Slow disaster recovery prompts change in agency leadership at NCDPS

Richard Trumper, director of disaster recovery at the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management, testifying at a September 2022 hearing on hurricane recovery. Picture courtesy of YouTube.

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  • NCORR had gotten $778 million in federal dollars to help people hurt by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, yet some remain homeless.

The director of disaster recovery at the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management will now serve as a senior advisor for disaster recovery for the N.C. Department of Public Safety starting Feb. 1.

Richard Trumper’s move comes after two hurricane recovery hearings in September, and December revealed the disastrously slow response that North Carolina has had in getting hurricane victims into new homes.

Eddie Buffaloe Jr., secretary for NCDPS, issued a press release on the appointment on Friday. 

Trumper will work with department leaders, the N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR), N.C. Emergency Management (NCEM) and other partners to get disaster survivors back in their homes faster.

“Our state has made substantial progress recovering from hurricanes Matthew and Florence, but we still have a long way to go,” Buffaloe said in the release. “Richard Trumper brings a wide range of experience and expertise that will support a core mission of rebuilding homes and communities as fast as possible after a disaster while also making them more resilient in the future.”     

Trumper added, “I look forward to joining the Department of Public Safety and establishing new partnerships that will speed up the recovery process and help families return home more quickly. My goal will be to build on the good things we’re already doing.”   

He is a North Carolina licensed general contractor who joins the department with more than 22 years of experience, including program management, construction management, disaster recovery, reconstruction and restoration, mitigation, and disaster damage assessment.

Trumper testified at the hearing in September, where it was revealed that NCORR had gotten $778 million in federal dollars to help people hurt by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, yet some remain homeless.

Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, started NCORR after Hurricane Florence to “streamline disaster recovery programs statewide and help communities rebuild smarter and stronger,” according to NCDPS’ websiteReBuild NC, a program that falls under NCORR was established for hurricane recovery.

The federal government requires the state to spend $778 million by 2025 for Matthew and 2026 for Florence.

Laura Hogshead, Director of NCORR, said at the time that the recovery wasn’t going as anyone, including herself, would like it to go and said the onus was on her. 

She said several factors were holding things up, including the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain issues, and contractor and labor shortages. 

NCORR had completed just 789 out of 4,100 projects, or around 25% of homes, either by rehabilitation or new construction at the time of the hearing. 

In comparison, Col. J.R. Sanderson, senior government advisor for SBP, formerly known as the St. Bernard Project, a nationwide disaster recovery program, testified that the average turnaround time for the South Carolina Disaster Recovery program was 37 days for mobile homes, 56 days for stick built, and 88 days for complete reconstruction, when he ran the project in S.C. from 2015 to 2019 for recovery from Hurricanes Joaquin, Matthew, and Florence. He also said they turned over 110 homes a month, the equivalent of 3-5 per week.

At the December hearing, Hogshead presented a series of slides indicating some progress that was made, including going from having five homes built in a month to 17 currently, or a 242% increase in production since September. A total of 889 out of 4,313 homes have been completed, up 100 from the 789 that were completed as of September.

She again said she took responsibility, but despite their progress, they are not satisfied and will continue to focus on improving program efficiency and getting families home.

Legislators were critical of Hogshead’s response, including Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson,

“By any stretch of the imagination, this is unacceptable, and I’m infuriated,” he said. “The lack of urgency that has been performed since all this began and trying to get these people back into their homes at the slow rate that has been going on is totally unacceptable.”

Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, echoed Jackson. “If you were in the private sector, I don’t know any employer that would keep you employed with all the failures that you’ve allowed to happen,” he told Hogshead. “For you not to know what’s been going on in this state or for you to continue to allow the failures to happen and not take steps to change the process until we came here to this committee is a failure. And you failed as a director; you should resign from your position.”  

Another hearing is scheduled for Mar. 15.

It’s being reported that several staffers have left Rebuild NC in the last few months, including Ivan Duncan, chief program delivery officer for NCORR, who testified at the hearing in September. His resignation came in November.

Jody Donaldson, director of communications for NCDPS, told Carolina Journal in an emailed statement that Trumper will report to Buffaloe, and Hogshead will continue to report to Jane Gilchrist, chief of staff.