Monday, October 28, 2013

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast -- Sandy Recovery

Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast. In theory this beautifully crafted statement would be the tagline for Long Term Recovery. Unfortunately, the reality that many renters, homeowners, and municipalities face during the Long Term Recovery process can be characterized as anything but ‘smooth’ or ‘fast’. You needn’t look further than any one of the stories that the news media has published in light of Superstorm Sandy’s 1-year anniversary for evidence of this fact. Recovery dollars are delayed; homeowner’s continue to wrangle with FEMA, their insurance companies, and contractors on money owed or how best to proceed in the face of the ever-changing landscape that is Long Term Recovery on a wide scale.
Staten Island, NY - Midland Beach Area (Credit: Natan Dvir/Polaris)
Given the lasting social, financial, and political impacts Sandy has had on the Mid-Atlantic region, one post devoted to understanding where things stand didn’t seem appropriate. With that said, I’m going to spend this week looking at Sandy through a number of different lens and explore:

The speed of Long Term Recovery
Within hours of Sandy’s passing communities were calling to be rebuilt, urging for the expeditious return to pre-Sandy conditions. At the same time though, another narrative surfaced, one with a focus on building back stronger and smarter to create more resilient communities. These opposing views are at odds with one another and have created environments strained by competing interests, which is affecting recovery speed and responsiveness.

The Mental Impacts of Disaster
While much of the impacts of disaster are quantified by the physical damage done to communities, there are mental impacts that disaster brings that don’t get attention because they’re usually silent. The passage of Sandy was a traumatic event, creating, uncovering, and exacerbating mental illness, adding to the strain of an already difficult situation. The mental toll Sandy exacted on families already struggling isn't a story often told, but one that has impacted everyone who went through the storm in some way.

Nonprofits in Long Term Recovery
In the aftermath of response, images of armies of volunteers doing cleanup work, distributing meals, and generally giving everyone a warm fuzzy feeling were everywhere. In the interceding 12 months the volunteer interest has waned, and many of the groups that descended on the mid-Atlantic region have long since packed up and moved on. So, what role do nonprofits play this far into recovery operations? What challenges are they facing? And how is a balance struck between contractors looking for work and Nonprofits providing similar services for free?

The Future of Long Term Recovery
What have we learned, and will we as a collective conscious care when it happens again in a smaller community? Will the pressure be as intense? If every community that experiences a disaster will go through the trials and tribulations of long-term recovery, how can we make them better prepared so that the speed of recovery is no longer a problem?

The Recovery of any community is a complex and drawn out process where competing interests lobby for how recovery dollars should be spent and opposing viewpoints clash over who should be leading the efforts. While the statement: 'slow is smooth and smooth is fast' would be a great way to characterize long term recovery, until communities are stronger and better prepared for dealing with the realities of what recovery entails, they will have to remain an aspirational ideal. 

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