A phone call once a week or dinner out instead?
A card or a card and flowers ?
Are you going home for the holidays or inviting Mom to join you on a cruise?
What does Maximum Of Maximums (MOM) deserve?
According to the 2011 FEMA strategic plan, a MOM could involve:
- Emergency medical care for 265,000 casualties,
- Moving and distributing supplies to meet the needs of 1.5 million disaster survivors within 72 hours,
- Restoring and sustaining basic services for an affected area of seven million people within 60 days,
- Recovering the communities of 1.5 million disaster survivors within 5 years of the event.
When MOM visited Northeastern Japan on March 11 last year that’s close to what she left behind. Casualties were lower, but otherwise the FEMA benchmarks are on target or a bit below actual outcomes.
What else does the Japanese experience tell us about MOM?
- Catastrophes cascade into complexity becoming fundamentally different than emergencies or disasters.
- Response will only be as good as mitigation, resilience, and readiness. Recovery is mostly a function of the same.
- MOM is beyond controlling. She may be absorbed or if given enough space she may dissipate, but she will not be contained.
Despite the consequences in Japan and similar recent calamities, many resist embracing or even acknowledging MOM.
Among the minority who give attention to something like MOM there is a dangerous presumption she can be understood. She cannot, not fully.
Nature affects to be sedate
Upon occasion, grand
But let our observation shut
Her practices extend
To Necromancy and the Trades
Remote to understand
Behold our spacious Citizen
Unto a Juggler turned — (Emily Dickinson)
Her juggling, her dancing, her sudden leaps and skidding stops are beyond accurate prediction. With MOM we can only be sure of uncertainty.
To give MOM her due, regular attention is required. Three suggestions for state and local jurisdictions and the private sector:
1. At least 10% of planning resources should be committed to MOM.
2. At least 20% of training and exercise resources should be committed to MOM.
3. Regular investment in mitigation especially on resilience of critical infrastructure and key resources. I don’t think a percentage can capture this commitment. It needs to be a strategic priority. Zoning, building codes, public health funding, infrastructure development, insurance decisions, licensing and regulations… all need to assume a level of catastrophic risk. Incremental yet persistent investment in mitigation is needed.
By the way, I perceive Japan met — and probably exceeded — each and all of these minimums. The consequences were still horrific.
For more on lessons learned from the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear emergency please see:
Fukushima in review: A complex disaster, a disastrous response, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (March 6, 2012)
This is the most recent of several excellent examinations of (mostly) the nuclear emergency. There has been considerably less high-level attention to the the earthquake-and-tsunami. In my judgment the best single source for issues beyond the nuclear emergency is:
To examine fundamental issues of mass care as well as supply chain resilience and recovery, I recommend:
Disasters in Tohoku, Japan: Preliminary Findings Concerning Postdisaster Humanitarian Logistics Response, Transportation Research Board (January 2012)
The Asahi Shimbun — sometimes called Japan’s New York Times — has aggregated its coverage of response, recovery, and related at: