Disaster recovery, resilience, and adaptation expert Scott Davis explains that in a post disaster scenario efforts should be made to rebuild infrastructure and communities to face the risks and challenges of the future. Mr. Davis was interviewed at the margins of a forum held at the ADB headquarters in Manila, Philippines.
Title: Scott Davis on Building for the Future after Disasters
Description: Disaster recovery, resilience, and adaptation expert Scott Davis explains that in a post disaster scenario, efforts should be made to rebuild infrastructure and communities to face the risks and challenges of the future. Mr. Davis was interviewed at the margins of a forum held at the ADB headquarters in Manila, Philippines.
RAND Corporation, USA
Q: What are the lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy?
A: The top three lessons that could be taken away from hurricanes Katrina and Sandy applicable perhaps to other countries revolve around coordination, local capacity, and managing expectations. Those are really the three fundamental components to any good recovery. We’ve learned a lot over the last 10 years, I would say, and improved quite a bit on coordination mechanisms both vertically from local state federal government as well as horizontally across sectors – transportation, water and sewer, education, hospitals; so across sectors and across individual jurisdictions for regional approach to recovery.
In addition to coordination, I think local capacity is also a critical issue and something where we’ve really learned that it’s very important to provide technical assistance, the right amount and the right type of technical assistance at the local level to enable the local government to really deliver on the expectations that are on them. A lot of times there are so many resources being thrown at them, it’s like drinking from a fire hose and there’s a lot of accountability that is connected to that flow and so increasing the capacity to handle that so that there are no missed opportunities is really critical.
And then the third is just managing expectations, and that’s really done through increasing transparency and communications. Letting people know what decisions are being made short term as well as what decisions are being made through a longer term; recovery planning process, what’s that going to result in and when. Giving them timelines so they can manage expectations and make decisions around their individual recovery, while you’re putting the context of a community recovery.
Q: What challenges do governments face in post-disaster recovery efforts?
A: Some of the challenges behind assessing the needs of a recovery is not just looking at damage estimates. You’re not looking for a damage assessment; you’re looking for an impact assessment. How damage and impact diverse is that damage in a place with high vulnerability, let’s say low-income population or elderly or disabled, you need to know where certain vulnerabilities are because those populations and those areas need a different level of support and assistance and so, it’s really looking at damage relative to vulnerability and not just social vulnerability, it can be environmental vulnerability certain ecosystems that are very sensitive; or even economic vulnerability, places where the economy is very dependent on one sector and if that sector is brought down the economy really struggles, and so looking at things from a broader perspective not just damaged but the actual impact. And then appropriating funds accordingly is always a challenge I think for most legislatures and congresses. And the biggest challenge is to keep that data driven and data informed process rather than a political process because when people are struggling, recovering, rebuilding, it’s too important for it to be just decided through politics.
Q: What can be done to ensure that the planning stage of recovery embeds principles of build back better?
A: The important thing about building back better is to provide knowledge, the resources, financial resources, the time and the flexibility to do it. Flexibility that you need is the funds need to be allowed to rebuild for the future not to replace the past but to meet the needs of the future. The funds need to be flexible enough to do that. You need the knowledge. You need to understand what your future risks look like not risks now, and not historic risks but future risks; with climate change and sea level rise and to build according to that future risks – 2050 or 2100 and the resources to do that. Building back better has a cost, it’s more expensive than just building back, but those cost become greater down the road. You know, you pay “x”cost now or “x + y” cost later. So it’s important to have those resources dedicated to be able to take advantage of the one-time investment opportunity to incorporate those resilience and mitigation measures into recovery and that can be done through requirements building codes, zoning, building standards, and land use zoning and other things but it’s really attaching those principles to the funding sources to say if you’re going to use this money to rebuild you need to use it like this.
Q: How can public expectation be managed during recovery and reconstruction?
A: Managing expectation is critical. The biggest thing that needs to be done is just to communicate transparently and consistently as time goes on. Consistently and routinely re-evaluate needs as the recovery progresses, so that you’re checking in along the way and as needs change then you change your resource allocation and your plans to adapt to those changing needs. You can demonstrate to the public that you’re constantly monitoring the needs and adapting to change. I think accountability is important and so setting deadlines, goals, target numbers are important but have those be realistic and not just hopeful but actually well-informed because if the answer is realistic but unacceptable then actions can be taken to remove whatever barriers are between this and the unacceptable answer; to make that shorter in time or less expensive or whatever it needs to look like. But we can’t lie to ourselves about how long it’ll take to rebuild major public works and infrastructure systems or things like that. They’re very complicated and it needs to be a well informed process but at the same time we need to communicate to folks how long that will take.