Recovery in Advance

by Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

Emergency Management Once Removed periodically has cited the need for a systematic recovery process to enable appropriate and comprehensive restoration of the social equilibrium following a major or catastrophic disaster.   

No matter how much assistance pours in after the fact, and no matter how long the attention span of the nation fixates on a region’s issues, it ultimately will be the advance planning and actions of the “home team” that determines if recovery and restoration meet community expectations.

With your indulgence, I shall once more make the case I first made in 2012 that our state, or even a single jurisdiction, cannot afford to begin to plan for their worst-case disaster after it occurs. The recovery challenges suggested by a major or catastrophic earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone are significant, but some can be anticipated and mitigated with a bit of leadership and foresight.

My concept, obviously subject to refinement and revision by experts, for planning for recovery in advance would include a senior government leader enlisting collaboration with social and political leaders and advocacy groups – including one’s political opponents. Task forces would assess community awareness and readiness, critical infrastructure vulnerability, business vulnerability and enlist the private sector’s capabilities to assist in recovery efforts. Many of these are local planning issues, and local and county governments must participate fully in this effort.

Environmental and historical preservation conflicts with economic redevelopment priorities would receive attention. Tribal governments would be represented on all task forces: a special tribal task force would also address unique tribal concerns. A special “tough-nut” task force could take on difficult policy issues that some task forces surfaced but could not resolve. If still unresolved during the disaster, at least the parameters of disagreement will have been made clear, in an earlier collegial atmosphere, as issues to be openly confronted.

This preplanning initiative process would draw upon the legal community from the government and the private sector to identify and eliminate any regulatory or other obstacles to a speedy recovery process. Likewise, legislative authority might be necessary to allow for rapid implementation of necessary budget matters, so bring in leaders from both parties.   

The political leader that launches this initiative cannot and should not “go it alone.” And (here is where some hard work, self-effacement, and true leadership must emerge. My vision was that the recovery organization must be non-partisan: co-chairs from the public and private sector, if widely respected, could provide not only direction but credibility to the process. Tabletop exercises could highlight the most pressing issues and provide clues as to what issues can be resolved or at least highlighted for additional attention. And the public should receive progress reports.

This proposal assumes, perhaps naively, that political and business leaders, and even our public, despite sharp disagreements and competing agendas, can find some common values on which to rally around. If the economic and social health of the state is a sufficient priority, couldn’t we at least try?

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Jim has spent 3 decades in emergency management, including 12 years at the local level as director of the City of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management and 8 and a half years as Washington State’s Emergency Management Division Director. Jim retired from state service in March 2013. Jim also served as President of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) from January 2011 to October 2012. He is currently sole proprietor of “EM Northwest Consulting” based in Seattle.

Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.