Avoiding Aftershock: Successfully Rebuilding Beyond a Crisis
Deloitte Insights Video
From tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes to oil spills, radiation and terror attacks ─ be these creations of Mother Nature or mankind, they are unfortunately no stranger to our global headlines or homelands. In this episode of Insights, we focus not on the scenes of devastation wrought by these disasters, but rather, on the recovery and rebuilding efforts of those governments and businesses caught in their wake.
Tune in to learn how organizations are changing how they respond during and in the wake of transformative crises.
Governor Tom Ridge, Senior Advisor, Deloitte LLP
Dr. Michael Cowan, Director, Federal Health, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Sean O’Grady, Host, Deloitte Insights: Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, oil spills, radiation, and terror attacks; be these the creations of Mother Nature or of mankind, they are unfortunately no stranger to our global headlines or homelands. On this episode of Insights we focus not on the scenes of devastation wrought by these disasters, but rather upon the recovery and rebuilding efforts of those governments and businesses caught in their wake.
Joining this broadcast remotely from Washington, D.C., are two guests; the first is the Honorable Tom Ridge, who is now senior adviser to Deloitte, but was once the Governor of Pennsylvania and the first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Governor Ridge is also the President and CEO of Ridge Global.
We also have with us in Washington Vice Admiral Dr. Michael Cowan, the 34th surgeon general of the U.S. Navy and the man who led the U.S. Navy's Deployment of Comfort to New York City's harbor during the September 11th attacks. He is also a founder of the National Disaster Medical System. Vice Admiral Cowan is also a Director in the Federal Health Practice for Deloitte Consulting.
Gentlemen, from your perspective, what are the most critical decisions that governments need to make in those first few days of a crisis? Governor Ridge, we will begin with you.
Governor Tom Ridge: You know, that's a wonderful question, but let me start by simply saying that the number of decisions that you make or are responsible for making after a crisis depend on the kind of decisions you made with regard to preparedness and readiness before the crisis occurs. The first thing you need to do is get the highest ranking public official possible on the ground to reassure those affected by the disaster. They know full well that you will be unable to bring immediate and complete relief, but they need to know and understand you are there working side by side with them.
The second decision is, and, I think is critical and hopefully you've thought about it before a disaster occurs is: Who’s in charge? Who’s running the joint operation center? Who’s given the responsibility, given the discretion? And who will be held accountable?
Thirdly , you need an immediate assessment of the damage, you need to begin working logistics that hopefully have been part of your preparation in the event of a particular tragedy, and one element that you can't predict but there will be many, many decisions that have to be made across jurisdictional lines. Federal, state, local, maybe business to business, government to business. What you need is timely decision making in that process. So you have got to get boots on the ground, your political and operational leaders, who is in charge, and immediate communication.
Sean: Thank you for that, Governor Ridge. Admiral Cowan, your thoughts?
Admiral Michael Cowan: At the time of the event, it’s already too late. The planning for mass casualty events really has to start well before the actual occurrence. When they do occur, there is a fog of war sort of. There is a confusion that attends the information coming out of the stricken area and the most important thing for any agency to do is to prioritize the information, turn information into knowledge, and use that to address the real problems with proper resources.
Sean: Thank you for that, Admiral Cowan. I'm going to stick with you. We know that you have been involved in a number of humanitarian care responses like September 11th, and, most recently, with the Haitian earthquake. Have you noticed any changes or leading practices for governments responding in a massive disaster triage scenario?
Admiral Michael Cowan: Absolutely, Sean, that is a great question. In the 1970s, President Carter created the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and he created that out of a number of small independent agencies that didn't work very well together. That was greatly advanced most recently after 9/11 with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Going back a little bit to 1989, until that date, we never had a national plan for the federal response to a disaster or mass casualty event. It was up to the states and the federal government to provide whatever it could out of whatever resources happened to be available.
Finally, the military, about three years ago, took on disaster response and preparedness as a defined part of its mission. Where, in the past, the Defense Department obviously came to the assistance but it wasn't allowed to man, equip, and train for disaster response.
All of those changes have made the ability of the federal government more capable of responding to large events, whether man made or natural occurring disasters and mass casualties.
Sean: Well I thank you for that, Admiral Cowan. Governor Ridge, my next question is for you. It’s been almost ten years between the September 11th attacks and the Japanese natural disasters; I'd like to know if you have noticed any major shifts in the way the governments manage risk, how they prepare for or respond to it, or how they assess these kinds of risks. Governor?
