Inclusive planning is an essential part of all planners’ jobs. As disaster, emergency management, and public health planners, understanding inclusive planning is critical. The concept of inclusive planning is not a new notion; however, it is one that deserves significantly more attention. In our field, we are trained to write plans that serve the “whole community.”
In theory, the notion of ensuring our plans, trainings, and exercises consider the whole community seems simple; however, in practice, inclusively planning for the whole community is not and should not be a simplistic, one-size-fits-all concept. Time and time again we see the inequitable impact of disasters, and it is time to understand the important role planning can have in either exasperating vulnerabilities or more equitably supporting disaster resiliency (Ferreira, & Figley, 2015).
To frame this discussion, we must first agree that the impact of disasters is not only attributable to the natural event. As Wisner et. al (2004) saliently noted, disasters are also the product of social, political, and economic environments. Disasters cannot be separated from the social frameworks that impact how the hazards affect people (Meyer, 2017). Vulnerability to a disaster is often connected to socioeconomic levels and land settlement patterns and disaster recovery often happens disproportionately (Shreve, 2014).
For an entire community to be prepared, survive, and recover from a disaster, we assert that planners need to move beyond assessing the aggregate need of a population and understand the resources and root causes for vulnerabilities that exist within the community (Bolin and Kurtz, 2017).
Both international and domestic disaster policy and frameworks are relatively new and still evolving. In the US, the first federal program that targeted disaster relief was the 1950 Federal Disaster Assistance Program. The United Nations (UN) will typically offer aid once a country requests help unless the UN declares the issue a humanitarian crisis. All UN response activities are coordinated by a central office known as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which can be seen as similar to the coordination of emergency response stemming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (OCHA, 2016). Domestic organizations focused on disaster planning and response can benefit from the existing international aid architecture and humanitarian response guidelines that place people affected by the crisis or disaster at the center of response efforts.
One of the primary international guidelines for disaster response is the SPHERE Handbook. The SPHERE Handbook provides a common set of principles and universal minimum standards for delivering humanitarian response. One of the unique aspects of the handbook is the encouragement of the disaster-affected population, their local government, and local agencies to be active participants in decisions about their recovery and ensure the humanitarian response is people-centered. This includes providing information in a language that is accessible to the community.
The SPHERE concept also encourages active participation of the community, churches, and schools to be part of community disaster planning. Community involvement needs to happen before a disaster to ensure community engagement will be sustained during and after a disaster.
Gathering accurate data is also essential. Census data only provides a snapshot of the community for a timeframe and often lacks information on the most vulnerable community members, such as residents who do not have legal status or the homeless population. To truly provide equitable disaster planning and relief, disaster planners need to understand the community beyond Census data.
According to Susan Cutter, “In the actually planning for emergencies, social vulnerability is captured under the heading of special needs populations.” This generalized title does not account for the diverse needs of people that fall either into the special needs group, at-risk label, or the general tag of vulnerable (Stough and Kelman, 2017; Cutter, Emrich, 2015). In disaster literature and framework, these terms are too frequently used interchangeably, often with different intended meanings. Ultimately, the lack of clarity will impact individual disaster survival and resiliency. The SPHERE Handbook notes “vulnerability is specific to each person and each situation.”
“The words we choose are important to ensure we are understood and that our meanings are not misinterpreted” (Curtis, Azoulay, 2014). As consultants and planners, we have a responsibility to ensure we are supporting and enhancing all members of the community. The weight of the verbiage we utilize in our plans is crucial to provide the foundational work for comprehensive emergency management that serves the entire community. As planners, we must be cognizant of our word choices and be critical not just of the intent but also the consequences, and, ultimately, the impact of our words.
To be successful planners, we must understand that the whole community should be redefined to be fully inclusive. We achieve this through:
At ISC we work to ensure all our project engagements go beyond meeting minimum standards and exceed the needs of the client and communities. For example, ISC produced the Miami-Dade THIRA using an assessment supported by a rigorous methodological process that incorporated over 4,500 community indicators and scientifically-based measurements used to reliably and accurately assess the County’s vulnerability, capability, and risks to natural, technological, and political hazards. Differences in the hazard’s impact area, amount and severity of damage, duration of the event, and direct and indirect economic impacts make it difficult to develop empirical values that can be universally applied to each hazard category. Therefore, the risk methodology used by Miami-Dade considered not only the probability of the event occurring but also the potential physical, economic, and social impact to the community.
