Lessons in Disaster Preparedness

Check out this great video by Caitria and Morgan O’Neill about how to step up in the face of disaster. It has some great info about disaster prevention.

Hazards don’t always become disasters. Ideally, mitigation and risk reduction techniques equip communities with measures of preparedness that prevent threats from wreaking havoc on their infrastructure and populations. However such policies must be enacted at the government level and require significant foresight and regional cooperation that is not present in all vulnerable communities. Furthermore, prevention isn’t as chic or sexy as recovery. It’s the difference between riding in to battle on a white horse and lugging stones to build a wall; everyone wants credit as the knight in shining armor. As a result, communities are often overwhelmed with an incredible influx of donated resources following a disaster. Many outsiders want to respond for a variety of reasons, but unfortunately this response is often characterized by a lack of efficiency and coordination.

Working in the United States and Canada, the organization Recovers presents a functional infrastructure to guide communities in disaster recovery and address this fundamental issue in disaster response scenarios. The organization, created by Caitria and Morgan O’Neil after a tornado hit their hometown of Monson, Massachusetts, utilizes a framework that provides easy to use software to help communities prepare together, mitigate risk, and match resources with needs on a local level through four main features. Volunteer management channels volunteers and skills to where they are needed, case management handles cross-organization aid coordination and online as well as mobile requests, and donation databasing maps and matches local resources efficiently. Finally, Recovers functions as an information hub and community messaging center to communicate effectively within affected areas and with responders.

The key question here is whether the Recovers framework has potential applicability elsewhere in the world and implications for ICT4D. A lack of on the ground knowledge of community needs is a common reason for ICT project failure, as well as inefficiency in disaster response, and it would be wrong to assert that exact duplication of this model would be possible, as many of the areas most vulnerable to natural hazards have weak mobile and internet connectivity. However, the takeaways are still valuable, particularly with regard to the prioritization of certain needs and focus on a streamlined response process.

This is a timely concern as we in the United States end our second day of the government shutdown. Talk of furlough of non-essential personnel, suspension of preventative measures like the CDC’s seasonal flu program, and lack of updates on certain government websites remind us that of gaps in our risk reduction methods can exist here at home. Disaster preparedness is a public good, and as such a free market will not provide it in adequate quantity. Recovers reminds us that readiness is not glamorous, but it makes disasters a lot less ugly.

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