EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – October 8, 2003

The Disaster Contractors Network
An Innovative Partnership for Disaster Recovery

Janet Dilling
Florida Public Affairs Center and Center for Disaster Risk Policy
Florida State University

Audrey Heffron
Director of Business Operations/Faculty
Florida Public Affairs Center and the Center for Disaster Risk Policy
Florida State University

Avagene Moore, CEM
Moderator, EIIP Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Amy Sebring, my partner/associate, and I are pleased to see you in our audience today. Today we are discussing the "Disaster Contractors Network: An Innovative Partnership for Disaster Recovery."

It is my pleasure to introduce our speakers for today's session. Janet Dilling is no stranger to the EIIP Virtual Forum; she was one of our first presenters and the first to present a paper in the Virtual Library. She has been with us on many other occasions as a speaker and an audience participant.

Janet is the Director of the Florida Public Affairs Center (FPAC) as well as the Center for Disaster Risk Policy at Florida State University (FSU). Janet has over 20 years experience in government and emergency management.

We are also pleased to have Audrey Heffron with us today. Audrey is the Director of Business Operations and a member of the research faculty at the FPAC and the Center for Disaster Risk Policy. Audrey currently teaches classes on Terrorism at the Askew School of Public Administration at Florida State University.

You will find more complete biographical information on both of our speakers on the background page. For our session today, they are presenting in duo-fashion and will both be available for your questions following the presentation.

Welcome, Janet and Audrey! We thank you for sharing with the EIIP Virtual Forum. I now turn the floor over to you, please.


Janet Dilling: Thank you, Avagene.

Audrey Heffron: Thanks, Avagene. We are happy to be here.

Janet Dilling: Yes, and especially to talk about the Disaster Contractors Network or "DCN." This innovative and unique partnership makes the management of construction needs and services after a disaster a significant part of Florida’s emergency management system.

Audrey Heffron: The DCN is an unprecedented partnership between all of the major builders associations in the state of Florida, the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and Department of Business and Professional Regulation within the state of Florida, FEMA Region IV, and the Center for Disaster Risk Policy and Florida Public Affairs Center here at FSU.

Janet Dilling: We believe the construction industry is a valuable resource to government and citizens in a disaster – frankly, one I think we in emergency management have been slow to tap.

Audrey Heffron: The DCN is a statewide network that will both provide disaster information and train the local associations of these major contractor organizations in disaster management issues.

Janet Dilling: The DCN is a vehicle for helping contractors maximize their impact. First, prior to a disaster in encouraging businesses and homeowners to employ mitigation measures, and then, post- disaster, when they can both help prevent secondary damage and assist their customers in building back better.

Audrey Heffron: We think this is one of the first attempts anywhere in the U.S. to coordinate contractor associations through their existing state and local networks. What we are really trying to do here is to develop a "disaster smart" contractor and establish a training and information medium for contractors regarding mitigation and disaster operations.

Janet Dilling: We are also trying to provide a medium of direct dialogue between contractors and government during disaster response and recovery and to provide identification and support of critical needs and resources to the contractor during disaster events.

Audrey Heffron: Basically the DCN is serving as a conduit between Federal, State, local, regulatory agency, building associations, and the contractor community.

Janet Dilling: Audrey mentioned earlier all of the participating partners in the DCN. DCA and FEMA provide the funding and operational support. All the major state contractor associations provide the link with the state’s contractors and our center provides technical support and project development.

Audrey Heffron: Upon activation during a disaster the DCN Specialist, a specially trained FEMA DAE [Disaster Assistance Employee] Reservist becomes the central player gathering information from the field, posting it on the DCN VEOC (Virtual Emergency Operations Center) and serving as an outreach resource to the field.

Janet Dilling: A great deal of the "intelligence" from the field will come from the Local Contractor Associations Executives. They are the DCN Specialist’s direct link to the contractor in the post-disaster period.

