Affordable Housing Plans


WHAT IS HMGP, IN TERMS OF POST-HURRICANE RECOVERY?

Even though you now understand CBDG, you will find that you are not yet finished with our hurricane recovery alphabet soup! Next up is HMGP, which stands for “Hazard Mitigation Grant Program”. These grants are provided by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Administration). While CBDG-DR grants focus on repairing and rebuilding immediately after a storm, HMGP grants focus on alleviating future damage by making structures and families stronger and more resilient against future storm events. These are longer term programs, where the money tied to a particular storm event may be budgeted years after the event has occurred. These programs focus on homes located in flood plains and have been previously flooded. These mitigations (which are completely voluntary on the part of a homeowner) can take two forms:

  • Acquisitions, where the municipality buys the homeowner out of their property (at market value) to allow them to relocate to a less flood prone area. The home is then demolished, and the property reverts to government ownership, generally to be used as open or park space.
  • Elevations, where the home is physically raised up and placed on a new foundation such that the floor elevation is at least 2’ above the flood line.

As with CDBG programs, HMGP programs require the work of planners to assist in procuring and administering the grants. After the grant money has arrived, the work of engineers and surveyors is required to prepare for the acquisitions and design the elevations.

Summit is currently involved in a number of these projects statewide, including in Carrboro, Durham, Edgecombe County, New Bern and Onslow County.


WHAT DO STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS DO TO STRENGTHEN HOMES IN HAZARDOUS AREAS

So how is this accomplished? Here is an example. Summit is currently in design for the largest active HMGP program in the state, in and around the historic Town of Princeville in Edgecombe County. This low-lying town on the banks of the Tar River has been repeatedly flooded over the last 25 years, and with the current changes in the climate, the situation is only getting worse. The current grant program, when fully funded, will lift as many as 90 homes to new foundations, which will be between 2’ and 10’ higher than their current elevation.

To prepare the plans for a program like this, each of the 90 lots must be surveyed to determine boundaries and encroachments, as well as determine the current elevation and BFE (base flood elevation). Structural engineers must visit each home to determine if its physical condition allows for elevation as well as confirm details regarding the foundation type and layouts.

In short, much time is spent by our structures teams in very small crawlspaces, laying in the dirt, and communing with spiders!

After we finish communing, designs are prepared for a house mover to raise the house up, demolish the foundation, and construct a new foundation, which is taller and generally much stronger than what currently exists. This protects the home from rising flood waters during a storm and strengthens the house against wind damage.


Image showing the before and after of a home in Carrboro, N.C.

Before (left) and After (right) of a home located in Carrboro, N.C.


WHY IS THIS WORK SO IMPORTANT TO COMMUNITIES?

As engineers and architects, we are used to completing projects to improve the places people drive, live, work, shop, learn and worship. As we’ve all spent much more time at home recently, we understand how important it is for families to have a secure place to call home. There are few things more unsettling than the loss of one’s home and the fear and insecurity that comes with it. While CDBG and HMGP projects are not the most visible or glamorous projects around, the satisfaction of meeting a family in crisis and helping repair, replace or strengthen their living space makes hurricane recovery one of the most rewarding project types for us.


MEET THE AUTHOR

Chris Berg,PE Headshot

Chris Berg, PE
After 28 years and 4 million square feet of designed building space, Chris Berg sits as our Structural Engineering Manager. Chris loves working at Summit because of challenges that keep him on his toes while working with clients in both the private and public sectors.

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