Understanding Hurricane Maria: Disaster Response as Transition Management
About the talk
The generalized claims about the inadequacies of the governmental response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, at both the local and federal levels, highlight a simple but often overlooked fact: disasters do not occur in a vacuum, neither societies that experience them are “blank canvases” or “clean slates” from which the reconstruction starts from scratch. From macro level abstractions such as the governance limbo brought by PROMESA, to the very concrete experience of uncommunicated communities that were required by the FederalEmergency Management Agency (FEMA) to file claims online, disaster response and recovery in Puerto Rico reveals the multilevel complexities of disasters that transcend the organizational misalignments often documented in the disaster literature. We suggests that disaster response still suffers, to this day, from a myopic view of disasters. Disasters are still being treated as discrete events to which societal institutions must respond to and recover from by reinstating equilibrium, often understood as pre-event conditions. We propose that disaster response and recovery should be understood as transition management tools to reach a new resilient and more sustainable state. Models such as the multilevel perspective (MLP) and the sustainable transitions often used to examine socio-technical and socio-ecological transformations, can help us better understand the alignment or misalignment of preparedness, response,recovery and mitigation related policies and activities. These models can also help us visualize much needed policy interventions that mitigate vulnerabilities and decrease disaster. In fact, this paradigmatic change invites us to redefine the very concepts of vulnerability and resilience understanding the value judgments that these often carry.
About the speakers
Marla Lugo Perez and Cecilio Ortiz Garcia, Senior Fellows of NCSE (National Council for Science and the Environment), hosted by Penn State this year.