Natural disasters are defining moments for communities worldwide that cause more than physical damages with complex social and economic consequences. With the growing frequency and intensity of natural disasters, more people are being displaced from their homes each year, and this trend seems to continue to increase (Thomas and López 2015). Underprivileged communities in both developed and developing countries are the most vulnerable population during natural disasters since a significant number of people in these communities are immediately affected with prolonged suffering during recovery. For instance, during the Maharashtra earthquake in 1993, poor people suffered the most as they struggled to rebuild their houses while the wealthy households recovered rapidly (Lloyd-Jones 2006). Many of the poor people lived in slums that lacked inspectors to check building codes or build earthquake-resistant structures/shelters, which consequently led to the demise of tens of thousands of people during the earthquake and in the aftermath. According to Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA (2020), the emergency management cycle includes four recurring phases: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Based on this report, all disaster-prone communities are in at least one phase of emergency management at any time. However, past lessons from natural disasters have highlighted that underprivileged communities in developing countries are generally underprepared in all four stages because of the absence of government bodies like FEMA (i.e., guidelines, protocols, safety, measures, availability of PPE, and necessary training) to reduce the damages and loss of lives (Duffield 2013). Therefore, this study investigated: (1) current state of emergency management practices using two case studies of disaster-prone areas in South Florida, United States and Kathmandu, Nepal; and (2) critical success factors that foster faster post-disaster recovery in developing countries. In the following section, lessons learned from hurricanes in the United States and earthquakes in Nepal are discussed in detail.
A. Current Hurricane Impact Scenarios in the United States
During the last decade, coastline cities in the United States have experienced population growth and have been exposed to costly and damaging natural disasters, including hurricanes (Preston 2012). According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2016 population, the combined population of coastal counties increased by more than 10 million from 2000 to 2016, indicating that established strategies need to be updated to reduce causalities in future disasters on such growing populations (Neumann et al. 2015). The devastating hurricanes that hit the United States revealed that people and communities lack effective preparedness regarding social connectivity and making proactive decisions to survive during disasters (Dow and Cutter 2002). Although hurricanes are considered predictable and trackable with early warnings, there are increased anxiety levels among the community in preparation for disasters, including allocating critical supplies for survival (Stark and Taylor 2014). Sadri et al. (2017) highlighted that the household, neighborhood, and community-related factors significantly impact the rebuilding process and enhancement of resilience from disasters based on a study of a rural community in Indiana that was hit by a deadly tornado. Similarly, due to the lack of community preparedness and resilience during previous hurricanes such as Floyd, Katrina, Sandy, and Irma, there were chaotic as well as shadow evacuations that resulted in congestion and traffic problems which in turn threatened people's safety during hurricanes (Lindell et al. 2005). Learning to deal with such challenges before, during, and after a hurricane is vital regardless of whether people stay or evacuate, yet the society lacks an innovative community education module that improves the thinking capacity and bolsters effective decision-making during disasters (Shreve and Kelman 2014).
In 2020, 20 hurricanes and 11 tropical storms developed in the Atlantic ocean, making it the most active and threatening hurricane season on record. Yum (2021) highlighted that Hurricane Dorian, a category five hurricane, significantly impacted the Bahamas and generated spatial reactions and mobility across the eastern coast of the United States. Through analysis of Twitter data, the study indicated that peoples' response to the landfall of hurricanes significantly increased during hurricane week compared to those in the pre-hurricane week and post-hurricane week. The authors concluded that spatial reactions varied considerably among different states, especially in Florida, North Carolina, and New York. Moreover, the study highlighted that community resilience in highly vulnerable regions like Florida was different from those of New York due to experience from highly frequent tropical storms and hurricanes. Community resilience is a collective term that describes the resources and capabilities to survive a disaster (Mostafavi et al. 2018). It is highly dependent on household emergency preparedness, which incorporates various topics such as understanding the risks of catastrophe, developing and implementing an emergency plan, and having the critical emergency supplies for 72 hours, among others (Levac et al. 2012). Although all vulnerable communities are expected to be adequately aware of these topics, Murti et al. (2014) highlighted that only 30-40% of residents in the United States are fully prepared with emergency plans and critical supplies. Communities with a robust social network and shared values have stronger community resilience during adversity (Sadri et al. 2018). ElZomor et al. (2016) conducted a case study in Phoenix to address the challenges of extreme weather conditions by developing a decision support tool, which also bolsters disaster preparedness and community resilience; their results highlighted the importance of preparedness in dealing with the crisis and emphasized emergency planning in a decentralized approach. However, to date, many disaster-prone communities lack innovative pedagogies that utilize decentralized strategies.
