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Taking the long haul

David Dingley has a deep appreciation for what unfolds after an initial rescue is over: the long haul of long-term recovery.

BY SUSAN KIM | BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. | August 12, 2006

"We are much better prepared here in terms of having plans in place and partnerships and agreements all made."

—David Dingley

David Dingley has a deep appreciation for what unfolds after an initial rescue is over: the long haul of long-term recovery.

Dingley, a retired Air Force colonel, is executive director of the Brevard Long-Term Recovery Coalition on Florida's east coast. For much of his career, he flew rescue helicopters.

Now he's in the midst of helping people recover from the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes, Dingley tries to tell people how different disaster response is from disaster recovery. "It takes awhile for the recovery type requests to come in," he said. "At first you get a lot of requests for tarping, medical needs and emotional needs. And then you hear people start to say: 'I need help repairing my house.' People first have to work through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and insurance. You're not going to be able to rush out and start putting roofs on."

Dingley's approach colors his thoughts on the current hurricane season, and on any new storms that might strike his area. Through a new storm, the coalition will remain true to its focus on long-term recovery, he said. "Again, we all have to remind ourselves there is a difference between response and recovery. Those that respond first are very needed and they have their focus. But since I'm in the long-term recovery business, about the time electricity is done, the streetlights are working, and everybody goes, 'wow, we survived another one,' - that's when we step in and say, okay, start talking to us, all you folks out there that have house damage."

The coalition is ready and willing to launch another long-term recovery effort whenever it's needed, he said. "We are much better prepared here in terms of having plans in place and partnerships and agreements all made. Our plan is to keep a core staff of the Brevard Long-Term Recovery Coalition here, to keep two or three people in place through the '07 storm season with hopefully enough resources to do it through the '08."

These days, the Brevard Long-Term Recovery Coalition still receives two or three referrals a week, most of them low-income people, said Dingley. "We hear from a lot of senior citizens and some persons with disabilities, too. They are living on disability and social security, and that's why they're low-income. They are still calling about some sort of damage to their residences - their single family homes or their manufactured or mobile homes."

Dingley said he has spent the last couple of years in efforts far less dramatic - but just as important - as rescues. He has been building partnerships that stretch donated dollars to help more people.

"My job is becoming more and more making sure I keep working those partnerships and keep representing those partnerships at the county level and among emergency management leaders."

The coalition has partnered with Habitat for Humanity. While coalition volunteers can often complete minor repairs, they hand over larger jobs to Habitat. "If it goes more into a full renovation or rehab, then Habitat for Humanity tends to pick up at that time. It's a good symbiotic relationship there because they tend to not handle the small repairs."

Dingley is also partnering at the state and local level to help the coalition accomplish even more. "There are two state-of-Florida-sponsored programs with money made available in the budget that will help residents," he explained. "The first is the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program, which provides money for buying materials as well as paying some salaries for caseworkers. The second, called Florida Rebuilds, trains some trainers, who then encourage people who are low-income or disabled or recently out of prison to get a new start in the construction industry."

Dingley plans to provide construction job sites - or homes that need repairs - for people who want to learn construction skills. He can also buy materials with funds from the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program.

"There is still some legwork to be done," he said. "But we're thinking to do our first project of this type in September. Who wins? The resident. And I believe this is a model of how you can use separate programs if they are willing to play and dovetail together to get what's intended."

Besides forming good business relationships, there's an emotional side to his work, Dingley admitted. "Most of the clients are so grateful for what they get. Those are the ones you concentrate on. That's where the emotional satisfaction comes in."

Dingley commended the people he works with for having not just a job, but a mission and a calling. "They want to help their fellow human beings," he said.

"One lady we helped, she's in a house that's 106 years old. We were replacing the original tin shingles on the roof. There was hardly any rust or corrosion on them. So she saved a bunch of the best ones, and we made centerpieces out of them. My wife painted some of them."

Looking back over the past two years, Dingley said he's had a big learning curve. "But we have been good stewards of the money that's been given us," he said. "We spend time on each case."

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