Disasters, Leadership and Rebuilding – Lessons from Japan and the U.S.

Mack_Plaza at Wharton School of the University...

From the Wharton School, a special report titled Disasters, Leadership and Rebuilding – Tough Lessosn from Japan and the U.S. (20 pp.)

Personally, I found the information on pages 14 and following the most interesting.  We talk a lot about resilience these days, but many of the problems identified and discussed in this article are longstanding ones. And many are intractable or “wicked problems,” in the parlance of  public administration.

Thanks to Jane Kushma for calling this article to my attention.


“The Road to Recovery”

Don’t miss this article ( 8 pp.) by two of the best and most experienced disaster researchers in the U.S. See The Road to Recovery; Governing Post-Disaster Reconstruction, by Laurie A. Johnson and Robert B. Olshansky.

This article “… summarizes ongoing research into the roles of various government levels in successful disaster recovery and rebuilding…. It represents the synthesis of two decades of recovery research and planning practice following some of the of the larges disaster of our time….”

The focus of the article is national organizations established for governance after a major disaster.

For those interested in recovery research, be sure to read the last section titled “Next Steps in Our Research.”

Staten Island – the ultimate in recovery problems

The Samuel I. Newhouse, one of two Barberi cla...


A compelling article from the HuffPost on Dec. 6th.: Staten Island’s Hurricane Sandy Damage Sheds Light on Complicated Political Battle.  For those who are not familiar with the many factors that affect recovery, be sure to read this article. It is 9 pages long, but a must read.

Staten Island after H.Sandy bears more resemblance to the 9th Ward of New Orleans after H. Katrina than you might have imagined.

Recovery – NY Style

Here are some useful examples of what “snap back” and resilient recovery plans look like. It remains to be seen how the conflicts and tradeoffs between the two will be addressed.

Short-Term Recovery:

Winter looming, New York rushes to repair homes hit by superstorm Sandy: Hiring private contractors to repair homes quickly, New York responds to disaster relief in its own entrepreneurial way. Will the city be able to get people back in their homes before year’s end? [This article is based in part on the testimony that NY Congressman Nadler gave at a House Committee Hearing on Dec. 4th, part of which was the basis for my posting yesterday.]

This article covers the inherent conflicts in the recovery process: how to get rapid action on repairs and recovery for homeowners  — in this case in the winter time, in a location where the usual types of temporary housing are not an option. What remains to be determined are ways to mitigate the likely future storm damage.

Long-Term Recovery Plans:

Bravo to Mayor Bloomberg for his understanding of and commitment to a recovery process that results in a more resilient NYC in the future.  [Link to full text is here.]  On Dec. 6th the Mayor spoke out about long-term recovery intentions:

Long-Term Recovery – some baseline information

As the implementation planning for recovery begins, it is worth reviewing what the baseline is for national recovery guidance from FEMA.  See the recent GAO testimony/report, titled Disaster Recovery; Selected Themes for Effective Long-Term Recovery; June 2012. A copy is attached here:Testimony-Czerwinski.  It reviews the National Disaster Recovery Framework and the newly created position of Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator.

Also the National Preparedness Goal — npg — issued in Sept. 2011 by DHS, outlines the “core capabilities” needed for state and local governments to deal effectively with a catastrophic disaster event.  The extent to which this document has contributed to capabilities for recovery in the states and municipalities affected by H. Sandy remains to be determined.

[Special thanks to Bill Cumming for calling these documents to my attention.]

The pending recovery from H. Sandy will allow us to watch the implementation of the NDRF, the role of the FDRC, and the  new role created for HUD Secretary Donovan, who was named by the President as the overall manager of recovery for NY and NJ.  The interaction among those 3 positions/persons will be most interesting, in my view.


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More on the Big Issues Pending re Recovery After Sandy- update on 11/27

Six articles in the past week raise some of the the larger issues, at least from the media pundits and some academics.  I am curious as to why we have not seen any recommendations from professional associations like APA, ICMA, ASCE and the like. [Feel free to write in if you have seen some.]

I view it as quite positive that so many observers are thinking ahead and are considering what changes are needed.  Usually, the pressure to restore things to pre-event status (“snap back”) is very strong. It remains to be seem what the public officials will do over time.

The High Cost of Doing Nothing * * * ; Nov. 24
Rebuilding After Sandy Is Too Big A Risk; Nov. 24. CNN.
Disaster Economics, New Yorker, dated Dec. 3,2012.
NY Can Protect Itself Without Federal Aid, Nov. 27.
12 Ways to Prevent the Next Sandy, Newsweek. Nov 27.

New Info:  The National Hazards Mitigation Association has spoken out re rebuilding.

NEW CONCERN: Here is what I am worried about – repairs, restoration, and other near-term actions taken before longer-term decisions are made. See: Hurricane Sandy: New Jersey Rebuilding Ahead Of Thoughtful Decisions?

Some advocates fear that rebuilding efforts could take shape on New Jersey’s storm-devastated shore before thoughtful decisions can be made about just how the area should be rebuilt.

The federal government brought thousands of tons of stone, sand and riprap to repair an inlet that the storm ripped open, reconnecting the bay and ocean in a narrow section of barrier island in Mantoloking. The state is repairing Route 35 where it was washed away by that breach and two others nearby.

Also, state action has also made it easier to rebuild damaged infrastructure such as roads and water pipes.

The Big Picture After H. Sandy

This astute overview of the issues pending in the aftermath of H. Sandy.  Vetoing Business as Usual After the Storm. NYT, Nov. 20. It gives you a good idea of why achieving an effective and visionary  recovery is so hard after a major natural disaster.  Quotes from the opening paragraphs:

Not a month after Hurricane Sandy there’s a rough consensus about how to respond. America is already looking to places like London, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Tokyo, where sea walls, levees and wetlands, flood plains and floating city blocks have been conceived.

