Sunday, May 8, 2011

Post-disaster wake-up call: Prompting nations to a recovery-ready mind-set

Can the world prepare to recover from disasters like Japan’s? Houston-based housing expert says yes, urges U.S. and world governments to forge recovery policy.

We can’t prevent them. In many cases, we can’t even predict them. Natural disasters will happen; they inevitably kill, destroy and displace. Whether a struck nation faces staggering losses or mild, a disaster’s aftermath is something nations can prepare for.

Japan’s plight following the March 11 earthquake and resulting tsunami begs the question: What can be done to minimize residual damage after nature wreaks its havoc? As crews work to recover more than 25,000 missing or dead, Japan also must tend to more than 320,000 evacuees who have fled ruined towns and unsafe levels of radiation.

Watching the post-disaster challenges unfold, other nations begin to explore their own ability to recover from disaster. How would we shelter hundreds of thousands of displaced people? Where would we find the food and water to sustain them if local supply is contaminated or wiped out altogether? How do we get that food and water to them when the usual delivery methods have been compromised? How do we supply required medicine and medical attention?

“We have the know-how to address ‘the disaster after the disaster,’” says recovery expert Guy Rankin, who led large-scale disaster recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast after an unprecedented series of hurricanes displaced more than a quarter-million people. He emphasizes that although we can’t control nature, we can adopt a controlled, systematic approach to tackling follow-on disasters of displaced people, destroyed communities, food and water shortages, access to medicine and health care, and more.

“First comes the understanding that one disaster often follows another,” he advises. “Expect it. That way, you understand the need for a recovery plan that can roll out even as you tackle the second or third crisis that comes.”

Rankin, executive director of Harris County Housing Authority in Houston, Texas, speaks from experience. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina brought 250,000 evacuees to emergency shelters across Houston. As Rankin and his small staff hustled to place evacuees in temporary housing throughout the region, Hurricane Rita was predicted to travel up the Houston Ship Channel with wind speeds that threatened to bring down the Astrodome. “This horrifying picture began taking shape: our biggest emergency shelter potentially collapsing on 25,000 people that we’re trying desperately to house!” Rankin recalls. “We were sending people all over the country to clear out the Astrodome, and then we had to evacuate Houston – a region of four million people – at the same time,” Rankin says.

In September 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall near Houston, causing billions of dollars’ worth of damage and leaving the fourth-largest U.S. city without power for 14 days (or 21 days, in some spots). Rankin’s team mobilized a points-of-distribution system that dispatched 3,000 18-wheelers from the Astrodome to deliver water, ice, and food throughout the three most severely affected counties. “We fed several hundred thousand people in the area, all while electricity was out,” Rankin says.

Moving a quarter-million evacuees from emergency shelter to transitional housing to rebuilt communities, Rankin recognized shortcomings in the United States’ approach to disaster recovery. “The way the system is set up – and you'll find systems like this worldwide – our disaster experts are not really recovery experts. They are emergency experts. They're the ‘firefighters’ coming to bring you water and food during a disaster, making sure you have medicine and kits. Now, those are crucial things that need to take place, but there is no office in America called the Disaster Recovery Office,” he points out.

Every administration, every president, every country, whether a democracy or a communist country, approaches disaster this way, he continues. “Take Haiti, for instance. When disaster happens [referring to the January 2010 earthquake that claimed 230,000 lives], we run out, we send a bunch of bulldozers, we move the bricks and debris out of the way, and then we let time fade … and nobody really addresses the problem after the disaster,” he says.

Rankin doesn’t downplay the heroism and good will shown by the governments, nonprofit organizations and volunteers who rushed to help in Haiti. Yet, examining the quake from a recovery standpoint, he says these forces often “show up in helicopters, do their thing, pull out, and then there is no coordination of strategy for step-by-step rebuilding. This creates disaster after disaster because some 400,000 people – orphaned children or evacuees who’ve fled to the Haitian hillsides – are still looking for help from someone. But who is that someone?” he asks.

