Southwest Arkansas: Promoting Disaster Resilience and Recovery through Better Data

This case study is part of a series produced by the NADO Research Foundation exploring how regional development organizations[1] have used 2008 disaster recovery funds from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to address the impacts of natural disasters, become more resilient to future events, and increase long-term economic competitiveness and quality of life in their regions.  This project is supported by EDA under Agreement No. 08-79-04379.  Any opinions, findings, or recommendations expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of EDA or the NADO Research Foundation. 

Thirteen Tornadoes in Three DaysA text box with a summary of the key points of the case study

In 2008, a series of storms—including Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and several tornadoes—swept across Arkansas.  Seventy-two of the state’s 75 counties were affected one or more times over the course of the year.  Several counties experienced impacts from three or more natural disasters.  Only three Arkansas counties escaped Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster declarations in 2008.[2]

Hurricane Gustav made landfall as only a Category 2 storm, but it hung over the south-central United States for days and inundated the region with tremendous amounts of water.  Hurricane Ike, the third-costliest hurricane ever to make landfall in the U.S., followed just two weeks later, spawning severe weather with tornadic winds.[3]  Arkansas experienced 13 tornadoes over a three-day period, two of which occurred within the Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District’s (SWAPDD) service area.

As the storms subsided and the floods receded, communities were left with the daunting tasks of cleaning up and repairing damaged infrastructure.  Bridges and culverts needed replacing, roads needed resurfacing, and drainage ditches needed clearing.  In parts of Arkansas, such as the economically distressed Mississippi River Delta region, these challenges came on top of the persistent poverty the area has grappled with for decades.

Photo of a destroyed boat building business
Businesses across Arkansas were damaged or destroyed by the 2008 tornadoes. This boat building business in the city of Clinton, in north central Arkansas, was particularly hard-hit. Credit: Vaughan Wingfield, UALR Institute for Economic Advancement.

For state, regional, and local leaders, this series of natural disasters made it clear that businesses are tremendously vulnerable to extreme weather.  They can suffer costly damage, be cut off from supply lines, lose sales, and experience interrupted operations.  In some cases, they may even be forced to close permanently.  When businesses and industries fail or falter, the communities they serve can feel serious impacts, ranging from the lack of access to goods and services to the loss of income and jobs.  These impacts can be worsened if businesses are not adequately prepared for disasters or lack continuity plans, and if local and regional government partners do not have readily available tools and information to assist them in recovery efforts.

“Ike and Gustav had huge effects on our infrastructure, our businesses, and the health of our state and regional economies,” says Renee Dycus, the executive director of SWAPDD.  “After the storms, we were getting calls from some local elected officials, but in the chaos of the recovery process, they had so little time to figure out what assistance was available and ask for it.  We would have liked to have had good baseline information to help us identify needs—especially the needs of the small businesses that play such an important role in the economy of rural Arkansas communities—and reach out proactively to local government and business partners.”[4]

Better Data, New Equipment, and Job Training—A Win-Win-Win

Recognizing the need for better economic and infrastructure data that could be used for future disaster recovery efforts, SWAPDD worked with the Austin regional office of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to develop a proposal to collect that information.  SWAPDD is one of Arkansas’ eight regional planning and development districts.  The organization provides economic and workforce development, community planning, transportation, and waste management services and expertise to Calhoun, Columbia, Dallas, Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Sevier, and Union counties.  SWAPDD staff had not traditionally been engaged in disaster recovery efforts, but after the 2008 events, a report released by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Institute for Economic Advancement highlighted the need to expand their services to address these challenges.  The report detailed the vulnerability of Arkansas’ businesses to natural disasters, found that their needs are often overlooked during disaster planning and recovery, and identified strategies that local, regional, state, and federal agencies could use to help businesses cope more effectively with disasters.[5]  These recommendations motivated SWAPDD to take a more proactive role in preparing for future events.

SWAPDD received $150,000 from EDA in 2009 to develop a comprehensive database of information on the employers and infrastructure in the region.  For businesses, staff collected data on location, number of employees, and contact information when owners wished to provide it.  For infrastructure, they gathered information on the locations of critical facilities and transportation infrastructure, as well as the service areas and customer base numbers of all public water and wastewater systems.  All data was collected in a format that could be mapped using ArcGIS.

Photo of a damaged hospital building
The 2008 tornadoes impacted critical community infrastructure and facilities across the state, like this hospital in the city of Mountain View, in north central Arkansas. Credit: Vaughan Wingfield, UALR Institute for Economic Advancement.

