Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 24, 2010

Recovery: Eight Principles vs. 12 Steps

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on February 24, 2010

I like to think we can learn more from studying others’ successes than focusing on our own failures. Emergency management and homeland security offer endless opportunities to do both, but we often fail to acknowledge the pitfalls associated with one approach versus the other.

Perspectives on recovery are not unique to emergency management and homeland security. Psychologists, social workers, therapists and counselors have developed and refined an approach to managing addiction that defines recovery in terms that should seem fairly familiar to emergency managers and homeland security professionals whether or not they have struggled with such issues in their personal lives.

The 12-steps to addiction recovery begin with an acknowledgement of powerlessness and an overture or openness to assistance from a higher power.  Acknowledging the need for change, the addict is encouraged to “make a searching and fearless moral inventory.” Having made such an assessment, the addict is encouraged to seek forgiveness and make amends to those harmed by her behavior. The addict must then humbly commit herself to making self-reflection, repentance, and reconciliation a consistent and ongoing part of her life. This leads to the ultimate steps of aligning one’s thoughts and actions with the intention to do what is right and encourage such actions in others.

The recent publication of a draft National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) presents an opportunity to see how much we have learned since Hurricane Katrina. A comparison of the principles guiding the NDRF with the recovery strategies of those coping with addiction might prove insightful for several reasons. Not the least of these is the fact that we (as a nation, if not a profession) have been in denial of the need to address recovery systematically and strategically for many years. Like addicts, our tendency to engage in serial self-defeating behavior has been enabled by a system that has tended to put restoration ahead of renewal and reflection ahead of re-norming or reforming obsolete ways of thinking about and dealing with our circumstances.

In contrast to the 12-steps to addiction recovery, the NDRF identifies eight core principles anchored in transparency and cooperation and derived from stakeholder submissions as the prospective core of federal disaster recovery policy and process:

  1. Individual and family empowerment
  2. Leadership and local primacy
  3. Preparation for recovery
  4. Partnership and inclusiveness
  5. Communications
  6. Unity of effort
  7. Timeliness and flexibility
  8. Resilience and sustainability

As I read through these principles and the accompanying documentation released by the Disaster Recovery Working Group, I was overtaken by the impression that the efforts that produced them were formulaic acts of penance for Katrina rather than genuine acts of contrition. Reconciling ourselves with our past requires much more than a simple act of atonement for the mistakes of Katrina.

Unlike the 12-steps to addiction recovery, the eight principles guiding disaster recovery do not start with the recognition of the helplessness and hopelessness of our present situation and a commitment to leaving past patterns of behavior behind. While they make a welcome overture to more engagement and give a nod to the importance of resilience and sustainability, the eight principles and the accompanying narrative take far too much for granted when it comes to suggesting how we might go about achieving such lofty goals.

By failing to acknowledge either the need for humility in the face of tragedy or the need to reconcile people with the reality of their situation, the recovery framework misses an important opportunity to convince people that the challenges they face reflect their previous failures to adequately prepare. Absent “a searching and fearless moral inventory,” how will we know people are prepared to do the hard work required to mitigate vulnerabilities to future disasters?

Confronted with the realities of a disaster and the resource limitations that invariably arise, not the least of which is the patience of those responsible for or affected by the process, recovery tends to fall into one of four familiar patterns:


The Recommission strategy avoids the hard work of doing anything more than what is immediately necessary to put things back as they were. It is particularly well suited to situations that are not wholly inconsistent with our expectations of self-efficacy and that do not overwhelm our resources. Most disasters fall into this category.

The Reconnection Strategy describes the sort of response typical when the damage experienced is greater but not beyond what we expected in aggregate but beyond what we are willing to tolerate in future. This situation reflects the sort of incident typified by the Northridge earthquake.  With some outside technical help, an infusion of resources, and some  minor to moderate adjustments, such as improvements in building codes and better emergency planning, we can make significant improvements to guard against similar failures in future events.

When the extent of the damage exceeds our resource capacity but does not significantly violate our expectations, we can embrace the opportunity to rebuild better than before by applying the Realization Strategy. This approach allows us to invest in our values, to remake our community consistent with our aspirations, often using someone else’s resources. This situation arises following many but not all floods, when recovery resources are invested in relocating activities out of flood plains or rebuilding structures to resist future floods.

