Economics & Empathy - Disaster Recovery

I've been infatuated with disaster recovery for quite some time. I've spoken to numerous survivors - gathering their stories in part with the Field Innovation Team. I've spoken with responders, contractors and funding agencies. I've analyzed the nature of neighborhood and whole community recovery through numerous events. I've even presented to gatherings of fellow emergency managers on building resilience that may lead to a more rapid recovery.

And I've noticed something - recovery, the successful kind, is an artful blend of economics and empathy.

Yes, a community needs financial support, information and an opportunity to meet their fundamental survival needs. But beyond that, in order to engage their own resilience, a community struck by disaster needs empathy. An understanding that, growth, safety and trust begins when, and only when, an ability to comprehend their own needs and a willingness to meet them exists.

Governments long to build resilience, to listen to community, to support and grow community capacity to meet their own needs. But I've yet to see a successful example of that philosophy instigated in a community. Government rarely listens and even more rarely asks communities to share what recovery means to them. We have a tendency to send the well-meaning among us out to communities to gather information, but those representatives are under-equipped and often speak more than they listen to those they aim to support.

Emergency Managers say - the goal of recovery is to "build it back, better" but what does that mean to the communities which they serve? Better means something different to every neighborhood, business district and non-governmental support capability. The under-served in one neighborhood will respond differently to disaster than a similar, but different neighborhood, despite having similar capacity to withstand trauma. No two people and thus no two neighborhoods are the same. Therefore, the very nature of recovery must be sought from those directly impacted by the decisions made on their behalf. 

It must be sought in empathetic, systematic, deliberate ways. By humans (and technology) eager to learn and less eager to disseminate the "solutions" their employers offer. A story must be shared and equally told by connecting with the needs, capabilities and desires of a community to build their own future.

For it is their future that will rebuild our community.