In many cases, the data SWAPDD needed was not readily available, and staff had to go door-to-door to collect it, which was a costly effort.  Leveraging the EDA grant, SWAPDD partnered with the City of Stamps to obtain $81,000 in State General Improvement Funds through the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.  These funds were used to hire a temporary employee for a one-year period, purchase GPS mapping equipment, license GIS (geographic information system) software programs to SWAPDD, and buy a truck for use on the mapping project.  At the end of the year, the employee had gained work experience and had developed a network of contacts with utility system operators who use GIS services.  As a result, he was able to get a job as a full-time GIS drafter at an engineering firm.  The truck was signed over to the City of Stamps, which needed a new city vehicle, and SWAPDD was left in possession of high-quality GPS equipment and GIS software, which they are using to serve the needs of member communities.

“We are a small community, and a free, essentially new vehicle is a really big deal for us.  We’ll probably get 10 to 12 years of use from that truck,” says Ian Ouei, mayor of Stamps.[6]

SWAPDD also leveraged the EDA grant to obtain $150,000 from the Delta Regional Authority for additional employer and infrastructure mapping and economic resilience planning in four Delta counties within their region.[7]

“Responding Faster to Community Needs”

The benefits of the new database are already clear.  First, it will help southwest Arkansas recover from future disasters much faster and more effectively.  It establishes a baseline for the region’s economy which can be overlaid with geographic information about a disaster’s impacts—such as floods and tornado tracks—to immediately estimate the number of affected businesses and employees.  Additionally, it will help government agencies quickly identify damage to infrastructure systems and mobilize repair efforts.  “After an event, we will be able to determine immediately which businesses were affected and need assistance, how many employees are out of work, where our infrastructure needs repairing, and other information that will help us get our economy back up and running,” says Dycus.[8]

Screen shot of the database
The database includes information on business location, number of employees, and contact information. Credit: SWAPDD.


The database will also be used to pre-fill applications for post-disaster funding and technical assistance.  It allows SWAPDD staff to enter basic information about a community into an application form with a few keystrokes on the computer, instead of having to manually type it out.  They have already made use of this function.  “The database and the pre-filled applications have already saved us a phenomenal amount of time and allowed us to respond faster to community needs,” Dycus says.  “After the 2008 floods, we were able to submit 40-50 applications instead of the ten our staff would be able to write without the database.”[9]

The database’s usefulness isn’t limited to disaster recovery.  It provides SWAPDD and local governments with a comprehensive source of detailed and up-to-date information about the economy, physical infrastructure, and demographics that can be used for various planning activities.  For example, SWAPDD is using the data to develop Hazard Mitigation Plans for two member counties.  The database also helps SWAPDD respond to day-to-day requests from communities.  “Recently, a stakeholder called and asked for information about the fire department locations in our region, and we were able to create a map right away,” notes Dycus.[10]

Additionally, with the database’s rich information about community characteristics and needs, it can help SWAPDD identify potential federal and state funding opportunities for local partners, submit applications, request letters of support for projects, and fill out environmental review and other forms with the touch of a button.  “Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District called us out of the blue and asked if we would like to apply for funds for a community center.  We didn’t have to call them—they knew the funding was available, they knew we needed a community center, and they called us,” says Marion Hoosier, mayor of the Town of McCaskill.  “We ended up getting a grant for $208,000 that we didn’t even know was out there.”[11]

The database is maintained by SWAPDD as an internal tool, and local governments pay a small monthly fee to keep their water and wastewater information current.  SWAPDD’s new GIS staff person uses those funds to constantly update the database.  “This project will never end,” says Dycus.  “Our collection of information will be ongoing, and we will continue to update the database so we will always have the most accurate and useful data.”[12]

Text box with a quote from Renee Dycus

This project has had the additional benefit of strengthening relationships with local water and sewer departments and emergency managers in the region.  Previously, SWAPDD had only worked with local water and sewer staff on a limited basis and had never interacted with county emergency managers.  These new partnerships help SWAPDD staff better understand community needs, keep them connected with local planning activities, and allow them to coordinate and prioritize District-wide activities.

“Major Players in Disaster Resilience and Recovery”

SWAPDD and its member communities have already received multiple benefits from EDA’s investment of disaster recovery funds, but they are not stopping there.  This project has shown staff the importance of being engaged in disaster-related issues.  “I think planning and development districts are major players in disaster resilience and recovery,” says Dycus.  SWAPDD staff are exploring the possibility of incorporating disaster preparedness into their EDA-required Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and looking at how they can become more active partners with communities to enhance local pre-disaster planning and preparation.  Furthermore, as they continue to expand the database, they are considering adding information about flooding and other natural hazards that could help to inform future development decisions.[13]

The benefits of SWAPDD’s work are also spreading outside of southwest Arkansas.  Seeing how critical GIS information is to communities as they prepare for and recover from disasters, regional planning and development districts throughout the state are looking at how they can replicate this effort.  SWAPDD has already shared its database with other regions so they can populate it with their own information. This project is showing that comprehensive, up-to-date data is a critical piece of disaster preparedness and recovery.

