New leadership for disaster recovery follows failed NC hurricane response

Adam Wagner/News & Observer

A new leadership role high up in state government will bring more oversight to troubled efforts to recover from Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence.

Richard Trumper will join the Department of Public Safety as senior advisor for disaster recovery beginning Wednesday. Trumper is currently the executive director of disaster recovery with the Office of State Budget and Management, a role he’ll leave with the transition, Trumper told The News & Observer. He said he could not provide further details currently and deferred to communications staff at DPS.

The Department of Public Safety is led by Secretary Eddie Buffaloe Jr., who was appointed to the position by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2021. Trumper will be reporting directly to Buffaloe, according to Jody Donaldson, spokesperson for NC DPS.

An agency within DPS, the N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency, also dubbed Rebuild NC, has taken much of the blame for problems with hurricane recovery. Laura Hogshead, Rebuild NC chief operating officer, will continue to report to DPS Chief of Staff Jane Gilchrist, Donaldson said.

This does not put Trumper’s role above that of Hogshead’s, as it is a separate position reporting to Buffaloe, Donaldson said. The details of his role are still being sorted out and more will be known later, she said.

‘Help families return home more quickly’

Trumper will “support initiatives to build long-term and stable recovery for North Carolinians following natural disasters” and, “as part of an expanded, comprehensive approach to recovery,” work with Rebuild NC, N.C. Emergency Management and others, according to a DPS news release.

“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,” Trumper said in the news release. “My goal will be to build on the good things we’re already doing.”

“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,” Buffaloe said in the press release.

There are many funding streams for disaster response and recovery efforts, including from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But scrutiny has been focused on the funds managed by Rebuild NC, which is tasked with rebuilding and repairing the homes of those affected by hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

But years have passed since these hurricanes and thousands of people are still waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt.

Hundreds have been living in motels, hotels or rentals using temporary relocation assistance following the loss of their homes. These funds must be spent by 2025, for Matthew, and 2026, for Florence.

Buffaloe and Hogshead were called to testify to lawmakers in December and took responsibility for hurricane response failures.

“I don’t believe that we’re on pace to serve our North Carolinians, to get them back into their homes. And so the pace we’re at is not acceptable,” Buffaloe said during that meeting.

“This is a team approach, we all accept responsibility, including myself. I accept responsibility of what has happened, but I also accept responsibility and a challenge to get these folks back into their homes,” he said.

Results from two recovery efforts contrast

By the Dec. 14 meeting, work by Rebuild NC on 889 out of 4,313 homes had been completed. As of an earlier legislative meeting on Sept. 14, work on 789 out of 4,197 homes had been completed. This means that between the two meetings, 74 construction projects were completed, while 26 families chose a reimbursement option, Hogshead said.

These results contrast starkly with Office of State Budget and Management Disaster Recovery division that Trumper oversees.

During the September meeting Trumper said OSBM-DR manages more than $50 million in state funds allocated for recovery efforts through state laws known as Disaster Recovery Acts for Matthew and Florence and over $136 million in other disaster recovery funds.

To date, Trumper said, OSBM-DR had helped 903 families, of 927 impacted by the hurricanes, with housing recovery services. It had expended 82.2% of disaster recovery funds, turned down just over 100 applicants and had 13 staff members.

Trumper 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, according to the press release.

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