B. Lessons Learned from Devastating Earthquake in Nepal
The most recent earthquake shock of 7.8 magnitude earthquake occurred in Nepal on April 25th, 2015, destroying over 750,000 buildings and leaving millions homeless (Hall et al., 2017). Such destruction left a death toll of 8,500 and more than 18,500 persons critically injured, with approximately 6% suffering spinal cord injuries (SCI), 2% had amputations, 4% sustained traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and 70% with fractures (Goda et al. 2015). This event was deemed the worst disaster to strike the region in over 80 years, taking the lives of many and leaving a total economic loss of 10 billion U.S. dollars, equivalent to 50% of Nepal's gross domestic product (Subedi and Poudyal Chhetri 2016). Multiple aftershocks followed this major earthquake for weeks, further exacerbating the damage, with the biggest shock striking on May 12th, 2015. The destruction of road networks left multiple areas isolated, and consequently, many villages were without aid for weeks (Cutter et al. 2008). Additionally, the disaster created hazardous environments for survivors and volunteers, threatening their health and safety. Pradhananga et al. (2021) highlighted that besides the injured from the actual earthquake itself, many volunteers also suffered from health issues caused by traumatic situations and the constant risk of injuries by collapsing structures. The study also indicated that although the Nepal Engineers Association (NEA) instructed volunteers on Rapid Visual Assessments, helping volunteers identify and avoid unstable and damaged structures, many of these were still at constant risk from damages brought on by the random aftershocks.
For prompt restoration and reconstruction of the built environment, effective management of disaster waste is crucial. Many developed countries have established standard guidelines for disaster waste management (DWM) (Brown 2012). Furthermore, usually developed countries utilize advanced waste management technologies that manage disaster waste appropriately and rapidly. For instance, Japan, a developed country in North-East Asia, is one of the most vulnerable nations to natural disasters, including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and severe storms (Asari et al. 2013). The effective management of disaster waste utilizes a standard guideline developed by the Japan Society of Material Cycles and Waste Management (JSMCWM), which is efficient in disaster response. Similarly, in the United States, there are state-level guidelines such as Public Assistance Debris Management Guide developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and national level guidelines like Planning for Natural Disaster Debris formulated by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which encourage and implement debris management plans post-disaster (Anneli Berghalm Soder 2018). On the other hand, developing countries rarely have effective DWM plans or standard guidelines, which provide strategies for separating, treating, and recycling disaster waste (Karunasena et al. 2009). The absence of an effective DWM plan and guidelines overwhelms the existing solid waste management facilities as well as negatively impacts humanitarian rescue operations, recovery, and the reconstruction phases (Memon 2016). Hence, this indicates that developing countries are in desperate need of applicable strategies and practical guidance to manage post-disaster debris better.
C. Critical Success Factors for Faster Post-Disaster Recovery in Developing Countries
Existing studies have revealed that there has been a significant focus on preparedness and recovery with less emphasis on factors that impact the success of post-disaster recovery in both developed and developing countries. Various critical success factors were identified from literature and after validating the factors from expert ratings eight factors are finalized. The following paragraphs explore different critical success factors that impacts faster post-disaster recovery measures that have been documented in the literature.
