What we understand about the human experience during times of disaster
While every disaster is unique, the cycle of recovery typically passes through the four phases below. Understanding the common problems in each phase may help you understand where technology could be used to ease the human experience and mitigate the toll.
Phase 1: Response (first 72 hours following a disaster event)
During this phase, the main focus is assessing the most critical infrastructure and basic human needs. Persons directly affected by the event are concerned with understanding what exactly is happening. Where are my friends and family? What is the extent of the impact on me, and my community? High on adrenaline and often in shock, people are focused on immediate needs and assessing the extent of the damage.
Remote family and friends are focused on obtaining information about which geos are suffering damage, locating family and friends, and when and how they can help.
First responders are gathering data about where impact is strongest, processing and triaging incoming calls for assistance, and determining when recovery actions can safely begin.
Phase 2: Relief (days and initial weeks after the event)
During this phase, persons directly affected and first responders are assessing and dealing with the damage. The focus is provision of needed supplies for survival, basic shelter needs, and restoration of basic services. Many people remain in shock or slip into depression or despair.
Remote family and friends, even the public at large, begin reaching out to help. There may be a glut of donations and goodwill as the media begins humanizing the toll. Impacted communities may be overrun with donations that are not in line with where the recovery process is. How does someone without a home deal with donated clothing and other personal items?
Phase 1 and 2 are chaotic. Top concerns: where is my family, where are my friends, what resources can I access, how can I help. The key demand is for good situational and personnel data (who, where, when, and how long). Verification of the information is at least as important as the information itself. When and where will food supplies arrive? Which bridges and roads are blocked? Where do I find some insulin? Who can take care of my pet, now that my home is gone?
Phase 3: Short- and long-term Recovery (months and years following the event)
These phases are much longer in time. The focus is restoring the situation to some steady state. The impacted area and communities are changed; affected persons often talk of rebuilding and accepting their new reality. Concerns are rebuilding the physical and human community infrastructure. How does my child continue their education without a school building? Where is my religious community meeting? Do I want to rebuild my home? If so, who helps? If not, where now?
Phase 4: Preparedness (or Mitigation) (months and years following the event)
Phase 4 happens because either someone has some foresight or someone has just learned from the immediate event. This is the process of identifying what went right, what went wrong, and how plans to respond to future similar events can be improved.