The most difficult situation, the one that requires the most work, takes the longest, and often fails to succeed fully is the Reorientation Strategy, which arises when our expectations and our resources both prove inadequate to the tasks at hand. Catastrophes like Katrina and the Haiti earthquake completely reshape our sense of what we need to do and at the same time require us to undertake not only the routine work of daily living but the extraordinary efforts required to embrace a new reality.  Our past mistakes hang around our neck like a millstone in these situations, limiting our options and sapping our resolve.

Layered on top of all of these strategies is the demand for accountability, which often delays the recovery process by focusing on allocating responsibility for past mistakes rather than committing ourselves to the work needed to avoid making them yet again. This is not to say that accountability and recovery are inconsistent with one another, but only that the processes often compete with one another for our attention and our resources.

Succeeding with the work of recovery requires us to break with past practices. Past recovery efforts failed not just because we failed to work hard enough or to work together well enough. We failed because we shared the mistaken impression that working together, working harder, or both was enough in and of itself.

Like an addict and his enabling spouse, local, state, and federal officials and the public they serve have become co-dependent on one another and need someone sober to step forward and perform an intervention, preferably before we hit rock bottom. Neither the people of the United States nor her leaders can afford the luxury of assuming that either or both of them will do the right thing if only given the opportunity.

We have had too many opportunities to mitigate our vulnerabilities and build a more resilient nation but failed to do so. Today, our infrastructure and our economy teeter on the brink of collapse. Assuming transparency and cooperation will make up for our previous failures to maintain public trust and ensure accountability is no way to ensure a more resilient future for us all.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 24, 2010 @ 2:26 am

Well Mark again has winnowed the wheat from the chaff. My take is of course more simple, perhaps because of my failures to acknowledge my powerlessness in the face of the greed and avaraciousness dictating the opportunism I see taking over the development of any conscensus on recovery. The “hey, what’s in it for me” approach that prevents Mark’s wisdom from being utilized.
Underlying that is the competition for resources. I refer to the Haitian Earthquake response effort as a US domestic disaster not just a Haitian and International failure in the response and recovery effort so far. Three (3) million in tents and we (US) cannot even get tents to the “sheet” cities [probably too inaccurate a word “citises” for the human masses gathered in those fecund and fecid slums of people. Rubble is so great that a thousand trucks for a thousand days could not clear it. And of course no trucks. Hey in reality up to the entire population of Haiti facing severe starvation with only 22% of population gaining relief supplies so far. But the really telling note to me is finding out not a single sewage treatment plant in all of Haiti even before the earthquake. What will recovery mean for the Haitians and the NGO’s helping and now the MSM is losing interest.

Okay! Back to basics. Focusing on just items #2, #3 and # 6. There is a dearth of leadership and funds in both Haiti and the US right now. Unity of effort. NOLA for example is still struggling with Katrina and pinning its hopes on the failed protective works of the USACOE and other means of defeating Mother Nature’s plan to either put NOLA underwater or make it high and dry and no longer a port. Too long to explain but this year high water on Mississippi, not a hurricane, might be problematic for NOLA. Several gray literature articles have now focused on the 22 million potentially adversly impacted by a California delta levee failure. But there are plenty of others. And let’s face it even the money to organize a proper response or recovery to a large scale event by state or local government is rapidly dwindling with the reduction in the tax take for these entitites. Only the federal government and its ability to borrow is left to fund those efforts. People now are going to die in Haiti and in the US over budget fights and in particular in catastrophes. Hey Senator Landrieu wanted a quick $200 billion for Louisian and others in Katrina. Probably around $80 billion so far but no real documentation. But in Mississippi for example we now have 15 birght shiny new Casino’s sitting on the Gulf of Mexico waiting for the next round, which will not be recession bound countries gamblers with fists full of dollars visiting but perhaps a true CAT 5 visiting.
Actually the current National Recovery Response Framework makes me mad. Why? A framework means awaiting the key essentials to be filled in later. And this document whatever the merits of the effort promises to do that later but does not quite explain how it will be done.
And it turns out planning for recovery and unity of effort is a pipedream unless the hard work gets done to explain and put into effect those concepts now. Since they cost at least some money won’t be done. Notice the DHS budget and oversight hearings this spring will focus on Congressional need to grandstand in an election year and what complaints the members of Congress have in getting funding for earmarks and grants for their districts. Not much of thinking why they are in such a bind. Now willing to predict that even first response efforts and capabilities will have been reduced in the US (Haiti never had any) by up to 25% in many jurisdictons. At least AJP Taylor’s view that revolutions occur during periods of rising not falling expectation won’t be validated. The expectations of Americans in a catastrophe will be reduced as they realize the US cannot help a mass of humanity 700 miles offshore, much less the 22 million identified as the hit in the California delta catastrophe. We now can almost predict a collapse of our governmental system under some very foreseeable events but the MEMBERS Of Congress and Executive Branch leadership cannot seem to think beyond the election cycle. Yes, maybe I have reached stage one in the sense that I am powerless to make a change. Is there a higher authority I recognize–hoping so but perhaps Haiti will shatter that faith for all time as the US watches the slow death of a mass of humanity off its near shores. AS to recovery why not start with US planning funding and building sewage and water treatment facilities in Haiti? Or that’s right we don’t build them here either anymore!

