A common framework for disaster mitigation, response and recovery that can be applied across different scenarios can reduce losses significantly and also prove to be cost-effective, Himanshu Grover, co-director, Institute for Hazard Mitigation and Planning, College of Built Environments, University of Washington, says.
“Of course, you will have to modify and adapt a little bit but the concepts can be easily be transplanted from one scenario to another,” Dr. Grover said at the seminar ‘America with Kerala: Uniting for a disaster resilient Kerala’ organised jointly by the US Consulate General, the Centre for Public Policy Research, and the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA).
Speaking on the US experience with disasters, Dr. Grover said the country had, from the 1960s, steadily built up the capacity and resilience of communities.
From the 1970s, moving away from looking at disasters independently, the US began adopting what Dr. Gover terms the “all-hazards approach.”
The underlying principles for this are generalisability and cost-effectiveness. “The same amount of money that you spent, let’s say, for building your capacity to provide a specific kind of risk communication through your social media platform, that same platform can be used for floods, for earthquakes, for terrorist attacks or for epidemics,” he says.
In the US, this has really helped, he says. Death toll in disasters has plummeted. At the same time, most routine events that could evolve into disasters are no longer so. The challenge the US faces was the integration of disaster management knowledge — primarily risk reduction knowledge — into mainstream day-to-day activities, he says.
Again, having a robust disaster management system has its perks, Dr. Grover says. “The avenues that are built primarily to respond to disasters also become useful in day-to-day life.”
In the US, the disaster management philosophy was pushed down into the mainstream through the country’s educational system. This is important, says Dr. Grover.
Today, US universities are offering disaster management programmes ranging from certificate programmes to doctoral courses.
That said, having a sturdy response and recovery system does not necessarily mean disasters won’t happen. They still will. “But the idea is to build resistance. You will bend, but you will not break,” Dr. Grover says.
Even the big catastrophes that threatened to overrun the system does help to build long-term resilience, he says, giving the example of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.