Why preparedness is key to recovery
Tropical Storm Debby taught us a few powerful lessons, and reaffirmed the need to prepare communities with organizing tools, rather than launch them post-disaster.
Since this April, we’ve been flying into disaster areas to provide community organizers with free recovery tools and tech support. These tools and organization infrastructure have served to greatly increase in-kind donation efficiency, and the ability of untrained locals to handle disaster case management on their own. In every area, we further refine our platform and are able to guide new development through direct use cases. Post-disaster launches are not sustainable as a small organization, so we’ve been moving toward licensing the software to preparing areas. Our latest launch has convinced us that this is a necessity, for not only our organization, but for effective organization in any recovering community.
In past post-disaster launches, we’ve had a very easy time identifying local hubs of organizing activity. Across the US, and the world, there is invariably a church, or library, or school, that opens its doors to volunteers, donated refrigerators, and requests for help. While the organization, and the driving forces behind the organizational effort may vary, the problems are always the same. Too much clothing, not enough ice, no way to communicate and to accept information. Through the use of our databasing and information systems, we’ve been able to help communities turn goodwill into action, hours, and donations. (See what we accomplished in our first launch in Forney, TX).
We flew two staff members into New Port Richey, FL shortly after Debby eased. We weren’t ready for what we encountered there — a complete lack of any organization. Of course, there was damage. There were the usual large aid organizations performing mission specific activities. But no one seemed to be organizing at the community level. A weak Facebook presence sprang up at the end of the week, but very little information was being produced or taken in. We travelled from church to church, to the Emergency Operations Center, to the Red Cross shelter.
I was baffled. No one seemed to realize that there was a short window of interest within which in-kind donations could be effectively collected, and a long window of need in which they could be used. Worse, it seemed that no one thought they had the authority to do anything about the damage without some sort of official permission. Then, we made contact with the woman posting local disaster information on a Facebook group for Pasco County. She adopted the tools, and sure enough, needs, volunteers and donation items were reported almost immediately.
Our work in Florida was our least effective to date. Because post-disaster launches of organizational systems are a slow burn. If the community had had these databases open pre-Debby, if people searching for ways to help could have donated on day one, rather than day 6, we could have jump started recovery. The recovery continues, but at a pace far slower than others we’ve enabled.
A renewed focus on preparedness
This experience has confirmed to us that preparedness is the most important recovery strategy, and that our tools must change to reflect that. We have built out our disaster organizing tools, and are now beginning to build complementary systems that can be used pre-disaster to prepare and organize communities for a variety of tasks. Simple things, like the ability to organize a Memorial Day Parade, or a hub for community event information, can create the trust and awareness it took us a week to build in Florida.
If you have ideas for functionality, would like to learn more about purchasing software for your area, or would like to get involved with our preparedness tool planning – please reach out! firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 219-5613.