What do we mean by a “holistic” approach to disaster recovery and planning? I’ve heard of holistic dog food, but even that isn’t good enough for me. I demand ground rib roast!! In broad terms, a holistic approach simply means the properties of a system cannot be described by its separate parts—the system as a whole influences the parts. Just consider me. A brilliant white smile and thunderous bark don’t define me. You have to look at the whole package.
With disaster recovery and planning, considering a disaster as a whole system promotes broader planning and better cooperation among different groups. For example, with flood planning, engineers could have procedures in place to divert water toward a historical or shopping district area instead of a
parking lot or open area capable of more safely handling overflow. If the building flood planners fail to converse with other members of the city utilities, emergency responders, neighboring properties, etc, they might make plans that would cause more damage to surrounding assets and possibly their own property. A holistic approach brings more information to the table, allowing better planned prevention as well as recovery. I like “bringing things to the table” as well. Pork chops. Chicken gravy. A squirrel.
An example of the need for a broader approach can be seen in the aftermath of the recent Japan earthquakes. As the production capacity of many Japanese plants is rebuilt and comes back online, segments of the Japanese economy were captured by other countries following the disaster. A holistic approach would have demanded better integration between emergency management teams and economic development individuals, who could have worked together to focus efforts on top economic priorities. This would have kept needed resources in the area following the disaster. I like to have integration with several groups, including the local butcher shop, a tennis ball manufacturer, and my favorite salon. That’s synergy!
For some areas of the world that don’t frequently experience disasters, complacency can prevent the formation of a holistic approach. For me, complacency is vitally important. Somebody has to occupy that grassy spot in the sun! Paradoxically, a major disaster can also slow down the development of holistic methods, as individual stakeholders often feel repeated disaster occurrences are less likely, despite the fact that this is not necessarily true.
Key benefits of the holistic approach:
- Better communication is encouraged when different agencies or groups confront disasters together. Resources or labor can be pooled together avoiding costly duplications of efforts. If disaster recovery is too fragmented, then many cases of “left hand not talking to the right” can occur. Do people’s hands literally talk to each other? Does this occur during sleep? Why can’t humans have four legs like a normal animal!?
- Major disasters don’t discriminate. They affect large swaths of individuals and businesses. A holistic approach encourages a true community response, where actions are taken by the community for the community, with less emphasis on special interest groups or people with hidden agendas. An example of this is the rebuilding efforts in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, where groups worked together to clean debris and save houses as part of a broader longer-term affordable housing plan.
- Holistic approaches mean a country, state, or city is more resilient to the effects of disaster and able to quickly regain former capacities. After my doghouse was ruined, I rebuilt. Now it can withstand a Category 5 hurricane!
- The holistic approach covers mental and emotional states instead of just the physical safety of disaster victims. Such focus allows individuals to quickly return to society, providing an economic benefit to their immediate area.
For disaster recovery and prevention, a holistic method means more than just cooperation. It’s also a way to get more out of the efforts of every group and individual, which is a stark example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.