Encyclopedia of Security and Emergency Management

Living Edition
| Editors: Lauren R. Shapiro, Marie-Helen Maras

Emergency Management: Recovery

  • Paolo CavaliereEmail author
Living reference work entry

Later version available View entry history

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-69891-5_101-1


Emergency management Recovery Business recovery Housing 


Disaster recovery is the set of coordinated activities through which public agencies, nonprofit organizations, private sector, and communities work together in order to rebuild and restore normal conditions after disasters. Recovery strategies encompass practices and actions that aim to restore the social, infrastructural, and economic fabric of communities.


During the last decade, humanity has witnessed an increased number of deadly events. Only for weather-related events, NOAA reports a number of 108 events with an economic impact of $725 billion. (Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Summary Stats. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/summary-stats.) Tropical cyclones account for a 56% of the overall loss. Besides the American situation, the impact on communities and the overall economic costs after disasters is a burden that governments attempt to lighten, adopting mitigation measures that should be more effective when the next big disaster occurs. Unfortunately, not always the mitigation strategies prove effective; the level of preparedness might not be enough for coping with disasters. Therefore, governments, at any level, are overwhelmed with response operations. Once response operations are considered “over,” agencies start working on recovery. The emergency management framework consists of four specific phases: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. During the mitigation phase, emergency managers, planners, and experts look at long-term solutions that aim to reduce the impact of hazards on infrastructures, lifelines, essential services, and communities; mitigation measures apply to the natural and the built environment. While mitigation aims to reduce the impact of hazards, preparedness instead focuses on how ready systems and communities are to respond to adverse events. Preparedness presumes an integrated set of activities that allow agencies and emergency services to be always efficient with sufficient resources, test of emergency procedures, and a continuous training through drills and large-scale simulations. The higher the level of preparedness, the higher is the efficiency of response. The response phase aims at deploying on the ground the available resources properly managed by emergency management agencies, emergency services, and other actors that normally work in the disaster relief field, in order to rescue citizens and animals and keep infrastructures functioning. The scale of a disaster is bidimensional: it contemplates a temporal dimension, which explains how prolonged the hazard and the impact can be. It may vary from hours to days. For example, heavy rains can be lengthy, generating widespread floods. Once the response phase is completed, and all the survivors are safely sheltered, lifelines and infrastructures are brought back to normal functioning; emergency managers typically evaluate damages and needs of the population. The system is now moving forward to the recovery phase. Recovery is the fourth phase of the emergency management framework. Unlike for the response phase, recovery does not have a predetermined time slot: some countries, by law, define how long a response can be or what goals can determine the response concluded. Although mitigation, preparedness, and response might be efficient and might have reached predetermined goals, some level of damage still persists. That level of damaged should therefore be removed, and the normalcy will be re-established.

Recovery is complex and highlights the necessity of an integrated approach, a decision-making process, and the participation of diverse stakeholders (Haddow et al. 2002). Federal or national, state, and local governments usually plan for each one of the four phases of the framework, in order to have a well-established plan of action, which sets priorities and steps when the situation requires.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA 2016), which is the agency mandated of planning and responding at the federal level, has recently updated the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF, 2nd edition). The document organizes processes and capabilities for effectively managing resources and establishing the best path to a successful recovery (FEMA 2016). The framework applies the concept of “whole community approach” in order to “restore, redevelop, and revitalize the health, social, economic, natural, and environmental fabric of the community.” FEMA stresses the “whole community approach” as a holistic approach, where citizens, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and all level of governments partner together to achieve successful results and outcomes.

