Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Moving from managing Disasters, to managing Risks

The United Nation's Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has issued their 2013 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, a comprehensive report on...you guessed it, reducing disaster risk. Disaster Risk Reduction is essentially the International equivalent to community preparedness and resilience--working to integrate best practices and workable solutions into communities at risk.

If you've read more than a post or two you've seen the words "preparedness," "resilience," and 'community-based response" dot this blog and for good reason, these words are driving influences behind where and how Emergency Management dollars are allocated. However, transforming these words from rhetoric into action remains a challenge for local, state, and national agencies alike; and as we enter the eighth month of 2013, usually the most active month of hurricane season, 53 events have already been designated disasters by FEMA up from the yearly average of 19 during the 60's.

To be fair, the hard push towards whole of community disaster risk reduction is fairly new and will take time to yield tangible results; this newness coupled with the fact that it’s been non-stop disasters of some kind for as long as I can remember, and an argument for why more communities aren’t better prepared can be made. Then you read an article from Mother Jones where Superstorm Sandy is used as an example of how some of the damage from Sandy could have been avoided, and you begin to question whether that argument is valid. The article cites studies from early 01 and 09 that forecast exactly what happened in late Oct / early Nov of last year...in some cases studies that were commissioned by the city of New York but no action was taken as a result of the findings. 

We continue to hit on the points of: preparedness, resilience, and whole of community in an effort to help bolster preparedness and risk reduction at the local level, yet there seems to be a lack of any kind of political will to enact change. Who wants to spend money on levee re-construction when there hasn’t been a flood? Why shouldn’t we broaden our tax base and rezone riverfront land to build rental properties? Of course the Emergency Manager Position should be the fire or police chief, they have the expertise and the city doesn’t have to pay for another position. With cities going bankrupt, drastic times are calling for drastic measures, even if that means taking risks with lives and property.

It’s easy to say that it’s because programs lack proper funding that the recommendations of the studies conducted are not heeded, when in truth it ends up costing communities more in the long run to ignore them. There needs to be the will of those in power to make unpopular decisions and to do so in the name of preparing and protecting their community. As of July 3rd, Moore, Ok city's council had delayed their vote that would upgrade building codes to mandate that homes have construction techniques that make them more resistant to Tornadic winds, and earlier today, that same city council voted to approve the $32 Million dollar cleanup price tag that will be reimbursed by FEMA.

Maybe the federal government needs to re-evaluate the benchmarks used in determining what constitutes a federal declaration, maybe if communities knew that they’d be on their own unless it was a major event, stronger building codes would already be in place, and the time, energy, and attention needed would be paid to preparedness activities. If those draconian measures aren't politically palatable, then stipulating that in order to receive FEMA assistance, mitigation initiatives need to be a part of their recovery and rebuilding planning. This would send a message that the status quo is no longer acceptable when it comes to repair and rebuild following disasters and that by managing risks we can reduce their impacts.

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