Transportation Network: The transportation network plays an essential role in emergency management. It should be maintained to an acceptable service level to prevent disruption of critical infrastructures in the aftermath of natural disasters. Several studies have been conducted to investigate ways of improving transportation resilience. Aydin et al. (2018) developed a tool to determine the necessary changes for the critical functionalities of road segments and effectively evaluated the resilience of the transportation based on a case study of the 2015 Nepal earthquake. Similarly, Nikoo et al. (2018) developed an emergency transportation network design to determine an optimal network that can perform recovery trips with high priority in the aftermath of seismic events. The authors conducted a network analysis to facilitate decision-makers to select an alternative measure and determine critical routes post-disaster. However, both studies evaluated transportation resilience only in terms of networks and redundancy. According to Tachaudomdach et al. (2018), there are ten principles of resilience that need to be used for measuring transportation resilience which include: redundancy, cost-effectiveness, safe-to-fail, robustness, absorbing externally induced changes, change-readiness, leadership and culture, networks, preparedness, rapid recovery, and robustness. Therefore, to further improve emergency management post-disaster, research needs to be conducted to assess the contingency plans for transportation management and resilience of transportation systems.
Community Centered Disaster Education and Training: Disaster education is also an essential community-based pedagogical approach to building resilience conveyed to the community through traditional channels like public notices and federal/governmental websites. Simultaneously, modern technology platforms such as social media, radio, and news are used to communicate instructions (Feng et al. 2018). Authorities deem it vital to provide information about the anticipated risk pre-disasters, highway traffic, ways to prepare for imminent disasters, etc. (Jhon H. Sims 1983). In many recent disasters, the information about one's condition and location, as well as learning about a disaster-affected individual' has been possible through the use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter (Houston et al. 2015). These informal education platforms are also advantageous in providing rapid instructions, including disaster preparedness information, disaster warning, response, recovery, rebuilding, and mental and behavioral support (Wendling and Radisch 2013). Additionally, social media platforms are being used to document the severity of disasters while learning about their impacts and preparedness measures (Velev and Zlateva 2015).
Communication Resilience: Communication resilience needs to be a crucial part of crisis management and decision-making during natural disasters. Crisis communication plays a critical role in reducing uncertainty, responding to and resolving emergencies effectively, and disseminating specific harm-reducing information to victims of natural disasters (Firdhous and Karuratane 2018). Due to the increasing frequency and complexity of natural disasters, crisis communication has become challenging (Palttala et al. 2012). Strategies need to be developed to improve communication between stakeholder groups in various types and phases of a natural disaster to address this gap. Ahmed et al. (2020) highlighted that communication patterns or topics for the construction industry varied significantly in a Twitter dataset analysis of Hurricane Michael. The authors indicated that construction stakeholders need to systematically make better and timely decisions during future natural disasters to facilitate effective response and recovery in major natural disasters. Additionally, Hyvärinen and Vos (2015) indicated that crisis communication should not be limited to response networks such as authorities, construction stakeholders, and non-governmental organizations and facilitate collaboration with community engagement.
Pre-Disaster Planning and Understanding Disaster Risks: Embracing preparedness measures remain fundamental to reduce physical and psychological stresses when addressing natural disasters. Prior to any disaster, there is a pressing need to ensure that disaster-prone communities are educated about the recommended preparedness measures and guidelines. Disaster management agencies traditionally share preparedness guidelines through formal educational channels (such as academic institutions, articles, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, etc.); however, such formal modalities in vulnerable communities are challenged by poor inclusive accessibility, lack of receptiveness, and responsiveness from such communities. With the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters worldwide, disaster education, including preparedness knowledge, is one of the most effective approaches to preparing disaster-prone communities and their people (Preston 2012). For instance, before a hurricane, residents who feel unsafe in their homes tend to evacuate, while those who feel safe tend to stay (Sadri et al. 2014). It is clear that due to a lack of efficiency in disaster education and practices, people are unable to accurately decide on their rational and required resources, especially when making evacuation decisions (Huang et al. 2016). It also explains why some people feel safe while others are unsafe despite living in the same community and sharing similar demographics (Thiede and Brown 2013). Another major problem during a disaster is that required disaster supplies such as water, non-perishable food, gas, special items for babies and the elderly, and toiletries/hygiene items become out of stock due to the sudden increase in demands (Wolshon et al. 2005). Consequently, people with limited supplies generally suffer the most in the aftermath. Similarly, there have been shortcomings in providing supplies and support to nursing homes due to a lack of pre-disaster planning and disaster preparedness. Such shortcomings were observed in 13 nursing homes during hurricane Katrina when 70 home residents died (Robert et al. 2007). Some communities lack the readiness to make educated decisions prior to a disaster; therefore, educating the community with fundamental disaster knowledge is deemed necessary, especially in disaster-prone communities (Richard Eiser et al. 2012).
