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Disasters are a reality in human life and while some are avertable, others have to be faced. In the event of a disaster, preparedness, response, and recovery to the incident determine the extent of damage. Waugh (2000, p.34) points out that disasters invariably create unstable work environments for both the victims and the relief workers which makes it hard for emergency efforts to be implemented without prearranged plans.
As such, disaster planning and management play a major role in recovery from a disaster. To underline the role that planning plays in disaster response and recovery, this paper will review Hurricane Andrew which is one of the more significant natural disasters ever to occur on the US mainland.
A review of the response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 will demonstrate that a lack of elaborate recovery planning for a disaster leads to inefficiencies and additional damages.
Brief overview of the Hurricane Andrew
Hurricane Andrew occurred on August 24, 1992 in the Floridian coast resulting in huge human displacement and a colossal damage of property. As of that time, Hurricane Andrew was the third most powerful storm to every strike the United States mainland (Sirkin, 1995, p.1).
The increasing coastal population was responsible for the significant property costs associated with the Hurricane. While the Floridian coast is subject to hurricanes, it is a favorable location and people still want to live there.
Sirkin (1995, p.4) estimates that the property damages resulting from the hurricane were in the range of $20billion making it the most expensive and devastating storm as of then.
Before the Hurricane hit the US coast, Satellite pictures had tracked it crossing from the west coast of Africa and into the Atlantic as early as August 14. With the use of radar and reconnaissance, the Hurricane Center was able to issue a 12 hours in advance warning to the inhabitants of Florida giving them time to evacuate the coastal areas.
Following the warning, massive evacuations were carried out along the Florida coast with about 1.2 million coastal residents being evacuated. The evacuation efforts before Hurricane Andrew are deemed as one of the finest coordinated in the US history and they enabled over 1 million residents to move to safer grounds.
Sirkin (1995) confirms that the evacuation efforts saved many lives which would have been lost if an evacuation had not been ordered.
Results of the Disaster
Hurricane Andrew had been preceded by Hurricane Hugo which had occurred in 1989 and resulted in some changes in the Federal government’s responses to natural disasters. While there was a Federal Response Plan (FRP) in place, the level of Federal-State coordination and planning in Florida was still at an infancy stage (FEMA, 1993, p.33).
Most of the concepts advanced by the FRP were not understood by local government elements in Florida. The emergency preparedness plan of the Dade County ensured that over 84,000 people were offered emergency shelter by Red Cross as well as the numerous public buildings and schools that were allocated. However, this plan proved to be insufficient considering the fact that 250,000 people were in need of shelter and food.
There was lack of disaster recovery planning and this fact became evident within hours of the storm’s passing. After the storm had passed, no federal or state plan was in place to provide relief to the disaster victims.
FEMA (1993, p.33) notes that the Federal government waited for requests from the State for assistance instead of availing it beforehand. This proved to be ineffective as aid was not delivered in a timely fashion and people continued to suffer unnecessarily and more property was damaged.
The plan therefore failed to fulfill the core objectives of disaster management which are to save lives, alleviate suffering, and prevent further loses after a disaster.
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There was a huge communication breakdown following the Hurricane which destroyed most of the communication infrastructure. Effective communication has to occur so as to coordinate the disaster management efforts.
Due to the heightened levels of psychological pressure and a break down of infrastructure such as telephone lines and mobile base stations, the normal forms communication proved inadequate in the case of Hurricane Andrew.
Haddow, Bullock, and Coppola (2008) note that in the first few days following Hurricane Andrew, FEMA (which is the Federal agency responsible for coordinating responses to huge disaster in the US) was unable to disseminate the needed information to communities and coordination of efforts among volunteer organization was poor.
A number of valuable lessons can be learnt from the disaster management and recovery efforts during Hurricane Andrew. Hurricane Andrew brought it to the attention of the government that better proactive planning is necessary for relief and recovery afterwards.
The planning and preparation activities that had been undertaken before the disaster were crucial since they led to the saving of lives. The importance of accurate damage and needs assessments was also highlighted by this incidence since the initial estimates by local officials proved to be grossly understated.
FEMA (1993, p.35) states that well trained personnel should perform damage and needs assessment within 24 hours of the event and develop a response plan which identifies the needed resources.
The Hurricane revealed the need for more proactive measures to tackle disasters. Sirkin (1995, p.4) states that there was lack of an aggressive Federal support for the disaster victims with government agencies making promises of support without providing any meaningful resources.
It took 10 days for adequate supplies and manpower to be availed to the disaster victims. The delay led to more damages to property and unnecessary suffering by the victims of the Hurricane. The high cost in damages from the Hurricane could have been mitigated if prompt action had been taken.
The Hurricane also highlighted the importance of better coordinated recovery efforts after a disaster. From the Hurricane, it was clear that for most disasters of a major magnitude, relief efforts have to be undertaken through the joint efforts of various organizations.
Hurricane Andrew overwhelmed the local and state resources and it was apparent that outside help were needed to contain the situation. During the occurrence of Hurricane Andrew, there were various plans put in place by the government for effective coordination of Federal government’s response to natural disaster.
The most notable of this was the FRP which was to act as a comprehensive framework through which various disaster response agencies and organizations are able to coordinate their efforts and therefore provide a unified response to disasters. FEMA (1993) notes that the FRP was based on the premise that a significant disaster would require the collaboration of Federal, State, and local emergency response and recovery operations.
Hurricane Andrew demonstrated that the plan needed to be fine-tuned since despite its presence, the local government personnel in the affected areas were overwhelmed and unable to communicate specific needs.
Hurricane Andrew demonstrated how poor communication and coordination could be a major hindrance to response and recovery efforts. From the Hurricane, it became apparent that a well established Federal presence in the disaster area both before and/or immediately following the disaster (FEMA, 1993, p.32). Haddow et al (2008) state that after Hurricane Andrew, FEMA moved on to become the lead agency in emergency and disaster management in the US.
The Hurricane also brought to attention the inadequacy of existing communication systems in the event of a disaster. Waugh (2000, p.32) reveals that during disasters, communication lines can be damaged or become overwhelmed due to a spike in communication volumes as huge numbers of people try to communicate simultaneously (Federal Emergency Management Agency 1993).
Alternative channels of communications are therefore necessary to ensure that disaster management personnel can communicate unhindered during the disaster.
This paper set out to review the destructive Hurricane Andrew which struck the Floridian coast in 1992 with devastating effects. Special attention has been paid on the lessons that can be drawn from the disaster recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew.
This paper has revealed that despite the advanced warning of the impeding disaster, the federal emergency response team did not come up with an effective recovery plan.
This resulted in greater damages and disruption of the lives of the people’s whose homes had been damaged by the hurricane. From the analysis of Hurricane Andrew, it is evident that better proactive planning and rapid response is necessary for relief and recovery following a disaster.
Federal Emergency Management Agency. (1993). FEMA Evaluation of Federal Response and Recovery Efforts. NY: FEMA.
Haddow, G.D., Bullock, J.A., & Coppola, D.P. (2008). The disciplines of Emergency Management: Response: In Introduction to Emergency Management. (3rd Ed). Burlington, MA: Elsevier.
Sirkin, A. (1995). Engineering overview of Hurricane Andrew in South Florida. Journal of Urban Planning and Development, 121(1), 1-10.
Waugh. L. W. (2000). Living with Hazards, Dealing with Disasters: An Introduction to Emergency Management. NY: M. E. Sharpe.