You are now being logged in using your Facebook credentials
Print

Picking Up the Pieces After Disaster

Written by Featured Organization on 26 May 2011.

Cities decimated by Mother Nature, largely devoid of businesses and infrastructure. In recent months, Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo., have provided stark examples of how drastically life changes as a result of serious natural disasters. Rebuilding and recovery have begun in both communities and the federal government has a key role to fulfill, according to two Kansas State University business experts.

The first step in rebuilding is for the governor to mobilize state and local resources, said Diane Swanson, professor of management and von Waaden business administration professor in K-State's College of Business Administration. This means involvement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency can be more efficient.

"It's ideal that FEMA finds that the state officers have organized on the ground as much as possible," she said.

The alternative is unenviable. Hurricane Katrina's effect on the city of New Orleans and multiple failures in disaster coordination and relief provides an example of what happens when relief efforts are not effective.

"Things fell between the cracks of state, local and federal jurisdiction," Swanson said.

Federal funds are even more important to cash-strapped states in disaster relief. States are required to have balanced budgets by law. This limits many resources and the ability of the state to adequately respond to disasters. Meanwhile, the federal government has the ability to not only tax but also raise money through debt. This may run counter to ideological preferences for small government, but it is necessary to rebuild.

"Currently it's in vogue to denigrate the need for large-scale governmental efforts," Swanson said. "Disasters remind us that there are needs for public goods that require a collectivistic vision."

Private support is also pivotal during disaster relief, whether it's in the form of finances or other resources to fill different voids. Nongovernmental organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army are active in Joplin and have been in countless other disaster situations. Collaboration between the public and private sectors is important, Swanson said.

"Ideally, the state would have some extra money to commit to disaster relief and, through an emergency management office, would coordinate private sector donations that could be very important," she said.

This is increasingly being accomplished through corporate philanthropy. Major corporations channel resources to fill any number of voids in relief and recovery efforts, Swanson said. Trends toward corporate philanthropy are only growing and are leaving an impact in the process.

"Given that trend, there is a place and an opportunity for state and local governments to leverage any interest for philanthropy from the private sector," she said. "It will depend on the situation. It's something the private sector is increasingly more interested in doing, especially since its managers have important knowledge and skills to bring to the task. Additionally, corporations can leverage philanthropy to enhance their image as good citizens."

Regardless of the reputational benefits, many business act out of concern for community and the realization that they can be part of the solution. A large-scale crisis can prompt corporate and individual citizens to band together because of the need for solidarity in the face of adversity, Swanson said.

Those corporations affected by the disaster will still need to rebuild some of their facilities, but do not lack the resources to do so. Small businesses should coordinate with the Small Business Association to acquire disaster loans, Swanson said. It would be unrealistic to expect a similar response from state governments.

"States are not raising taxes and are subject to lots of cutbacks," she said. •

Challenges abound for rebuilding the public sector, according to Bernie Hayen, instructor of management at K-State and an experienced city government official. The destruction of many properties and loss of jobs erodes a considerable portion of the tax base. While larger cities are more apt to be resilient from such adversity, Joplin still requires a different approach, Hayen said.

"The amount of damage there is so extensive it takes a whole different perspective," he said. "That's what emergency financial help from the state or federal government is there for."

A collaborative effort remains key for communities to rebuild and recover. Nongovernmental organizations, church groups and other entities are increasingly fulfilling civic functions and are valuable in relief coordination, Swanson said, especially given their knowledge of conditions on the ground. Despite the unmistakable images of destruction, she's optimistic about such a full-scale approach.

"Communities have proven themselves to be very resilient in recovery," she said.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend