An Ounce of Advocacy

by Alyssa Battistoni, The Stanford Social Innovation Review; Winter 2010.

Though it is painful to read an ‘I told you so’ article published in the face of mass suffering, Battistoni’s piece was prepared in advance of the recent earthquake. Her article, in fact, presages many harsh truths rediscovered amidst early recovery efforts in Haiti. Namely, had there been more effort put into disaster preparedness, building code enforcement, or warning systems, the extent of the devastation would not have been nearly so terrifying.

‘An Ounce of Advocacy’ focuses on disaster prevention: “When people think about dealing with disasters, they usually think about volunteers distributing hot meals and blankets, churches erecting cots in makeshift shelters, and helicopters airlifting people out of flooded areas. The word disaster seldom brings to mind legislators establishing building codes, land use policies, and drainage systems. In other words, people think about responding to disasters, rather than mitigating or even preventing their worst effects.”

Disaster delineates roles between nonprofit, business, and government action. According to Battistoni, nonprofit and business efforts should supplement government roles, not supplant them. She urges nonprofit and business leaders to employ advocacy to push their political representatives to invest in disaster preparedness. Neither nonprofits nor business have as much leeway as states to help prepare and protect citizens in advance of a natural disaster, she says, but they can influence their government to focus on prevention.

Governments have the authority to limit land development in vulnerable areas and update and enforce building codes. States have tax dollars for building and maintaining levees and drainage systems and hiring engineers to improve existing infrastructure to serve communities as demographics grow and shift. Government can fund researchers to test materials and construction techniques to make them as earthquakeresistant as the latest technologies reasonably allow.

State officials could even hire experts in the aftermath of Australian disasters like the Black Saturday bushfires to assess how to improve response and better inform citizens about future risks.

One hopes that the funding of disaster preparedness gains greater respectability before more natural disasters remind us of this important ‘I told you so’ piece.

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