Photo: Cope | Adapt | Innovate

Navigating the Phases of Disaster Recovery

Posted on June 02, 2020 by The Patterson Foundation

Every person, organization, or community faced with the challenge of a major disaster progresses through a recovery process to regain that which was lost and instill resiliency. It's a process that The Patterson Foundation has seen, through the many disaster recovery efforts it has strengthened, over the past decade.

This recovery process has three distinct phases:

  1. Cope
  2. Adapt
  3. Innovate
These phases are certainly applicable to our experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic and the diverse forms a disaster can take. To help illustrate how people, organizations, and communities navigate each phase of disaster recovery, we'll share The Patterson Foundation's own recent progression through them amid COVID-19.

At the outset of a disaster, TPF focused on providing for its immediate needs — anything essential to survival. Survival can mean many different things. For people, survival entails continued access to that which is mandatory to sustain life: food, water, shelter, and similar resources. Meanwhile, organizations look to what they need to continue their mission in the community, such as funds to cover operating expenses and staff salaries. For communities, survival includes everything from essential services to making sure the public is informed on the latest developments.

For The Patterson Foundation, ensuring the safety of its team and those served through its work was paramount as the severity and implications of COVID-19 first emerged. The Patterson Foundation coped with the early disruptions brought on by the pandemic by pausing several in-person engagements and events across its initiatives — no small challenge considering their scope and the importance of the connections formed through them.

Once those immediate needs have been satisfied, and our safety is secure, we can get accustomed to the reality of living through the aftermath of a major disaster. While significant aspects of our existence will be altered, we can adopt alternative systems and methods to compensate. People establish environments and routines that lend stability to their daily lives. Organizations seek new processes to re-establish their link to the community and those they serve. Communities restore access to amenities like neighborhood centers and parks to foster well-being and connectedness among residents.

The Patterson Foundation's initiatives adapted to the pandemic primarily by shifting in-person activities to an online format to re-establish those vital connections to people, organizations, and communities that serve as the avenue for our work in philanthropy. In short order, technology and our committed team helped revive efforts in-progress or planned before the lockdown began — from which ideas for new opportunities emerged. Digitally-focused initiatives like the Giving Challenge and Season of Sharing are excellent avenues for engagement while maintaining social distancing. The Patterson Foundation has emphasized the opportunities within them to make a tangible difference for those reeling from the pandemic.

It's not enough to simply survive. We can strive to go beyond our current situation to create a new reality. Efforts to adapt to a disaster can reveal alternative ways to live, work, and play. People place greater emphasis on preparedness based on lessons learned. Organizations reconfigure their operations for greater efficiency and impact in the post-disaster landscape. Communities maximize opportunities to fulfill the shared aspirations of its residents, leading to a stronger, more resilient society.

The Patterson Foundation's staffing model of engaging independent consultants to work on various initiatives helped it move into the innovate phase. The shift from in-person to online engagement created an opportunity for The Patterson Foundation to leverage technology and explore possibilities to work in unconventional ways. For the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, this has meant the creation of new collaborations and programs, from working with The Florida Center for Early Childhood to help children and parents discuss the pandemic constructively in a series of webinars to instilling a love of reading in children over the summer and beyond with the new "THIS BOOK IS COOL!" web series.

We each have a unique pathway from the immediate shock of a disaster to a brighter, stronger tomorrow. As others may move through these phases at paces different from our own — sometimes back and forth between each phase — it's important to maintain empathy for those who are coping.

The Patterson Foundation's awareness of this Cope-Adapt-Innovate process of recovery continues to inform our approach to strengthening people, organizations, and communities as we work toward building back better.

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