Disaster Recovery: Theory and Research

Disaster recovery is commonly defined as a return to normal conditions after the occurrence of a disastrous event that disrupted the environment, the human life, and the social and the economic fabric. Some scholars have defined different stages of recovery. Quarantelli (1999) has found that there are different ways of naming this process, which might be different in particular aspects. The five terms identified through a rigorous bibliographic research are the following: (1) reconstruction, which focuses more on rebuilding infrastructures; (2) restoration, which presumes that a physical or social element is put back at the pre-impact stage; (3) rehabilitation, similar to reconstruction but focuses more on people than the built environment – in this case mental health is considered; (4) restitution, which seems to be more giving back something to the rightful owner through legal ways; and (5) recovery, which aims to find some level of acceptability after a disaster. Although research shows that different denominations exist, it is widely recognized that recovery is a process; this means that recovery takes place at distinct stages and presents different results and outcomes; and key elements play critical roles in achieving successful recovery. For its complexity, the recovery process impacts on the environment and human systems, the political sphere, the organizational capabilities, and the bureaucratic machine.

Recovery has also been explained through different theoretical frameworks. Throughout the recovery process, a multitude of elements or systems interact; some theories have been applied to understand the mechanisms that underlie the recovery process. Phillips (2015) presented an overview of the most widely accepted theories and applied them to the concept of recovery. System theory argues that the built, the human, and the natural environment are interconnected and dependent. After a disaster each one of the systems might be affected, resulting in impacts also on the other systems. Under systems theory, recovery would be effective if the dependencies and the interconnections disrupted are restored. Vulnerability theory focuses on those who are more at risk, claiming that within the society some individuals are more at risk than others. The recovery process, under this lens, should place emphasis in recognizing that vulnerabilities exist and are constituted by economic, gender, and race issues. The opportunity during the recovery process is to recognize these vulnerabilities and address them during the process, creating safer conditions for citizens.

As Phillips (2015) points out, disasters also impact on social interactions. The sociopolitical-ecology theory (Phillips 2015) explains how interactions within the human sphere influence the capability for humans to recover. The recovery process might witness a competition among groups to obtain more resources; there might be an imbalance of power, leading certain groups to have easy access to resources or impede others to obtain what they need. Under this theory, the recovery process should rebalance the power, reduce discrimination and corruption, and allow those affected to take part in the process.

When a disaster occurs, all the elements that constitute the society are affected. Within the society the bureaucratic machine can be affected. The emergent norm theory (Phillips 2015) considers the insufficient level of preparedness of the administrative structures for new types of events and the increasing number of organizations that step up on the stage to address the unmet needs that the ordinary administrative system is not capable of satisfying. This is the case of the numerous long-term recovery groups and emergent groups (Stallings and Quarantelli 1985) that appear after a disaster and work to achieve a successful recovery.

In post-disaster recovery, affected communities are not only hardly hit from a “damaged infrastructure standpoint”; they are predominately affected from a “sociocultural-economic standpoint.” A very novel approach to explain how certain communities recover better than others, and sometimes stronger than others, has been explained by understanding what makes a community well tied. The application of the concept of social capital as one of the many factors that facilitate recovery has shown that communities with high level of social capital can recover to normal life, better than others. Social capital has been defined in several ways, but in sum, it entails a set of norms, values, social structures, and social networks (Bourdieu 1986; Coleman 1988; Puttnam 2001) that citizens rely on in order to bond together and work together to solve problems; social capital exists when community members establish mutual trust, collaboration, and participation (Nakagawa et al. 2004). Some studies have shown how communities, having high social capital, have recovered to normalcy (Aldrich 2011; Nakagawa et al. 2004).

Key Operations in Disaster Recovery: Debris Removal, Shelter/Housing, Damage and Needs Assessment, Infrastructures, Financial Assistance

Disasters wreak havoc. Depending on the extent and the severity of the event, damage sometimes can be very substantial. After a disaster, local, state, and federal agencies coordinate to provide immediate assistance to citizens. As situation stabilizes, public officials are deployed on the ground to initiate a damage assessment that includes assessment of infrastructures and their level of damage and functionality (roads, lifelines, transportation, communication systems). Infrastructures, such as roads and bridges, are essential for accessing communities and delivering livelihoods and other materials. Without electricity, water, and gas, communities cannot perform daily activities: water is necessary for drinking and for personal hygiene. Electricity keeps communication systems up and running but is also necessary to families for cooking and heating. Once damage assessment is completed, public officials plan primary actions to speed the recovery of the damaged critical infrastructures and lifelines, by setting up contracts, generally with local private companies and contractors.

