Dec 7, 2015, 4:01 PM, Posted by Reed Tuckson
Our nation spends billions of dollars to respond to, and rebuild from, disasters, which is why disaster planning must move beyond a narrow focus and create an optimally healthy community.
It felt like a nightmare to watch the floodwaters rise across New Orleans in August 2005. Yet as the hours turned into days, our nation realized we were watching reality–the reality of a great American city coping with a disaster for which city, state and country had not fully prepared.
The good news is that in the decade since, New Orleans has worked towards a new reality by not just rebuilding what was lost, but by asking how it can rebuild better. In so doing, the city is setting an example for us all.
Rebuilding better means repairing critical infrastructure (roads, hospitals, businesses, levees), and reforming the organization and interpersonal relationships that are essential to promoting well-being and community engagement. As has been well chronicled, such efforts include fostering neighbor-to-neighbor ties, using data to guide community health strategic planning, and encouraging multi-sector partnerships between government, business and community organizations. In New Orleans, initiatives such as Fit NOLA and NOLA for Life have united the city’s health department, schools, community-based organizations, and businesses in ways that were unimaginable before the storm.
New Orleans’ efforts align closely with the recommendations of the report, “Healthy, Resilient and Sustainable Communities after Disasters: Strategies, Opportunities, and Planning for Recovery,” intended as a call to action and an action guide. The Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Science was commissioned to produce this report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. I was honored to serve as chair of the committee, which was composed of disaster planning, and health and human service experts. We were tasked with identifying ways in which local and national leaders can work together to mitigate disaster-related health impacts and optimize the use of disaster resources to create communities that are healthier and more resilient.