Recovery is an essential part of disaster management. However, it is not well supported. I am an elected official that sees far more value in response assets than recovery needs. Change my mind on the need for recovery.

What role does community and economic development play in recovery?

This week our discussion will focus on recovery and by extension resilience. Recovery, from the emergency management perspective has long been overlooked. The causation of this could be argued but it should suffice to agree that recovery as an emergency management activity is not done well. To begin the discussion, we should start with a foundational question what is recovery? It would be rather easy to have a “textbook” definition of recovery. Unfortunately, the textbooks differ. FEMA is challenged with providing an effective definition of recovery and largely defers to Core Capabilities to define it (Recovery is composed of the core capabilities necessary to assist communities affected by an incident to recover effectively).

A reasonable definition could be to return the impacted area to “normal”. However, this begs another question. What is normal? Normal would be dependent on the area that is impacted. For example, a farming community’s return to normal would be vastly different than a large city’s return to normal. There is also a pragmatic approach when discussing recovery and returning to some state of normalcy and that would be defining a new normal. Given the understanding that some incident has occurred that has impacted a community, geographic area, or even business to such detriment that normal has been disrupted an opportunity now exists to recover to something different rather than pre-incident conditions. This idea leans towards resiliency. Although, developing resiliency does not have to occur only following a detrimental incident it is simply an opportunity to impart resiliency in the recovery efforts.

So, looking past these circular references of recovery, resilience, and normal what IS recovery. Essentially, recovery is putting the pieces back together with the understanding that some untoward incident will occur in the future and taking the opportunity to put steps into place to lessen or remove future impacts. As Emergency Managers we must be realistic in our understanding that there will be disasters and we need to prepare our respective communities for those disasters and by better preparation we lessen the need for recovery. This does not mean that recovery is managed solely by active preparedness. Recovery goes beyond the emergency management perspective of saving lives and property and lessening impacts. Recovery, in large part, is measured by the health of the community. For example, take any disaster and breakdown the impacts of the incident. Once the winds fade, the water recedes or the violence ends, what is left of the community. How do you rebuild the community? Building flood walls or improving security are sound approaches but what about local businesses, schools, infrastructure. How are these rebuilt? Who does the work? Who pays for the bills?

These questions are some of the challenges of recovery. Current emergency management models are heavily response focused and the long-range work such as recovery, mitigation, and resilience are oftentimes underfunded and undervalued. I will offer to the future emergency managers a question. Should our response models shift to be more recovery/resiliency focused? If so, how? I look forward to your thoughts on this complex topic.

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