Lessons of Covid Must be Applied to Natural Disasters

The pandemic has illustrated the need for governments, communities and businesses to be prepared for unforeseen events, especially in an era of climate change.

Published: May 14, 2023  |  

Public health advocate, nurse & naturalist

Covid plan

Co-written by Becky Lentz. 

In the newly released report, Lessons From The COVID War, the Covid Crisis Group authors highlight mistakes, successes and lessons learned from the large-scale global public health response.

The United States is suffering from “reflection deficit disorder,” the authors write, because many failed to properly analyze and understand the lessons we learned during the pandemic. However, the authors were also “consistently impressed with the ingenuity and dedication of people all over the country, and beyond.”

Now that the World Health Organization has declared COVID is no longer a global health emergency, the lessons learned must not be limited to public health crises.

Preparedness and forming resilience strategies for future catastrophes is a critical step, not only for severe weather-related events like heatwaves, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, or ice storms but also for infrastructure-related catastrophes. This must be a priority for policy-makers, administrators, community leaders, entrepreneurs, business partners, systems designers and individuals.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information reports that throughout the U.S., intense and expensive weather or climate disasters are increasing. Last year, 18 weather events caused damage costing a minimum of $1 billion. These disasters result in lives lost, livelihoods altered and massive destruction.  

In Texas and around the country, interacting with governmental responses to such events can often be frustrating. Service may be slow, tedious or inconvenient. This is unacceptable when so many lives and livelihoods are at stake. 

Most local governments are well-positioned to respond rapidly to routine emergencies. Fire departments, emergency response units and other taxpayer-funded services are set up to meet a limited number of needs. According to the Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation (CMRA) project created last August, “Climate resilience is built at the local level.”

Many city governments across the U.S. and Canada, in collaboration with community and philanthropic partners, have been working diligently to find sustainable ways to respond swiftly to unexpected natural disasters.  

The Urban Sustainability Directors Network’s Guide to Developing Resilience Hubs serves as a valuable working document for local governments to use in collaboration and partnership with their constituencies in agile, bold and innovative responses to unexpected disasters.

Cities across the country are looking for community-based strategies for disaster preparedness and responses. The University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health offers training for students and community organizations to receive certification in public health responses to disasters. Participants learn about specific disaster response, crisis communication and specialized skills like responding to events involving hazardous materials and mass casualties.

To assist municipalities and projects like these at the federal level, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators recently reintroduced the Tornado Act to accelerate community-level preparation for looming tornado threats.

To ensure that emergency power is available during electrical outages, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently launched its Clean Power for Hours Challenge to find innovative ways to keep the power on for essential services during devastating climate events.

Bold and innovative national actions like these also occur outside the U.S. The Australian government just announced a new $10 million intergovernmental effort to build a National Messaging System to warn of impending natural disasters. The UK government recently tested its own upgraded emergency alert system.

Communities have demonstrated repeatedly that remaining resilient demands a broad spectrum of participants that goes beyond simply expecting local, county or state governments to do all the work. Being prepared for the inevitable next crisis demands this.

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