Response and Recovery in Crises and Crisis Management

  • by Ron Day M.A., DEM


         In most cases the average individual has never considered how the responsibilities of public, private and nonprofit sectors differ when it comes to emergency response and recovery.  During one’s career there will be ample opportunity to learn a great deal about how different agencies and areas of response work together and how those relationships are supposed to work and how they may not work. 

         What comes to mind when we think of a situation of crisis?  Are natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, fire the first to come to mind?  Or would it be a terrorist attack, maybe a mass shooting such as the attack in Las Vegas?  In truth, all of these examples are incidents that would be classified as a crisis.  Regardless of the catalyst that sparks the crisis event, a crisis will cause a great deal of confusion and will call into question any protocols that were previously in place.  In fact many of the individuals in leadership will have their methods questioned as well as their ability to lead in similar situations.  With this in mind there are lessons to be learned from these crises.  There certainly seems to have been a shift in how we define a crisis or what that looks like in our minds.  For individuals this can be quite subjective.  However, at its core there are certain elements that we know are consistent with every incident that we would classify as a crisis.  Any crisis leaves those affected with a sense of instability and in most cases confusion.  Gene Klann puts it this way "Many crises are generated by an emergency - a sudden condition or state of affairs that calls for immediate action.  The crisis itself includes the emergency that served as its catalyst" (Klann, 2003, p.4).  As suggested here, the crisis that we think of is often simply the catalyst or emergency that was the catalyst for the crisis.  The crisis includes not only the incident, but the aftermath as well, which can involve reflection on causes and possible counter-measures to aid in future crisis prevention and response.

    Lessons from Katrina

    katrinaThe gulf coast was struck by hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005.  I deployed to the Katrina disaster a year after the incident.  In St. Bernard perish, LA, a year after the flooding, there were still many hundreds of individuals that had been displaced from their homes and in need of emotional care as well as certain necessities such as food, shelter and clothing.    This would prove to be the most devastating storm to hit the gulf coast in years.  It would also prove to be the construction issues with the levees that gave way as the water levels quickly rose.  In the wake of the hurricane the real crisis began as the loss of life and property was assessed.  There were holes in the response methods employed by FEMA during this time.  In the months and years to follow there were a great many criticisms of the responses to this crisis, but there were lessons to be learned to aid in responses to future events such as Katrina.  In her book, Hurricane Katrina: Impact, Recovery and Lessons Learned, Nessa P. Godfrey makes the following assertion “FEMA has also recently developed a status report that shows total and weekly progress of  the  entire  Public  Assistance  program,  which  will  be  distributed  to  the  media  and  local stakeholders on a weekly basis. While   we   believe   that   this   is   extraordinary   progress   given   the   scope   of   the   devastation, we realize that this storm forces us to rethink our business process here in the Gulf. In addition to obligating funds as quickly as possible, FEMA has modified its approach to Public Assistance activities in Louisiana to improve accountability and streamline our processes. •In  addition  to  re-training  staff,  establishing  mentor  programs  for  newer  Public  Assistance  staff,  and  changes  in  the  management  team,  FEMA  has  also  retained  the  use  of  experts  in  various  fields  to  refine  the  needs  and  cost  estimates  of  projects  requested by the State and its sub-grantees. •As we move closer to the completion of projects, FEMA will continue to work with the State and other applicants to ensure accurate and timely completion of projects. •FEMA is working with the parishes to identify high priority projects that are crucial to recovery and giving those projects priority status for review and approval. •FEMA is also working closely with the local governments to identify opportunities to leverage other funding streams to bridge any FEMA Public Assistance funding gaps that may arise. •For the PWs that have not yet been written, FEMA is ready to engage as soon as the applicants are ready. We have the right skill sets and the right people to focus on the applicant’s highest priorities. Public Assistance teams meet with applicants weekly to discuss problems and engage in the Parishes’ top concerns” (Godfrey, 2009, p. 5).  The lessons gleaned from Katrina have led to new policies in preparation for crises as well response.  Some of the criticisms to FEMA may have been a bit unfair, but it would be difficult to argue against the improvements that have been made since and the proactive nature with which the agency has responded. 

    Lessons from September 11th

         September 11th, 2001 will forever be remembered as a terrible day in the history of the United States of America.  The attacks on the world trade center New York City on September 11th, 2001 shook the nation of America to its core.  It was the first time an enemy had waged a significant attack on U.S. soil since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7th, 1941 even though technically Hawaii was not made a state until August, 1959.  While some of the memories of that day have faded it did in fact leave an everlasting impression on how we respond to a crisis ofSep 11 that nature and even how we go about our daily lives.  There have been many changes to existing policies regarding airport security as well as new policies created along with new agencies to oversee and enforce those new policies.  As new agencies and governmental departments have been created there has also been a change in how responsibilities have been disbursed for enforcement.  As of the time of this writing the ripple effects of that day are being felt each and every time an individual travels from one part of the country to another by air.  Living in a post-9/11 world looks much different than the life in the world before.  Changes in human behavior and the culture of our society has taken on a new mantle.  This is reflected also in the programs and policies that have been established looking forward.  What should a Crisis Prevention program look like in the world we live in today with the lessons learned from September 11th?

         Laurence Barton provides us with some insights on objectives that can be attained in a solid Crisis Prevention program.  Barton suggests "The time to ponder the potential fallout that can come with any crisis isn't when you're in the midst of chaos; by that point in time, you'll be too busy actually dealing with the crisis at hand to derive any benefit from thinking about what else could go wrong" (Barton, 2008, p. 107).   This statement should not be a news flash to most of us as we understand that prevention is the act of implementing measures to aid in keeping crises from occurring in the first place.  Of course, what Barton speaks of here would also be classified as response.  However, the author's objectives are clear.  Barton provides an illustration that includes the objectives of Assess, Design, Implement, and Improve (Barton, 2008, p. 108).  Assessment of potential areas that need to be improved or focused on in preparedness.  Design programs to prepare individuals for the possibility of crisis and how to respond with simulations and scenario activities.  Implement these programs and possible any technological systems that would aid in crisis prevention.  Finally, engage in continuous improvement of these implementations as an on-going program of crisis prevention.  These are good objectives to work toward. 

         The hope will always be to never forget the lessons learned from previous crisis situations and use those lessons to advance and care for the safety of citizens.  As individuals there are steps and training that we can take advantage of in order to prepare ourselves to provide aid in those times of crisis.  We should continue to prepare ourselves to be of service to one another. 



    Klann, G. (2003). Crisis leadership: Using military lessons, organizational experiences, and the power of influence to lessen the impact of chaos on the people you lead. Greensboro, NC. CCL Press.

    Barton, L. (2008). Crisis leadership now: A real world guide to preparing for threats, disaster, sabotage, and scandal. New York, NY. McGraw Hill.

    Godfrey, N. P. (2009). Hurricane katrina: Impact, recovery and lessons learned. New York, NY. Nova Science Publishers.