That someone doesn't exist because there is no one person in charge to coordinate all the private relief donations, all the nonprofit funds and all the funds from federal and local agencies. Rankin points out a pressing need for a disaster recovery “czar,” a point person who coordinates the use of relief funds and oversees the disaster-torn area’s journey to put the community back together, step by step.

While arguing the need for a disaster recovery officer, Rankin also plans to advocate for laws to streamline recovery efforts, outlining the steps and timelines to be observed by those who receive money for recovery efforts. “We know what to do to put communities back together, and we know how long it should take,” he says. But often, delays come when those who carry out the recovery must wait on funds and approvals and bureaucracy.

The lessons Rankin has learned through Katrina and Ike recovery efforts extend beyond housing – even beyond U.S. borders. Any nation can plan for the known challenges to shelter, food, water, infrastructure and health care after a natural disaster. According to Rankin, the magnitude of recent disasters in Haiti and Japan must prompt them to do so, because “only then do nations become more agile in responding to the chaos and rebuilding from the rubble,” he says. “We have the engineers. We have the technology. We have the know-how. The question is do we have the will to set this kind of planning in motion?”

Disaster recovery expert Guy Rankin is available to speak about:
Ø  “Firefighter Syndrome” – when our instinctive response is to rush in and put out the flames, who then helps to transform rubble-strewn ruins into a habitable place where a productive community can be restored?
Ø  Disaster after the disaster – as seen in Japan, one natural disaster often spurs more disasters. The initial earthquake and tsunami take lives and destroy structures, but aftereffects can include a compromised environment (air and water quality; food and water shortages), a shortage of adequate housing, and health crises due to inaccessible care and medicine.
Ø  The necessity of planning – while the specifics vary, the basic plan for recovery is reproducible nationwide and even worldwide. Lessons learned from post-Katrina rebuilding can help inform recovery planning.
Ø  What recovery from natural disaster ought to look like in the States – timetables; “firefighting” vs. rebuilding; public-private partnerships that speed recovery and benefit an ailing construction industry.
Ø  Why we need policy that streamlines recovery efforts – a national policy for recovery; a distinct time line; efficiencies that a Disaster Recovery Czar could achieve.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Guy Rankin wins Award of Merit in 2010 IABC/Houston's Bronze Quill Awards

At the 2010 IABC Bronze Quill awards, Guy Rankin won an Award of Merit in the Communication Skills category.


Success of DHAP Program Largely Attributable to the Commitment of Partners
HOUSTON – The Harris County Housing Authority (HCHA) today honored five local social service agencies for their exceptional service and commitment to the implementation of the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Guy Rankin, CEO and executive director of the HCHA and the HCHA’s Board of Commissioners presented this esteemed award to Neighborhood Centers, Inc., Houston Area Urban League, Harris County Community Services Department, City of Houston’s Department of Health and Human Services’ Focused Care Project and Family Services of Greater Houston for their “World Class Dedication to Mankind.”

The HCHA partnered with each of these five social service agencies to provide essential social services and case management support to more than 6,500 families that participated in the DHAP Harris County Katrina/Rita program and case management services to more than 2,500 families in 41 states throughout the country through the housing authority’s national program for disasters DHAP USA.

“The unique care and support of the Harris County Housing Authority's leadership coupled with the DHAP Program’s focus on self-sufficiency enabled our case management efforts to soar,” said Carolyn Scantlebury, Project Manager with City of Houston’s Focused Care Project.

The DHAP Program has been instrumental in placing families into safe and sanitary housing following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and now Ike. The program is unique in that it encompasses a critical social services element so families could be given the tools needed to rely less on government assistance and more on themselves.

“We are so grateful to our amazing social service partners,” said Guy Rankin, CEO and Executive Director, Harris County Housing Authority. “Without their dedication and commitment to providing top-notch social services and case management to families in need, DHAP would not have been the success it is today.”

“We are honored to receive this award,” said Angela Blanchard, president and CEO, Neighborhood Centers, Inc. “Thousands of people relied on the DHAP program and the efforts of case management staff to get back on their feet and reach permanent self-sufficiency. Our team was privileged to work with the HCHA as a part of this amazing effort.”