This case study was written by Megan McConville, NADO Program Manager.

Click here to download this case study as a PDF.

Click here to return to the main page of the Lessons from the Storm: Case Studies on Economic Recovery and Resilience series.

[1] The term “regional development organization” refers to the multi-jurisdictional regional planning and development organizations that exist throughout the country and are known by various names in different states, including councils of government, regional councils, economic development districts, local development districts, and planning and development councils.  These public-based entities play an invaluable role in fostering intergovernmental collaboration among federal, state, and local officials; deliver and manage federal and state programs; and work to solve area-wide issues and to address the fundamental building blocks required for competitive and sustainable communities and economies.

[2] EDA Disaster Response and Preparedness Plan. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute for Economic Advancement. 2010.

[3] Hurricane Ike Impact Report. Federal Emergency Management Agency. 2008.

[4] Dycus, Renee. Personal interview. June 17, 2013.

[5] EDA Disaster Response and Preparedness Plan. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute for Economic Advancement. 2010.

[6] Dycus, Renee. Personal communication. August 29, 2013.

[7] Dycus, Renee. Personal interview. June 17, 2013.

[8] Dycus, Renee. Personal interview. June 17, 2013.

[9] Dycus, Renee. Personal interview. June 17, 2013.

[10] Dycus, Renee. Personal interview. June 17, 2013.

[11] Dycus, Renee. Personal communication. August 29, 2013.

[12] Dycus, Renee. Personal interview. June 17, 2013.

[13] Dycus, Renee. Personal interview. June 17, 2013.


Contact Joe D'Antonio

Regional Development Researcher Andrew Coker joined the NADO team in March of 2023 after spending two and a half years as the Regional Economic Resiliency Coordinator at West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. Andrew holds a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

At NADO, Andrew conducts research on the newest economic and community development best practices from Economic Development Districts across the country. He helps produce easily digestible information on complex regional issues through case studies, tip sheets, and research reports. Andrew also hosts training and professional development opportunities including conference sessions and virtual webinars for member regional development organizations.

Andrew is one of our Missouri-based team members and enjoys reading and training for his next triathlon.

Jack Morgan came to the NADO team in 2022 after seven years with the National Association of Counties (NACo) as a Program and Senior Program Manager. Prior to NACo, Jack was a Policy Analyst for Friends of Southwest Virginia. Jack holds a bachelor’s in geography from Emory & Henry College and a master’s in geography from Appalachian State University.

As a NADO Senior Program Manager, Jack leads capacity-building and peer-learning work supporting energy communities in economic transition, regional resilience, and recreation economies. He also helps with the EDA-Austin training program Emerging Leaders.

Jack is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is a member of the American Planning Association (APA) in the Regional & Intergovernmental Planning division. He also serves on the Emory & Henry College Alumni Board.

Taking road trips, reading non-fiction, and indulging in top-notch barbecue and coffee round out Jack’s days. He loves maps, mountains, and of course, all things sports.

Karron Grant joined the NADO team in 2023 as Administrative Specialist and is the first face (or voice) you’ll see or hear when reaching out to NADO. As Administrative Specialist, Karron manages our database and coordinates NADO event operations. He ensures members’ needs are met, contact information stays current, and NADO’s office is running efficiently.

Karron came to NADO after four years in the classroom teaching at The New Century School and Old Mill Middle North where he received the Patriot of the Year award. He attended Towson University and the University of Maryland Global Campus and holds a bachelor’s in international studies and humanities.

Visiting art galleries and museums, playing basketball and bowling, and taking in movies and music are some of Karron’s interests and hobbies.

Deputy Executive Director Laurie Thompson has been with NADO for 25 years. Laurie helps keep the NADO and NADO Research Foundation wheels turning through management of the daily operations of the Research Foundation, securing financial resources and overseeing grants management, and helping execute NADO’s Annual Training Conference each year.

Laurie holds a bachelor’s in public affairs and government from Mount Vernon College and a master’s in health services administration from The George Washington University. Prior to NADO, Laurie spent time as a Field Specialist and an Eagle Staff Fund Director at First Nations Development Institute.

When she’s taking a rare reprieve from her NADO work, Laurie enjoys traveling domestically and internationally to visit friends and family.