Administrative Efficiency: Emergency management is also highly dependent on the engagement and coordination of governments, private and voluntary agencies to respond to the urgency caused by natural disasters. As such, administrative efficiency guided by supportive laws and regulations plays a vital role in influencing positive outcomes in the aftermath of a disaster. Moe and Pathranarakul (2006) highlighted 34 different laws for various organizations in Thailand, but such variation created confusion among organizations during their enforcement and a line of authority during the tsunami disaster in 2004. The authors indicated that administrative efficiency could be enhanced by adopting proactive and reactive approaches that focus on developing supportive laws during pre-disaster planning, i.e., proactive stage, and implementing the plans and regulations during the response or recovery phase, i.e., reactive stage. Furthermore, government departments and agencies must plan, organize, and mobilize resources efficiently when there is an onset of disaster.
Funding and Resources Availability: To this end, obtaining appropriate funding and resources for reconstruction is a primary issue for many underprivileged communities worldwide. The post-disaster site conditions are very chaotic. There is a severe scarcity of resources and funding due to simultaneous reconstruction projects being initiated by numerous local, private, governmental, and international organizations (Chang et al. 2011). Reconstruction should maximize the use of locally sourced materials, mainly recycling the debris of the disaster to ensure that what is built is better than what it replaces. Although several studies have identified the utilization of local materials as a potential solution, many underprivileged communities are unable to utilize the resources due to dependence on local government and lack of technical knowledge (Winchester 2000). Pre-event planning for resource availability for efficient response post-disaster doesn't necessarily indicate finding significant housing reconstruction resources (Chang et al. 2010). Therefore, more robust construction strategies need to be explored to limit the cost of resource provision and increase accessibility to available resources, meeting a variety of local conditions.
Safety Equipment Availability: Some of the international organizations such as United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and Red Cross Society, among others have been playing significant role in training and engaging volunteers during post-disaster recovery. However, due to absence of government bodies like Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in North America, there remains a lack of resources such as disaster recovery guidelines and availability of personal protective equipment to ensure community workers’ health and safety post-disaster. Pradhananga et al. (2021) highlighted that there are still health and safety challenges in developing countries during post-disaster recovery. It was observed that disaster workforces and community volunteers lack knowledge about disaster preparedness in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake indicating that disaster education is indispensable mainly for disaster-prone communities.
Temporary Disaster Waste Storage Site: Improper management and disposal of disaster waste is a critical issue in developing countries due to the lack of innovative strategies and the feasibility of implementing them (Poudel et al. 2019). Consequently, the disposal of different types of disaster waste, which often contains hazardous waste, is conducted in any available open space in disaster-affected areas without consideration of its impact on the environment, as well as survivors’ health and wellbeing (Pradhananga et al. 2021). For instance, developing countries affected by disasters face a massive challenge in DWM due to lack of permanent landfill sites and lack of availability of temporary waste storage sites, thereby, leading to the disposal of disaster waste near rivers or in recreational parks (Ranjitkar and Upadhyay 2015). Hazardous disaster waste must undergo treatment before disposal in any landfill, and it is critical to treat these wastes when disposed near rivers. The treatment of solid disaster waste is significant as decomposition and putrefaction may occur, causing land and water pollution when the waste products percolate down into the underground water resources (Hall et al. 2017). Additionally, when these wastes are not collected and are allowed to accumulate, they may create unsanitary conditions leading to epidemic outbreaks (Wendelbo et al. 2016). Many diseases like cholera, plague, dysentery, diarrhea, jaundice, or gastrointestinal diseases may spread and cause further loss of human lives (Karunasena et al. 2009).