After a disaster, urban areas are inundated by a huge amount of debris. As Phillips (2015) points out, debris can be disaster-specific and require careful removal. Some debris might lead to dangerous ashes (asbestos) that threaten human life. Debris removal should be planned ahead, in order to identify specific areas that can collect debris. Some countries have issued specific regulation for managing debris after disasters. For example, the Italian Civil Protection Department (DPC) has issued a specific ordinance considering debris as special waste and delegating to regions the duty of managing debris removal and stock and, when possible, the recycling of materials, also contracting out to selected private companies. In addition, debris removal should comply with health and safety policies (Phillips 2015).

Sheltering and housing are critical actions that public managers must plan, if not ahead, right after a disaster. Sheltering operations have a variable span of time: it can vary from a week to more than a month; this is a rough estimate, because there are a range of circumstances that can impact on the time: time for moving to temporary houses, bureaucratic processes, and the geography of places. Sheltering should give the first point of relief for citizens that lost their own houses, providing comfort, food, clothing, special supplies, and emotional support. Sheltering is sometimes coordinated by emergency management agencies and large nonprofit organizations that deploy volunteers to open shelters in public schools, libraries, and other locations previously identified during the planning phase. Housing solutions come next; these can be described as temporary and permanent. Temporary housing provides families with a safe place to return to normalcy. Temporary housing presents various forms of lodging: rental units and mobile homes. Rental units can be houses or apartments. Families can autonomously find temporary solutions and apply for rental assistance. Rental units must accommodate needs and be affordable (Phillips 2015). Mobile homes are the second recovery solution for families and homeowners. Mobile homes are simple structures that can be easily moved where necessary. Mobile homes are not suitable for every place, since planners should identify safe areas where these units can be allocated (Phillips 2015). Both rental housing and mobile homes, although suitable recovery solutions, sometimes present challenges for individuals: people with physical disabilities will find it hard to walk on stairs; or living in a mobile unit might not be suitable for everybody. In this perspective, recovery managers should identify needs and appropriately assign housing solutions to applicants.

In the immediate aftermath of an event, communities are severely impacted, and daily routines are disrupted. Families might lose their house; workers might quit their job because their business had to be shut down. There are specific needs that public officials and voluntary organizations must assess and evaluate and subsequently work to satisfy. Needs assessment is a systematic process to identify gaps between what is necessary and what is the actual condition. This process should take part immediately; generally, agencies perform needs assessment as the situation stabilizes. Key factors that must be considered in carrying out the assessment comprise full information about family status, health conditions, income conditions, immigration status, and language barriers that might impede families to apply for the proper assistance. During the recovery phase, agencies and nonprofit organizations set up an unmet needs committee, with the purpose of finding ways to help community members get the necessary means when they do not meet federal guidelines or do not have sufficient resources to get to ordinary life (Phillips 2015).

An essential aspect of every recovery process is the availability of financial resources and the identification of various streams of funding. Disbursing monetary resources requires careful planning, making sure that applicants will receive proper assistance. There is specific sequence of delivery that FEMA sets up right after a disaster; this sequence delineates all the steps that survivors should follow to get help. In the first place, voluntary agencies provide emergency relief items and food. Homeowners then apply for receiving financial assistance from insurance companies and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Then, citizens must apply for FEMA assistance that will provide economic resources for temporary lodging expenses, repair or replace assistance, and permanent or semipermanent construction. Besides FEMA’s assistance, there are other state or agency supports that can provide economic means to citizens. One of these is the Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, through which applicants can get up to $200.000 for repairing properties. When citizens cannot cover all the expenses although they received the maximum allowed, FEMA can refer applicants to voluntary agencies, and unmet needs committees can determine the necessities and the amount of money they can provide.