Jamie McCormick joined the NADO team as a Policy Fellow first in 2019, then moved into her current role as Legislative Associate in 2021. As Legislative Associate, Jamie keeps NADO members apprised of any policy and regulatory issues and communicates NADO’s policy priorities to federal stakeholders and partner organizations. She is also the first stop for members with inquiries on policy issues. The planning and execution of NADO & DDAA’s annual Washington Conference is also managed by Jamie.

Jamie holds a dual bachelor’s in political science and international relations from The State University of New York College at Geneseo and a master’s in international development studies from The George Washington University. In addition to her roles at NADO, Jamie also worked as a Legislative Assistant for the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association.

Outside of her NADO work, Jamie is an active volunteer with the VOLO Kids Foundation and a fundraiser for YMCA youth programs. She is also NADO’s resident baker regularly providing treats for those in NADO’s D.C. office. Traveling, taking her pup on walks, and hiking in the northeast keep Jamie busy. 

Brett Schwartz began at NADO in 2012 as a Research Fellow after earning his J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The following year, he was promoted to Program Manager and has now been leading as an Associate Director since 2018. Brett is responsible for managing NADO’s Economic Development District Community of Practice (EDD CoP), as well as researching and monitoring the latest trends in regional economic development and resilience, including best practices for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). With more than a decade of experience on the NADO team, Brett is a dynamic relationship builder helping connect and build capacity among the national network of regional development organizations.

Brett also holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s from Trinity College Dublin, as well as a certificate in mediation training. He’s a member of Catalyst Grantmakers of San Diego and Imperial Counties and was a participant in the 2021-22 Field Trips to the Future Cohort.

Brett is one of NADO’s West Coast team members residing in San Diego, CA where he enjoys spending time outdoors, attending concerts and festivals, and soaking up life as a parent of two young children.  

Communications Manager Katie Allison joined the team in 2023 to lead the strategic communication efforts of NADO. Katie creates and develops print and online materials, communicates NADO’s updates to members via weekly emails, and maintains content for and NADO’s social media channels. She also works with different departments to generate new ideas and strategies to effectively describe and promote the important work NADO is doing for EDDs and RDOs across the country.

An experienced nonprofit communications professional, Katie has worked for organizations in western North Carolina for nearly a decade. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from Wingate University where she was a four-year student athlete. Katie has also completed Vision Henderson County, a comprehensive leadership development program that promotes informed and committed civic volunteerism.

Katie stays busy trying to keep up with her two young sons whom she enjoys exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains with. Traveling to new and favorite places and cheering on the Atlanta Braves are some of her family’s favorite pastimes.

Senior Program Manager Ciara Ristig has been a member of the NADO team since 2021, and helps with NADO’s EDD Community of Practice, EDD staff capacity building and other grants on a range of subjects, including equity and solar energy. Before NADO, Ciara worked as a Planner for the County of Santa Barbara and an Assistant Project Manager for REM Consult. Ciara holds a bachelor’s in urban studies and French from Bryn Mawr and a master’s in urban studies from Ecole d’Urbanisme de Paris.

When she’s not traveling, you can find her outrigger paddling and serving on the board of the Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama, CA, near her home base of Santa Barbara.

Carrie Kissel has been a member of the NADO team since 2005 when she began as a Research Fellow. She later moved into the roles of Program Manager in 2006, and then Associate Director in 2011. Carrie holds a bachelor’s in anthropology from Ball State University and a master’s in public anthropology from American University. As Associate Director, Carrie oversees NADO’s work in rural transportation and rural wealth creation. She provides technical assistance and support to rural regions on transportation and economic development issues and develops training and peer exchange events on transportation issues and rural wealth creation as an economic development strategy.

Carrie is a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and secretary of TRB’s Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council. She is also a member of the American Anthropological Association and the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

Reading, gardening, hiking, and kayaking are a few of Carrie’s hobbies, and she organizes and facilitates a DEI/social justice-focused book club in her community.

Melissa Levy has worked at NADO as a Regional Development Researcher since February 2023 and is the Principal Consultant at her own firm specializing in wealth-based economic development consulting. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, Melissa brings a breadth of knowledge to her role as a Regional Development Researcher. Melissa provides in-depth research, coaching, and training on regional economic resilience, rural wealth creation strategies, and economic development.

Melissa is a North American Food Systems Network trained AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion (ACRE) facilitator and a WealthWorks coach, facilitator, and trainer. In addition to her professional work, Melissa serves on the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Council, on the board of the Hinesburg Community Resource Center, and on the Hinesburg Economic Development Committee.

