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Recovering from Disaster: A Summary of the October 17, 2007 Workshop of the Disasters Roundtable (2008)

Chapter: Session II: Some Key Disaster Recovery Issues

« Previous: Session I: Perspectives from Research
Suggested Citation:"Session II: Some Key Disaster Recovery Issues." National Research Council. 2008. Recovering from Disaster: A Summary of the October 17, 2007 Workshop of the Disasters Roundtable. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12196.
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Suggested Citation:"Session II: Some Key Disaster Recovery Issues." National Research Council. 2008. Recovering from Disaster: A Summary of the October 17, 2007 Workshop of the Disasters Roundtable. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12196.
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In the discussion that followed the two presentations, it was suggested by workshop participants that even communities that fail to meet many of the challenges of recovery seldom disappear. It was also noted that recovery is very difficult to direct and manage, even when urban planners and other relevant professionals are heavily involved in the process. Finally, it was suggested that Kobe, Japan, which was struck by a devastating earthquake in 1995, was a recovery success story, even though the city underwent rather significant change following the event. Session II: Some Key Disaster Recovery Issues Role of the Federal Government in Disaster Recovery James A. Walke, chief of the Public Assistance Branch in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Assistance Directorate, led off the session by noting that, besides FEMA, many federal agencies have authority to provide grants and loans following disaster, including the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Focusing his remarks on FEMA’s public assistance program, Walke indicated that it provides funds on a cost-share basis to state and local governments and some non-profit organizations to repair infrastructure. Following a presidential disaster declaration, FEMA processes requests for financial assistance from states for their impacted communities. FEMA’s assistance is provided for such things as emergency response activities, debris removal, rebuilding and repairing structures to their pre-disaster condition, and disaster mitigation efforts. Walke noted that only about 100 staff members in the 10 FEMA regions work on public assistance, and that such a small staff creates a major challenge for the agency following disasters as large as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which require sustained activity over a year or more. According to Walke, about 50 presidential disaster declarations are made each year that result in FEMA providing disaster assistance, and on average about $2.6 billion a year is made available to disaster struck communities for coping with the impacts of disasters, most frequently floods. Walke noted, however, that FEMA expenditures in the Gulf Coast states for Hurricane Katrina far exceeded this figure. Walke indicated that FEMA carries out activities to try to improve the services it offers. FEMA provides information to the public on its disaster assistance program to try to demystify how the agency runs the program, according to Walke. For example, guidelines, fact sheets, and statistical data are provided on the FEMA Web site. Walke also indicated that a new initiative involves developing operational procedures for mega-disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, as opposed to small or medium-size disasters. Role of Health Systems in Disaster Recovery Joseph A. Barbera, clinical associate professor of emergency medicine and co-director of the Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management at George Washington University, began his presentation by indicating that the healthcare system and individual hospitals in the U.S. face many challenges even before disasters strike communities. He noted, for example, that in the last several years healthcare delivery has been compelled to become more “business-like,” with “just enough staff, just enough quality, and just-in-time inventory.” A symptom of the failing capacity is the number of emergency departments and hospitals that are closing around the country, making effective emergency response and disaster recovery that much more difficult when catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina strike vulnerable communities. Barbera noted that there can be no overall community disaster recovery without the restoration of local medical and mental-health delivery systems. 3

According to Barbera, who as a medical doctor has had the opportunity to serve on disaster response teams in both the U.S. and in foreign countries, it is important to understand that the healthcare organizations found in communities throughout the U.S. are not built for the extra surge in patients they are expected to serve after a disaster. They simply do not have the capacity and resources, including staff and funds, to do so. Furthermore, healthcare organizations that are directly or indirectly impacted by a variety of events, including terrorist attacks and natural disasters, can be expected to experience major recovery problems. Barbera noted that this adverse situation is crucial because he, along with others in the medical profession, see healthcare recovery as a critical cornerstone to broader community disaster recovery. He suggested, for example, that the failure to restore the healthcare system in New Orleans since Katrina is a major factor hindering the economic and social revival of the community. Many former residents are hesitant to return to New Orleans because of concern about where they would get healthcare. Also, non- residents who would like to use their skills to help in restoration efforts may find the lack of adequate healthcare resources too daunting a problem to migrate to the city. On top of that the recovery capacity of the healthcare system, and therefore that of the city at large, is further eroded when medical personnel themselves choose to re-locate elsewhere due to slow healthcare system recovery along with degraded quality of life factors like compromised educational systems for their children. Barbera concluded by stressing the importance of government and community focusing upon restoration of the healthcare delivery system post-disaster, and that economic assistance to both public and private healthcare providers will likely provide major benefits in promoting rapid and complete community recovery. Pre-Disaster Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery Laurie Johnson, an independent urban planning consultant, began her joint presentation with fellow planner Robert Olshansky by discussing the evolution of pre-disaster planning for post-disaster recovery in the U.S. She concluded that an initial effort began in 1976 as a result of then mayor of Los Angeles, Thomas Bradley, appointing a task force to explore how the city might respond to a credible earthquake prediction. Recovery was one of the issues that the task force ultimately considered. Another important development that generated interest in preplanning for recovery was a project funded by NSF in the 1980s called Pre-Earthquake Planning for Post Earthquake Rebuilding (PEPPER). Johnson noted that a number of relevant actions in California followed this project, including a recovery and reconstruction plan for Los Angeles, drafted in 1988 and revised in 1993, and the development of recovery and reconstruction plans for California by its Office of Emergency Services. According to Johnson, FEMA entered the picture by funding the development of a post-disaster rebuilding exercise for local governments. This was followed by the agency’s collaboration with the American Planning Association to produce a planning guidebook in 1998 entitled Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction, which was geared towards practicing planners. Robert Olshansky discussed the state of Florida’s three-year post-disaster redevelopment planning initiative launched by the Florida Department of Community Affairs. He noted that funding for the initiative is provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through the Florida Coastal Management Program. All of Florida’s 203 coastal counties and municipalities are required to adopt recovery plans and inland communities are also encouraged to prepare them, according to Olshansky. He noted that many Florida communities already have plans for mitigation and response and that the new initiative is to ensure that long-term recovery strategies also further hazard mitigation and response goals. The Florida recovery planning initiative is being carried out in three phases. The first phase includes a review of existing recovery plans in the state and the development of new guidelines, followed by a test of the guidelines in a pilot community, and then an analysis of the pilot test and revision of the guidelines. The intended outcome of this process is to produce a model post-disaster redevelopment plan that would represent a consensus of relevant stakeholders, including local 4

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Disaster recovery is a complex and challenging process that involves all sectors of a community as well as outside interests. In many cases, it is not even clear if and when recovery has been achieved because of varying stakeholder goals for the community, for example with some wanting it returned to what is considered its pre-disaster status and others wanting it to undergo change to realize a vision in which advances are made in risk reduction and other areas. This workshop considered what has been learned about disaster recovery, which has been understudied in comparison to the emergency and other phases of disasters, from both scientific research and the experience of policy makers and practitioners. Historical and recent recovery actions following such events as the September 11th terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina were discussed, along with examples of both pre- and post-disaster recovery planning.

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