Another example is the Community, Vulnerability, Risk & Resiliency (CVR2) Model, which serves as a dynamic planning tool that utilizes proven hazard analysis strategies and processes to build partner consensus, ensure uniformity, and provide results that are operationally significant. CVR2 operates by utilizing several input parameters consisting of hazard profiles, economic, social, and physical community vulnerabilities and other special community concerns. These inputs are assessed and evaluated to determine the risk to the community from a specific or multiple hazard threat(s). The output of the CVR2 Model is a prioritized indication of planning risk considerations that can be incorporated into the community’s comprehensive preparedness efforts, providing a foundation that will increase programmatic efficiency, operational effectiveness, and a unified common operational picture. The CVR2 Model is a culmination of over 100 years of emergency and disaster management knowledge and incorporates over a decade of research of hazard risk assessment methodologies by several of the nation’s premier disaster researchers.
We recognize the weight each project engagement has not only on the short term but the long-term resilience of the communities in which we work (Kendra, Clay, and Gill, 2018). We also recognize the need to continually innovate, which means not only utilizing state of the art technology, but also continuing to enhance equity and justice in the fields of emergency management and public health to better serve people and the environment. We also challenge ourselves to continue to learn. We achieve this by working to understand and not repeat past missteps in our field, expanding our diversity and inclusion practical applications, operationalizing equity, and listening to the community (Webb, 2017).
Community Disaster Recovery Success Series Coordinating and Supporting Recovery Functions and Assessing Community Impact
The severity and impacts of a disaster, as well as the disaster-experience, capability, capacity, and perspective of the affected individuals and groups, will have profound effect in how recovery is defined and activities are prioritized. Similar to other operational phases of emergency management (i.e., preparedness, response, and mitigation), recovery does not exist within a defined boundary of activities or timeframe. Recovery is a complex process in which pre-disaster emergency management practices, community cultures, and bureaucratic systems can have profound influence on the recovery process.
There is not a defined transition from response to recovery, and therefore the most daunting challenges faced during response such as debris removal, sheltering/temporary housing, and restoration of critical lifeline infrastructures often carry over into disaster recovery operations. In essence, the ability to effectively manage and deliver vital short-term needs and to understand the challenges of recovery prior to the event have a direct effect on communities’ ability to focus on broader sustained long-term recovery objectives and influence long-term recovery decisions.
There are litanies of disaster recovery activities that will be led or supported by various community organizations. Identifying these disaster recovery actions and aligning them to local organizations that have the capabilities, capacities, and resources before the disaster will elevate a community’s resiliency and help expedite a successful recovery process.
One of the most immediate, and critical, operational needs for community disaster recovery is the timely and accurate assessment of post-disaster community needs that is incorporated into community recovery strategy. A timely impact analysis and accurate needs assessment sets the operational tempo for the long-term community recovery. It also provides the necessary intelligence about the severity of the impacts to local, regional, state and federal partners.
A community's impact assessment process should be comprised of three stages:
1) community impact profiles
2) community cross-sector impact analysis
3) impact assessment and analysis.
This information will be used not only to justify the necessity of a disaster declaration and initiating your disaster recovery strategies, but it will also provide an operational framework in which disaster management leadership and local community stakeholders are afforded a visionary perspective of potential disaster recovery issues. Most importantly, these assessments provide communities with a strategic perspective that extends beyond tactical operations of delivering immediate community needs and provides a framework for the management of sustained long-term recovery operations.
There has been growing attention on the importance of thoroughly understanding pre-disaster vulnerabilities and their association with understanding potential disaster impacts. Evidence has demonstrated that large-scale hazard events exacerbate the preexisting conditions of a community. This finding provides clarity that a community’s threat and hazard risks are a function not only of a community’s core capabilities and potential hazard impacts but also provides support that consideration must be made to evaluate the community’s pre-disaster conditions that either heighten or reduce its vulnerability to disaster.
When disasters happen, they have a cascading impact on a community and its residents, essential services, and critical assets. Understanding the ways a community is vulnerable before the disaster can assist in coordinating support functions and conducting a timely and accurate assessment of community hazard impacts.
We’ve seen it play out over and over again in cities across the world: a disaster occurs, like a tornado, hurricane, or flood, and we witness members of that community rally around each other. Neighbors take in people who’ve lost their homes, businesses provide meals, and some even risk their own lives to save those of others. Stories and videos shared on social media provide a bright spot in the middle of tragedy.
Government organizations and processes play a vital role in making sure a community is further supported by ensuring procedures are put into place before, during, and after a disaster that will help the community recover and rebuild.
