As the world watches a massive hurricane about to strike the US Gulf Coast, it’s important to learn the lessons of previous disaster responses. The last hurricane to hit that area was 2008’s Hurricane Ike, which followed Rita, Katrina and last year’s tropical storm which inundated parts of Louisiana.
I have found after 38 years of disaster-related relief work both here in the US and to what’s now 100 countries through Operation USA (www.opusa.org), that the effectiveness of a disaster response depends on trained local people both in and out of government. These can be local emergency response staff, local and national companies which provide needed goods or services, and civil society groups (nonprofits, church volunteers, foundations, educational institutions, and individual retirees with vast skills and experience). State and federal government agencies are critical in providing National Guard human and material resources; and, in the case of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), financial and other federal resources. An engaged White House is always helpful in encouraging and mobilizing any needed Congressional action and potential cash and material aid donors from the private sector....in other words, effective Leadership.
A major water-related disaster goes far beyond rescuing stranded people from roof-tops and raging rivers. The recovery phase is elongated as potable water supplies may have been fouled; energy sources compromised; and, living spaces, school buildings, clinics and other local institutions affected by water damage, persistent black mold and other environmental challenges.
I invite anyone reading this post to think through how you might use this opportunity to help train yourself so that when a disaster strikes closer to your own home, you can call upon lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey, e.g., how you interpreted the developing news story about the hurricane; who you might call upon among your own contacts to participate in a modest aid effort to those in need; and, what you are able to do eventually to help out. Monetary donations are FINE as long as they are wisely targeted to groups which can make effective use of money you raise. I usually advise people to avoid reflective giving to the American Red Cross as it has contracts with all levels of government to provide disaster services and does not typically make good use of private funds as we saw after Katrina, 9/11, and the Haiti earthquake. Find a smaller local group which really needs some recovery funding.