Audrey Heffron: The DCN Specialist is activated by FEMA Region IV, initially to staff the State Emergency Operations Center’s Recovery Room in the State EOC, later moving to the Disaster Field Office when established. Additional DCN Specialists may coordinate mitigation activities to administer and deliver DCN initiatives in a field operation setting, i.e., DFO, Mobile Mitigation Assistance Vehicles (MMAV) and Mobile Mitigation Assistance Clinics (MMAC) and Special Events.

Janet Dilling: A key aspect of the DCN is the DCN web site. During a disaster situation the newly enhanced Virtual Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) links contractors to the state's disaster response system to better coordinate the management of construction needs and services. The VEOC allows individual contractors to go online to post critical needs as well as available resources in a post disaster environment. You can see the VEOC at: http://www.dcnonline.org/veoc/index.cfm . Of course, the DCN is not activated right now, so there is no information posted.

There is a vendor database of building materials and labor from all across the state as well. I believe there are over 5000 records now in that database. Is that right, Audrey?

Audrey Heffron: Yes, Janet, I think the count is closer to 5800.

The DCN Web site is also designed to provide the contractor with the information and training necessary to operate effectively in a pre- and post-disaster environment. The Web site can be used as an information clearinghouse to identify needs and resources to the contracting community after a disaster. In addition, the DCN Web site is a window into an online training center designed especially for contractors in disaster related subjects.

Janet Dilling: Among the topics covered in DCN's online training are preparedness, doing business in a disaster environment, victim and homeowner behavior, and post-impact mitigation techniques. Training also focuses on recovery after a storm, including victim assistance programs, insurance, repair and rehabilitation best practices, and year-round mitigation activities and incentives. So, before a disaster, DCN is a resource site, after a disaster, it is there to support the contractor in contributing to the response and recovery effort.

Audrey Heffron: This concludes our formal remarks. We are now available for any questions. We turn the floor back to our moderator, Avagene.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Lloyd Colston: If I understand this correctly, there is a database of vendors who specialize in disaster construction. Is there any liability to the local government for using this database? What if a vendor messes up?

Audrey Heffron: The database is of all Florida suppliers of material and labor for building. The vendors were identified through association lists and tax lists - it is by no means exclusive, nor are they "disaster approved" - it is just a list of resources

Janet Dilling: There is a disclaimer on the site that indicates there is no check on the quality of the vendors. The DCN Specialist will also monitor the site for appropriateness.


Claire Rubin: Is the system operating fully and when did it start?

Janet Dilling: It has been in development as a concept for a couple of years, but is fully operational now. As you know Florida is very disaster prone. We are in conversations now with FEMA, Region IV to reconsider the criteria for activation. I anticipate we will be activating for lesser declarations

Audrey Heffron: We have not yet had the chance to fully activate because Florida has not had any major declarations in the past few year, just low level disasters with SBA only.


Jennifer Vuitel: How have you marketed (informed contractors) of the plan?

Janet Dilling: We advertised in all of the residential and commercial contractor association publications. It is a challenge to get to everyone though. There are also brochures developed for contractors on the DCN. You can see an example on the Web site.

Audrey Heffron: We also attend all the major construction fairs and have volunteered to attend and present at any smaller events.


Roger Fritzel: You mention builders' associations, in addition to contractors. What are some examples of associations belonging to DCN?

Audrey Heffron: The Florida Home Builders Association, the Associated General Contractors, the Associated Builders and Contractors, and the Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Association. We've also been working with associations like "Women in Construction" and other smaller associations.


Amy Sebring: Audrey, do you envision this as a model for other states, or do you hope to go national at some point in the future?

Audrey Heffron: We and FEMA would like to take the model regional, then perhaps national. It sounds terrible to say, but I wish we could activate the DCN in Florida. That is why we're re-talking the activation criteria with FEMA - maybe we can get something done for these small declarations.

Janet Dilling: Yes, we are chomping at the bit.


Jennifer Vuitel: Are there any incentives for the contractors to join the DCN?

Janet Dilling: There is no incentive other than free online learning, and the PR that goes with being concerned about disaster resistance and the homeowners protection. We also are working with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to award CEU credits for the online learning.

