Review of Recovery Issues – continued

This is a continuation of the Recovery Issues discussion and it also builds on the earlier posting titled Disaster Recovery is a National Disgrace. I think the problems described are not just in the U.S. but are international.

Since this blog is dedicated to discussing the recovery phase of disasters, it attracts comments and questions from readers in many countries.  The Diva often chats with experienced and influential researchers and practitioners in Canada, NZ, Australia, and other countries also are struggling to find the intellectual and practical knowledge base re recovery.  Typically, they are unable to find good definitions, policies, guidance, and case studies with respect to long-term recovery from disasters.

In this digital era, a country should be able to find a way to work through some of the needs for information sharing, knowledge collection, and a repository for best practices. And ideally countries  could be working with each other to advance the state of the art and practice.

Anyone want to take on the challenge?

Update: So far 3 people have contacted me to tell me about efforts underway.  Be glad to hear about more.


Review of Recovery Issues

Some time ago, the Diva and her colleague, Jude Colle, wrote a paper titled What Keeps Me Up at Night. As a sequel to that paper, the authors prepared a chapter in a yet-to-be published book, which elaborated on 6 items causing sleeplessness. One is  recovery. NOTE: citations to most of the documents referred to here can be found by using the search function on this blog, because they have been covered here previously.

Long term recovery from a disaster or emergency consists of those efforts taken to help a community return to “normal” however that might be defined by the community and, if possible, better than the pre-disaster state. Recovery is especially affected by actions taken during the preparedness and mitigation phases of the emergency management cycle. Recovery usually consists of two parts: short-term and long term. Typically, short-term recovery begins while the response phase of a disaster is still going on and includes such items as temporary housing, structure stabilization, restoration of utilities, debris removal, and assessing damage. Long-term recovery addresses permanent housing and the rebuilding of public buildings and infrastructure, use of scientific and engineering solutions, upgrades to codes, and environmental restoration. Long- term recovery from a disaster is often the most expensive phase of emergency management and the longest in duration. Full recovery may take years, if not decades to be completed.

Academic Perspective

As a nation, we still are not making the kind of progress that is needed with respect to long-term recovery. We still do not have an understanding of the many variables and complexities of recovery. Nor are we doing an adequate job documenting, assessing, and compiling a knowledge base about recovery. Ideally, an effective practical recovery research knowledge base would include information sources and resources on:
• Recovery theory
• Best practices
• Case studies
• Outcomes
• Models

The lack of attention to creating a body of recovery theory has been a concern, at least for the research community, for many years. In November 2010, the Public Entity Risk Institute sponsored a workshop at the University of North Carolina, with funding support from the National Science Foundation, to deal with this topic. For the first time, about 25 academics, researchers, and practitioners from across the country assembled to address the topic of recovery theory and related aspects.

The results of the workshop were published as a Special Edition on Disaster Recovery in the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters August 2012, Vol. 30. No. 2. It was unfortunate that it took two years to get the results published, and that they were published in a journal that is not as well publicized outside of academia. Nevertheless, that issue is perhaps the single best summary of recent thinking about recovery theory.

Another useful source is an article by Gavin Smith and Dennis Wenger ”Sustainable Disaster Recovery: Operationalizing an Existing Agenda” (Smith and Wenger, 2006.) With regard to best practices, case studies, and outcome see also several other chapters in the Handbook of Disaster Research cited above and another journal article: Long Term Recovery; the Neglected Component of Emergency Management (Rubin, 2009 ).

Other excellent research has been done by Laurie Johnson and Prof. Robert Olshansky. For example, their recent work with the American Planning Association and their recent book titled Clear as Mud: Planning for the Rebuilding of New Orleans.

Among the various reasons for the deficiencies in the progress of long-term recovery is that federal agencies are not providing enough guidance and technical assistance to states and localities—especially those localities that may only experience long-term recovery perhaps once (if they are lucky) in the tenure of their public officials or in the lifetime of most citizens. Often, what is missing is one or more of the following: knowledge of threats/ disasters, knowledge and practice of emergency management, ability to act (including public management capabilities and money), and the political will and muscle that is needed to address and implement recovery at the national and other levels. Another key deficiency is that there is no explicit federal mandate for recovery—no recovery equivalent of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000.