A true outdoorswoman, Melissa enjoys cross country and downhill skiing, paddleboarding, hiking, biking, and kayaking, as well as yoga, and teaching Tai Chi.

Program Manager Krishna Kunapareddy began her role with NADO in February of 2023 after 14 years of service at Boonslick Regional Planning Commission in Missouri. Krishna manages NADO Research Foundation’s Planning and Environmental Linkages and Center for Environmental Excellence projects. In addition to researching and writing, Krishna also conducts virtual workshops on innovative tools and techniques related to transportation planning.

She holds an undergraduate degree from Andhra University and a master’s from JNT University in India, as well as a master’s in city and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington. Krishna is also a certified Smart Cities Academy Practitioner and holds the Location Advantage certificate from geographic information system software company ESRI.

In her spare time, Krishna volunteers with Mentors4College helping high schoolers better plan for their post-high school paths. She is also a dedicated advocate for documented H4 Dreamers.

Krystal DeLeon joined the NADO team in October of 2020 as Database & Grants Manger, but in January of 2022 transitioned to her current role as Operations Manager. Krystal keeps NADO running through behind the scenes work of invoicing, solving any database issues that may arise, producing membership reports, and much more. Her organizational skills and thorough knowledge help the NADO team operate more efficiently across all departments.

Prior to NADO, Krystal was the Conference Services Coordinator for State Services Organization. She is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), a licensed realtor, and holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Liberty University. When she’s not keeping NADO’s operations in order, Krystal enjoys running and rock climbing, and adventuring with her husband and son.

Senior Program Manager Bret Allphin joined NADO in April of 2022 bringing with him a wealth of knowledge after a 20-year career with Buckeye Hills Regional Council in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to his bachelor’s in political science and master’s in public affairs, Bret is licensed Geographical Information Systems Professional (GISP). He is NADO’s go-to team member for all things mapping while also supporting members with transportation and economic development technical assistance services.

An avid sports aficionado and former collegiate athlete, Bret enjoys cheering on his Cincinnati Reds, hitting the trails on his mountain bike, and improving his golf game whenever possible. Bret is an involved community member in Marietta dedicating much of his spare time to serving on local nonprofit boards.

Contact Karron Grant

Applications cannot be saved and returned to at a later time. It is recommended you compile all of your information in advance in a word processor and cut and paste into the application below.

2023 Impact Awards

The primary applicant must be a NADO member. Project partners, both NADO and non-members, can be recognized under "Project Partners" below.

Primary Project Contact:
This person will be the designated point of contact for all future awards-related correspondence.

Organization Address

Project Location (if different from Organization Address)

Executive Director

Additional Organizational Information
Please upload your organization's logo which will be included on the winning project award certificate.

Project Information
This title will be printed on the award certificate for winning projects and in all 2022 NADO Impact Award materials and cannot be changed.

Project Summary & Questions
Please craft clear, thoughtful, and engaging responses to the following questions. Use the following sections to tell us how your project has made an impact, such as its use of creative funding mechanisms, efforts to create efficiencies or reduce costs, unique partnership models, and emphasis on building resilience and/or enhancing your region's quality of life.

For award-winning projects, the information provided below may be used verbatim to inform project descriptions that will be published in the 2023 NADO Impact Awards materials and included on the NADO website.

Please submit at least one photo showing your project in action. Please keep file size to a minimum (<2Mb) and use JPEG format. If uploading multiple files, ZIP files prior to submitting. If you have trouble uploading images they can be directly emailed to Brett Schwartz at [email protected]. Include the project title they correspond to in the subject line of your email.

Note: Submitted photos may be used in NADO Impact Awards materials and in other NADO published materials with credit to your organization. Please also consider submitting photos for NADO's 2023 Photo Contest, which will be held this summer.

Your application is not submitted until you are directed to a confirmation page. If you have any questions or are unsure if your application has been submitted, please contact Brett Schwartz at [email protected]

Contact Melissa Levy

Contact Krishna Kunapareddy

Contact Andrew Coker

Contact Lara Gale

Contact Katie Allison

Contact Jack Morgan

Content Questions Form

Registration Questions Form

Hotel Questions Form

New Speaker Inquiry

Job Listing Inquiry

Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.

Contact Danny Tomares

Contact Dion Thompson-Davoli

Contact Ciara Ristig

Contact Bret Allphin

Contact Brett Schwartz

Contact Carrie Kissel

Contact Scott Brown

Contact Jamie McCormick

Contact Joe McKinney

Contact Krystal De Leon

Contact Brittany Salazar

Contact Laurie Thompson

Contact Mirielle Burgoyne