Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Road to Recovery

An area where I believe significant benefit can be derived that would aid in the mitigation of the groundhogs day scenario many communities face when responding to and recovering from disasters, is to spend time looking at how other communities faced similar events and then adapt and evolve what they did to suit the idiosyncrasies of their community.

In an effort to see what's being done along those lines, I've made an effort to get my hands on more articles coming from the world of academia, to broaden and challenge my views on what can and should be done to promote resilience at a local level. I can't remember how I stumbled upon this one, but it comes to us from the 'Lincoln Institute of Land Policy' and is titled "The Road to Recovery."

While any event adversely affecting individuals and families is unfortunate, it's good to know that there are people out there looking at and learning from previous disasters trying to find commonalities and lessons that can be shared. While it's good to know, I have a concern, with no disrespect to the good people at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, who's reading articles of this nature outside of the academic community and socially challenged individuals like me? How are we broadening the circle of knowledge and experience when articles that examine and try to synthesize what's worked and what hasn't, exist in obscure publications that no one outside the academic circles have heard of?

I say this because what this article covers is important; it examines the role of the various levels of government in recovery and rebuilding trying to find commonalities in "disparate environments" to help the recovery of future communities impacted by similar disasters. At a quick 8 pages you can consider this bathroom reading...but it wasn't the length that struck me though, it was what was said about Collaboration:
Supporting Collaboration: Building sustainable capacity and capability for long-term recovery through genuine collaboration and coordination, both horizontally among local groups and vertically among different levels of government. Vertically organized, hierarchical agencies—with clear organizational charts and streamlined channels of communication—are usually not well suited to manage disaster recovery, because the lack of “connecting flow” across vertical hierarchies limits collaboration as well as the flow of new and updated information among organizations. U.S. National agencies involved in recovery, for example, are more adept at administering individual programs than they are at solving complex problems that cut across governmental institutional boundaries. By contrast, horizontally organized agencies can promote interagency coordination and information sharing, allowing individual groups to adapt to new contexts and information while remaining responsible to their parent organization. 
(Pg 18)
The reason I was struck was because it's brutally honest and makes sense given what I've seen during the transition from response to recovery. How this plays out at a local level is that Long Term Recovery Committees (LTRCs) are the horizontally organized representative coalitions of local organizations described above tasked with solving the complex problem of Long Term Community Recovery.
Quick sidebar: Long Term Recovery Committees are coalitions of local organizations and agencies established to administer the long term recovery of a community, allocating dollars to individuals and families who go through the unmet needs / case management process while organizing the voluntary workforce to stretch recovery dollars. For more information on LTRCs go here.
So if LTRCs, these horizontally organized coalitions are the right tool for the job and the research reinforces it, why aren't more communities being educated and walked through the formation of an LTRC before the next event as a part of resilience programming?

When LTRCs are setup after a disaster there is often considerable turbulence due to: the stress of going through response, the amount of money they are responsible for, the politics and influence at play, the newness of the relationships of the constituent members, and the fact that a community is looking to them for guidance and direction on how best to quickly and effectively put the pieces back together.

By proactively addressing this, we would give communities time to deal with the many challenges that come with LTRC formation without the pressure of an ongoing response effort. This luxury would expedite the organization of how monetary donations are handled as well as work to fast track the start of case management and ultimately the work of repair and rebuild.

Don't get me wrong, creating an LTRC is no small feat, but if the upsides are so great and every community impacted by a disaster will need to form one, why isn't more being done?

LTRC Resources
Church World Service leads the way with free LTRC training, and as linked above, National VOAD has a manual that outlines the processes and best practices that come with forming an LTRC. In addition to the material resources available, there are countless communities that have gone through this with just as many individuals to tap for advice and guidance.

Lets start building the foundations required for each aspect of disaster response and recovery now so that when something happens this isn't a surprise, this isn't the first time people are meeting and hearing about LTRCs. This is the low hanging fruit with a potential for significant impact...proactive education is free, resources are available, and yet we see the groundhogs day scenario play out again and again making the road to recovery a long one.

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