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Mar 17 2010

Reflections on Haiti: Part II, The Problem


Topics: Homeland SecurityRecoveryResponse

There is still a significant dissonance between the lessons learned and best practices acquired from disaster response teams in countless global operations and the implementation of these strategies in real-life scenarios such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The World Bank recently published a report that yields three major lessons learned from the 2004 tsunami in Banda Aceh that are applicable in Haiti. The lessons are:

  1. Local and national leadership count,
  2. Empowering people and communities is key to success, and
  3. Coordinating global aid is critical.

While in Haiti this February, it appeared the international community responded in a schizophrenic fashion to the tyranny of the urgent while demonstrating mixed evidence of effective coordination and implementation of lessons learned. Thus, I want to highlight an apparent need for unprecedented pre-event coordination and the development of stakeholder owned, tested and approved disaster recovery and assistance strategies.

Think Bigger-er

So what do we do when an entire nation’s capability to respond to and recover from a disaster has been severely crippled? Or when many essential elements of a nation’s critical infrastructure have been incapacitated?

This conundrum is highlighted in Haiti where the national government does not have the capability to fix things and is not stepping up to lead. Members of the international community are now by default expected to aid Haiti and figure out how to coordinate a supportive role while not appearing to occupy the nation and leave the people stranded upon departure.

There is a typical list of stakeholders that participate in any disaster zone including, but not limited to, the affected local governments and stakeholder institutions, first responders, foreign governments, multi-lateral institutions, NGOs, non-profits, and many more. The classic problem of coordination boils down to one thing: turf wars. The solution requires cooperation.

There is a need for a coordinated pre-event strategy to assist in recovery efforts for the affected populations that complements the local efforts (or at least the local interests) of the nation/region affected. There are many difficult questions to be asked and answered in order to overcome the litany of obstacles that might vex this effort. These questions may include, but are not limited to: How will we identify who is in charge of/responsible for what? What are the current capabilities and core competencies of each stakeholder? What resources are needed? Is the leadership of my stakeholder organization willing to make changes necessary to participate in this type of effort? Is my stakeholder organization willing to commit the resources necessary to coordinate in a cooperative fashion? After these questions have been raised and a shared hope for pre-event coordination has been established, it is time to get down to business.

At a minimum, the pre-event strategy should include the following components:

  • Universal definition of the problem
  • Identification of stakeholders (who they are, what they are doing, what they can do)
  • Identification and prioritization of needs and requirements
  • Rapid implementation guidance and terms of agreement guidance for both the external stakeholders (e.g. aid orgs) and internal stakeholders (e.g. national government)
  • Transition plan (i.e. a plan to empower the affected populations and local government)
  • Evaluation methodology

A strawman pre-event strategy with the recommended framework could be developed largely from existing lessons learned and best practices and allow for flexibility for adaptation in new environments. The two primary elements required for successful implementation of this strategic framework will be summed up in my next blog.

Reflections on Haiti: Part III, Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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