Audrey Heffron: We also performing outreach to homeowners on things they should be aware of when hiring a contractor. Part of that is checking licensure, and knowing what their rights are. Because that outreach is under the DCN, we tell homeowners they can ask if the contractor they are working with is aware of the DCN.


Avagene Moore: Although you have not had a disaster to test this network, what kind of reaction and support are you getting from local governments and EM Directors about the concept?

Janet Dilling: The reception from everyone has been great. It is another way to outreach to the private sector community and bring them in as a partner. Again, the contractor is the first person a victim often see after a disaster or at least right after the insurance representative.

Audrey Heffron: Everyone wants to protect their citizens from the type of duplicitous contracting practices that occurred after Andrew.


Amy Sebring: Are debris removal and hazardous materials contractors also involved with the network?

Janet Dilling: It is open to everyone; I am not sure we have anyone from Hazmat yet.


Roger Fritzel: Does DCN's online training address business continuity practices for the contractors and vendors themselves?

Audrey Heffron: Absolutely! They can't work in the disaster environment if their own business is in jeopardy. A few of the modules talk about what they need to do to be prepared and what they can expect post disaster.


Isabel McCurdy: Is there any set criteria for contractors to belong to DCN?

Audrey Heffron: No, except we heavily emphasize the Florida contractor’s licensure.


Amy Sebring: How key has the participation of Florida's Dept. of Community Affairs/Emergency Management Agency been in support of this effort?

Janet Dilling: They have been very supportive. We went to them with the concept and they provided financial backing to get the DCN off the drawing books. They are also excited about bringing the contractor groups into the emergency management picture.


Lloyd Colston: What kind of feedback from the Citizens have you had on DCN? I noticed that the public information at http://www.dcnonline.org/veoc/homeowners.cfm looks very much like FEMA's. That's not necessarily bad, in my opinion.

Janet Dilling: That is because FEMA had to approve the use and wording of the brochure. And yes, citizens have been receptive to the extent they have been exposed.

Audrey Heffron: We have not had as much contact with homeowners as we like. We expect to have more after an event.


Amy Sebring: Will there be some connection with code enforcement agencies post-event?

Audrey Heffron: Yes, we're working with permitting, licensing, and the new Florida building codes.

Janet Dilling: The DCN Specialist’s job is to coordinate with these folks when problems arise.


Avagene Moore: When the DCN is activated, and it will be, how will you evaluate its effectiveness?

Janet Dilling: One of our responsibilities according to our procedures is to do lessons learned and after action reports incorporating all of the partners, state, and FEMA.

Audrey Heffron: Also, we will be evaluating performance by the amount of grievances homeowners have and the resolution rate.

Janet Dilling: Ultimately, we hope that Florida rebuilds faster and better.


Lloyd Colston: I noticed there were conditions under which out-of-state contractors could work in FL. Have you had any ramifications from out-of-state contractors being abused by the system or abusing the system? Does this cut down on the storm followers, example, roofers who follow hail storms?

Janet Dilling: The only way that contractors can work in Florida from out of state is with a licensed contractor, or if the Governor suspends the ruling prohibiting them.

Audrey Heffron: This is a common practice in most states, so the contractors know what the guidelines are.


Lloyd Colston: Have you had any support from the financial services partners, example, insurance companies?

Janet Dilling: Yes, we have been meeting with them and talking about how we can collaborate post disaster. They are also represented in the SEOC so that will make it easier.


Isabel McCurdy: Will DCN be used as a conduit to access FEMA funding quicker for recovery repairs post disaster?

Audrey Heffron: No, not really. That is not what it is designed for.


Avagene Moore: We greatly appreciate your combined efforts and time on our behalf today, Janet and Audrey. I commend you for the DCN project! Thank you!

Janet Dilling: Thanks everyone for joining us. It was a pleasure to be back. If you have any questions later, please feel free to contact us.

Audrey Heffron: Thank you, everyone, for your time and your questions.

Avagene Moore: Thanks to everyone for participating today. We appreciate you, the audience! The formal part of our session is over for today, but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Janet and Audrey for a fine job. The EIIP Virtual Forum is adjourned!