Guest Post: When disasters strike, what happens to communities?

Guest Post: When disasters strike, what happens to communities?

Posted on November 01, 2012 by Guest Blogger

Editor's Note: Veronica Taylor is a consultant specializing in disaster preparedness, response and recovery. She previously worked with The Patterson Foundation to help deepen its understanding of the disaster space. As a guest blogger, she will cover issues relevant to the disaster sector. 

Will the preparedness work? Preparing for a disaster is easy compared to the challenges of living in a post-disaster community. Leadership may be personally impacted by the storm and unable to perform pre-assigned duties. Outside events may coincide with local events and impact availability of planned resources. The very type of disaster can impact our preparedness. This was seen after 9-11. Crisis mitigation shifted toward terrorism and contributed to the slow response to Hurricane Katrina.

Here are some additional realities of a disaster event:

Systems Fail

Infrastructure, technology, alert mechanisms and communication may fail or be insufficient. Processes fall apart, leaving you in unfamiliar territory. The failures may be brief or long lasting, confined or extensive. Ongoing or systemic problems that are manageable in routine circumstances may be a serious problem in a crisis

The Picture is Distorted

No one has a complete picture of what is happening. People looking on from outside (via the news media, for instance) may have a sense of the big picture but may lack accurate, detailed and critical information from within the crisis zone. In contrast, people in the middle of the crisis see what is in front of them - but may be cut off from what is taking place elsewhere.

Time is Compressed

In the heat of a crisis, the time pressure is great. Moving forward or tackling a part of the problem may be risky in the absence of solid information, but doing nothing isn't a choice. As the crisis evolves beyond the immediate urgency, the time pressure eases, only to be replaced by the complex demands of a protracted crisis or recovery.

Authority is Limited – and Limiting

A crisis can easily trump existing structures of authority. Whoever is "in charge" is whoever is there. If your organizational protocols require strict adherence to command structure and approvals, they may hinder rapid and effective responses.

New Leadership Emerges

A crisis will generate previously unexpected and unknown leadership capabilities. Individuals will step up to rescue or respond. New organizations and networks rise to provide aid and assistance.

Bottom line – be prepared AND be flexible.

Want to learn more? Contact Veronica:

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