Hurricane Harvey has dominated the news lately, and the damage to Houston and the surrounding areas in Harvey's path has been devastating. At the same time, images of Americans coming together to volunteer their time to help with rescue efforts have been incredibly inspiring and heart-warming. A couple weeks later, everyone is starting to turn their attention to the vast amount of restoration and rebuilding that is going to be needed for a long time to come.
Disaster recovery is a long process
Recovering from a natural disaster like Harvey isn't something that happens overnight. A study by the National Academy of Sciences found some pretty interesting facts related to recovery and restoration efforts by studying disasters all the way back to the infamous San Francisco earthquake in 1906. They find these efforts to go through a series of identifiable phases. There are three critical phases worth mentioning.
This is the initial, post-disaster phase when all effort and attention is focused on search and rescue, providing emergency shelter and food to people impacted in the disaster area, restablishing a semblance of order and normalcy, clearing major infrastructure damage, and draining floodwaters. The emergency period typically sets the tone for the following phases of restoration and recovery. On average, each subsequent phase takes 10 times longer to complete than the phase before it.
The restoration period is the period during which essential elements of urban life, such as utility service and transportation networks, are patched or repaired to allow necessary levels of normal activity to return and function. Restoration usually begins before the emergency period ends, as major necessities are brought back online to a reasonable degree. Again, it's been found that restoration typically takes about 10 times longer to complete than the emergency period lasts. So, a 4-week emergency period will usually require a 40-week restoration period before reconstruction can begin.
Reconstruction: Phase I
Referred to as replacement and functional reconstruction, the first phase of post-disaster reconstruction efforts is focused entirely on the task of rebuilding or replacing critical infrastructure, as well as public and private property, tackling housing displacement, and providing jobs to get the local population and economy feeling normal again. The goal of functional reconstruction is to allow normal human activities in disaster areas to return at pre-disaster levels or greater. This is the period during which homes, neighborhoods, business, and public infrastructure affected by the disaster are under their heaviest periods of rebuilding.
The bulk of the reconstruction efforts, functional reconstruction often takes 10 times longer than the restoration period. This means a 4-week emergency, requiring 40 weeks of restoration, can take 8-10 years to complete reconstruction.
There's work to be done
There's a bunch of volunteer and donation efforts happening right now from all corners of the country. Americans have an incredible knack for coming together when terrible things happen. Pictures and videos have shown how maybe it's not so useless to have a big truck that's lifted 4-feet off the ground. There's been moving videos of interstates lined up with people bringing boats into the area to help rescure people. We've even seen a picture of an awesome guy rescuing a grandmother with his jetski. And all over the country, people are donating money and supplies to help with the disaster relief efforts. But that's just the start. There's so much work yet to be done.
If you have skills, put them to work
If you're in or near the Houston area, and you have skills you can provide to help make reconstruction happen, you're going to be needed for a long time to come. If Katrina, Ike, Sandy, and other hurricanes are anything to go by, there are going to be a lot of opportunities to help get the area back to normal again. And this is going to take years.
We want to help
We're a small startup in Chattanooga, TN, and we've seen things like this happen before. Several years ago, our area was hit by tornadoes, and we watched recovery & reconstruction efforts happen all around us. Disasters need a lot of skilled trades to come out and be on hand to get things done and bring life back to normal.
Our hearts go out to the people affected by Harvey, and we sincerely want to help. Trouble is, as a small startup, we can't donate millions of dollars, and we don't have the ability to transplant to Houston to aid the recovery efforts. But we specialize in helping people who are trying to run service businesses, and we'd like to offer those tools up to all the people in Harvey's path, many of whom are likely going to take their skills and start offering them to their neighbors and cities to get life back on track.
If you're in the Houston and surrounding areas affected by Harvey, and you have a service business—or have the skills and want to put them to work to help the area recover—we want to help make it easy for people like you to not be overwhelmed while trying to keep up with all the work that needs to be done in the area. We have some software tools that are made for small service businesses and professionals. We'd like to offer them to people in the Houston area who are helping with reconstruction and recovery efforts free of charge for a year.
If you're a service professional trying to run a business day-to-day in the midst of disaster, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to do what we can to help make this trying time a bit less difficult.