National Academies Press: OpenBook

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

Chapter: Session III: Historical and Current Recovery Experience and Status

« Previous: Session II: Some Key Disaster Recovery Issues
Suggested Citation:"Session III: Historical and Current Recovery Experience and Status." 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.
Page 5
Suggested Citation:"Session III: Historical and Current Recovery Experience and Status." 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.
Page 6
Suggested Citation:"Session III: Historical and Current Recovery Experience and Status." 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.
Page 7

Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

government officials and planners, which would result in integrated regional decision making on such key issues as post-disaster infrastructure and future land use patterns. Olshansky emphasized the importance, as Florida is attempting to do, of completing such planning before a disaster rather than doing it under the pressure of an actual event. Johnson concluded the joint presentation by noting that mitigation and recovery planning need to be priorities both before and after disasters. She also applauded renewed emphasis on catastrophic planning in highly vulnerable areas, particularly efforts focused on potential regional challenges. During the discussion following the session presentations, the point was made that, compared to a few years ago, the federal government is now doing a great deal to promote hospital and healthcare preparedness. The issue was raised about how much more such preparedness could be done, especially for disasters that might strike an entire region. Session III: Historical and Current Recovery Experience and Status Mississippi Following Hurricane Camille Mark Smith, Carolina Distinguished Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, provided a historian’s perspective on Hurricane Camille, which struck the coast of southern Mississippi in 1969, claiming over 200 lives and injuring nearly 9,000 residents. Smith observed that one way to view Camille is to see it in the context of the historical patterns of segregation in Mississippi and federal attempts to bring about school desegregation there. Through his presentation, which he said he could have just as well entitled Braiding Disaster Rights and Civil Rights, Smith documented both the physical and socioeconomic impacts of Camille on Mississippi, including its role in initiating the process to bring Mississippi into compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Smith noted that at the time of the hurricane, a group of Justice Department lawyers were in Mississippi preparing a school desegregation case against the state because of its non-compliance to the new federal law. From the very beginning to the end, Camille was thoroughly politicized, according to Smith. Mississippi was desperately in need of disaster assistance following the hurricane. As a result, persistent federal officials from the Justice Department and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, with encouragement from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, were able to further civil rights in Mississippi, even though they faced resistance by state and local officials and even from some federal quarters, according to Smith. He indicated that this was done by coupling federal disaster assistance to school desegregation. Ultimately, after failing to get the government to decouple disaster aid and civil rights, Mississippi authorities were forced to begin taking actions to comply with the new integration statutes in order to receive millions of badly needed dollars from the federal government for hurricane relief and recovery, according to Smith. On this occasion, then, Smith noted that hurricane recovery overrode the commitment by some local and state decision makers in Mississippi to school segregation, and federal officials were able to use the disaster as an agent of social change. Status of Recovery in New York Since the World Trade Center Attacks Rae Zimmerman, professor of planning and public administration at New York University and Director of the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems (, began by noting that, after a slow start, New York City has rebounded quite considerably from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This has been particularly true of the public infrastructure service sector due to its flexibility and significant redundancy, according to Zimmerman. She noted that an example of this was the electric company Con Edison’s ability to establish alternative links in its distribution system for those destroyed at the World 5

