After Great Disasters: An In-Depth Analysis of How Six Countries Managed Community Recovery
In the face of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and the extreme weather impacts of climate change, communities need to plan ahead for their disaster recovery to ensure that they rebound and emerge stronger than before, according to a groundbreaking new book of in-depth case studies from six countries across three continents.
After Great Disasters: An In-Depth Analysis of How Six Countries Managed Community Recovery by Laurie A. Johnson and Robert Olshansky, synthesizes the authors’ 25 years of collaborative experience as recovery planners onsite of major disasters ranging from the 1995 earthquake in Kobe to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. They recommend best practices for urban officials and policy makers based on firsthand research on the roles of various levels of government in successful disaster recovery and rebuilding in the United States, Japan, China, New Zealand, Indonesia, India, and several other countries around the world. The authors collected hundreds of documents and interviewed government officials, academic researchers, representatives of international aid organizations, community leaders, and disaster survivors, with the aim of finding common lessons in these disparate environments and facilitating the recovery of communities struck by future disasters.
The book provides more tools for implementation following the 2016 publication of the Policy Focus Report After Great Disasters: How Six Countries Managed Community Recovery, also by Johnson and Olshansky, showing how metropolitan regions can rebuild for greater resilience during the reconstruction process after earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, or terrorists attacks. “The level of detail in the book is invaluable for disaster recovery workers on the ground, compared to the concise recommendations in the earlier report, which is geared to readers at the executive level,” says Olshansky, head of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champlain. Johnson is an urban planning researcher and consultant, and chairs the U.S. National Advisory Committee for Earthquake Hazards Reduction.
As Johnson notes, “Disasters can change the fortunes of a city or region forever.” Chicago and San Francisco became more successful cities after being ravaged by fire and earthquake, respectively, and Tokyo successfully survived devastating fires caused by earthquake and war. But the city center of Managua, Nicaragua, never recovered from a 1972 earthquake, and Galveston, Texas, lost its status as a booming metropolis after its destruction by a great hurricane in 1900.
The management of recovery matters because disasters extend over time. They disrupt lives and businesses as people await assistance, infrastructure repair, and the return of their neighbors. Physical recovery from disasters takes many years, and the psychological scars can last for decades. Many people survive the initial disaster but then suffer from the recovery as the economy stagnates, social networks weaken, and healthcare and support services decline. The process of recovery is a major aspect of a disaster, and its management can affect both the intensity and the duration of citizens’ disaster experiences. Post-disaster reconstruction offers a variety of opportunities to fix long-standing problems by improving construction and design standards and quality, renewing infrastructure, creating new land use arrangements, avoiding hazardous locations, reinventing economies, improving governance, and raising community awareness and preparedness.
In the past 40 years, a number of serious international disasters have required large-scale, sustained intervention by multiple levels of government and nongovernmental organizations, and their activities and actions have increased knowledge of long-term post-disaster reconstruction. We now have enough examples to develop effective models for the process of rebuilding human settlements after disasters.