Since the issuance of Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 8: National Preparedness, and the advent of the National Disaster Recovery Framework more attention is being given to recovery theory, practice, and cases examples, but these are general guidance and recommended actions only. There is no mandate that compels federal, state, and local governments or citizens to incorporate the recommended recovery practices. Hence, we still have a long way to go. Among the needed undercarriage for recovery are mandates such as statutes and regulations, policies, programs, local codes, and funding akin to response and preparedness. Additionally, a Recovery Knowledge Base has not been assembled; hence, recovery experience is not being captured, analyzed, improved upon, or shared in the 25+ years that we’ve been tracking this area.

Practitioner Perspective

Practitioners at all levels of government have struggled to find positive models of recovery and templates or checklists of items to be considered but have often been unable to develop a sufficient list. From our perspective, their frustrations are due to several factors:

• Recovery is very complex and varies considerably from place to place. There are so many variables to be considered that simple guidance documents and checklists really are not feasible.
• Although FEMA has been in existence for 35 years, the agency only issued the National Disaster Recovery Framework in September 2011. And the guidance for implementing that framework has yet to be issued (as of Sept. 2013). Furthermore, that Framework applies mainly to FEMA and its federal partners. States and local governments are not required to follow it.
• The lack of a knowledge base on recovery, particularly information about both good and bad examples of local experience with recovery.

Systemic Problems

As noted above, the lack of laws, regulations, guidance, and technical assistance from the federal government to state and local governments contributes to serious systemic problems and leaves large areas of uncertainty for governmental and nongovernmental organizations responsible for disaster response and recovery. Another issue has to do with the extent that federal policies and programs, like the National Flood Insurance Program, may have inadvertently contributed to coastal structural damage rather than reduce it by providing flood insurance that is low-cost and doesn’t require necessary mitigation that would likely reduce damage to insured structures.

Two other problems regarding long-term recovery were brought to the forefront recently by Superstorm/Hurricane Sandy. One concerns the problems that arise after flooding events; rebuilding is dependent on FEMA’s flood maps (under the NFIP). Given the unpredictable areas of impact and the coastal or riverine changes resulting from the flood event, new mapping efforts must be done and such efforts often take 12-18 months. In the meantime, elevation and set back requirements are unknown as yet, while residents anxious to rebuild are in limbo. They can and do work off of estimated base elevation maps, but final determinations may take a year or more. In the NY and NJ area the maps were last updated about 25 years prior to Hurricane Sandy, so the changes caused great anguish for property owners.Another concern, also related to the NFIP is the issue of repetitive flood losses.

For a fuller discussion of recovery projects and needs, from the federal perspective, see the Report of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, issued in August 2013. That 300 page report contains 69 recommendations, and is too new for the authors to fully incorporate the materials in this chapter.


Personal Profile of Accomplished Gov’t Scientist

Once in a while the Wash Post does a profile on an unsung hero or heroine in the federal service. See this profile of Gari Mayberry. 

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CA Drought – one good outcome

I guess this story is the CA version of the old saying “When life serves you lemons, make lemonade.”  See California Drought Produces Tastier Wine Grapes; Vintners Tout Harvest as Dry Spell Leads to More-Flavorful Grapes


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Seniors and Disasters

Here are two recent reports on the topic:

  1. From the NY academy of Medicine. Resilient Communities: Empowering Older Adults in Disasters and Daily Life. 108 pages.
  2. Older people hit hardest by disasters – report. This news article is about a new UN report and some guidelines.

The report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and HelpAge International comes at a time when life expectancy continues to rise and the aging population continues to grow.

The report urged governments worldwide to include older people in all aspects of disaster management planning to reduce the death toll among those over 60.

Here are direct links to some of the UN resources:

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DHS Morale Sinks Again – Oct. 13

From the WashPost today:  DHS morale sinks further despite new leadership at the top, survey shows.  Some key points:

While the survey shows that the vast majority of DHS employees are hard-working and dedicated to their mission to protect the homeland, many say the department discourages innovation, treats employees in an arbitrary fashion and fails to recruit skilled personnel. [emphasis added]

Over the past four years, employees have left DHS at a rate nearly twice as fast as for the federal government overall, according to a review of a federal database.

I find it really sad that the organizational home for emergency management at the national level is in a department that is so troubled.  So many dedicated and hard-working people want to be part of the EM field but the work environment is not efficient, effective, or supportive.

I try, and urge others to do so to, not to blame FEMA personnel for the organizational and structural disfunction of their employer.


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