Collaboration is Key – Louisiana After the Floods (Part 2)
Last week, we kicked off this series with a post from Good360’s CEO, Howard Sherman, from his recent visit to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In this follow-up piece, Howard shares some insights that had the greatest impact on him as he continued to see the region’s devastation first-hand.
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After having had the privilege of spending a couple of hours with a displaced resident who lost everything, I have a renewed empathy for what the community is enduring and will continue to endure for months and years to come.
As part of the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Disaster Assistance and Recovery Delegation, the next few days were full of meetings, work groups, presentations and tours. We were addressed by FEMA, The Department of Homeland Security, the national and local Chambers of Commerce, The Chief of Police, a cross-section of community leaders and charitable organizations as well as by Congressman Garret Graves of the U.S. House of Representatives.
A number of things that struck me during my few days with this delegation, the following among the most significant:
- It takes a village. When disaster strikes, it is not one organization or sector that is able to deal with the complexity of long-term recovery. It takes an ecosystem of organizations from the public, private and NGO sectors to help communities overcome disaster and recover in a sustainable way. Collaboration, communication and sharing a common mission is key. In the case of the Louisiana floods, members of FEMA, local relief and recovery organizations, local and national charities, law enforcement and business leaders worked as one unified group focused on helping save peoples’ lives and then helping them rebuild.
- Time is not on our side. The recovery cycle will, by all accounts, take years, but time is the enemy. If businesses cannot be brought back quickly, they will fail. If businesses are rebuilt quickly, but communities are not, those businesses will not have employees or customers and the community fails. So while the long tail of true recovery in disasters does take years, the first months are critical.
- No two disasters are exactly alike. The Louisiana floods were particularly unique. While the storm was predicted to be a major event, it was not predicted to drop up to 35 inches of rain over four days. As a result, there was no way to anticipate the magnitude of this disaster. Response required innovation. Social media became the initial platform for communication. That is why the number of deaths, which could have easily been in the hundreds was limited to fewer than 10. First responders and the Cajun Army used social media to quickly communicate the magnitude of need real time in the first days of the disaster. Ironically, it was pointed out that had first responders NOT been as successful as they were, more people would have lost their lives and the media attention which drives support and ultimately funding would have been greater.
- Help comes in many forms. One striking story was that there were no shelters prepared for this disaster when it struck. Virtually all of the traditional shelters were flooded (remember, this area had never flooded before). On the Sunday of the storm the Chief of Police contacted Patrick Mulhearn, Executive Director of Celtic Studios, a 150,000 square foot film studio. The initial call came early Sunday evening and Patrick was asked if the studio could be used as a shelter to which he responded yes. Patrick was told if it was needed he would be called a
gain. At 1:00 a.m on Monday Patrick received the second call saying there were buses on the way. Celtic Studios became a shelter for over 2,000 people. However, there were no cots, no food, no supplies, and no sanitation facilities. Those supplies arrived over the coming days. Different stages within the studio were earmarked for different populations. One was designated for families with pets (this was key since many people refused to evacuate unless they could take their pets), another for the elderly, yet another for the ill, for families and so on.
What is clear to me is that when disasters strike, the recovery effort is daunting. But when multiple organizations at the local and national level unify their efforts to provide a thoughtful and collaborative response, that is the key to resilient and sustainable recovery efforts. As the nature and quantity of events increase, we must build on our learning from each experience and leverage that learning to help prepare and respond to disasters in increasingly effective ways.
Find out how you can help: http://louisiana-floods.good360.org/
Read Part 3 of the series.