Our everyday decisions are governed by processes and routines that assist us in identifying the problem, determining strategies to resolve the problem, evaluating those alternatives, choosing the best one, and then implementing the resolution. These procedures and routines are carried out by organizations that offer consistency, commitment, and confidence in the decision-making process.
After a disaster, these processes and routines may be disrupted or may not be set up to adequately handle the litany of complex post-disaster recovery issues. A defined and shared pre-disaster process for managing disaster recovery activities, along with coordinating with local, regional, state and federal partners, is paramount to community recovery success.
Unlike the tactical incident strategies that are paramount to managing information and resources during the response phase, community disaster recovery is an organic and inductive process. It should foster community unity and an open autonomy that promotes effective decision-making that benefits the majority.
A united community will have a number of both short and long-term benefits.
Committed and structured governance would result in a rational system for efficient and effective long-term community recovery. A defined and open decision-making process will provide organizational legitimacy and improve the quality of decisions being made. Decisions will be made in a timely manner and based on a well-informed organization and public. Independent decisions may appear quick and easy, but often they meet public resistance causing increased cost and project implementation delays, if not project termination.
A committed and structured long-term community recovery structure will prevent uninformed and unilateral decisions and provide an open forum to discuss potential regulatory and budgetary challenges to implementing a project. The organization, as well as the public, take ownership in the decision and ultimately increase the ease of implementing the project.
When these elements come together, a community can recover from a disaster more efficiently and in a way that benefits the community as a whole.
Community Disaster Recovery Success Series: The Importance of Organizational Networks and Outreach and Coordination
The effectiveness of a community’s response and its ability to spearhead recovery after a disaster is often confounded by a number of factors. The severity and impacts of the event, past disaster experiences, organizational capability and capacity, and the social capital of the affected individuals and groups all factor into how a community is able to respond.
Successful community disaster recovery operations reinforce the importance of FEMA’s ‘Whole Community Approach’ and must leverage all of the resources of the community, from government to businesses to its citizens. In addition, outreach and coordination between all players should be a top priority.
Many organizations and networks are involved in the community recovery process. But the emergency management and public safety professional is still an integral component of community recovery operations. By understanding the potential impacts and possible cascading effects of different disaster types, the emergency management community can proactively identify community organizational networks that will have vital roles and responsibilities, identify organizational gaps in key recovery issues, identify strategies to build organizational capacity where needed, and incorporate these community organizational networks into the broader community recovery strategy.
A successful community recovery strategy must also consider methods and mechanisms to engage the public in important recovery decision-making processes. In a post-disaster environment, social trust in government becomes a symbolic token to a community, can extend the period of a united community, and facilitates an effective community recovery decision-making process that is supported by an established governance structure and an open decision-making process that involves the community.
The result will be a more effective recovery strategy that:
A successful public engagement is not simply measured by the number of public forums or the number of attendees. Instead, it is a more organic strategy that involves the pre-disaster engagement of key organizational networks (identified in step 2) to understand their collective roles and responsibilities in the community recovery strategy. In a post-disaster environment, the objective of the outreach and coordination strategy should be to influence key community organizations and community leaders to generate a momentum for sustained long-term community recovery that is inclusive of the community and void of individual agendas.
This post-disaster objective should be aligned with a public participation strategy that creates a new direct link between the public and the community and governmental decision makers, ensuring that those who make decisions that affect the lives of others enter into dialogue with those affected before making those decisions. Successful public outreach must provide opportunity for interested public and affected stakeholders to participate and voice opposition, support, perspectives, and opinions as the community recovery process evolves.
The inclusion of the community and emergency management professionals into future community recovery planning efforts will result in more informed community stakeholders and the reinforcement of the emergency manager’s coordination role during all phases of emergency management, including community disaster recovery. Understanding these orbits of organizational networks and their community reach will be an important element of the coordination strategy and involving these critical partners in the decision-making process.
Federal disaster recovery and reimbursement is a complex process. Past disaster recovery operations have demonstrated the need for disaster grant management systems to easily and effectively manage and track the disaster recovery funds that a community receives.
For this reason, ISC has developed a web-based tool to manage data and track the grant management process. The Odysseus™|Grant Management Tool (GMT) is a feature of the Odysseus™ Enterprise Management System, which is revolutionizing how the industry is managing its comprehensive emergency management programs. Odysseus™ is a cloud-based system that offers a suite of tools and systems designed and dedicated to the efficient management of comprehensive disaster and emergency management programs. Odysseus™ utilizes a suite of applications to promote increased participation, collaboration, transparency, and compliance—including our Grant Management Tool.