About the Harris County Housing Authority
The Harris County Housing Authority operates housing-choice voucher programs and family self-sufficiency programs for more than 4,100 families of Harris County. It also has developed seven senior affordable housing developments and one single-family neighborhood. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has given the Authority its highest performance rating for six years in a row. For more information visit:

Shoreacres hardest-hit by Ike, study finds

Michael and Nancy Schnell stand in front of their gutted home, which was damaged during Hurricane Ike in Shoreacres.

Hurricane Ike damaged almost half the homes in Harris County and left more than 18,000 dwellings uninhabitable, according to a detailed assessment by the Harris County Housing Authority.

Hardest hit was the small Galveston Bay community of Shoreacres, an all-residential town where 58.6 percent of the homes were destroyed or suffered greater than 50 percent damage, according to the assessment provided to the Houston Chronicle Tuesday.

The report, based on inspections of 774,000 of the county’s 994,000 residential units from Sept. 23 through Nov. 13, is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the destruction caused by Ike, although it’s limited to residential damage in Harris County.
Harris County officials asked the housing authority to conduct the assessment in part because no standardized method existed for communities to assess disaster impacts, said Guy Rankin, the authority’s chief executive. He said he hopes the techniques developed for this study will be adopted throughout the country.

A team of 200 inspectors fanned out across the county and observed damage to houses, apartments and mobile homes. Homes determined to have major damage — 51 percent or more of their value — were considered uninhabitable.

The study concluded that 48 percent of the county’s dwelling units sustained minor damage — 50 percent of value or less. Less than 1 percent sustained major damage.
The authority can conduct the same study for Galveston, Jefferson or other counties affected by Ike if asked to do so, Rankin said. The county is paying the study’s $3.5 million cost and will seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.

The data also will help local officials plan for housing needs in Ike’s aftermath, Rankin said. He’s particularly concerned about the potential for thousands of houses with damaged roofs to deteriorate if owners don’t repair them promptly.
The findings didn’t surprise Nancy Schnell, whose family has been living in a travel trailer parked on its property in Shoreacres while contractors gutted the family house for rebuilding.

As she spoke Tuesday, Schnell watched children step off a school bus and walk down a street piled high with debris from gutted houses.

“It’s horrific,” Schnell said of the conditions in Shoreacres, where she said the first FEMA mobile homes didn’t arrive until three months after Ike’s Sept. 13 landfall.
The value of Shoreacres homes left uninhabitable by Ike totaled $27 million, the report states.

The assessment identified $8.2 billion in residential property damage in Harris County, down slightly from the $8.5 billion preliminary estimate released by the housing authority in October.

Generally, small cities and unincorporated areas sustained major damage to more of their homes than Houston did, although the monetary value of damaged property in Houston was higher, at $4.6 billion, because of generally higher property values in the city.
El Lago, a southeast Harris County town of about 4,100 people, was a distant second to Shoreacres in major damage, with 12.6 percent of its homes destroyed or sustaining greater than 50 percent damage. Next were Seabrook, 11.4 percent, and Nassau Bay, 10.1 percent.

The report includes the Harris County Flood Control District’s assessment of flooding caused by Ike’s storm surge and rainfall. The storm surge reached 10 to 12 feet in southeast Harris County from Morgan’s Point to Kemah, the district reported.
The combined effects of the surge and wave action of 4 to 6 feet accounted for the devastation in Shoreacres, the flood control district said. A similar effect occurred in the Galveston County communities of San Leon and Bacliff.

 Originally posted by Mike Sny der in the Houston Chro nicle

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Who is Guy Rankin, IV?

Guy R. Rankin, IV is the Chief Executive Officer for the Harris County Housing Authority (HCHA), a governmental agency which serves more than 1.7 million people and a service area of approximately 1100 square miles.  With over 20 years of housing and community development experience, Mr. Rankin has garnered a reputation for excellence through accomplished change and innovation.  Under his visionary leadership, HCHA has grown from a troubled agency to one of the best housing authorities in the country as recognized by the U. S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.

Rankin’s strong analytical skills, combined with his extensive financial and programmatic knowledge of housing and community development gives HCHA the edge in managing multiple programs in a dynamic and complex environment.   As CEO, Mr. Rankin has complete managerial oversight of all Authority programs including the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, Senior Housing Program, Assisted Housing Program, Single Room Occupancy Program and the Homeownership Program. 

