North Carolina has withstood 35 major disasters since FEMA launched its current classification system in 1953. These hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms have destroyed crops, leveled homes, disrupted the economy and – in some cases – taken lives. By adequately preparing for these events, which usually leave behind a million-dollar clean-up bill, we can better protect our citizens and expedite the recovery process.
I learned the devastation of a natural disaster firsthand, when Hurricanes Frances and Ivan pelted Canton with wind and water in the fall of 2004. Resultant flooding turned our town hall into a swimming pool, with muddy waters rising up six feet within the building: Town property alone sustained $9.2 million in damage. More than 20 homes were ruined beyond repair.
As mayor and a National Guard officer with 28 years experience, I knew what had to be done to rebuild. As lieutenant governor, I will make sure all local leaders are similarly well situated by advancing the following principles:
• Compacts between municipalities and emergency management services are crucial for managing a successful recovery effort. The state must make it a priority to strengthen and support these mutual aid agreements.
• If a town has not created or updated its disaster plan, the state should help facilitate that process so security and communication will be maintained in the days after a disaster.
• It is the state’s responsibility to educate local leaders about the resources that are available to them, and to ensure those resources are sufficient. The legislature should create a fund to help municipalities rebuild their communities according to their local values.
• The Hurricane Recovery Act of 2005 was a model of legislation that worked for our state’s citizens and businesses. Future disasters should always be met with such speedy and substantial legislation.
Disaster readiness requires thinking about the smallest details (For more on this, please see my “Top Twelve Lessons Learned for Emergency Preparation and Response from Hurricanes Frances and Ivan”, posted by the North Carolina League of Municipalities at
I understand the heartbreak coastal North Carolinians endure every time a hurricane strikes their hometown and the fear that seizes our neighbors in southern counties when tornadoes rip through their back yards. We can’t prevent these disasters, or even accurately predict when they’ll hit. But we can mitigate their effects by investing our state’s disaster-preparedness dollars and institutional support in responsive, community-led programs that keep our citizens safe.