Whenever disaster strikes a city or community, its devastating effects dominate the news. Footage and images of properties damaged, distress of victims fills TV screens and airwaves. Sometimes the emergency can remain in the news for more than one or two weeks, which means a long-term coverage.
Evolution of emergency response and disaster recovery
Here is the history of preparing for and responding to natural or human-made disasters in the United States. It dates back to the time when the US was born as a nation, but the process started taking organizational shape in the 20th Century. Prior to this time, cases of disasters were handled “case by case,”. This is mostly backed by the Congressional Act providing different compensation to the victims who suffered from disasters. Examples of disasters that saw government emergency response were Portsmouth, NH Christmas Fire of 1808 and the very devastating Galveston Hurricane and Flood of 1990.
After a series of government efforts to respond to the disasters, they saw the formation of different agencies. From the 1940s to 1970s, President Carter signed an executive order that merges all Federal Agencies. Those dealing with disaster preparedness and response issues were placed into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1979.
From that time till date, all disaster issues and emergency response are handled by FEMA.
Phases of Disaster Recovery and Emergency Response
Each disaster that happens is a unique occurrence that demands careful assessment. Bearing in mind that response and recovery may take time, it is critical to creating a strategic plan. These responses are aimed at identifying and helping the most vulnerable and severely affected people.
Although the stages of recovery don’t always follow a precise cut-out procedure, below are several phases that unfold. This is as affected communities start to rebuild their lives after disasters.
Critical Search and Rescue
Search and Rescue is always the first disaster recovery phase that takes place after a disaster has struck. It usually requires a fast response which can last into hours or even days to save lives in imminent danger. After a few days, this phase traditionally elapsed to pave the way for providing support for survivors. An example is the search and rescue mission undertaken by FEMA after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
Prompt Emergency Relief
The second phase of the emergency response and disaster recovery is the provision of emergency relief. It begins immediately after the disaster has occurred and when search and rescue operations have come to a close. The emergency relief phase brings foods, water, clothing, medicine and shelter to surviving victims of the disaster. It gives prompt and serious medical attention to people with severe injuries.
Emergency relief can go on for a long time or may end abruptly. It depends on the nature and scope of damage caused by the disaster.
Quick or Early Recovery
When it comes to recovery, the population that is affected is in a better and stable condition. They have access to food and water and temporary shelter where they can cope with wind and rain. People start going about their daily activities. Children start going to school again, although classes may be held in tents or churches, etc. While the entire affected population may not have completely recovered, they have started adapting to a new way of living.
The early recovery phase can last for weeks, months or even some few years. This depends on the initial communities vulnerability, resources available and sense of adaptability.
Medium to long-term disaster recovery
This phase involves the construction of permanent physical structures that will replace tents, plywood shelters, and trailers. This is to mirror what used to be as they try to get back to normal. With the commencement of building permanent structures, the social foundation of community is being reinforced and strengthened. Adults now have the opportunity to improve their means of living and restore their family’s economies. Children can return to schools with permanent buildings as they build. The society is now beginning to feel stable and safe once again.
We are all first responders
Back in 2017, FEMA showed us that we are all first responders. “FEMA has a central role in both response and recovery efforts as the federal government’s coordinator of emergency management operations. But that role is often misunderstood, with FEMA being viewed as a first responder rather than an extension of state and local capabilities.” Don’t forget that as a community and individuals we can do our part.
Linda Rawson is the CEO, and Founder of DynaGrace Enterprises, (http://DynaGrace.com) which is a Women-Owned, 8(a) Minority, Small Business. She is also the author of The Minority and Women-Owned Small Business Guide to Government Contracts.