Monday, January 18, 2010

Too early for Haiti Lessons?

Whatever the number of deaths in Haiti, as was said about 9/11 it will be more than we can bear. The suffering goes on for hundreds of thousands or more. If journalism is considered the first draft of history, what is blogging? The first draft of the first draft?

It seems without question that this horrific event will be studied by scholars and students of disasters for years to come along with the Indian Ocean Tsunami. The scale of both of these just defies comprehension. But as the tsunami led to much soul searching about what could have been done to lessen the impact, no doubt the same questions will be asked of Haiti.

If we look at this question from the standpoint of resilience, does any light shine? Resilience includes the concept of "resistance" or what is done to protect, prevent or direct whatever forces that may cause harm away from potential victims. Levees and sandbags are examples of resistance. Earthquakes are very difficult to deal with because so little is currently available to help predict. Resistance then comes down to how we build buildings, cities and infrastructure to resist the damage. A lesson here then is the poorest nation in the hemisphere is likely to be least resistant to this type of event. Which leads to the next issue: response.

Resilience related to response is the ability to quickly respond to save lives, property and move quickly to mitigation and recovery. Again, the poverty of the country fights against it in so many ways. Heavy equipment needed to rescue the trapped, clear the rubble. Limited emergency shelters, pre-stocked supplies. Just limited resources for any effective management to call in. This will be a big issue because if the US assumes the level of response-ability as it is--and must in a moral sense--we must recognize the need to better prepare when the disaster is not on our own shores. It is one thing to plan to respond better for the next Katrina. But will the lesson here be that we must prepare better to assist any poverty-stricken nation so battered by disaster? I think it must be so.

There is of course much to say about the communications as well. Clearly social media is playing a critical role. But it is becoming increasingly clear that response organizations are simply not prepared to effectively establish inter-agency and public communication in a situation of this magnitude with these kinds of challenges in resources. I suspect there will be some soul searching on this front as well.

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