New York clearly ought to have taken certain steps a while back, no-brainers after the fact. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority ought to have installed floodgates and louvers at vulnerable subway entrances and vents. Consolidated Edison should have gotten its transformers, and Verizon its switching stations, out of harm’s way, and Congress should have ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to study the impact of giant barriers to block parts of the city from the sea.

Scientists, architects, planners and others have, of course, been mulling over these issues for years. They’ve pressed for more parkland and bike lanes, green roofs and  energy-efficient buildings, and warned about the need for backup generators, wetland edges along Lower Manhattan and barrier islands for the harbor to cushion the blow of rushing tides.

Hurricane Sandy was a toll paid for procrastination. The good news? We don’t need to send a bunch of Nobel laureates into the desert now, hoping they come up with some new gizmo to save the planet. Solutions are at hand. Money shouldn’t be a problem either, considering the hundreds of billions of dollars, and more lives, another Sandy or two will cost.

So the problem is not technological or, from a long-term cost-benefit perspective, financial. Rather it is the existential challenge to the messy democracy we’ve devised. The hardest part of what lies ahead won’t be deciding whether to construct Eiffel Tower-size sea walls across the Verrazano Narrows and Hell Gate, or overhauling the city’s sewage and storm water system, which spews toxic waste into rivers whenever a couple of inches of  rain fall because the sea levels have already risen so much. These are monumental tasks


The hard truths, conflicting factors, and tight money — painful recovery decisions ahead

This WSJ article, dated Nov. 17, captures some of the harsh realities of the long-term recovery process: The Future Question for Storm Victims: Can the Past Be Rebuilt?  Some excerpts:

“I promised to everybody that I was speaking on behalf of the country when I said we are going to be here until the rebuilding is complete, and I meant it,” President Barack Obama said Thursday during a visit to New York City’s battered Staten Island.

But with the federal budget deep in the red and government flood insurance still straining to recover from Hurricane Katrina, Sea Bright and other coastal towns face questions over not just how to rebuild in a way that defends lives and property against surging sea levels and more intense storms, but whether to rebuild at all.

Sandy’s destructive path has united an unlikely coalition of free-market think tanks, environmentalists, business owners and insurers arguing the moral hazard of rebuilding in coastal zones that might best be returned to nature.

“It’s very difficult to get beyond the sympathy factor,” said Orrin Pilkey, a coastal geologist at Duke University. “But it works against us.” He said he knows the issue firsthand: Hurricane Camille in 1969 damaged his parents’ Mississippi home. Hurricane Katrina later obliterated it.

“We are subsidizing, even encouraging, very dangerous development,” he said. “It’s amoral, really, that our government continues to blindly and stupidly do this.”

As noted earlier, the new federal lead person for recovery for the declared states is HUD Sec. Shaun Donovan. How he will do that job on top of his HUD job is beyond me. I wish him good luck.

General Honore ( of New Orleans fame) questions the recovery process. He says Recovery is “Stumbling,” Nov. 15, CNN.

New Organizational Approach to Recovery – CERA in NZ

English: The Pyne Gould Building following the...

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The Christchurch/Canterbury region has formed a new organization to lead its recovery efforts, namely the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.  Here are some details from the NZ press: Cera could emerge as star of Canty recovery . Some excerpts follow:

A Canterbury fixture for a few more years, Cera will be either the star of recovery or the target of an embittered public…It started with a handful of government department phone-ins and Civil Defence hangers-on, in a shabby office smelling of fresh paint, hammering out a plan to rebuild Christchurch. Now they are everywhere. They hold meetings with grumpy, earthquake-stricken residents and offer bus tours of devastated central Christchurch. They buy thousands of homes, order the demolition of 20-storeyed buildings and politely tell the public where they can and cannot go.

It easy to forget that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) has existed for less than a year. Since the state of emergency was lifted after the February 22 quake, the authority has assumed the central role in Christchurch’s recovery.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act, passed in April, has given Cera and Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee unprecedented power. They can change laws, bypass courts, seize property and take over almost any responsibility normally left to local councils.

For those who want more information, here is the direct URL for CERA.

The closest analogy to this type of organization that I can think of in the U.S. is the use of an urban renewal authority, with eminent domain powers, to lead the recovery planning process.  I would like to hear from folks in the U.S. how this approach would be greeted in their localities.





Recovery planning that shows imagination and vision – Christchurch, N.Z.

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The public officials and planners working on the recovery and reconstruction of Christchurch, NZ are aware that the eyes of the world are upon them.  Apparently, significant efforts are being made to incorporate some significant scientific and design innovations in the rebuilding process. Some excerpts from the article follow:

After nine months of work, the final draft of the Central City Plan will be adopted by the Christchurch City Council on Thursday. Mayor Bob Parker discusses development of the framework that will guide the redevelopment of our central city.

This week is significant in the history of Christchurch – it is when the city council adopts the framework to guide the redevelopment of the earthquake-damaged central city which will see Christchurch evolve as one of the most modern cities in the world.

Christchurch has already been recognised internationally by American- based Foreign Policy magazine as one of the top 10 global cities in the world to watch as the city begins to rebuild its urban landscape.

This is guaranteed to keep the spotlight on Christchurch in coming years and encourage international investment, so vital to regenerate our city.

For the council, the process of developing the final draft Central City Plan has been challenging.

If any New Zealanders are reading this, we would like to hear your views on how the process is going.