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 25, 2010 @ 1:13 am

Note the FEMA Chief of Staff stated yesterday in an EM FORUM that “resiliency” was the new watch word also encompassing many things including “mitigation”. What is of interest is that the Administrator of FEMA also announced late the previous day his strategic vision for FEMA running through 2016!
Since FEMA has been singularly ineffective in performing mitigation and the nitty gritty of compliance review with standards that goes with zoning, building codes, setbacks and landuse since its compliance program was largely ended under President Bill Clinton and FEMA Director James Lee Witt I guess the effort to mitigate (in my mind reduce disaster losses) has now evolved into a new catch word. Hoping its definition and implementation does mean something and that resilience will be enhanced. Again highly recommend Amanda Dory’s study entitled “American Civil Security” issued in 2002/3 by CSIS. First use of term resilience in context of Homeland Security that I know of.

Comment by recovery

February 25, 2010 @ 2:44 am

I was overtaken by the impression that the efforts that produced them were formulaic acts of penance for Katrina rather than genuine acts of contrition. Reconciling ourselves with our past requires much more than a simple act of atonement for the mistakes of Katrina.

Comment by christopher tingus

February 25, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

Emotionally I am simply aghast as well I guess realistically not really surprised in hearing from folks in Haiti telling me that corruption is so rampant – that supplies are not getting to those so unfortunate and must endure daily in such squalor with supplies at the airport a few miles away, folks so dismissed much like the Palestinian who the Muslim community and the Arab League with all their backroom dollars (euros) cannot bother with….I have walked the streets of Hebron and Jericho, the children deserve more and the marble cities of Dubai and other, well, they will not stand no matter how high they reach to the sky for you have forsaken the children in your own nieghborhoods.

Today, I heard an early estimate that it will take US$14+ billion to address Haiti, well so what, it took US$16+billion to remake seven (7) miles of Boston roadways (see: http://www.bigdiglifevest.com) and with the rampant government and affiliated corruption all with the full knowledge of folks like John Kerry, Teddy Kennedy, Barney Frank and a host of others, locals who turned their cheek to such outragious absurdity, now with seven (7) related deaths from the project…oh, com’on, these guys have no care whatsoever…

As a citizen seen on CNN globally protesting against such corruption during the Big Dig as only a citizen willing to hold sign or were “Big Dig Life Vest” with photo on front page of Boston Herald, seen on local television stations standing tall on behalf of fellow neighbors, state taxpayers and national as the Big Dig was a federally funded project, I have only been abused at every chance by the MA/DOR and others, however nothing will deter me as my years are waning and now undertanding that despite all the esteemed scientists, physicians, researchers, educated folks and others here on Main Street USA, folks who genuinely care, who contribute daily to bringing the advantages of the 21st century to mankind, not folks like Al Gore who derives millions, maybe billions by showing a small movie and representing the business interests of those benefitting from his position with little scientific discipline or otherwise given accolade in prestigious award, while esteemed and educated folks for the most part go unnoticed….

I took a look at CNN a short while ago and it was indeed confirmed that Haitian authorities are delaying relief supplies to its own people. My response..anyone denying a child Life savings supply, arrest them including government officials and you Mr. President of Haiti as well for allowing such to place in peril human Life with supplies available.