Governor Tom Ridge: Well, I think, speaking of our own experience, I think that the federal government and the state and local governments view preparedness through an entirely different prism than they did pre-9/11. Since that time I believe that risk and resiliency has become embedded in the psyche of both government and the private sector. I think we respond in a very significant way. Within a year or two, the President directed that we create, and this was very important, a national incident management system whereby all states and local operation centers have a common boilerplate operational architecture so that you literally could pick up and transpose one operation into another.
I think we have certainly, since that time, have seen more and more mutual aid pacts between concurrent - between jurisdictions, sometimes intra-state, often times inter-state. Not all fire departments in first responder groups are equipped with the same technology, the same equipment, more and more mutual aid. And, of course, we did build a, I think, a very significant template to be used when the nature of the disaster, whether it is a terrorist incident, a horrible accident, or, God forbid, a ravaging natural disaster, a national response plan when the resources of the local level, the state level, and frankly the FEMA level, are overwhelmed.
Sean: Thank you for that, Governor Ridge. Gentleman, my next question is for both of you and I would like to know is technology changing the way governments can respond to disasters? Admiral Cowan?
Admiral Michael Cowan: Absolutely. The first major advancement that I would bring up is advances in medical technology. Our system of emergency response, even our ambulance systems, came out of lessons that were learned in warfare. Lately, the advances of medical life-saving, life-supporting technologies, miniaturization of life support, resuscitation techniques, have allowed military medicine to move medicine to the victim rather than moving the victim to the medical facility.
The second is on the horizon, and that is advances in information technology that carry the ability of individuals to communicate, coordinate, self-organize, and do things that they never could in the past. These don't have to be complicated; cell phones, text messaging, smart phones, internet connectivity are really changing the way people communicate and the way they deal with the agencies that are there to protect and serve them.
Sean: Thank you very much for that, Admiral. Governor Ridge, your thoughts?
Governor Tom Ridge: There is technology available to help us re-dress and address the pain and the suffering and the challenges associated with recovery, but I think more often than not the technology is available but the leadership isn't. The technology is available but the infrastructure to deliver it isn't. We can identify and anticipate better, the technology is there to help us address some of the challenges associated with response and recovery. It's very difficult to get those in place, particularly in some of the smaller, emerging third-world countries, where we’ve got poor government, limited resources, and you don't have a very significant public or private infrastructure to help take advantage of them.
Sean: Thank you very much for that, Governor Ridge. Finally, gentlemen, the recent situation in Japan shows how disasters can strike a variety of industries all at once and, paradoxically, and with all due respect to those affected, in the midst of a disaster, a government really has an opportunity to rebuild, and sometimes from scratch in a number of areas like energy, transportation, the list goes on. In your experience, have you seen any areas rebuild successfully post disaster, and if so, what are your thoughts for public and private sector executives who might be facing these challenges? Admiral Cowan?
Admiral Michael Cowan: I think that is a fascinating question. In my experience, it's a rebuilding process. I think it's a testament to the human spirit that we want to create our lives as they were in the places that they were before these events occurred. I think the one thing that does happen that is different is that communities tend to toughen themselves up against the repeat occurrence of such an event. For example, the dikes in New Orleans are being rebuilt to greater strengths and greater standards than they were before Katrina. But the people of New Orleans are as fast as they can, as expeditiously as they can, moving back to rebuild the city that they love the way they had it before it was destroyed.
Sean: Thank you very much for that, Admiral. Governor Ridge, your final thoughts on this paradox?
Governor Tom Ridge: I'm reminded of the words that the former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said given the financial crisis that the country experienced during the first couple of years of President Obama's administration, “It would be a horrible thing to let a crisis go to waste.” To be more gentle about it, sometimes you can take a lemon and with a great deal of due diligence and thought turn it into lemonade. And I think there had been several examples where communities in the aftermath of a disaster, regardless of the nature of the disaster, have been able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and take the devastation and the devastated areas and turn them into something quite differently. Within every disaster, within every crisis, if you can find the leadership with the vision, the commitment, and the resources, you can go from a very painful, traumatic experience and turn it into something completely different. I think both government and the private sector will be better prepared for the next disaster or the next crisis.
Sean O'Grady: Thank you very much for that, Governor Ridge. Governor Ridge, Vice Admiral Cowan, thank you for joining us today from Washington D.C.
Governor Tom Ridge: Great pleasure.
Admiral Michael Cowan: Thank you.
Sean: Okay, that does it for this episode of Insights. If you would like to learn more about Governor Ridge or Vice Admiral Cowan or any of the topics we discussed on this broadcast, you can find them in much more on our website.. It is www.deloitte.com/us/podcasts. For all the good folks here at Insights I am Sean O’ Grady. We will see you next time.
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