Recovery is the function by which countries, communities, families, and individuals repair, reconstruct, or
regain what has been lost as a result of a disaster, and, ideally, reduce the risk of a similar catastrophe in the
future. Recovery actions are the most diverse and costly, and involve much more than simply replacing what
once existed. Disasters disrupt society through deaths and injuries, structural damage, and the monetary values
of property loss. Disaster impacts are also less tangible and can extend far from the actual disaster area. Predisaster planning can reduce the risk of haphazard reconstruction. The short-term recovery phase immediately
follows the event and seeks to stabilize the lives of victims. Long-term recovery begins when the emergency
phase ends and the community or country begins to rebuild and rehabilitate. This phase may last for years.
Recovery requires a tremendous resource supply, as well as planning, coordination, information, funding, supplies, and personnel.
Key Terms: coordination; damage assessment; disaster contingency funds; donations; economic recovery; ensuring equity in recovery; loans; long-term recovery; public assistance recovery; recovery funding; recovery planning;
short-term recovery; social and cultural recovery.
Disasters wreak havoc on the living, on built structures, and on the environment. Despite efforts to mitigate hazard risk, catastrophic damage is commonplace, and the impacts must be addressed if the normal functioning of society is to resume. The process by which communities, systems, and lives are
rebuilt, repaired, and otherwise returned to a functional condition is called “recovery.”
This chapter explains what the recovery function is and what actions are taken to fulfill the recovery
needs of communities affected by disasters.
OVERVIEW OF RECOVERY
Disaster recovery is the emergency management function by which countries, communities, families,
and individuals repair, reconstruct, or regain what has been lost as result of a disaster and, ideally,
reduce the risk of similar catastrophe in the future. In a comprehensive emergency management system,
which includes pre-disaster planning, mitigation, and preparedness actions, recovery actions may begin
as early as during the planning processes and activities, long before a disaster occurs. Once the disaster
strikes, planned and unplanned recovery actions are implemented and may extend for weeks, months,
or even years.
Introduction to International Disaster Management. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-801477-6.00007-1
Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
CHAPTER 7 RECOVERY
The actions associated with disaster recovery are the most diverse of all the disaster management
functions. The range of individuals, organizations, and groups that are involved is also greater than in
any other function (although these participants are much more loosely affiliated than in other disaster
management functions). Because of the spectacular nature of disaster events and because disaster consequences affect so many people’s lives, recovery generates the greatest amount of interest and attention from the world community as a whole. In relation to the other disaster management functions, it is
by far the most costly. Disaster recovery is also the least studied and least structured of all of the disaster management functions, and therefore the most haphazardly performed.
The recovery function is characterized by the many decisions and actions that enable
• the building of homes;
• the construction, updating, and repair of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, utilities, and other
• strengthening of economic drivers, such as employment and business operations; and
• other efforts and actions similar to what is otherwise termed urban or community development.
But why all these activities are different from typical development activities, and thus, why recovery is considered a function of disaster management function, is because
• they are all happening at once;
• they are all the result of some hazard risk that was realized and that likely still exists;
• they are being funded by a complex variety of sources that span the public, private, and nonprofit
• they require a level of coordination that goes far beyond what is typical for the community.
Added to this list is the fact that recovery includes a human component related to the physical, psychological, and social impacts that occur. These less-tangible recovery needs can be much more difficult to measure, to understand, and to remediate, but can actually be more critical to the long-term
success of the community than any other component of recovery.
The most visible activity associated with the recovery function manifests at about the same time that
formal emergency response measures are declared complete. Having taken the appropriate actions to
save as many lives possible, and having limited any further damage to the environment and to property,
communities must face the long process to regain what was lost. But, as this chapter shows, recovery
involves much more than simply recreating what existed prior to the disaster. It is a complex, highly
political process deeply rooted in the development discipline and is closely intertwined with the other
three phases of emergency management. Recovery requires great amounts of planning, coordination,
and funding, and is not successful unless it reduces risk from the hazard or hazards that enabled the
Actions and activities commonly performed in the recovery period of a disaster include:
• Assessment of damages and needs
• Ongoing dialogue with the public
• Provision of temporary, transitional, or permanent housing
• Demolition and removal of condemned structures
• Inspection and repair of damaged structures
• Clearance, removal, and disposal of debris
The Effects of Disasters on Society
• Rehabilitation of infrastructure
• New construction
• Cultural and psychosocial rehabilitation programs
• Creation or expansion of access to credit
• Creation of employment opportunities and other economic support
• Resumption of social services
• Rehabilitation of the injured
• Reassessment of hazard risk
THE EFFECTS OF DISASTERS ON SOCIETY
Disasters disrupt society in many ways. Most people are familiar with disaster statistics that relate to
people killed and injured, buildings damaged and destroyed, and the monetary values of property loss.
