William Richey

William Richey

Vice President, Consulting Expert

Hurricanes in New Jersey. Snowstorms in Texas. Global pandemics. Nobody knows when or where a natural disaster will strike. The reality is that disasters are more often than not, unpredictable, but disaster recovery doesn’t have to be.

Disaster recovery goes through anticipated stages. Large disasters triggered by environmental events such as hurricanes, fires, and floods are typically managed in four phases: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Mitigation and preparedness involve communities planning for a potential or upcoming disaster. The response phase makes shelter, food, and medical services available immediately. The recovery phase focuses on rebuilding the community’s housing, infrastructure, and economy.

The key to success for all four phases?  Having the right data.

Data driven disaster recovery

In a recent blog about disaster recovery solutions, I discuss the importance of state’s having a system of record for disaster recovery. Every day, state and local government employees are making decisions about disaster preparedness or recovery. Without access to timely, accurate, and complete information, some of those decisions are based on guesswork. Decisions made during or just following a disaster event often have high stakes and must be made quickly. You need the best information to enable the data driven decision making and predictive analytics that allow risk mitigation and a smooth, effective recovery.

However, accessing the right data at the right time is often not as easy as it should be. Billions of dollars in aid are distributed and received by many different groups of stakeholders. Keeping information updated and accessible is tricky in an ever-evolving situation. The result is that disaster recovery funds might be disbursed without efficient organization or sufficient accountability. Money may not reach the people who need it most, while fraud, waste, and abuse can come back to haunt the government officials tasked with ensuring recovery.

The benefits of data transparency in state and local government

Governments usually possess the relevant data needed to support sound and informed decision making in these events, but it is often siloed, inaccessible, or unusable. Even at the federal level, agencies like FEMA and HUD have systems that don’t communicate well with each other, let alone with other organizations. Often, state and local government agencies’ systems aren’t integrated in ways that allow employees and officials to make effective use of the data they possess.

Officials can help mitigate these challenges with data management solutions that are easy-to-use, auditable, and—above all—transparent. Major disasters are oftentimes politicized, but a transparent disaster recovery system allows all stakeholders—constituents, media, legislators, employees, etc.—to see where recovery funds are coming from and where they are going.  

Not only does that help prevent waste and fraud, but it also provides state and local officials with a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate how they are working hard on behalf of the community and creating value with taxpayer money. When taxpayers can see that funds are being spent on rebuilding homes or hazard mitigation strategies, for example, they are more likely to be supportive of disaster recovery efforts and satisfied with the people who administer them.

Integrated disaster recovery

A truly integrated disaster recovery solution provides all the information you need in one place and ensures the data is accurate. This enables the data driven decision making that allows government officials to make the best decisions about factors like which programs to prioritize and where funding is needed most.  

Integrated data also allows you to use predictive analytics to identify possible problems and stop them from becoming problems. You can proactively consider where a system might fail, anticipating potential bottlenecks or administrative inefficiencies in a workflow, and fix them.

But you can only do this effectively with data. The more data you have, the more broadly you can apply the information. Data also allows you to learn from others’ mistakes and avoid potential pitfalls.

Translating disaster recovery into technology

CGI has partnered with state level governments to support the recovery following several of the deadliest and damaging natural disasters in U.S. history. Through those partnerships, CGI has developed a publicly owned, proven, comprehensive disaster recovery information system to support governments that are administering recovery operations. Designed around a truly comprehensive centralized data warehouse, multiple governments at the state and local level are currently leveraging this Disaster Recovery Solution (DRS) to provide a suite of interconnected modules including:

  • Public Facing Transparency Portal
  • Full Life-cycle Grant and Loan Management
  • Comprehensive Financial Management
  • Data Analytics and Reporting

Transparency provides a crucial window into the status and progress of recovery and relief efforts in a community. Through partnerships with states and territories across the U.S., CGI has designed and implemented a state-of-the-art transparency portal, providing a clear window for the public to view the recovery efforts. This transparency portal is designed to educate stakeholders and citizens about the recovery process and give the public access to information across geographies, programs, and funding sources. The portal improves visibility into the procurement workflow as well as central publishing of Requests for Procurement (RFPs) and contracts, while interactive infographics translate complex federal recovery programs into clearly defined processes.

This publicly owned transparency portal foundation provides:

  • Comprehensive financial management tracking, with the ability to link to external data sources

    • Recovery program information, education, and infographics making program processes understandable and accessible
    • Integration with major federal grant management systems to support programmatic reporting requirements
    • Audit support of application and grant disbursements
    • Accountability with proven workflow tracking designed to support reporting requirements
    • Opportunities to report waste, fraud, and abuse

The fast pace of disaster recovery also requires efficient tools to maintain the content and keep it up-to-date and accurate. CGI has developed a content management system (CMS) specifically designed to deliver the functionality required to maintain a transparent portal. Not only can it help you add, create, and edit content without the need for specialized knowledge, but the CMS has also been customized to help you build:

  • Searchable document libraries where you can store documents by category
  • Interactive flow diagrams and timelines
  • Content cards that can re-direct users to internal or external resources
  • Glossary and FAQs sections
  • Press release section organized by date

Learn more about CGI’s disaster recovery services and solutions at www.CGI.com/stateandlocal (https://www.cgi.com/us/en-us/state-local-government/natural-disaster-recovery)  


Case study:
CGI helps Puerto Rico establish transparent disaster recovery

CGI-built systems track the distribution of $60+ billion in recovery funds after CGI partnered with the Government of Puerto Rico to develop a centralized disaster recovery/relief transparency portal. Currently this website is leveraged to provide visibility into the recovery efforts for the disasters declared after hurricanes Irma and María in 2017, and the earthquakes and COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. With concerns surrounding corruption and misuse of funding, Puerto Rico had the goal of conducting the most transparent disaster recovery effort in the history of the US.

The Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resiliency (COR3) Transparency Portal (www.recovery.pr) has become the public’s window into the progress of the recovery efforts underway across Puerto Rico. The portal brings together complex financials with descriptive content and provides detailed financials in infographics, making the data more accessible than in spreadsheet form.

The portal allows users to view data based on flexible user-defined tables or with custom visualizations. An interactive map permits visual comparisons of geographic areas so visitors can understand the specific benefits to residents of Puerto Rico. The portal experience is consistent across all devices, increasing access to educational content about the assistance programs of the various recovery funds.

The underlying code for the portal is owned by the government of Puerto Rico, allowing other public entities to leverage the solution without additional license fees with the government’s permission. The State of West Virginia took advantage of the opportunity to leverage the site’s CMS functionality, using the software to build a standalone page to help citizens access information on recovery and relief grants as part of the CARES Act (grants.wv.gov). The CMS functionality enabled WV to stand up the site very quickly and have a live public facing site in a little over a week.

Since the Recovery.pr initial launch in 2018, the metrics for non-FEMA Federal Recovery Funds on the site have increased by 175%, and the FEMA Recovery Funds metrics have increased by 325%, providing tangible progress towards Puerto Rico’s transparency objective.

About this author

William Richey

William Richey

Vice President, Consulting Expert

William Richey serves as Vice President, Consulting Expert for CGI’s U. S. State and Local Government Operations which delivers a broad range of technology and business services to clients. After leading the effort to create a Natural Disaster Recovery Practice within CGI, Mr. Richey now ...