Australians should be applauded for their ability to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in January, very few of us had heard of the “mysterious pneumonia” emerging from Wuhan, China. By December, we’ve all become experts in hand-hygiene, social-distancing, and for many of us, working-from-home. Adaptation at this rate is a credit to all of us and has undoubtedly saved lives.  

Such a rapid transformation raises thorny questions on our shared road to recovery. How quickly will the community return to how things were before the pandemic? Is there any desire to return? And even if there is an appetite, does the organisation have the capacity to do so?  

In emergency management circles, ‘recovery’ has always been viewed as returning the community to the position it was in before the emergency or crisis. Sure, the road to recovery may be long and difficult, for example, in areas affected by devastating bushfires, but it is always the end goal.   

COVID-19 has called into question this presumptionWhat if we do not want to return to how things were? Or we simply cannot. Emergency management principles were not formulated for a crisis which lasts indefinitely or has a global effect. The effects of COVID-19 on communities worldwide is more akin to war than an earthquake, storm, flood, tsunami, or wildfire. Given this, our thinking needs to change. We suggest a new addition be included in how emergency management experts think about recovery; adaptation 

Unlike traditional recovery, adaptation acknowledges that community practices must change either permanently, or at least for an extended period until the threat of the emergency has sided. COVID-19 is the best example of this.  

Although the number of infections in Australia is small, it would be irresponsible, if not dangerous, to return to our old behaviours from January this year. Returning to a pre-pandemic position is not possible because of the constant threat of further waves of infection within the community. Likewise, customer’s buying habits have changed, and some services cannot be delivered in the manner they were previously.  

Changes such as working-from-home arrangements, the uptake in telehealth services, mask-wearing, cashless transactions and reluctance to use public transport will likely be necessary until a large sway of the community is vaccinated. Some may remain after the pandemic simply because they are an efficient use of time or resources.  

We believe adaptation should form a permanent part of emergency management principles. We can think of examples outside of COVID-19 where adaptation could be helpful. For example, in natural disaster zones where threat remains of another disaster in the future, economic downturns where businesses need to change to be sustainable in the future and of course, future pandemics. What ties these examples together is the residual risk that they remerge. In that instance, it is irresponsible to attempt to return to how things were before the emergency without considering the adaptations a community, business, or individuals could make to reduce the risk of that emergency occurring again.  

We are beginning to see this type of thinking crystallise in the emergency management space. Increasingly, federal, state, and local governments are offering grants to eligible businesses to adapt in response to the threat of emergencies. COVID-19 is one example where we have recently facilitated a government grant for a local food manufacturer to purchase new equipment to ensure social-distancing was possible during their manufacturing process. 

We have begun helping businesses prepare their grant applications and guide them through the process. If you think you can adapt your business to better protect itself from the threat of COIVD-19, or any other emergency, please reach out to us for a free assessment.