These are the slides and text of a presentation at the Shelter Meeting in Geneva in November 2013.
I have promised to show you the results of our post-disaster repairs survey and I will. But first I want to share something from a different sector.
When I left CARE International in mid-2011 I went straight to work for a start-up in the UK energy sector. The business idea was to develop sites in the UK for a particular electricity storage technology – basically giant batteries that give the electricity network a type of resilience, a way to buffer the volatility of electricity from wind and the inflexibility of electricity from nuclear power.
In our meetings with banks, private equity companies and high net worth individuals (aka rich people), our little team of scientists, engineers and geologists realised:
- Firstly, no investor was interested because it was a good idea. They were interested only if, for any given risk, it would make money faster or make more money than any other ideas on the table. So, we had to work out how much money our business would make over a 20 year period. We ran these elaborate simulated scenarios that modelled wind speeds, electricity markets and growth and we ended up with what we thought was pretty convincing evidence for profit.
- BUT, it was not the evidence that convinced our investors it was conviction! We didn’t need a business model so much as a business case. What they really wanted were not the numbers and the simulations but confidence in our competence, confidence in the stories we were telling them and corroboration from their peers, advisors and the press. If the Financial Times ran a story about battery technology, they were totally sold that day. We ended up with this handful of benefactors and we started to get to know them, they gave us business advice and we had to assuage their doubts, show we knew what we were doing by giving bite-sized, simple explanations about the science and occasionally bolster their egos by feeding them the reportage that showed they were ahead of the curve.
- AND THEN, we noticed a difference between our investor-decision-makers. One of these high net worth individuals was a bit more vocal. It turned out that he was different because he was not as rich. He understood that the investment was risky – in that the scheme might not make money – but also that this was a gen-u-ine, bonafide risk to him: if it did not make money, he would not just have to write off the money, he would lose his family home. This is the difference between taking a risky decision and taking a personal risk. There was another risk too. And this was a big part of our motivation as entrepreneurs: the risk to the environment, the economy and our society that the electricity network would not be changed.
Many of these issues come up in this sector: do we have evidence? would we use it if we did? what does it look like? are we talking about corporate risk, my personal risk or, actually, is it your risk - you, the person who has to live with it? And what about risk in the aggregate? Are we doing the built environment equivalent of heart surgery when we need oral rehydration salts…
- Maybe as interveners we can’t get perfect evidence and knowledge
- Even if we had the evidence, maybe our decision-making is not rational in the ways that we traditionally celebrate rationality
- Even if we make evidence-based decisions, maybe in practice we are confusing quite a few different types of risks and this can stop us from getting started
2. Why ask questions about post-disaster repairs?
- Padang City: Pascal Panosetti's photo of Padang City where "a third of the households were located but with "a disproportionally low amount of shelter assistance". In April 2010, 54% of affected households interviewed continue to live in structurally unsafe houses, and that the majority of those in unsafe houses are economically vulnerable
- Padang Pariaman: Nice timber T-Shelter projects but people built like this and repaired their unconfined brick gables...
- Haiti: is this repairable? Is it excellent disaster risk reduction? Investing under conditions that: minimise costs of renting land, buildings or being evicted; minimise travel costs; maximise density of occupation/generating income from letting rooms; maximise performance in hurricances....
Some of the responses on the ground and in the literature.
“efforts to solve the problem only with the dissemination of technical reports for engineers may best be described as a “Marie Antoinette approach to Earthquake Hazard Mitigation” from the quote “…then, let them eat cake”
Or, for example, three different repair options for historic buildings taken from Italian Building Codes that acknowledge the difficulty of knowing, measuring or modelling the structural performance finally achieved after a repair.
“upgrading... a specified safety level; improvement... a safety level higher than the current one, but not specified a priori; and local intervention... improving behaviour of specific parts…”
3. Surveying international stakeholders
But on with the repair survey results. This was a stakeholder survey based on direct emails to more than 100 donors, decision-makers, managers, coordinators, engineers and advisors.c63 people responded with surveys still coming in last night
What is clear from this group - and our own experience...
- Entrepreneurial: percentage of respondents reporting doing this now or in the past.
- Cross-fertilizing: percentage of respondents reporting that they work for this kind of organisation.
- Globe-trotting: percentage of respondents that have worked in 1, 2, 3, 4 or 6 regions.
- Bureaucratic response: clever and lazy or stupid and dilligent
- Silicon valley: first but wrong
- Philosopher: foxes or hedgehogs
4. Knowledge Attitudes and Practices (KAP) Baseline
- Barriers: affected population, politicians, donors, humanitarian organisations
- Opportunities: repair is a humanitarian shelter option
- Quality/Standards: not substandard, ok for non-traditional buildings, better than demolition
- Knowledge: personal competence, seeking advice, guidelines, evidence and data
- Attitudes: repair is risky, slow, invisible
- Practice: lack of code/enforcement, equity, vulnerability and priorities not an issue
5. Bones of Contention
- Repair or strengthen? 8
- Multi-storey buildings more controversial than dangerous sites
- Compliance with code: votes split on repairs to buildings that don’t comply with a building code
- Risks: risk awareness but also risk aversion
- Liabilities and Responsibilities: who should take them, who does take them?
