Friday, January 31, 2014

How Local Governments Hinder Our Response to Natural Disasters

Read this article: "How Local Governments Hinder Our Response to Natural Disasters" by Mr. David Wachsmuth; it could potentially be construed as heresy in some circles, but there is also a degree of truth in the observations he makes. Wachsmuth looks at the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and talks about how the Mayor's office usurped the power to lead following landfall favoring improvisation instead of the plans the OEM had created.

One of the more interesting takeaways from the article is this:

"Collaborations need to be achievable to be useful. The sociologist Lee Clarke argues that disaster plans are "fantasy documents"—tools for building trust in an organization rather than actual, implementable plans. This was certainly true in the response to Sandy. More modest plans, which take account of political realities and power relations, are more likely to be useful than comprehensive but unachievable fantasy documents." 

A lot of time, effort, and money goes into disaster planning and yet I've seen firsthand, as I'm sure many of you have as well, the ad hoc nature of response environments. Even when the best curated plans are exercised ad nauseam, challenges remain. This is not to say that planning can account for every facet of a disaster, but it would seem that two opposing forces are being pushed simultaneously, the need for rigidity in planning that ICS and the command and control mentality require, and the push for greater community involvement to build resilience and self-reliance. 

How do you reconcile the rigidity that is often seen in municipal planning with the inherent ad hoc nature of grassroots community response? What does that look like in a plan for a city? As it stands many plans don't account for emergent response activities but with the role Occupy Sandy played following Sandy, that will hopefully change.

If the idea that the Mayor's office totally disregarded OEM's plans seems can read about how Michael Brown, (you may remember him as "brownie"), disregarded the newly minted National Response Plan following Hurricane Katrina...plan-averse public officials it seems, are nothing new.

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