News media focus on imagery featuring destroyed homes, flooded streets, and downed trees, among
other physical manifestations of the disaster. However, disaster consequences have a much greater
effect on victims’ overall quality of life than these statistics, pictures, and videos can portray. This is
because communities develop sociocultural mechanisms that allow them to function, and the countless
individual components of these systems steadily become dependent on each other. Thus, the loss of any
one component may affect many others.
When minor incidents occur in which people are killed or injured, buildings or infrastructure
are destroyed, and lifelines are cut, components of society can break down on a small scale, but
the community is likely to have the capacity to contain the loss and withstand any greater impact.
During disasters, however, these damaging effects are spread across a much greater geographical
range, affecting more people, more structures, more industries, and many more interconnected
societal components. The secondary effects not only affect the disaster area, but also can extend
far beyond the actual physical range of the disaster and result in much wider logistical and economic impacts.
Examples of disaster consequences that disrupt the community and reduce the quality of life of
individuals in that community include:
• A reduced ability to move or travel due to damaged or destroyed transportation infrastructure
• Interrupted educational opportunities due to damages to schools, loss or injury of teachers, injuries to student, or inability to attend school because of added pressures of recovery
• Loss of cultural heritage, religious facilities, and communal resources
• Economic losses due to the loss of customers, employees, facilities, inventory, or utilities
• Communications difficulties due to infrastructure damage or loss
• Homelessness caused by housing and property losses
• Hunger and starvation due to breaks in the food supply chain that cause shortages and price
• Unemployment due to job cuts, damage to place of work, or conflicting recovery needs (loss of
day care services, for instance)
• Loss of community tax base
• Loss, damage, and pollution of the environment
CHAPTER 7 RECOVERY
The primary goal of the recovery process is to reverse these damaging effects and, in doing so,
restore victims’ lives. Clearly, this is a monumental task.
PRE-DISASTER RECOVERY ACTIONS
Like response, recovery is a process that is performed within a time-constrained setting and on which
victims’ lives directly depend. To be performed well, recovery and response require special skills,
equipment, resources, and personnel. Unlike response, however, planning for recovery operations very
rarely occurs until after a disaster has actually occurred.
Recovery operations commence soon after the disaster strikes, often concurrent to response. And like
response, in the early recovery period, there may be considerable confusion among stakeholders. There
may be people displaced from their homes, business owners anxious to resume operations, and government offices that must restart service provision. These and other pressures, if acted upon, minimize the
extent to which proper development planning can occur. As described in the following sections, recovery
is a prime opportunity to reduce hazard risk in light of the obvious impacts of the disaster and to ensure
that overall vulnerability is reduced should similar conditions arise again. Unfortunately, recovery decisions are often made with little or no such prudence, and opportunities for improvement can be lost.
In the planning process, described in previous chapters, disaster managers identify hazards, analyze
risk, and determine ways to reduce those risks. In doing so, they gain a much greater understanding
about how each of those hazards would affect the community if one were to strike. This information
can be effective if used to plan the community’s recovery from a disaster.
Pre-disaster planning—sometimes referred to as “Pre-Event Planning for Post-Event Recovery”
(PEPPER)—can reduce the risk of haphazard rebuilding. Although nobody can predict exactly how a
disaster will affect a community, many processes are common to all disaster types (e.g., cyclones), and
they may be identified and studied in advance. Many decisions have long-term repercussions and, as
such, are better made in the relaxed, rational environment that exists only before the disaster occurs.
Examples of recovery decisions that may be made before a disaster include:
• The structure and makeup of decision-making bodies, such as a recovery planning committee, that
will guide the post-disaster recovery process
• The site selection for long-term temporary housing (which is often maintained for a period much
longer than originally expected)
• The site selection for temporary business activities
• The site selection for the disposal of debris
• Contractors from around the country who could be called upon to assist in infrastructure and
housing repair and reconstruction
• Coordination mechanisms, including leadership, membership, and information sharing
• Mechanisms to structure and lead volunteer and donations management activities
• Mitigation measures and other hazard reduction actions that may be too expensive or unfeasible
before a disaster, but may be more opportune if existing structures were damaged or destroyed
(such as relocating power lines underground)
It has been postulated that disaster recovery based on pre-disaster planning is much more organized,
is more likely to result in community improvement, and is more likely to result in a reduction of future
Pre-Disaster Recovery Actions
disaster losses. Because nobody knows for sure exactly how and where the disaster consequences will
manifest themselves, recovery plans are hypothetical, focusing more on broad goals and ideals than on
specific actions and procedures. For instance, they may include “Reduce vulnerability to electrical
transmission wires” or “Revise building codes to address new seismicity estimates.” During much of
the actual recovery period, many decisions require split-second action, with little or no time for analysis. A plan outlining overarching goals and objectives can help guide those decisions. Decisions made
without considering these goals can drastically limit opportunities to rebuild the community to be more
resilient and disaster resistant.