Planning for Recovery

Emergency managers and planners in time of “peace” undertake a set of coordinated activities that establish tactics, strategies, and desired outcomes. The federal government and each single state emergency management agency have a branch mandated of planning and setting guidelines for disaster recovery. Disaster recovery plans lay out a well-established set of operations focusing on the state’s capabilities of carrying out timely restoration, the backing up to normal operations of all the critical infrastructures (usually coordinated with private sector), the provision of housing, and the economic as well as social fabric of the affected communities.

FEMA’s National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) is a platform for the whole community that sets out the core principles and practices for building, sustaining, and coordinating the delivery of recovery capabilities (FEMA 2016).

FEMA’s NDRF identifies the Recovery’s mission as the functional area that will define the capabilities necessary for an affected community to rebuild the critical infrastructures, to provide immediate and adequate long-term housing, to provide livelihoods to sustain survivors’ needs, to support health and well-being of the community, and to promote sustainable economic development.

Also, the NDRF emphasizes coordination among actors and identifies the major players that will carry out the recovery operations. The Recovery Framework highlights eight core capabilities, and five are specific to recovery: (1) economic recovery, (2) health and social services, (3) housing, (4) infrastructure systems, and (5) natural and cultural resources. In addition, the NDRF emphasizes that local governments set up a local recovery office and state agencies provide adequate resources and necessary support to local governments.

A critical component of every recovery plan is the identification and the inclusion of the whole community, with its primary actors: individuals, families, homeowners, nonprofit organizations, and private sector. At the local level, municipalities have the primary responsibility of managing recovery efforts, with the support of state and federal agencies. Every plan must highlight the coordination structure: for example, in a state plan, the managing agency will identify the actors (NGOs, private, federal agencies) and how they will deliver assistance to local recovery agencies. Generally, states support local government when local resources are not enough or are exhausted or when resources are not available. The same goes with states that can request additional resources to the federal government or to other states through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). The state emergency management agency is responsible for managing state support operations and resources and, when in need, requests more resources to the federal government.

A good recovery plan should comply with the federal guidelines and be consistent with the Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD-8), Homeland Security Presidential 329 Directive 5 (HSPD-5), and National Incident Management System (NIMS). State and local planning must ensure that each one of the five core capabilities has a robust set of procedures that will ensure a timely start of recovery operations following the response phase. For every recovery function, FEMA and state agencies identify key agencies that are responsible for coordinating the delivery of resources, the implementation of planned procedures, the assessment of communities’ needs, the evaluation of the recovery process, and the communication with partners and communities.

Economic recovery “is the ability to return economic and business activities (including agricultural) to a state of health and develop new economic opportunities that result in a sustainable and economically viable community” (FEMA 2016). State and local agencies will plan in order to identify critical economic sectors that sustain the communities and will identify and prioritize the distribution of available resources to the various stakeholders.

Infrastructures systems: the recovery function will ensure that critical infrastructure systems will be timely and efficiently restored and services will be provided to communities. In this regard, agencies must delineate a timeline according to which public and private sectors will operate and will ensure that lifelines and transportation systems are restored.

Health and social services: healthcare and social services are critical for an affected community. Without the proper functioning of social services, the well-being of a community is at risk. Planning the recovery of social services requires that agencies identify and assess primary needs and prioritize and coordinate actions with state and local service providers in order to restore social and health services and meet the need of the population.

Housing: housing is critical for a community during the recovery process. State and local agencies must plan for finding solutions that will support the needs of the whole community. As FEMA (2016) states, housing is critical and challenging: agencies must ensure adequate, affordable, and equitable housing solution and deliver all the available resources in order to provide housing solution to renters and homeowners. Housing function will identify temporary/transitional housing solution and subsequently long-term housing restoration.

