• Local leadership and organizations are crucial for successful recovery, and new community-based organizations emerge to carry out needed tasks, but outside resources are also vital.

  • The most effective role for government is to support the recovery efforts of local organizations, including providing funds and information.

  • Citizen participation is essential for setting goals and ensuring community support for recovery strategies and actions.

  • After disasters, the strength of continuing social and economic networks, including families, community groups, and businesses, are a key to successful community recovery.

  • Pre-existing plans can help improve both the speed and quality of post-disaster recovery decisions.

Olshansky also noted that, except for the worst disasters, cities usually rebuild in the same place, and negative pre-disaster trends usually worsen during recovery. Speed is vital in rebuilding after disasters in order to keep businesses alive, rebuild infrastructure, and provide temporary and permanent housing for disaster victims. At the same time, careful deliberation is also important in order to ensure that permanent communities are economically viable, safe, and sustainable places.

Conceptualizing and Documenting Community Disaster Recovery

Like Robert Olshansky, Daniel Alesch, professor emeritus of public administration at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, has spent many years studying community disaster recovery. With funding from such organizations as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Public Entity Risk Institute, Alesch has been involved in collaborative research to document disaster recovery in about 30 communities of all sizes across the U.S. over a twelve-year period. The conceptual framework used in this research to understand community recovery from disaster involves seeing communities as complex, dynamic, and open systems which are continually changing. An extreme event like a disaster seriously disrupts elements in a community system and their relationship with outside entities, such as external groups, organizations, and markets.

After a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, communities do not just bounce back to exactly the way they were before; they reform, according to Alesch. His research shows that they may not always reform to the pre-event system. Alesch noted that key findings from his research include :

  • If community recovery means reestablishing what existed before the event, it almost never happens.

  • Recovery is neither assured nor automatic.

  • There is no recovery timetable.

  • Recovery can be defined as becoming satisfactorily viable in the post-event period.

  • The real benefits of community hazard mitigation are that it enhances the probability of community recovery, especially given an event of small or moderate size.

  • Replacing and rebuilding structures is necessary, but not sufficient for recovery.

  • It takes time to repair, rebuild, or replace relationships in a community, which is an important aspect of recovery.

  • Government usually has to make up-front investments to further community disaster recovery.

  • Recovery almost necessarily involves inefficiencies.

Alesch indicated that the next steps in his collaborative work on community disaster recovery involves completing a book aimed at helping local government managers deal with the challenges of disaster recovery, and building the research data base on the topic and devising and testing rigorous hypotheses to advance knowledge in the field.

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