How do we define recovery?

While I will always be troubled by the occurrence of catastrophic natural disasters hitting the U.S. and abroad, I am also exhilarated by how our Center for Disaster Philanthropy community of donors is starting to think about, talk about, and act upon both short-term relief needs, and long-term recovery needs.  CDP has a goal of bringing greater attention to the entire lifecycle of disaster.
I’ll define two of that lifecycle’s phases here:

  • Response: Disaster response includes any actions taken in the midst of or immediately following an emergency, including efforts to save lives and to prevent further property damage. Ideally, disaster response involves putting already established disaster preparedness plans into motion. Typically, this phase of the disaster life cycle draws the most attention from  the media and from donors.
  • Recovery: Disaster recovery begins after damages have been assessed, and it involves actions to return the affected community to its pre-disaster state or better–ideally to make it less vulnerable to future risk. Risk identification includes understanding the nature of hazards as well as understanding the nature of vulnerabilities. Subsequent efforts may range from physical upgrades to creating new education, training, and public awareness campaigns related to disasters and recovery.  This phase draws less media attention, and the dollars that people dedicate to recovery are far less than to immediate needs, although the expenses are highest at this time.

And while we can define response and recovery, in reality, there is no line in the sand.  In a disaster context, this distinction is fluid and differs for every disaster.
In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, there are many things that we know.  For example,  that people will need food, clothing, shelter. They may require access to healthcare, trauma counseling and other mass care needs. Kids need to get back into school to return to some sense of normalcy. The National Mass Care Strategy and National, through a memorandum of understanding agreement brings together the best of FEMA, the American Red Cross, and National VOAD to help “government agencies and community organizations plan, coordinate and provide a breadth of mass care services for people affected by disasters.”
During the immediate relief phase, members of the National VOAD and National Mass Care Strategy, such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Feeding America, HandsOn Network, The Humane Society, Mennonite Disaster Services, and many other incredible organizations work to fulfill immediate needs presented by a disaster.  The National VOAD, and its network of state VOADs, is a key resource to effective, on-the-ground coordination of NGOs active in the relief phase.  If we look to the short-term relief efforts following the very-recent tornadoes in Oklahoma, we know that the organizations listed above, local churches, FEMA and OK EMA, and local nonprofits served (and continue to serve) as the backbones of debris removal, donations management, and mass care provision.
Recovery needs take time to emerge
Time will tell how the recovery effort in Moore, OK will progress.  While recovery needs are still emerging, there are, again, elements to the recovery that we know to be true.  We know that countless families will live in temporary or rental housing for months, if not longer – and, some residents from Moore will choose to relocate rather than rebuild.  We know that individuals and families will need psychosocial support to recover from the trauma caused by this tornado.  We know that insurance companies will meet many of the needs for the community to rebuild; but we also know that individuals and families are typically underinsured for this kind of catastrophic event.  We know that federal, insurance, and private philanthropic support will trickle away before Moore, OK fully rebuilds.
So, with that grim view of what recovery might look like in Moore, OK, can we predict the community will need from private philanthropy?  Moore, OK needs our collective sustained attention – more media, more funds, mental health support for years, and more assistance in rebuilding.  Given the way the conversation has been moving lately, I am confident that private philanthropy will begin to see the unmet needs they can fill for long-term recovery.

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