Trade Center site in order to continue to provide electrical service to the damaged area and other parts of the city. Zimmerman gauged New York’s recovery by citing a number of positive indicators used by the New York City Office of the Comptroller and others, including population growth, job increases, low office vacancy rates, increases in the market value of property, and the development of new transportation designs. In contrast to today, these features of the city were quite grim following the attacks. In spite of the progress, there are areas of concern that need to be addressed, according to Zimmerman. She indicated, for example, that according to recent Census information Manhattan continues to have one of the highest income disparities in the country, creating the concern that rebuilding is going to be skewed towards upper-income communities. Another remaining concern, noted Zimmerman, is how to effectively gauge the health of responders and workers who were at the disaster site and how to devise the best strategies to maximize their chances for long-term recovery. And although advances have been made in emergency communications, much remains to be done to give confidence that the city’s communication system will function as effectively as needed during any future catastrophe.. A concluding observation made by Zimmerman was that the New York experience will continue to provide valuable lessons for coping with natural, technological, and human-induced disasters for years to come, including lessons on how to make public services more disaster resilient. An Emerging Framework on the Recovery Experience Gavin Smith, principal at PBS&J, offered a framework he is developing for understanding the challenges faced by stakeholders with roles in disaster recovery. His perspective comes from experience working on recovery in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina and in other locales and his review of the scholarly literature on the subject. Smith noted that three kinds of resources are needed to further recovery in disaster-struck communities: financial and technical assistance and effective policy. Unfortunately, too often these resources do not become available in a coordinated fashion, according to Smith, thereby reducing the impacts that they might otherwise have collectively. Smith suggested that it is essential that planners play a key role in coordinating both pre- and post-disaster planning for recovery in order to meet the needs of communities in a more holistic fashion and to maximize the provision and utilization of recovery resources. He further noted that in mobilizing and planning for recovery, while financial assistance is crucial, much more attention needs to be focused on increasing the capacity of stakeholders to effectively participate in the recovery process. As reflected in his experience in Mississippi, Smith characterized disaster recovery systems as multilayered, consisting of federal, state, and local stakeholders and nonprofit and newly formed groups which are not always well connected. He noted that federal agencies often can provide the greatest financial resources, but that they can be handicapped by a lack of knowledge of the needs of the local communities they intend to assist. A challenge for state, local, and nonprofit and newly formed groups is that they may have a better understanding of regional and local needs but without the resources of federal players. Also, without coordinated planning, the multiplicity of organizations that participate in recovery can work at cross purposes. Other barriers to more effective disaster recovery noted by Smith include the lack of a national recovery strategy, insufficient capacity at the state and local levels to engender more self reliance, and inadequate problem-solving and resource-allocation strategies, which planners can help design when included in the decision making process. Status of Recovery in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina Shirley Laska, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology at the University of New Orleans, began her presentation by stating that recovery is very complex and multifaceted and therefore no single assessment can tell the complete story. In her view, mixed signals of recovery progress are often observed. She gave the example of articles in a local newspaper that presented opposite sides of the post-disaster recovery situation in New Orleans. One story 6

discussed such positive indicators as improvements in the tourist industry and health care, while others discussed the lack of progress in curbing the increased crime rate in the city and the plight of a local university that still had to hold classes in trailers because damaged campus buildings had not been fully restored. Laska mentioned a short list of questions and topics related to recovery in New Orleans that could be relevant to researchers and policy makers, including: • What is the role of tourism in the recovery of New Orleans and how is this connected to other needs and priorities in the city? • How can the patterns of nationwide dispersal and resettlement of persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina be explained and what have been the consequences for the displaced, their new communities, and for New Orleans? • What has been the role of post-Katrina migrants, both laborers and professionals, and their impacts on New Orleans? • To what extent did disparities exist in recovery decision making, such as designating locations in the community for landfills, which might have negative impacts on less powerful groups in the city? Laska noted that the New Orleans recovery effort is marked by a number of challenges, or what she calls conundrums, that the community and other stakeholders have to face. She indicated, for example, that there is the human right of residents to be able to return to their homes, regardless of whether their residence is a house they own, a rented apartment, or public housing. In some cases, though, this right has been challenged, in some instances by authorities, when returning might create public safety concerns because hazardous conditions could persist, even for future generations. Residents who want to exercise their human right to return to their homes and at the same time reduce their vulnerability to future events need assistance from government programs, which too often are not available, according to Laska. Another recovery conundrum mentioned by Laska was the conflict between those thinking about long- term development versus those who want their immediate needs met. She indicated, for example, that some in the community advocate developing long-term plans for such institutions as the healthcare system and public housing. However, others, including many of the poor who badly need mental health services and housing now, are pushing for the utilization of resources to meet these needs as soon as possible, rather than waiting until more advanced development can take place, which could take many years. Laska gave citizen involvement in the recovery effort in New Orleans very high marks. Effective recovery actions have been undertaken by many residents, neighborhood associations, faith-based organizations and other nongovernment organizations. She thinks such actions are important enough to be thoroughly documented by the research community. The open discussion following the presentations touched upon the challenge of incorporating mitigation measures into recovery strategies, as well as the need to integrate mitigation with environmentally friendly design concepts such as energy-efficient structures. The importance of resilient power and other infrastructure systems was also discussed, along with the need for recovery-relevant groups and organizations to learn from and build upon previous experiences. 7

Next: Session IV: Current Recovery Planning »
Recovering from Disaster: A Summary of the October 17, 2007 Workshop of the Disasters Roundtable Get This Book
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

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.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook,'s online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!