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Restoring a community after destruction

March 5, 2024 · Insights

Restoring Newnan in the aftermath of an EF-4 tornado ravaged the city.

In the late night and into the early morning of March 25 and 26, 2021, whirling winds, booming thunder and flashing lightning lit up the sky in Newnan, Georgia. Just before midnight, residents were warned that a long-track, violent tornado was quickly approaching. 

When the sun rose on the 26th, its light revealed the truth of the devastation. An EF-4 tornado, said to be one of the strongest tornadoes in 50 years, left trees downed, electricity out, damage to buildings and debris blocking streets. There was much harm done and even more work to be done.

“Picking up the pieces following an event like this is overwhelming, especially for local leaders who are focused on the safety and wellbeing of their community members,” GMC Executive Vice President Robert Ramsey said. “It’s personal for them because they’re seeing their hometown in crisis.”

Robert and his team worked hand-in-hand with municipalities to recover from these events, and this disaster in Newnan was no different. Within 24 hours, GMC’s Disaster Recovery team was on the scene meeting with city officials. Their goal is to help pick up the pieces, recover funds and ultimately, build back stronger. A lengthy process lay ahead, but they were ready to work with local leaders to take some of the stress off their shoulders so they could focus on what matters most — their people.

Robert and GMC’s Disaster Recovery staff worked closely with the city for several months, even occupying an office within City Hall to ensure an environment of true team collaboration. They began by guiding officials through how money the city spent on recovery efforts would get reimbursed, meeting with the city’s finance director to make sure there was a way to track all transactions related to the tornado.

“This type of organization is essential for reimbursement because FEMA requires a record of all activities for which you’re trying to recoup funds,” Robert explained. “The more data, the better.”

The next priority for the team was clean-up and damage assessment. GMC helped to coordinate debris removal in the city. Newnan had a considerable amount, some of which was blocking roadways, so removing it was essential for normal activity to resume. The debris was retrieved and put into large trucks, surveyed and then tracked until it reached its destination. GMC employed local citizens to serve as debris monitors, providing them with supplemental income and an opportunity to support their community in this time of need. This is something the team aims to do with every disaster recovery project.

In this thorough work, cost recovery was considered every step of the way. All the debris that was collected was weighed, ticketed and tracked according to FEMA guidelines.

“In times like this, it’s important to have someone in the room who understands the intricacies of FEMA policy and works with them every day. City officials have enough on their plates and shouldn’t have to worry about being proficient in FEMA policies, but not following these guidelines can lead to disastrous results,” Robert said. “Our team is committed to not only learning and being trained on these policies but also informing communities about them too.”

The team used their deep knowledge of these policies to recover an incredible amount of funds in Newnan – all in all, helping the city receive 96% reimbursement, an unheard-of amount.

The City of Newnan and GMC worked together to track every contracted cost and supply transaction, labor hour, equipment usage hour, piece of equipment rented and more.  GMC’s team worked hard to exceed expectations and restore more of the funds to the community than they ever expected. There are so many steps in the process and endless data that must be reported on the state and federal level. It can be almost impossible to do without a skilled team by your side.

The mundane, time-consuming and often unseen steps in the process helped to recover funds to begin laying a solid foundation to rebuild. Though recovery is often a lengthy process, Newnan’s funds were recovered within a year, an incredibly quick timeline.

Looking back, there is hope and recovery in Newnan. Through the hard-work and effort of so many people, an unprecedented amount of funds were recovered, allowing the city to move forward and focus on rebuilding a more resilient community.

Although cities may have plans in place for disasters, many aspects are often overlooked. It is important to make and review plans in blue skies so when the gray skies come, you can be better prepared.

“GMC Disaster Recovery prides itself on its mission of serving communities during their time of need through knowledge, integrity and passion to serve,” Robert said. “With GMC’s multi-disciplined approach, we can not only help directly in the recovery efforts, but also rebuilding each part of the community, from infrastructure to schools and healthcare facilities, to parks and everything in between. There’s joy in knowing you’ve helped restore a place that people call home.”

By being proactive, city and community leaders can provide citizens with peace of mind knowing that measures are being taken to better protect them and their loved ones from future impacts of this caliber.