Rankin is considered to be the best affordable housing leader in America when it comes to managing a Housing Authority.  From 2005- 08, Rankin developed over 1,000 new affordable housing units for the citizens of Harris County, worth over 100 million dollars.   This strong performance has not gone unnoticed, but has earned HCHA national recognition.  Under Rankin’s leadership, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave HCHA its highest ranking for six consecutive years, rating the Agency as the highest performing housing authority in its region.
As one of America’s most talented and innovative leaders, Mr. Rankin has not only been able to deliver the highest quality housing to people in need, he has also helped clients to achieve self sufficiency and independence.  In 2005, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Rankin housed over 25,000 people through the Houston Astrodome in 18 days by creating America’s first long-term disaster housing assistance program.  His leadership and program design led to more than 36,000 families being serviced in the Houston area.  In 2007, Rankin was appointed by HUD to manage the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) in Houston, TX, New Orleans, LA and in various other cities located in 41 states throughout the United States.  Because of Rankin’s extraordinary leadership, the DHAP Program serves as a national model to help families end their long-term reliance on government assistance after an emergency or disaster strikes.  

Rankin has a reputation for bringing about change in the perception of pubic sector operations by applying a private sector business model which recognizes excellence in service and sacrifice.   Key elements to his success include developing a strong team, addressing community needs first, and implementing intense audit and financial controls

Before joining the Harris County Housing Authority, Rankin was the Chief Operating Officer for the Harris County Community Development Department. Rankin also served as the Planning Director for the City of LaPorte, Texas.

National and Best Practice Experience

Successfully Changed a Troubled Housing Authority into One of America’s Best

As CEO of the Harris County Housing Authority, Guy Rankin successfully changed a troubled housing Authority into one of America’s Best.  The HCHA administers its housing programs in accordance with HUD regulations while carrying out its mission to “promote innovative housing communities and assist families to achieve self sufficiency.”  For six consecutive years, the HCHA has received national recognition from HUD as the highest performing housing authority in its region.

Created and Implemented America’s first Mass Housing Disaster Plan (Houston Astrodome -2005 following Hurricane Katrina).

When the United States Housing & Urban Development (HUD) entered into an inter-agency agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to create the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP), it had in mind an agency with the credibility and the sense of excellence needed to be the benchmark for the program’s administration.  Guy Rankin and the Harris County Housing Authority (HCHA), proving capable of performing at the highest level, was asked to design a model of how the DHAP program should be run.  Indicated below are some of HCHA’s performance highlights accomplished under the leadership of Guy Rankin.
·         HCHA currently administers the DHAP for Harris County, Greater New Orleans and on a national scale throughout 41 states. 
·         HCHA administers monthly rental assistance payments to property owners on behalf of DHAP families.  To date, HCHA has paid over $153 million in payments for the last 12 months.
·         HCHA has mastered how to assist families on the road to self sufficiency, proving them capable of managing a massive national program and passing various audits with zero findings for the past six years.
·         HCHA has invested in its greatest resource by providing training and certifications to over 400 staff members and 100 new property inspectors.
·         HCHA designed three (3) state of the art DHAP Centers (each built within 30-days) to conduct day to day DHAP operations.  DHAP Harris County 24,000 sq. ft., DHAP Greater New Orleans 33,000 sq. ft., and DHAP USA 3,000 sq. ft.
·         HCHA demonstrates its ability to successfully collaborate with community leaders and business partners to place families in intermediate housing and build centers that accommodate displaced families with dignity and respect;.
·         HCHA is the “go to” agency when a disaster strikes leaving families displaced and in need of intermediate rental subsidy assistance.  Milan Ozdinec, Deputy Assistant secretary for Public Housing and Voucher Programs, U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development says, ‘The Harris County Housing Authority has been there from the start to support families displaced by the hurricanes; it has done a remarkable job running the DHAP program…”  HUD cites Guy Rankin’s leadership and the Harris County Housing Authority’s previous DHAP success as the reason it tapped the agency for an expanded role.