Kudos to our US military on the island to assist in relief, nit to occupy and kudos to the logistics people and to Souther Command who is doing its utmost to assure that all people of Haiti are taken care of –

As far as you Mr. President, you knew how to travel to Cairo and address a Muslim community who needs to stand up and be counted especially when those supposedly chanting and with knees bent profess Love, turn cheek to innocent people, God’s creation, being outright murdered…you Mr. President shoudl go to Haiti with your visit sending a message in clarity that these bandits, these hoodlums whether in government or out will not be tolerated….you Mr. President, well Sir, it is time to send a brief and telling message to the government and anyone else in Haiti that those found in any corruption practices – whether government officials including the President of Haiti and staffers to the guy on Main Street Haiti that ripping his fellow neighbors off especially during this time, well, there is a cost to such outright thievery.

We all know there is no time remaining for many who desperately need assistance and yes we acknowledge the have and the have not mentality of today’s 21st century, uacceptable as God is witness to all and with only 22% of these people being addressed since 12th January only 700 miles off our US coast….unacceptable!

We are a bankrupt nation! Yes, the fed and the cenral bankers print fiat dollars and yes, we know the dollar will soon becaome a memory as the euro and yuan engage in competition and yes, we know we are becoming enslaved to a third world way of Life and as we are “Raped of our Rights” whether by MA/DOR or other government bureaucrats like Pelosi and Frank and of course good ‘ol Harry who is certainly out of touch with reality, the selfishness of the “beltway boys” with their partisan ways and arrogant attitude, those we elected, we “entrusted” to serve in public service, we are reminded of our youth from present to generations past who have given their precious Life only to see their patriotism and the ultimate in sacrifice result in parents and families with heads bowed in sorrow and wondering what has become of the America we have all toiled so hard to create and to uphold the values set forth….

The broken campaign promises of fellas like Deval Patrick, President Obama and the special interest groups, the lack in “strict” term limits for any public office from local to state to national, allowing such “politicizing hoopla” as I refer to it without transparency, the “Hank Paulson” mischievous and devious ways…

When I witnessed the Department of Revenue (MA/DOR) here in Massachusetts play out its charade in the manner in which it treats good citizens with refernce to income tax issues recently taking people’s driver’s license without due process of law, a court hearing pertaining to the related income tax issue, causing folks, souses and children the inability to access the second car, the ability to drive to and from schools, to take the kids heer and there, people unable to go to work and earn a living even of owing back taxes whereby the MA/DOR may garnish wages with Court consent, here on Main Street USA we see the outragious behavior of so many from local, state legislature, national positions in public service abusing the system and we the citizens, it is obvious that we have little faith in Republican or Democrat when it comes to relying on government to come to our assistance here on Main Street USA when a major disaster occurs…and it will occur for we do have earthquakes here and other such scenarios as a result if the wrath of Mother Nature…after all, we, the moon and our sun are all part of a universe, bombarded each day by debris and we are at the whim of unfortunate events like Haiti or the aftermath which continues from Katrina!

Thank God for the DoD, the folks at NSA and so many others who are so committed without prejudice to upholding America as a beacon of hope to any and all who Love freedom and understand its value for the MA/DOR and others are doing their utmost to circumvent the due process of the law, individual civil rights, the dignity of citizen….It is not the credibility we are losing with those on foreign soil, it is the credibility of government here where we on Main Street USA are no longer whispering in the pews, but outwardly question.

I had the opportunity to confer with the White House, State and USAID yesterday on an issue affecting my concerns as to waste water and water purification infrastructure projects not only in Haiti, but in a pan-African initiative to bring a clean glass of water to children in Ghana, Rwanda and throughout Africa as well as even to the Ganges in India where good people, less fortunate than most of us, cannot get a clean glass of water to drink.

I went to Wall Street and asked for a $1billion last month to help move – profitable – waste water and water purification projects especially in Africa where governments are earnest in their quest to improve infrastructure and guess what, Wall Street replied, “Not interested.”

My courteous, yet serious reply, “Next time watch your kids drinking a glass of water or using the sprinkler system tpo cool themselves in the heat and hearing their laughing and see their joy, please remind yourselves of the kids I am talking about in working with very compassionate business folks globally with not only expertise in completing substantial $50-$250million waste water treatment projects, but simple 200 sq. ft. eco-friendly, earthquake resistant, easily erected permanent housing solutions with rain water retention systems and solar for Haiti and throughout Africa and anywhere else the less fortunate can be helped by clasp of hand and a caring heart….Does anyone care? I wonder….The haves seems to be comfortable and think little about the have nots as billions are in the coffers waiting to be lent out when interest rates skyrocket! Unfortunately, my message, play days are over, the rampoant abuse will affect all and we as a planet – not because of global warming – but because of our selfishness – we are in great peril and the great depression lurks!

