Emergency Management professionals, and governments, term returning to normal after a disaster as recovery. Recovery takes place as soon as possible after an emergency occurs and is incorporated into emergency response efforts (such as emergency services responses) which are primarily about protecting life and then setting the community or affected group on course to get their lives back to normal.
According to Emergency Management Australia (EMA), recovery is “The coordinated process of supporting disaster affected communities in the reconstruction of the physical infrastructure and the restoration of emotional, social, economic and physical wellbeing”.
EMA lists five key recovery aspects that must be concentrated upon to assist communities to return to normal. These recovery aspects are listed in the below:
|Social wellbeing||Support groups accessible via friendships, clubs and associations, neighbourly support|
|Emotional wellbeing||Reconciliation of the suffering of loss, confusion, withdrawn, sadness, post-traumatic stress|
|Economic wellbeing||Local business operating, residents being able to access their places of work|
|Physical wellbeing||Physical injuries healed and rehabilitated|
|Physical infrastructure||The re-establishment of Electricity, Telephone, Gas, Water, Roads, school buildings and grounds|
In the case of COVID–19, all the recovery aspects are valid. COVID–19 is unique in comparison to the types of emergencies and disasters that we are familiar with, and therefore will require a different approach to recovery. Our communities will need to re-establish in unique ways, discussed as follows:
Social wellbeing – Local sporting clubs, citizens groups such as Lions, Probus, Elderly Citizens clubs, gymnasiums, churches and schools are currently closed. Many of these local establishments provide localised support, leadership and friendships. You might recall that after the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria, a football game was organised in Kinglake, and the football club was quickly re-established. It provided the community with normality and gave the opportunity for the community to come together. Much has been discussed about the return of professional sport in Australia, however the re-establishment of local sporting clubs, gyms and other social groups should have equal attention.
Emotional wellbeing – Many people have or are suffering loss. These losses include employment, financial impacts and a loss of connection with family and friends. The Australian Government is providing $74 million to support the mental health and wellbeing of Australians affected by the pandemic. This equates to roughly $3 per person and will support the most severe cases. Considering that local community groups are closed, checking in on family, friends and colleagues becomes vitally important, as well as seeking support for yourself, as our general groups are closed.
Economic wellbeing – Many localised businesses are closed or vastly reduced in their normal trade due to the government restrictions. Businesses that return the quickest and most effectively will have a competitive advantage. Businesses will need to adjust to the new normal, which is difficult to define, however new trading will be more electronic based for enquiries and payments as buying behaviour has changed. It is important for us to all shop locally where possible as it strengthens our communities.
Physical wellbeing – While by the end of March, Australia had largely flattened the pandemic curve, sadly life was still lost, and others suffered infections and their physical wellbeing may still be impacted. Another factor affecting physical well-being is that governments delayed “elective surgeries” to ensure healthcare equipment and beds were available should the pandemic have escalated as it had in countries such as the USA, China and Italy. Elective surgeries sound minor, but most of these surgeries are vital. As an example, a friend of mine who was scheduled for a double mastectomy due to breast cancer, is on a waiting list without a set date for this lifesaving surgery. These elective surgeries included serious and urgent procedures. The local authorities will need to re-prioritise these surgeries and consequently the community needs to support our families, friends and neighbours who are awaiting lifesaving and changing surgeries.
Physical infrastructure – The need for physical infrastructure recovery is not immediately apparent, however, while the infrastructure is available, it has also been dormant for many months. Staff and volunteers who have run these establishments have been stood down or prevented from working. It is vital that managers and or committees continually update employees and volunteers about progress and potential steps required to re-open the facilities. Suppliers must also be contacted to ensure their goods and services will be available and support the eventual re-openings. The local community must have the re-establishment of these important pieces of infrastructure to properly recover once restrictions are lifted.
In summary, the community will not automatically recover once restrictions are eased by governments. The community groups, businesses, health networks and infrastructure must be re-established. All levels of government and the local communities have roles to play. There has been a great focus on the end of restrictions, what is equally important is focusing on, and planning towards, the recovery of our local communities.