Friday, July 26, 2013

Consensus on Clean up

One of the greatest assets individuals and communities can have before, during, and after a disaster is the knowledge of what happens next, and the confidence to act on that knowledge. Unfortunately, the current state of preparedness in many communities is far from that ideal and as a result, leaves room for ambiguity around key issues that mark turning points in an individual and community's recovery.

A great opportunity to clear up some of this ambiguity while working to set and manage homeowner expectations is to, as a response community, agree and adhere to standards around the work done on behalf of impacted homeowners i.e. mucking/gutting/debris removal/sanitizing/mold treatment/etc. By gaining consensus on this issue, standards can be proactively communicated as a part of preparedness initiatives to help bring both homeowner and responding groups (established or spontaneous) onto the same page when engaging in cleanup activities. Not only that, but by actively pushing cleanup standards, homeowners don't have to wait around for someone to help them, they can quickly and aggressively begin the process with friends, family, or spontaneous volunteers from the community and work to a standard that is applied across the essence, working to create more resilient communities.

Is it done?
Is it Done?
I would bet that if you were to show the above photo to different people with different levels of experience in response, homeowners included, and asked what needed to happen next, you would get a variety of answers. Not to say that they would be wrong, but finding a definitive answer would not be an easy task because until recently no checklist existed, there was no "how to" guide endorsed by a coalition of organizations or FEMA to help define the process. Given that more than a handful of organizations have been doing this type of work for years spanning hundreds of disasters, one would think that an authoritative guidebook would've been written before now, if for no other reason than to give homeowners a chance at a full recovery without such reliance on response organizations. I say this because responding non-profits can't serve everyone, and after a certain point, they begin to pack up taking with them their know how and experience, leaving the remaining work to fewer and oftentimes less experienced resources. What remains is often a mash up of homes taken to various stages of "completeness," and a lot of grey area around how best to move many of them forward.

In recognition that the resources and surge of Volunteer power are not inexhaustible, the National VOAD Housing Committee has created guidelines to formalize an understanding of what completing the steps involved in clean up means. This was done to bring some uniformity to how we talk and act in the field on behalf of impacted homeowners and renters.
Go here for the download
While the creation of the above guidance documentation is a good start, I believe packaging these guidelines with documentation and other relevant resources should be used as a part of community preparedness programming; preparedness is about more than having food and water, it's about having the knowledge and understanding of what happens next. 

The goal is to ensure that all homeowners and responding groups have a clear understanding of expectations around what the different phases of cleanup are to mitigate the guesswork so that consistency can be created in the work done on behalf of impacted homeowners.

In the post, 'Disaster Response in the Digital Age' I talk about the need for the creation of a standardized data set so that information can flow freely between the proprietary software platforms being utilized during response. I believe the creation of this guidance document is an important first step, because without consensus around the definitions of cleanup activities, getting consistency in data collection and tracking, the first step in data set standardization, isn't feasible.

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