React or respond
React: To act in a particular way as a direct result of something else (Cambridge Dictionary).
Respond: A response is a reaction to a question, experience, or some other type of stimulus… A response can come in many forms, including an answer to a question, an emotional reaction, or a reply. (Vocabulary.com)
When a disaster occurs, there are two options for the behavior of those affected. They can simply react or they can react then respond.
Reaction is natural. All human beings react to a tragedy, to the unfairness of it (why is this happening to me?), to the disruption of lifestyle and to the loss of things of value or, in this case, loss of loved ones.
The devastation of Abaco and Grand Bahama has certainly been worthy of the reaction recorded. Shock, despair and grief. Thousands of families have witnessed the loss of their homes, their treasures and, unfortunately for many, their loved ones. Their bewilderment has been splashed across the TV and newspapers, both locally and internationally.
Institutions react only to the perception of urgency for their particular expertise. The Red Cross, for example, reacts by providing emergency supplies, while politicians react with messages of hope. We have seen both reactions.
Bur how will we respond?
As noted, the government, the political institution, has posted the required reaction with high-profile interviews, lots of international partnerships and the expected assurance of a bright future. Neither the government nor the communities have had the time to complete their response. Neither have had a chance to ask what they learned from the episode that might inform a better future, or to craft a plan behind which we can rally. Both are locked in the first phase of disaster response. They have reacted. Now they must both respond.
The City of London responded. The beautiful City of London, with its famous historic buildings, squares and museums, is the response to the city being burnt to the ground. New Orleans was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. A year later, they hosted the largest jazz fest ever and the stadium that was a temporary home to thousands of suddenly homeless people hosted the Super Bowl. That was New Orleans’ response.
Response takes three stages. The first is reaction to the disaster. The object is to provide emergency response to those affected, with a focus on food, shelter and a feeling of safety. The second stage is to establish a temporary “new normal”, where conditions allow “normal” social and commercial life while a rebuilding effort takes place. The final stage is the rebuilding of the affected lifestyle, with an emphasis on making best use of the lessons learned from the disaster.
The hurricane is the most common kind of disaster in this region. Individuals must learn from their passage and build accordingly. The government should have disaster response templates “in the drawer”, ready for stage one and two at the drop of a hat, and the researchers ready to lead the information-gathering for stage three.
The final feature of a response is that it must be led by those affected. The design of a community’s future cannot be done by outsiders with little or no local direction. The affected community must have access to the research and make the final decisions about their future.
So we have witnessed the worst disaster of our lifetime. Our reaction of shock and grief has been appropriate. So will we complete a response, learn the lessons of the disaster and create a better future for the children of those directly affected communities? Or will we only react?
• Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com, design blog at https://rahmblings.wordpress.com and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.