We need a civil defense system. We need more federal funding of our local “first responders” and a community trained and prepared for we could not address Katrina, we allow bureaucracy and corruption to cripple our abilities and valued and proven skills as a nation to reach out and help ourselves first and then to others as well.

Unfortunately, our bureaucrats with high salaries and their incestuous ways, our schools and the results placing us far down the list compared with other nations, since at least 1980 when special interest groups and lobbyists began playing their hand, we have slid and will continue to do so into the Pacific Ocean with California so riddled with dysfunction and those of us on the east coast waiting for the worst to yet come as jobs are no where to be found despite your political rhetoric Mr. President et al in parallel with a dismal housing report yesterday….

God help us if this nation suffers from a natural event such as an earthquake causing trillions in damage whether on west coast or west coast for we here on Main Street USA are witness to the same disease which has now affected Toyota, greed and corruption…

The whispers on the street talk of government camps already set up in undisclosed locations to deal with dissidents, protestors, so many rumors and do you know why, we have no real leadership, even one man or woman who we can trust….we see a candidate for office in California soending $150 million of her own moinies to try to win a political office – we see the smug smile of Nancy Pelosi sitting behind the President at the podium and we wonder with her $65 million in net worth, what doe she know about what we feel, what our families here in America, ever so burdened with taxes and fees, now having to pay for sports in after school…

Do these folks who “WE” have elevated to their grandiose stature to supposedly serve the public good, yet in most cases, see a quick route to riches and prowess in power in attaining self-agenda. Do anyone of these folks know the cost of a gallon of milk and we expect government to know or care to assist us in disaster…

Let’s get to the polls and starighten this out and then begin to prepare for the disaster which will inevitably strike….Let’s train and support our police officers, our firefughters and EMT’s while politicians try to diminish their roster, close stations and starve funding for those we call in our desperate 911 call, let’s make a real “change” and educate Deval Patrick and you, Mr. President as well as others who promise – change – what “change” means for all qwe have seen is the little change in our pocket taken from us –

Christopher Tingus
Harwich (Cape Cod) MA 02645

God Bless America!

*As a citizen, during this my (our) watch, I am giving serious consideration in seeking advice as to how we can establish a new grass roots political party called, “Main Street USA” –

….for people here on Main Street USA are more than unhappy and while we say no to government in the healthcare business and we say no to bail-outs and the printing of fiat dollars as we see local legislatures and even Congress circumventing the safeguards imposed by our insightful forefathers and negligence by big business, the word “fear” is being used mor and more frequently and here in America.

We have been a people of optimisim, resilient, seeking to reach to those less fortunate and now we, too are fearful not so much of AQ, the Taliban, the drunken North Korean leadership, the “KGB Putinites”, those in Tehran who have so much American blood on their hands, the Chinese and Russian cyber attackers, but we are fearful of those in lobbying and special interests and governing positions who have already raped us and place us in great peril –

As a mere citizen, I am very seriously giving consideration to challenge Barney Frank here in Massachusetts despite his campaign coffers filled to the brim asking for nothing from fellow neighbor other than his/her vote on election day. We know ehat the promise of “change” can mean and it is time to portray our unwillingness to be so violated….

If it is not me, I hope others will stand up and be counted for we are besieged and a call to muster our Love for country and the ideals so many have sacrificed to afford us must be safeguarded –

Is Jesse right when wrestles with the issues of the day and talks of intentional “conspiracy” – we don’t know, however little hope remains in what we are obsaerving unless we all clasp hands and thwart the efforts of those whose dastardly acts seek to enslave us through poverty….

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 3, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

The Senate HOMELAND SECURITY AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE has sent a letter dated February 28. 2010 to Secretary DHS indicating their displeasure with the draft and its inadquacy with respect to the statutory mandate for the report as contained in section 682 of PKEMA!

Comment by George

July 19, 2010 @ 10:48 am

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Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » From Principles to Progress

September 21, 2011 @ 7:38 pm

[…] me, to give some serious thought to how we might measure resilience and recovery rather than simply conceptualizing it. Although it has taken a few months, I finally got around to giving it a stab, at least in part. […]

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