Rethinking Disaster Response: Six Steps

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The Northeastern Japan (Tohuku) Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, the Indian Ocean Tsunamis of 2004, the Sichuan Earthquake of 2008, and the Myanmar Cyclone in 2008 have collectively given Asia and the world a brutal crash course in what it takes to successfully respond to a major disaster.

What these disasters also prove is that we need to rethink our approach to disasters, focusing not just on the immediate needs but responding from the start with the ultimate end in mind. To that end, I’ve isolated what I see as six steps to disaster response.

  • Rescue: saving human life endangered by the disaster or its aftermath.
  • Recovery: Finding and removing the remains of those who perished in the disaster, and preserving physical assets damaged in the disaster or its aftermath, or threatened by its consequences.
  • Relief: Looking to the healing, health, feeding, and housing of survivors, and laying the groundwork for a return to normalcy.
  • Reconstruction: The re-creation of personal and community infrastructure to enable a return to normalcy.
  • Revival: The return to status quo ante, ensuring that all material losses are redressed and that people’s lives have returned to consistent rhythms.
  • Renaissance or Rejuvination: The effort to ensure that not only are things in affected communities “as good as before,” but that indeed the lives an prospects individuals and the communities are materially and spiritually improved through the process of reconstruction to a point even beyond where they might have been otherwise.

The key in this process is that each step is not seen as a discreet effort, but is both integrated with the previous and following steps, and is taken in a way that enables each of the following steps to be simpler and better.

At this point, the Disaster-Industrial complex gets a part of that equation, but not all of it.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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