Natural and cultural resources: the recovery function is also responsible for assessing the damage of natural and cultural resources. Natural environments and historical landmarks might be heavily damaged by disasters. Consequently, agencies must plan procedures that will support the preservation and restoration, through technical assistance, of areas and facilities damaged. Recovery managers must identify available monetary resources that will support recovery capabilities in order to develop protection and recovery strategies.

Stakeholders and Actors in Recovery: Public, Private, and Nonprofit – Donation Management

FEMA’s “whole community approach” emphasizes that all the parties involved in planning and responding to disasters have to work together to achieve greater and better outcomes. At every stage of the emergency management framework, public agencies and stakeholders share experience and knowledge to address the necessities that can arise in the pre- and post-disaster time. The recovery timeframe requires increased efforts to collectively meet communities’ needs.

Actors that work together for a greater good comprise public agencies, the private sector, and the nonprofit sector.

Emergency management offices and other public agencies are in charge of operating recovery plans and managing projects. Also, they are responsible for financing operations and disbursing financial resources for homeowners, to repair and rebuild, and for businesses to restart their daily operations. If businesses need money, they can apply for Small Business Administration’s (SBA) loans, at very low interest rates.

Public agencies can contract with private companies to restore critical services (power lines, etc.) or, as the case of New Jersey after Sandy, have contractors run the entire recovery programs. Unfortunately, NJ state received much critique when hired private contractors are paying out a colossal amount of money. However, private companies are critical in providing or tapping into specific services that cannot be otherwise provided by state or local agencies, for example, insurance companies and banks. Insurance companies, after the assessment of damage, pay out homeowners when they file a claim and banks can provide loans. One important service that the private sector keeps providing after disasters is transportation. Private companies can support transportation operations (daily transportation; moving goods) by contracting with public agencies.

The nonprofit sector is probability the biggest slice of the cake in terms of personnel and resources. Only in the USA, more than 1.8 million nonprofit organizations run daily services for communities. (Guidestar (2018): retrieved from https://www.guidestar.org/Home.aspx.) Many of these organizations have a disaster response/recovery mission. Among these, the Red Cross, the faith-based organizations, and the community-based groups respond to emergencies by running sheltering operations, providing food and livelihoods, assessing needs, and restoring and rebuilding houses.

After a disaster, there is an outpouring generosity. People donate goods and money to organizations; private foundations raise money for the nonprofits to be used for recovery projects. Donations management is sometimes burdensome and requires trained staff. Nonprofit organizations are held accountable for the money they spend and provide to citizens. During those times, material donations can be of obstacle. People tend to donate all the sort of goods sometimes not necessary research showed (Holguín-Veras et al. 2014), that material donations can complicate response efforts, news media and organizations are increasingly asking for money instead of material goods.

Integrating Mitigation into Recovery

As a community recovers from a disaster, emergency managers and city planners should consider strategies that integrate mitigation practices in order to reduce impacts of future events. Public officials should prepare a specific action plan that delineates what the future community would look like and ways they want to reduce as much as possible any likely damage. The mitigation plan’s role is twofold: first, it serves as a document that encompasses a thorough risk analysis, including socioeconomic data of communities; second, it should be a regulatory document that will regulate any future project when it comes to rebuild or develop new areas.

After a disaster, there is a general concern for communities to rebuild as quickly as possible, avoiding lengthy processes and harsh public discussions that will likely hamper the ability to restore the original conditions. But sometimes building quickly is not the best strategy to adopt. There serious considerations that must be made based upon these questions: Do I rebuild? Do I relocate? And if so, where?

