Working in the wild world of natural disaster recovery, it is difficult to ignore the data that indicates our environment is under stress. Wildfires are more devastating. Coastal flooding events are occurring more frequently. Hurricanes are becoming more intense, and setting new records in quantity each year. While this may spark a hotly-contested political debate on message boards (in statehouses) and social media, public servants on the front line of disaster recovery don’t have the luxury to deal in hypotheticals. When natural disasters occur, they have to act. Their communities need access to electricity and water. Displaced families need to return to their homes. Local companies need to get back to business as usual. Federal emergency funds have to be distributed. Infrastructure needs to be repaired so that their citizens can return to some semblance of normalcy as soon as possible.
While the data demonstrates the increase in the impact of natural disasters, it’s time for government officials to fight data with data. More specifically, states need a system of record for disaster recovery. A system of record creates a central repository for essential disaster recovery data pulled from multiple sources and used by all key stakeholders. This, of course, goes beyond just the state and local officials in the affected region. Other stakeholders include Federal agencies that have provided recovery funds and citizens and communities impacted by the disaster. I will be discussing the purpose and challenges in implementing such a system in an upcoming article, but here I want to focus more directly on the benefits that stakeholders can receive by adopting a system of record:
1. Systems of record make a more productive Federal/State partnership
Recovery funding flows from federal to state to local. There are federal requirements for program execution and ongoing reporting. There are state requirements for the same. Successful recovery requires cooperation and efficient collaboration between entities. That starts with an effective system of record.
Additionally, federal systems have limitations and are often outdated and not modernized. Enabling reconciliation between systems creates accountability and helps to facilitate more accurate data tracking on all sides. Sharing the burden of accurate data tracking promotes positive engagement and cooperation across stakeholder groups.
2. Systems of record create better workflow efficiency tracking and bottleneck identification
Aging reports for applications that are progressing through a programmatic workflow allow for quick ID of bottlenecks. Tracking operational processing allows stakeholders to quickly visualize problem areas within the workflow, and take additional steps to remove roadblocks. Streamlining the execution of recovery projects is key to getting funding where it is needed most: in the hands of the impacted residents and communities that are working hard to recover.
3. Systems of record help identify and mitigate fraud, waste and abuse
Large scale disasters can generate billions of dollars of damage. Recovery programs are responsible for distributing those billions of dollars. During a disaster event and its aftermath, the funds can – if not properly monitored – lead to millions of taxpayer dollars being misused. Detailed program execution tracking allows auditors and oversight entities to review all actions taken by government staff. This empowers oversight to track unwarranted movement or financial award during recovery program execution. Increased transparency also fights FWA by exposing detailed tracking of the flow of recovery funding.
4. Compliance management
Government programs have reams of requirements, regulations, and rules. Detailed granular tracking allows state and local governments to ensure recovery funding is distributed appropriately. Partnering with auditors instead of being adversaries creates a more efficient experience, and a faster time to deliver recovery funds while simultaneously mitigating the risk of potential clawback of funds.
5. Systems of record can adapt to change
Flexible software allows system of record to adjust alongside ever changing state and federal recovery programs. Disaster recovery programs exist in state of constant change. New legislation, increased media scrutiny, program policy changes at either federal or state levels, etc. All of these things drive programmatic change, and leveraging a flexible software solution allows the state or local government to maintain detailed tracking alongside those changes. COTS products or OOTB products simply do not have the level of adaptability required to deliver these constantly shifting requirements.
6. Systems of record allow you to ask better questions of your data
Effective systems of record allow stakeholders to use data more effectively providing detailed reporting capability – both canned operational reports/dashboards and ad hoc queries to slice and dice data.
Data collection is great but has no value without reporting. Getting the data in is job 1 but understanding the data and using it to make data driven decisions around operations and funding allocations is crucial to recovery success.
7. Systems of record drive local transparency capability
In addition to providing flexibility in the kinds of questions that can be answered, an effective system of record can be powerful in determining who gets to see those answers. Increased transparency increases public engagement, combats corruption, and shines a spotlight on potential fraud, waste and abuse. Having the data centralized makes it possible to increase transparency sharing with the public, media, lawmakers, and others.
8. Systems of record maintain institutional knowledge
For communities that experience repeated disasters, capturing institutional knowledge allows the government to maintain continuity of operations across disasters regardless of staff turnover.
In many cases state and local governments can lose a lot of background info about what was done previously when key members retire or administrations change. Having a centralized system protects the org against that kind of loss. Storing information isn’t just about applicant data for a specific program. Having the ability to store policy and procedures in a clean and searchable fashion also helps create risk mitigation and protection against “losing” this kind of institutional knowledge that can take years or decades to build up.
Making the case is just the start
Of course, the easy part is identifying the benefits of a system of record. The real challenge is managing all the data, stakeholders, regulations and infrastructure needed to pull an effective system of record together that can help government officials mitigate, prepare, respond and recover.