We’re Better At Replacing Post Offices Than People

This is a quote that resonated with me today at the 2010 ASPA conference during a morning session titled, “Balancing Support and Accountability in Disaster Recovery: Lessons from Katrina.”  Branda Nowell, a co-author of Negotiating the Other Costs of Disaster: Mental health and Decision for Case Management, broached the concept of social infrastructure and how to deal with its loss as a result of natural disasters.  She noted that often issues like mental health, sense of place, and cultural heritage get lost in the sea of housing reconstruction and repair that takes place immediately after a disaster.

Perhaps this is because of another powerful theme I took away from this morning’s session: on the whole, our disaster mitigation policies focus on relief and not recovery.  Rebuilding post offices or fixing the levies in New Orleans are relief functions, replacing the sense of place in a community and/or repairing the social infrastructure are recovery functions.  Recovery deals with long-term commitment and follow-through, whereas relief is a short-term life jacket of sorts designed to keep you alive until the storm passes.

The panelists noted that currently non-profits, in large part, are the de facto social infrastructure repair squad.  Often these non-profit entities enter communities independent of government entities.  Nowell during her time speaking this morning emphasized the need to coordinate and integrate efforts among government and non-profit officials during relief and recovery operations in communities in the wake of a catastrophic disaster.  By working in conjunction with one another higher levels of efficiency can be attained and a broader range of service can occur.  It was noted that often multiple non-profit organizations can be duplicating services in a critical  area while another crucial need is left unmet.

After the session this morning and while writing this post, I came across the below video from a non-partisan, grassroots organization Levees.org that speaks about another major theme discussed: even after Katrina, people still are unaware and uneducated about the future risks that still exist, not only in Louisiana but around the country.

What do people think about this video?

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