American Flood Coalition - A Dual Disaster Handbook: 6 Recommendations for Local Leaders Responding to Floods During COVID-19

Prepared by the American Flood Coalition in collaboration with the American Public Health Association, the Dual Disaster Handbook provides six recommendations for local leaders to cope with flooding during the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic. The recommendations emphasize the importance of using emergency planning processes, legal authorities, and volunteers and supplies effectively to simultaneously address dual threats, while focusing in particular on needs of at-risk populations. The Handbook draws on expertise and best practices from emergency management professionals and is intended for use by local officials involved in emergency preparedness and response.

At the outset, the Handbook includes a brief one-page overview of roles within local government relevant to disaster preparation and response, and potential authorities within local leaders’ roles that may be relevant in a dual disaster context. For example, common legal authorities and tools that local leaders can use before, during, and after a disaster include evacuation orders, use of roadways, and mutual aid agreements, among others. This context-setting information is relevant for the six recommendations that make up the body of the Handbook. The recommendations are:

1. Examine emergency plans. This includes examining Emergency Operations Plans, Continuity of Government Plans, and delegations of authority to ensure they can cope with a second disaster (e.g., a flood), should it strike while local officials are in the midst of responding to an initial disaster (e.g., a pandemic).

2. With a focus on vulnerable populations, anticipate the risks of dual disasters. Local leaders should have an understanding of how systemic inequalities can affect risk factors for disaster events, as well as reduce capacity to recover.  Efforts should be made to proactively understand factors affecting compound risks of a dual disaster, including differential exposure, interruption of social services, lack of resources to evacuate, and more. A number of steps can be taken to help mitigate these risks, such as ensuring food is available for vulnerable populations, setting zero-tolerance for racist behavior -- especially in recovery spaces, supporting frontline workers with protective equipment, childcare services, and more.

3. Activate necessary legal authorities including emergency declarations, evacuations, and price controls. Flood declarations can enable municipalities to access resources such as funding. If needed, evacuation orders and consequences of not evacuating should be clearly communicated. Price controls may be needed to reduce price gouging.

4. Secure additional volunteers, medical supplies, food, and shelters. Local leaders and emergency management staff must secure enough resources to respond to dual disasters. This includes but is not limited to ensuring sufficient infrastructure, such as hospitals or hospital beds, equipment and supplies are available; ensuring sufficient volunteers are available; adopting pre-disaster contracts; and collaborating with the private sector and non-profit organizations.

5. Develop an emergency communications plan and coordinate responses with regional neighbors. Local leaders should develop a plan to communicate their dual disaster response to residents and help in coordinating responses with neighboring communities. The leaders should collaborate with health departments and community leaders and organizations. They should be prepared to communicate through multiple media and using different languages.

6. Set up a system to accurately and thoroughly document disaster expenses. Having a working system upfront can help communities receive federal funding more quickly after a disaster. They should be sure to record volunteer time and donations, which can help meet local cost share requirements, and identify opportunities to leverage federal grant funding.

The Handbook includes quick “put it in practice” case study examples of how different agencies have successfully integrated dual disaster considerations into emergency planning and other efforts. It also includes a short-form checklist that summarizes the key points from each of these recommendations and can be used by local leaders as a quick reference guide.

The American Flood Coalition published the handbook in May 2020. The American Flood Coalition is a nonpartisan group of cities, elected officials, military leaders, businesses, and civic groups.

Publication Date: May 2020

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