Disaster recovery’s essential tool: Data

Amy Liu and Allison Plyer at Brookings: “To recover from a disaster on the scale of Harvey and Irma requires a massive coordinated effort. Federal, state and local governments must lead. Philanthropy, nonprofits and the private sector will be key partners. Residents will voice their views, through community planning meetings and other venues, on how best to spend disaster-recovery dollars. With so many stakeholders and rebuilding needs, the process of restoring neighborhoods and economic activity will become emotionally and politically charged. As Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has already warned in Texas: “This is going to be a frustrating and painful process.”

For public officials to effectively steer a recovery process and for citizens to trust in the effort, reliable, transparent information will be essential. Leaders and the public need a shared understanding of the scale and extent of the damage and which households, businesses and neighborhoods have been affected. This is not a one-time effort. Data must be collected and issued regularly over months and years to match the duration of the rebuilding effort.

Without this information, it will be nearly impossible to estimate the nature of aid required, determine how best to deploy resources, prioritize spending and monitor progress. Rebuilding processes are chaotic, with emotions high over multiple, competing priorities. Credible public information organized in one place can help to neutralize misconceptions, put every need in context and depoliticize decision-making. Most importantly, data on recovery needs also can enable citizen involvement and allow residents to hold public leaders accountable for progress.

We know this first-hand from our experience in New Orleans, where the Brookings Institution and the New Orleans Data Center teamed up to produce what became the New Orleans Index following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. We set out to help the public and decision-makers understand the level of outstanding damage in New Orleans and the region and to monitor the extent to which the city was bouncing back….(More)”.