The New Normal
While Webster’s Dictionary has not yet caught up to the term the "new normal", it is more than a television program on NBC. The new normal may refer to the economy, health, or lifestyles, but for government, the new normal primarily refers to how our lives will routinely be affected by the impacts of climate change.
The new normal was addressed throughout the day at the recent PlanSmart NJ 2013 Regional Planning Summit, "Investing in the New Normal" held in Trenton, New Jersey, forty miles west of the coastline destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. PlanSmart NJ is an independent, non-profit planning, education, and research organization committed to improving the quality of community life through the advancement of sound land use planning and regional cooperation.
Government has learned from previous experience. Michael Passante, Director of the State of NJ President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force explained that one of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina was the need for better oversight of dispersed funding. There is a need to balance the protection of how money is spent but also make the funding accessible to those who need it. Superstorm Sandy impacted approximately 81,000 homes in New Jersey. Funding is available and accessible for homeowners, renters, small rental owners and businesses. To his credit, Governor Chris Christie insisted on programs for immediate cash to those that need it, but balanced with accountability.
After President Obama signed into law the Disaster Relief fund in January 2013 for approximately $50.38 billion, Governor Christie signed Executive Order 125 in February to put in place key review and reporting initiatives ensuring an accountable, transparent process that ensures the integrity of the use of federal reconstruction resources for New Jersey residents and businesses,
Supporting the transparency, accountability and accessibility of the Governor's Action Plan is the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, a single website for access to a variety of State and Federal Programs.
The new normal approach also includes common sense. The State announced in January the adoption of the emergency Flood Hazard Area rule to allow residents to rebuild faster, stronger and safer, and adopted FEMA’s Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps as the State standard for rebuilding and new construction. Existing structures do not have to elevate now, but if they don't, they may see significantly higher federal flood insurance premiums when FEMA officially adopts the maps.
Damaged boardwalk photo courtesy Governor's office, State of NJ.