GMT provides users with a ready-to-use or customized grant management system that allows the organization to track, administer, and report grant funding. GMT serves as a centralized location to collaborate on projects and automates workflow to increase efficiency. Personalized dashboards highlight pending tasks and can help gauge the overall progress of the disaster and funding. This database is customizable to meet our clients’ needs and can easily integrate with a web-based application to increase accuracy in data reporting as well as transparency and compliance across your organization.
Here are just a few features of the Odysseus GMT.
GMT can be integrated into current client processes and systems to help drive workload, track performance, monitor funding queues, create reports, monitor compliance, and audit requirements. Personalized dashboards highlight pending tasks and can help gauge the overall progress of the disaster and funding. This database is customizable to meet our clients’ needs and can easily integrate with a web-based application to increase accuracy in data reporting.
ISC’s Disaster Grant Management Tool has been integrated into our Odysseus™ Planning and Program Management System, providing a comprehensive platform to manage preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation/resiliency activities across a shared and integrated system. For more information or to schedule a free demo, visit www.odysseus-solutions.com.
The United States is currently in the midst of its annual spring flood season, and as such, jurisdictions around the country have been ramping up efforts to improve their response capabilities to this threat.
While the impact thus far in 2020 has been down compared to last year, the National Weather Service states that the chance of riverine is still 10% to 30% higher than average. By the agency’s estimation, over 128 million Americans will see some level of flooding throughout the spring. Of these individuals, 1.2 million, primarily located in the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains, have an elevated risk of experiencing “major” flooding.
Flooding is oftentimes an underrated risk throughout the United States. However, it accounts for over 100 deaths and $50 billion in damages each year. The American Rivers Foundation has stated that the following areas are at the highest risk of flooding:
Integrated Solutions Consulting has been supporting flood response and recovery operations since 2006, working to ensure that jurisdictions across the nation have the resources necessary to support their residents. In 2019, ISC worked to respond to flooding throughout the Midwest region, including the introduction of drone and 3D imagery to track and inspect flood levels and damage.
Utilizing this technology in Alton, Illinois, ISC was able to track the Mississippi River flood levels as they rose and fell along the downtown Alton riverfront and levees. ISC is proud to offer this service to jurisdictions across the nation, as it can be utilized to help document and track infrastructure damages for Public Assistance reimbursement.
If you have any questions or would like to see this technology implemented in your area, email us at email@example.com.
Hospitals need to increase capacity through temporary medical care facilities and alternate housing needs to be identified to shelter the displaced. By all accounts we are in the preliminary stage of the outbreak and it is predicted that the worst is yet to come.
No one person or entity can combat this crisis. Although the United States is still in the acceleration pandemic stage, our government has taken a proactive step in releasing trillions of dollars to support our Nation, to include measures to respond and recover to COVID-19.
Under the President’s March 13 emergency declaration, and subsequent major disaster declarations, state, local, tribal, and territorial government entities and certain private non-profit (PNP) organizations are eligible to apply for public assistance, increasing federal support to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Eligible emergency protective measures taken to respond to the COVID-19 emergency at the direction or guidance of public health officials may be reimbursed under the PA program.
Due to the complexity of federal disaster reimbursement and the burden it places on entities, ISC has developed a Grants Management Tool to help track disaster grants and gauge the progress of recovery across FEMA, HHS, CDC, and other federal disaster assistance funding sources.
For more information, visit our COVID-19 Innovation & Resources page to access Recovery Fact Sheets and see how FEMA may be of assistance to you and your organization.
Lauren serves as the Director of Controls & Quality for ISC and led a team of architects in the development of ISC’s Odysseus™ | Grant Management Tool (GMT). Lauren Martin has over a decade of emergency management experience and has supported the response and recovery efforts for some of our nation's most catastrophic events. She possess intimate programmatic knowledge in Federal disaster assistance programs, which has enabled her in past disaster operations to successfully represent clients and negotiate with key officials on controversial issues.
In the world of disasters, you are always learning something new. Vital to me when analyzing the potential impacts of a disaster, is understanding a disaster impact as not an isolated event but an event that exists in a complex system that will have multiple triggers and multiple short- and long-term effects. The more I can learn about the complexity of a disaster, the better I can assist communities in developing mitigation actions. Coastal flooding is a very complex disaster that has and will continue to be studied. Lakeshore flooding is an understudied topic. Unlike coastal flooding from a sea, lake water is freshwater. Freshwater makes up only 3% of the water in the world and is utilized for drinking water. While freshwater can be extracted from the ground and through desalination and reverse osmosis saltwater can be converted to freshwater, conserving fresh water is essential to sustaining life. Freshwater flooding onto land is attributed to both higher water levels and increased storms. While higher lake levels would suggest an increase in available freshwater, the evidence also demonstrates that higher water levels significantly increase flooding and erosion. Like coastal flooding and runoff from a storm, lakeshore flooding can contaminate lake water (e.g., non-point source pollution).