- Engineers: we need them but they can’t agree!
6. Repairs or Retrofits
- our pilot showed that many people don’t understand the distinction between retrofit and repair (a barrier!) and this is now a specific question in the survey.
- there is a problem with large scale damage which is that people do their own repairs with no engineering input to bring repairs to the level of a retrofit. This might be because there just aren’t enough engineers or the engineering advice is too slow, expensive, difficult to convey or discouraged because there are many other reasons not to provide support like illegal occupation or dangerous sites. One of the questions is, if you cannot design and control a retrofit, should you (as a government, NGO, individual engineer) provide no advice or financial support to these groups of people? Or, in other words, are repairs unethical or is denying the inevitability of repairs unethical. This is another level of problem!! But it has been a genuine public policy dilemma in the water and health sectors for 20 years.
- the next step is to question the standards that should apply. This is where householders and governments make practical and policy trade-offs about repair, retrofit or demolition and reconstruction. Some people argue that standards have to be either incremental/evolving or seen in the context of all risks – not just structural risks but also the cost, time to build and other risks over this period, resource use or the probability of being killed by some other hazard that we don’t account for in our public policy trade-offs. The most important part of this from my point of view is the glib use of the term incremental or transitional applied to structures. It is an architectural concept that applies to extension, subdivision and fixing living space but it has very different implications depending on the typology and condition of structures e.g. the “increment” to repair a timber structure is quite different to the “increment” applied to a poor RC frame, not least because the “incremental improvement” can reduce the structural integrity if it creates some kind of new asymmetry
Comments from stakeholders suggested:
An internationally recognized standard of what's "good enough"
Any organization that takes on a repair program and decides it does not need to meet code, whether national or provisional or borrowed from an advanced country, takes on huge risk, puts the beneficiaries at huge risk, and sets an incredibly poor example in a place that desperately needs to be inspired by good examples from countries that have their act together. We couldn't do this in London...why should it be "good enough" for Port-au-Prince?
8. Foxes and Hedgehogs
“One of the sectors greatest problems is an over dependence on a combination of overqualified engineers and architects and out of their depth generalists...combined with a high turnover of staff. The 'professionals' tend to be overly unrealistic about the need to conform to codes that don’t exist, are irrelevant or are not enforced, while the generalists have little or no understanding of the structural issues. its a strange sector!”
9. Support to address gaps in knowledge
Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
Guidelines - although beloved by the humanitarian sector - are not the only tool at our disposal to improve what we do. We use ethical codes of conduct and frameworks to improve accountability to beneficiaries; legally binding contracts to protect parties to an agreement; terms of reference for projects and people to incentivise tasks or behaviours; and monitoring, evaluation and learning systems to understand what is happening. But in combination, the different systems may create unintended or perverse outcomes. For example, managers making decisions based on minimising programme risks - such as poor construction quality, brand reputation, delays, cost over-runs, security risks or shortages of staff - might not opt for repair programmes because shelter guidelines are telling them, based on minimising structural risks, that they will need qualified structural engineers, skilled builders and competent monitoring: all of which are assumed to be in short supply immediately after a disaster.
10. Maybe as interveners we can’t get perfect evidence and knowledge
Since we are talking about consequences and impacts, maybe we can’t get perfect evidence and knowledge and there might be trade-offs and pathways. We tend to have a lot more conviction than evidence on all sides of the debate from the good vs evil T-shelter debate to the “repairs are unethical” to “denying inevitability of repairs is unethical”. Ignoring the daily reality of building practices has been likened by the architect Randolph Langenbach to Marie Antoinette’s legendry pronouncement “let them eat cake”  since it arguably fails to address underlying resilience of the built environment. Nevertheless, it is quite a la mode to compare our progress to the use of evidence in medicine and public health:
“unsystematic observations from clinical experience were a valid way of building and maintaining one’s knowledge about clinical care"; "the study of basic principles and mechanisms of disease were a sufficient guide to clinical practice"; and that traditional medical training and common sense were sufficient to evaluate new tests and treatments.”. (Grind your teeth in unison if you sense that your are operating under similar assumptions in your own professional/political life).
There are context-specific institutions of clinical practice and public health that have systems for meta-analysis and evaluation on which to base decisions. In the humanitarian shelter sector, we are far from systematic, meta-evaluations of impact so even if we go for "decisions based on best available evidence" rather than "evidence-based decision-making" per se, we're not there yet. Most importantly, even where there are epic quantities of evidence, somebody still has to draw a line in the sand to demarcate acceptable risk, thresholds for public policy/funding or rules for insurance market regulation. So in the data, technical advice, simulation and deliberation spheres perhaps there is a way for us to do some interesting things with some types of evidence, simulation and deliberation.