Through the hazard identification and analysis process, communities that have performed adequate
hazards risk planning will have determined what consequences they should expect to occur. Using this
information, they will have created a mitigation plan outlining the possible options for disaster risk
reduction. In the post-disaster recovery period, when many decisions are made about construction and
repair of structures, zoning of land, and new development, this mitigation plan can be used to ensure
that proper action is taken to minimize risk. For example, if the community had explored strengthening
building codes, those codes would be likely to pass in light of the recent disaster, and all new construction could be required to follow the new codes. Planners may find that many of the measures deemed
unfundable or impossible before the disaster are now perfectly acceptable.
SHORT- AND LONG-TERM RECOVERY
The timing of disaster recovery activities is critically important. Recovery activities have to be planned
and carried out in a way that balances speed on the one hand and cautiousness on the other. The challenge lies in balancing citizens’ and businesses’ immediate needs to return to was considered normal
before the disaster with the longer-term goals of reducing community vulnerability and taking advantage of opportunities to reduce disaster risk and improve development. The destruction and disruption
caused by the disaster allows the affected jurisdictions to concurrently consider or reconsider multiple
infrastructure, livelihood, economic, and other development upgrades, many of which may not have
been possible had the disaster never occurred. Aside from the trauma associated with lives lost and
injuries, it is possible for a community to emerge from the crisis better off than it was before, at least in
terms of the quality of life and long-term development prospects of residents.
Recovery can be divided into two distinct phases, each with very different activities: short-term and
long-term. The specific conditions and consequences surrounding the disaster aftermath, the capabilities of the affected government(s), and the capabilities and resources of the participating agencies all
determine how quickly recovery can transition from the short- to the long-term phase.
The short-term recovery phase immediately follows the hazard event, beginning while emergency
response operations are ongoing. Short-term recovery activities seek to stabilize the lives of the affected
people in order to prepare them for the long road toward rebuilding their lives. These actions, which are
often considered response actions and termed relief, include the provision of temporary housing, distribution of emergency food and water, restoration of critical infrastructure, and clearance (but not
removal or disposal) of debris. Short-term recovery actions tend to be temporary and often do not
directly contribute to the community’s actual long-term development. Short-term recovery operations
also tend to be guided by response plans and are often uncoordinated.
Long-term recovery, on the other hand, does not typically begin in earnest until after the emergency
phase of the disaster has ended. In long-term recovery, the community or country begins to rebuild and
CHAPTER 7 RECOVERY
rehabilitate. For major disasters, it lasts for years. The economic renewal of a community or country
may take even longer, making a return to pre-disaster conditions a challenge. In many cases, the community will need to be reinvented, accommodating the new information about the disaster while maintaining as much of its original culture and pre-disaster composure as possible. The greatest opportunities
for projects addressing vulnerability reduction are possible during long-term recovery. More funding is
dedicated to recovery than to any other emergency management phase (for a given disaster), and more
players from all sectors are involved. Long-term recovery operations thus require a significant amount
of coordination and planning if they are to be successful.
COMPONENTS OF RECOVERY – WHAT IS NEEDED AND WHERE IT
The long-lasting period of recovery following major disasters requires a tremendous supply of resources.
Each resource category is dependent on the others, and thus a short supply of one resource could impact
the others. Over time and with experience, the recovery function has become more practiced, more
systematic, and better able to work toward the goal of setting the affected population back on their own
two feet, although that goal may not always be reached.
The following section details the general components of disaster response.
Although pre-disaster planning is logical, relatively easy to perform, and costs very little, most communities will likely have done little or nothing to directly prepare for recovery after a disaster. Postdisaster planning, as it is called, while entirely necessary, is performed in a much different environment
from pre-disaster planning—one that is less favorable to success.
Disaster managers in California, addressing the aftermath of an earthquake, described the differences between pre- and post-disaster recovery planning as follows:
• After a disaster, planning for rebuilding is a high-speed version of normal planning, as well as
a dynamic cyclical process. Local communities faced with disaster recovery will not have the
luxury of following normal procedures for development review and approval.
• After a disaster, planning for rebuilding is more sharply focused. This is not the time to begin a
regional planning process.
• After a disaster, planning for rebuilding is more realistic. Planners must avoid raising false
expectations by unrealistic planning schemes and, instead, strive to build public consensus behind
appropriate redevelopment approaches. Comprehensive evaluation of funding sources for implementation is essential.” (Mader and Tyler 1991)
Most important when planning for recovery from a disaster is that as little construction or other
action that could affect the long-term sustainability of the community is performed before being considered by the planning process. Several options can assist disaster managers with this, such as imposing a moratorium on new construction. However, the public and business owners place considerable
pressure on disaster managers and politicians to rebuild as quickly as possible. Demands increase as
victims grow impatient with temporary relief provisions (shelter, food, etc.) and businesses begin to
Components of Recovery – What is Needed and where it Comes from
fail. Recovery organizations add to this stress because of their workers’ needs and donors’ expectations
to init ...
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