Saint Joseph's University

Community Disaster Recovery

A disastrous event can wreak havoc on lands, buildings, property, and the lives of the people it affects. In the wake of a catastrophe, communities respond accordingly, and it is often true that the time a community comes together the most is after weathering a devastating crisis. In seeing the destruction that natural disasters can cause, plans for recovery have been implemented in communities across the nation.

Disasters and Recovery

Natural Disasters

Some of the largest disasters in American history have been those caused by the greatest uncontrollable threat in existence: Mother Nature. The most devastating natural disasters in the country’s history include:

Hurricanes: Hurricanes have beaten the coastlines of the United States for years, and the destruction they leave behind is often enough to cripple a community. A hurricane in 1900 nearly washed the town of Galveston, Texas off the map, and another deadly hurricane in 1928 forced the break of a levee that resulted in the death of at least 2,500 people. That tragedy was mirrored in 2006 in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina killed almost 2,000 people and totaled damages of $125 billion.

Floods: Floods cause immediate property damage and loss of life, but the aftermath of stagnant water breeds disease and often results in widespread sickness and even death. In 1889, a flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania happened due to a faulty dam, and more than 20 million tons of water and debris destroyed 1600 homes and took the lives of 2,209 people.

Tornados: Although more information has been gathered in the past few decades that offers a slightly faster warning for those in a tornado’s path, because it’s still a relatively short amount of time, tornadoes can be terrifying and completely chaotic, tossing buildings and cars for miles around. The Tri-State Tornado of 1925 killed nearly 700 people and demolished 15,000 homes. Recent tornado activity in May of 2013 saw several regions of the country afflicted, including Moore, Oklahoma, which was hit hard and fast by a catastrophic F5 tornado, killing 24 people and injuring 387 more. More than 13,000 homes and buildings were destroyed.

Fires: Whether started by lightning or careless individuals, a fire is an all-consuming disaster-creator, ravaging whatever buildings or people are caught in its path. One of the most well known fires struck Chicago in 1871, killing around 300 people and leaving 100,000 more without homes.

Community Recovery

While the immediate effect of a disastrous event calls for critical medical attention, the recovery process can take many months, even years. In the past, the federal government's influence was shown through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who coordinated disaster relief efforts following an event. However, the 1990s required more than $25.4 billion dollars for declared disasters, and policymakers decided that the structure needed to change. Today, the Department of Homeland Security offers resources in the forms of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard, and the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS).

Communities individually operate under special circumstances, following disasters of extreme magnitude. A 2011 FEMA Report states that communities that are able to recover typically have these common attributes:

  • Ability to Act Quickly: Communities that jump into action at the most critical moment are those that find a way to rebuild and move on with a fairly normal existence. The window for post-event opportunity is relatively small, and leaders within the communities that act immediately can often take advantage of all help that can be given.
  • Immediate and Ongoing Planning: Planning for immediate assistance as well as long-term assistance can push communities to overcome temporary struggles
  • Community Engagement: Encouraging citizens of the community to help each other and rebuild together is an important element of community recovery. Communities that have failed to recover in the past did so because the sense of togetherness and teamwork was missing. A feeling of collaboration and unity can encourage and motivate citizens to work harder towards regaining footing a community.
  • Developed Partnerships and Outreach: When media attention is focused on a community following a disaster, this is the time to accept any help, whether voluntary assistance or monetary donations. The media will not stay for long and smart community leaders will develop partnerships and organize donations quickly and efficiently during the early stages of recovery.
  • Awareness of Government Assistance: Billions of dollars are spent on disaster recovery, and the communities who survive often take advantage of the money when it is available. Grants can rebuild towns and supplement citizen income until business can return to the community.

Individuals can involve themselves in the initial relief of the community, as well as help to promote the healing process after most of the volunteers and rescue workers have gone. A community that most successfully recovers from a disaster is not the same as it was before, but it can be better.

Communities in times of disaster need strong leaders, and those with an education in Homeland Security can be at the forefront of disaster relief and recovery efforts. If you are ready to truly make a difference in the lives of others and the betterment of the United States, now is the time for you to earn your Online Master’s in Criminal Justice, specializing in Homeland Security. Saint Joseph’s university is ideal for those who want to be at the forefront of safety and recovery efforts, and for front-line Criminal Justice professionals who want to pursue high-ranking positions at the local, state, and federal levels.

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