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Supporting disaster recovery and mitigation in the Hawaii-Pacific

Supporting disaster recovery and mitigation in the Hawaii-Pacific
May 1, 2024
3 MIN. READ

Our disaster management, housing, and environment experts are helping 3 U.S. Pacific Islands rebuild their communities and reduce the impact of future natural events

The Hawaii-Pacific Islands is one of the most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change, including natural disasters. According to the Fifth National Climate Change Assessment, in Hawaii and the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands, climate change “impairs access to clean water and healthy food, undermines human health, threatens cultural resources and the built environment, exacerbates inequities, and disrupts economic activity and diverse ecosystems.” Continuing that “Adaptation efforts that build upon community strengths and center local and Indigenous Knowledge systems improve resilience.”

Since 2020, our disaster management, housing and community development, and environment experts have provided culturally appropriate training, technical assistance, and capacity building under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Compass Program to help three communities in the U.S. Hawaii-Pacific Islands Region—Hawaii, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianas—rebuild from past and mitigate against future natural events. Collaborating with local authorities to distribute financial resources and oversee initiatives as part of HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) and CDBG-Mitigation programs.

Calvin Johnson, ICF senior director for disaster recovery says, “One of the most rewarding aspects of our disaster recovery assistance is our strong partnerships with the government authorities in the Pacific region.” Where we’re bringing technical expertise in navigating compliance and complicated requirements for federal grants, and the island authorities we work with are bringing their local knowledge and experience from working directly with impacted communities.

“Working together, we’re ensuring federal resources result in meaningful disaster recovery tailored to each community’s needs."

Calvin Johnson Headshot
Calvin Johnson
Senior Director, Disaster Recovery Portfolio

Volcano recovery on Hawaii’s Big Island

We’ve worked with the County of Hawai'i (Big Island) since January 2021 to support their recovery from the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea volcano, which destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands of residents across the island. We’re helping county officials manage the distribution of $108 million in CDBG-DR funds for a voluntary buyout program for homes impacted by the eruption and $7 million in CDBG-Mitigation funds for preparedness and resilience projects. To date, the county has assisted 300 families in low- to moderate-income areas by purchasing primary homes. And they are currently working on processing phase 2 and 3 awards for secondary homes and vacant properties.

In addition to providing guidance on program design and implementation, conducting environmental reviews, developing an action plan, and performing grants and financial management functions to ensure compliance, our team, including Hawaii-based experts, is assisting the county on a long-term land management plan to preserve properties acquired through the buyout program for use as open space.

Flood mitigation in American Samoa

American Samoa was impacted by Tropical Storm Gita in 2018, causing widespread destruction and flooding. We’ve provided direct technical assistance to their Department of Commerce since 2020 to help them manage the distribution of over $24 million in CDBG-DR and CDBG-Mitigation funds to support recovery and mitigation efforts. Our team collaborated with territory officials to secure grant agreements and action plan approvals, develop implementation plans, establish financial and administrative policies, and provide comprehensive trainings for staff. Our work is also helping advance a drainage infrastructure project in areas impacted by the storm to alleviate future flooding.

At the same time, we’ve been working with officials on how best to engage residents through culturally and linguistically appropriate public hearings and web content that reflect Samoan traditions and honor the important relationship of the matai (cultural family leaders) with their communities.

Rebuilding from typhoons in the Northern Marianas

We’re providing direct technical assistance to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to aid in recovery from the impacts of typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu, dual super typhoons that crossed the islands in 2018 leaving catastrophic destruction. Our experts are helping the Northern Marianas Housing Corporation (NMHC) navigate federal requirements to distribute $254 million in CDBG-DR and $16 million in CDBG-Mitigation funds in a manner that embraces the 14-island territory’s geographic uniqueness and cultural and racial diversity.

In doing so, we’ve helped NMHC design and implement several recovery programs, including homeowner repair, first-time homebuyer assistance, multifamily rental projects, infrastructure, tourism and marketing, mitigation, and more. While breaking down access barriers to programs for low-income households, such as working with NHMC to convert loans to grants and streamline prioritization procedures.

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