Planning for Doomsday through Panarchy: Part 3. Reflections


Discussions within the SIDElab group combined with the exercise of writing this post through an emergency management lens yielded a few interesting insights.

First, the importance of system framing. As we attempt to understand a system, the way it is framed decides whether it stays within the same adaptive cycle or enters a new one. For example, if we compare the recovery activities in Haiti between different geographic locations (e.g. the epicentre versus remote communities) or between sectors (e.g. social, economic, political, etc.) the recovery of some systems will remain within the same adaptive cycle and others will enter a new one.

Second, the need for a holistic approach. We learned that panarchy models are usually applied to natural or human systems, not the two in tandem. Yet after watching the “How Wolves Change Rivers” video (a video about how the introduction of wolves into Yellow Stone national park triggered the recovery of an entire ecosystem), we observed the need to not think about these systems as separate but as a cohesive whole. From the emergency management perspective  natural disaster situations alone make it is impossible to separate the human from their environment which they rely on to sustain their livelihood.

Third, panarchy depicts ways we can rethink power distribution during disasters. In A Paradise Build in Hell, Rebecca Solnit contrasts how government systems respond to emergencies versus the citizens themselves. She explains how governments attempt to control the citizen-driven response, undermining their capacity to respond and recover. Recounting the San Fransisco fires in 1906, she highlights these stories have but one beginning and one end: “They begin with the criminal idiocy of the military; they end with the surmounting heroism of the citizen” (Disaster Victim, p43). In many cases the first responders are the people themselves, be it a neighbour, close friend, or a stranger. As stated by Mackay (2013), one of the greatest lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy was the need to identify how “communities can help themselves.” For those outside the disaster zone, the digital landscape has expanded opportunities for citizens to engage online through digital humanitarian (see my previous blogpost here) and digital activist ventures. Anyone with an internet connection, can lend a helping hand to respond to emergencies. They provide support through the data mining of social media, propagating key information through broader social networks, mapping situation reports from the ground, among many other activities. As the nature of the citizen driven response system changes, there is an ongoing need to identify how to bridge the top-down and bottom-up response so that there is partnership not dictatorship. This model, interestingly enough, provides an excellent depiction of how these systems affect one another and how they could potentially work together.
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