Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Community Recovery from Disaster

Dr Rebecca Whittle from Lancaster University gave an entertaining and informative talk on "Flood Recovery in the UK" at University of Western Australia, yesterday. She described research into the June 2007 floods in Hull, England, where 8000 families were displaced. A longitudinal study using diaries and group discussion was carried out. As well as papers published (Whittle, Rebecca and Medd, William and Deeming, Hugh and Kashefi, E. and Mort, Maggie and Walker, Gordon and Watson, Nigel (2010) After the rain - learning the lessons from flood recovery in Hull. Final project report for 'Flood, Vulnerability and Urban Resilience: a real-time study of local recovery following the floods of June 2007 in Hull'. Project Report, Lancaster UK) and input to the UK Government Pitt Review into the flooding, a game to help policy and operations staff was created.

Also the event I picked up a copy of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility newsletter. Also at the event was Frank Yardley, Manager Climate Change Adaptation, RMIT.

The key point Dr Whittle made was that while the first response for the Hull floods was good, the community felt abandoned after the emergency workers left. The following period, of having to deal with insurance companies and builders was as stressful as the flood emergency itself, and for this there was little coordinated support. It occourred to me that the web could be used to provide some such support. This could be via individuals smart phones and other portable devices and also via community centres, particularly the local library.

However, in accordance with good ICT practice, before building a an online system, it is best to simplify the manual process first. The problem here is that while emergency response is coordinated by government, recovery is largely left to individuals to sort out with private companies.

In a major disaster, this is inefficient and stressful for those involved. That situation could be improved with standard terms in insurance contracts and standard processes, both on paper and online. Dealing with builders could similarly be standardised. This may need legislation to allow provide companies to coordinate their activities without fear of prosecution for collusion. It may also require some level of financial reward or compulsion for parties to comply. As an example, small builders would be reluctant to coordinate their activities.

Insurance and building staff would need training in how to use online systems to coordinate their work in an emergency. But this could have benefits in making their work practices more efficient even when there is not an emergency. This would reduce the customer frustration when they do not know when the person is going to arrive or what stage their work is up to.

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