The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater body in the world, and lake levels have always fluctuated. The NOAA Storm Event database indicates that from 1996 to 2019, 206 lakeshore flood events have been recorded in the United States. In total, these events caused $104,024,000 in property damage with 110 of the 206 events reporting property damage. 136 of the 206 events were recorded in 2019. Lakeshore flooding is not the only disaster associated with a lake. There is also seiche, which is defined as a standing wave in an enclosed body of water caused by high winds and changes in atmospheric pressure, and a meteotsunami, which is a sizeable propagating wave caused by a moving atmospheric disturbance.
While the science behind each of these hazards is essential, so are the impacts on the environment and community that live near and depend on the Great Lake. Analyzing hazards requires a methodologically sound consequence analysis. When I develop formulas for a consequence analysis, I go back to the notion that disasters are not isolated events, and each community is unique. As the growing number of recorded lakeshore flooding events suggests, understanding the complexity of lake-related hazards is a necessity. As a consultant, I know I cannot eliminate lake-related disasters. Still, I do have the responsibility to support my clients in understanding the complex nature of these disasters, potential impacts on the community for future disasters, and assessing preparedness levels for these disasters.
Betsy is a consultant for ISC, specializing in hazard mitigation, resiliency, and climate action planning for clients across the Nation. As a native and life-long resident of coastal Louisiana, Betsy Lopez is driven to support communities meet the current and future challenges associated with climate change while retaining and supporting the various cultures and uniqueness of each community. Her interdisciplinary work spans the fields of social service, environment science, art, and disaster mitigation, which allows Ms. Lopez to connect with the community to identify root causes followed by tailored adaptation solutions.
to do actual repairs, restoration, replacement, and mitigation measures would be well under way. In this situation, however, very few permanent works projects have begun after over two years and the disaster recovery specialists are feeling the pressure to get things going.
Why? That is the multi-billion-dollar question. And the answer, to a large extent, is a lack of documented processes. You see, there are some common threads that have run through all national level disaster recovery efforts through the years:
The solution. Utilizing the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) process, the analysis revealed a severe lack of documented processes. Through analyzing the processes currently in place (Define, Measure and Analyze), we find ways to Improve and document the processes. Here’s how documenting the processes impacts the recovery operation:
Using this world-renowned Six Sigma process improvement methodology, we can quickly bring any problem under control and improve any process. We’ll continue to discuss process improvement in this series, and hopefully you’ll find these tips useful in your everyday work.
Tim is a Disaster Planning and Recovery operations and technology innovator for Integrated Solutions Consulting. He recently supported Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria disaster recovery operations in developing and implementing operational improvements with FEMA's Public Assistance Program and the processing of billions of dollars in disaster recovery projects.
The importance of a school in a community and the vitality it offers to the community’s recovery efforts cannot be overestimated. Research has taught us that second only to family, school is the most important stabilizing force in the lives of young people and a community.
School systems are a socializing agent that affects all of the community's residents, regardless if they have children in the school system or not. A community's school educates its children, provides employment, is a demonstration of its morality and values, guides the next generation of residents, and can often be an indicator of a community's resilience and strength.
After a natural disaster such as a tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake, there are many decisions communities may need to consider based on the extent of damage and needs of the community. Of course, FEMA’s Public Assistance Program will pay to repair or rebuild a school damaged by a disaster to its pre-existing condition and capacity. However, when the damage is extensive, there will be pressure to get schools opened as quickly as possible. FEMA’s Public Assistance Program will also pay for temporary facilities and to temporary relocate schools.
In past disasters, partially damaged schools have used modular trailers to add additional classrooms as the repairs commence. Completely destroyed schools have temporarily relocated to vacant department stores while the school is rebuilt.
On May 22, 2011, an EF5 tornado struck the town of Joplin, Missouri, causing extensive damage, including the destruction of Joplin High School.
The temporary use of facilities is a great way for communities to get children back in school while also giving community leaders time to evaluate their current and future educational needs. FEMA’s Alternative and Improved Project options, as well as the Section 428 Alternative Procedures, gives communities opportunities to rebuild for the future.
We look forward to continuing our Community Disaster Recovery Success Series!