11. Even if we had the evidence, maybe our decision-making is not rational in the ways that we traditionally celebrate rationality
Even where we have evidence, is it really what we used to make a decision anyway!? The Tufts report earlier this year suggests that individual decision-makers in the humanitarian sector… wait for it….may not routinely base their decisions on evidence but instead rely on tacit knowledge, rules of thumb and their own attitudes, instincts and biases. Indeed, back in 2002, the economist Daniel Kahnemann won the Nobel Prize for Economics, partly for blowing out of the water the hand-wringing over unrealistic expectations about rational decision-making. So I think we do need to engage with this.
12. Even if we make evidence-based decisions, maybe in practice we are confusing quite a few different types of risks and this can stop us from getting started
You can see, touch and photograph physical assets and, if people live in them too, then reducing the risk of them falling down by building back better is a no-brainer. With repairs, though, you have to fiddle around with buildings that are old, unusual or unconventional and this is seen as risky. Although it is householders who have to live with this risk, you might see it more frequently documented in terms professional liability and risks to the organisation or the engineer tasked with approving repairs. A professional would, quite correctly, turn to building codes. Building codes enshrine knowledge and rules about structural risks and have evolved in tandem with context-specific institutions for protecting public safety, limiting personal and company liability and insuring/protecting private flows of capital into the built environment. There is a question about the ethics of translating these values from one context to another. But apart from this, applying building codes to the repair problem presents its own difficulties because structural risk reduction tends to be based on a) applying international (ie high) specifications or performance standards and b) usually requiring safety levels to be determined (by calculation) to demonstrate compliance which is tricky where you can't see how the building was originally put together.
But what else have we got to help us in practice? Guidelines - although beloved by the humanitarian sector - are not the only tool at our disposal to improve what we do. We use ethical codes of conduct and frameworks to improve accountability to beneficiaries; legally binding contracts to protect parties to an agreement; terms of reference for projects and people to incentivise tasks or behaviours; and monitoring, evaluation and learning systems to understand what is happening. But in combination, the different systems may create unintended or perverse outcomes. For example, managers making decisions based on minimising programme risks - such as poor construction quality, brand reputation, delays, cost over-runs, security risks or shortages of staff - might not opt for repair programmes because shelter guidelines are telling them, based on minimising structural risks, that they will need qualified structural engineers, skilled builders and competent monitoring: all of which are assumed to be in short supply immediately after a disaster.
So, you can start to see how, in spite of codes, guidelines and good will, a programming preference seems to persist for “providing houses rather than assistance to reconstruct”; “physical construction” rather than the process of rebuilding in relation to social and economic life; a failure to address the daily reality of building practices; and “a preference to work in the safety of familiar areas”. And while humanitarian organisations are often mandated to target the most vulnerable, the preference to provide physical assets can have perverse, inequitable outcomes where people “who had held [assets] before had them replaced, with the effect of providing more aid for the better-off than for the poor”. For repair programmes, this has a further ethical dilemma: humanitarian concerns about equity can play out as a reluctance to repair rented housing (because these housing assets belong to landlords who are necessarily less vulnerable) and this delays support for repairing rental housing even though this is often an important urban housing option for the poor and the restoration of the use value of these assets to a numerous and more vulnerable tenant population.
 Seventy per cent of construction in developing countries is built without permits or the enforcement of building codes and a large proportion of these buildings have reinforced concrete frames with masonry infill which result in thousands of deaths according to Fouad, Bendimerad, “The 21 May 2003 Boumerdes Earthquake Lessons Learned and Recommendations:” (13th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering Vancouver, B.C., Canada August 1-6, 2004 Paper for Special Session on Seismic Risk Reduction and Disaster Preparedness for Major Urban Centers, 2004), http://www.rms.com/publications/Bendimerad-13wcee.pdf.
Randolph Langenbach et al., “ARMATURE CROSSWALLS: A PROPOSED METHODOLOGY TO IMPROVE THE SEISMIC PERFORMANCE OF NON-DUCTILE REINFORCED CONCRETE INFILL FRAME STRUCTURES” (Proceedings of the 8th U.S. National Conference on Earthquake Engineering April 18-22, 2006, San Francisco, California, USA, 2006).
(da Silva, 2010, p. 32)
70% of construction in developing countries is built without permits or the enforcement of building codes, a large proportion have reinforced concrete frames with masonry infill which result in thousands of deaths according to Fouad, Bendimerad, “The 21 May 2003 Boumerdes Earthquake Lessons Learned and Recommendations:” (13th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering Vancouver, B.C., Canada August 1-6, 2004 Paper for Special Session on Seismic Risk Reduction and Disaster Preparedness for Major Urban Centers, 2004), http://www.rms.com/publications/Bendimerad-13wcee.pdf.
Cash for transitional shelter project in Padang, CARE International
(Tsunami Evaluation Coalition, 2007)