A few weeks before Kovid-1 the world closed, I was walking along the beach in Hilton Head, South Carolina. While beautiful, my reason for being there was less than idyllic. My colleagues and I were together. “America’s favorite island“To co-develop a worker recovery disaster management strategy. My team walks every night to the beach next time the hurricane hits.
Over the years, this coastal community has dedicated time, talent and resources to disaster preparedness and response. Plans are stepped up when dangerous weather occurs and local leaders and rescue workers know what to do, when to act and what actions are responsible for.
Only two years ago when leaders created the need to devise ways to help workers during and after a disaster. Extreme weather is more dangerous than roads, homes and buildings, yet disaster management rarely involves ways to help workers and families get back on their feet.
Then came Kovid, shocking our workforce and education system and putting us all in crisis-mode. Initially, I often thought about my time at Hilton Head and wondered what would have been different if our schools and employers had been planning disaster management.
Schools are always in danger of being shaken or closed due to external forces and nearby crises. You’ve seen it happen in places like New Orleans after Katrina, Joplin after Hurricane, or Sandy Hook after school shootings, and Parkland.
Kovid experienced the disaster for the first time which shook our schools to a great extent.
While the epidemic is disrupting schooling, additional forces are simultaneously threatening regions across the United States: wildfires in the west, deep freezing in Texas, intense heat in the Pacific Northwest, and hurricanes across the Gulf.
This summer, as plans to return to school were implemented, the United Nations “Code red on humanityIt basically tells us that we have reached the Day of Judgment in the face of climate change. Therefore The Washington Post recently reportedThis means that today’s students will have to face far more crises than weather-related disasters.
Most districts and schools are not prepared for a global pandemic and were surprised when it happened. It doesn’t have to happen again. The next time a major crisis strikes, we can be prepared to respond, recover, and avoid the tireless stress and hardship of the past three school years.
For more than a decade, education funders have invested heavily in education, national networks, and other sympathetic communities. Cross-state and cross-community education have become key components of recent reforms. These efforts have focused on in-depth learning, performance appraisal and equality in education. Going forward, they can focus on disaster resilience and recovery, and even shock-proofing our schools in the future.
We can use the intelligence gathered from the Rockefeller and OECD Resilient Cities initiatives to guide us to move forward. They provide a clear indication of what to focus on: where flexible cities plan to protect and prepare the economy, governance, society and environment in times of disaster; Flexible schools may have plans to protect and prepare teacher staff, leadership, students and families, and infrastructure.
Create a disaster management plan
While the roadmap will guide you to the future, education leaders can quickly evaluate the policies and procedures put in place between Kovid and decide what to put in place or what to put in place for future shocks. These decisions can be building blocks for strong disaster management plans.
For districts involved in strategic planning, disaster resilience and recovery can be a major priority area. For active employers, community or student counselors, these groups may be tasked with reflecting on these two years and identifying what is needed to prepare and respond to future events.
For schools that are already vulnerable and accustomed to extreme weather, it is time to interact with local leaders by ensuring the integration of labor and student recovery policies into existing disaster management plans. Education leaders and teachers need a seat at the table and should be an outspoken and integral part of community-level flexibility planning as they move forward.
Take advantage of the moment
I speak to enough educators and district leaders that the idea of adding one more thing to the to-do list seems objectionable at the border. I doubt some people will read this and think that it is difficult enough to face the crisis at hand, let alone what has not yet happened.
I got it. I see fatigue in teachers and leaders I know. I hear remarks at school board meetings and I personally experience a divided school community.
I also know that this is the right time to push our schools into the future. We are very close to the problem and this momentary proximity gives us intense insight and forces us to plan. The farther you go from the covid response and recovery, the more likely you are to forget the specific pain and problems you presented.
From acceptance to action
Sometimes harder than planned, to accept. Not if another major disruption or disaster occurs, but then when and what. These last few years have pushed us into a new reality where instability and disruption define how we live, learn and work.
It reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a friend in New Orleans. I was investigating after Hurricane Ida and I was fascinated by his response. He told me things were bad, but he was fine. He has a generator in his house. He was lucky enough to get out before the storm hit. By the time we spoke, his strength was back and he was working again. He told me that the biggest concern was the families in my hometown of New Jersey. Unprepared communities in the Northeast experienced historic flash floods in the last days of the hurricane, with devastating consequences.
Future shock-proofing cannot prevent our schools from being hit. Flexible schools give us ways to be smart in a disaster, but they won’t save us from that. Disaster management is about being realistic and being prepared for what is to come. It is worth your time, coordination and consideration. Life and education are on the line.