It is normal that survivors want to rebuild in the same place, because there is always a certain level of place attachment that keeps them in the same place. Or citizens recognize that rebuilding in the same area is not convenient and prefer to relocate. Relocating also raises the question whether move to a newly developed area or relocate in the closest urban area. Rebuilding in the same place should be done, only if the new project is compliant with the regulations that the mitigation plan imposes and according to strengthened building codes that the municipality should have designed in the new development plan. Survivors that relocate to a newly developed area should consider whether the new house is located in a low-risk area and all protective measures are adopted. Relocating in the urban areas can create some challenges. Word a part for relocating in the urban area. This solution is practical only if there are enough houses to be sold or rent; it is desirable if the urban area had little to no damage. And it is desirable because it can be less costly and economic development can benefit.

Since housing solutions are the main concern of emergency managers and city planners, a mitigation plan for future development should integrate how new lifelines will be built and made stronger to sustain impacts. For example, with high-speed winds and heavy rains, power lines can be severely damaged. The restoration of new power is costly, but adopting in-ground solutions (this happens in the majority of European countries) can reduce the likelihood that aerial power lines break down.

Public Participation in Disaster Recovery

Communities that are impacted by disasters are always encouraged to participate and design a recovery process. Engaging the whole community is central to the new approach to emergency management and especially to the FEMA’s “whole community approach.”

Public participation processes have been central to the large hazard mitigation planning literature, response and organizational behavior, collaborative processes, and less explored during disaster recovery processes. For example, Burby (2003) showed how collaborative and participative processes led to better planning procedures. Public participation is important for several aspects. First, citizens know the context of their communities and neighborhoods: they have knowledge of the social dimensions in which they live and all the critical factors that influence their communities (family status, poverty, etc.). The knowledge citizens have is an extremely valuable information for public officials when planning for recovery actions.

Second, participating in recovery and decision-making processes gives the right to citizens to express opinions and comments on projects. Depending on the level of participation, public officials can integrate proposed ideas for the establishment of priorities and delivery of resources, the satisfaction of primary needs, and the design of projects for restoring and developing the whole community. It must be clarified that every public participation process is composed of different factors: (1) a level of power held by the public official, (2) a level of power given to the community, and (3) consultation and negotiation practices.

Even if the public participation represents a high democratic value, integrating and designing participatory processes do not come always easily. First of all, public officials should understand what best participatory practice they can adopt. Participatory processes range from no or limited participation (citizens listen) to high involvement (citizens comment; express opinions; decide). Second, public officials must understand that a community presents a broad range of stakeholders, each one with different interests. Balancing all the interests presents a challenge that managers must confront. Third, public officials must choose the best participatory practice: these include focus groups, advisory committees, forums, workshops, etc. Whatever the chosen techniques is, public officials should be able to keep a two-way and open communication with citizens at all times.

Public officials should be aware that failing in integrating public participation processes is easy. Regardless the techniques, public officials are required to communicate constantly with citizens and share important and useful information; otherwise the recovery process will not receive adequate public attention and support. Sharing information with the community is vital, and for this reason public officials should adopt the best strategy even when conditions do not allow, e.g., power outage.

In the recovery planning phase, public official should keep strong relationships with stakeholders, community leaders, and organizations, in order to collect critical information regarding their community, such as unemployment and poverty levels, minorities and underrepresented social groups, and people with disabilities.


Disaster recovery is mostly known as a concerted set of action aimed to restore pre-disaster conditions. Although this definition might not be quite exhaustive, research is still trying to define a theory of disaster recovery.

The post-disaster timeframe is characterized by extreme challenges, for which disaster recovery mangers have responsibilities to at least minimize. However, disaster recovery is a critical phase that can contribute to a new normalcy, when pre-disaster conditions cannot be restored.

After a disaster, recovery managers run operations that span across a broad range of sectors that include housing rebuilding, to business recovery, to critical infrastructures restoring. As all this operations are common during the recovery phase, planners and emergency managers should take advantage of normal situations and start planning for recovery. Planning is critical, because enhances public agencies’ capability to effectively and efficiently run recovery operations, as well as, foresee necessary changes and measure to reduce impacts of future hazards as well as increase resilience of local communities.



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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DelawareNewarkUSA