Not since 2005 have we seen a hurricane season so intense and affecting so many. So far this season four hurricanes have made landfall in the United States and its territories—Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate—each destroying in hours what it took individuals, communities, businesses, and local government years to build. Recently I spent time in Houston with my family and close friends to participate in the ongoing relief effort. What was immediately apparent to all of us: When a hurricane rips out infrastructure—water, sewage systems, power, and roads—it becomes the ultimate equalizer as it strikes the next community in its path.
In the days and weeks following each of the 2017 hurricanes, there was an enormous outpouring of public support, but it will take months and even years of intensive, highly organized, and ongoing relief efforts for the affected areas to fully recover. With each event responders learn lessons that can be utilized and transported to the next area hit by a storm.
In each instance, initially figuring out what needs to be fixed is no easy task when it seems like the answer is everything. The needs assessment—done in the earliest hours and days—identifies where the needs are greatest, what is needed first, and who and what are needed to make it happen. When a disaster hits there is no normal. And few are familiar with the road to recovery. Yet in all instances a pause to regroup and assess is always the first step.
Stemming from the assessment is the plan of attack. To manage designated relief and recovery efforts takes management teams with unique expertise—including the ability to coordinate with the public and private sectors; the ability to manage teams of both paid, trained staff and of volunteers; and the ability to shift gears and roll in real time with whatever arises. When the puzzle pieces need to seamlessly fall together, no cracks in the system can be afforded. Since each disaster has its own particular characteristics—for instance, land efforts differ from island recovery efforts—the right skill sets need to be operating in the right place and at the right time.
Needed along with the plan are huge numbers of people to execute it. Over time different types of relief workers will be needed—both skilled tradespeople and compassionate volunteers. While altruistic efforts often include those with good intentions and varied skill sets, most who volunteer are there to serve in whatever role they can, generally working in conjunction with numerous not-for-profits and local government authorities. They prepare and distribute millions of meals. They help collect, sort, and deliver a broad range of necessities: clothing, nonperishable food, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items, and generators, chainsaws, and tools for debris removal.
They are sent to neighborhoods in desperate need of their assistance. What volunteers see are those who have lost their cars, those who no longer have a roof on their home, and those with water still in their homes and mold beginning to form everywhere. Some have started to clean up and to rebuild. Others are still waiting for their homes to dry out and are reliant on public assistance. All are deeply appreciative of the volunteers who have stopped their daily routine to help them reestablish theirs.
And with so many services desperately needed, sadly there are also the opportunists who are anxious to exploit the vulnerable. Making false promises. Willing to take the last dollar from someone who has lost everything.
Houston, nearly two months after the August 25, 2017 storm, is in a different stage of recovery than other hurricane-affected areas, like Puerto Rico. A special thanks to Sentinel’s Anthony DeToto, Combined Arms, and 1836 Veterans for helping to facilitate our time in Houston.
Immediately we noticed that after the floodwaters recede some are able to survive and recover far better than others. The poor, the elderly, the disabled, the uninsured, and those living paycheck to paycheck are still frequently displaced and relying on public assistance to survive.
We were particularly struck by the efforts going on in Houston’s Greenspoint Mall, which was repurposed as a recovery center, capable of housing 600 individuals at its peak. Still in use, it now houses approximately 380 people from among the 30,000 families that were displaced during the storm yet still live as refugees from disaster, living side-by-side with no privacy and doing their very best to maintain their dignity while existing in what is effectively a vacant shopping mall.
Shelter, feeding, plumbing, trash removal, case work, and so much more is coordinated and tracked
for those still housed in the Greenspoint Mall.
What we saw in Houston was how resourceful and resilient and charitable ordinary citizens can be. They are part of volunteer efforts supported by nongovernmental organizations, private enterprise, local groups, and transported not-for-profits that are demonstrating their resourcefulness in organizing a system that helps to make it all work. Some of the hard-working organizations we crossed paths with in Houston included the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency for volunteering and service, which has deployed AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members to areas impacted by the recent hurricanes: Texas, Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands; the American Red Cross, which has assisted more than 477,000 households in Houston alone; and the Rescued Pets Movement, a 501(c)3 charity that is undertaking numerous initiatives in response to the Hurricane Harvey crisis from rescue to temporary fosters to rehabilitation to transport to new forever homes.
Locating lost pets continues to be front and center in Houston.
We also saw how private enterprise and local groups have unlimited energy, enthusiasm, and ingenuity. What they lack in financial resources and recovery equipment, this mosaic of volunteers and local community groups more than make up for in moxie. Additional government service initiatives tied to these civilian efforts would only maximize their impact, scope, efficiency, and potential.
And that’s how we at K2 Intelligence believe it should be. It is part of our firm’s culture to give back to the community—whether it is around the corner or around the globe. Most importantly we have seen how important it is to our teams to participate not only by giving money and time, but also by giving of themselves and being hands on.
My daughters helping with the mucking and gutting of a home in one of the worst-hit sections of
Houston—at one point during the height of the storm more than 24 inches of rain fell in just two hours,
and the house took in more than five feet of water. The family’s escape was a harrowing one.
A family effort, removing moldy drywall and flooring.
So just as my family helped another family in Houston remove moldy dry wall and flooring in their home, our employees put themselves out there to help others. Whether it is in support of Her Justice, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to battered women and their children, in its annual Story by Story Stair Climb raising funds to help end domestic violence, or via Project Bella, a free skills-training program for unemployed youth in Ghana. Our skills-training partnership with the Jesus and Mary School in Ghana provides free IT, business skills, and computer-coding programs designed to equip young adults with the practical know-how needed in order to apply (and be eligible) for jobs.
There is still so much more we all can do—whether for hurricane-affected areas that are still so much in need, or within our communities to prepare for the day disaster may strike.
Accompanying us was family friend Paul J. Cusack, seen here receiving his volunteer assignment from the
American Red Cross.
Some ideas for you to consider:
- Make a difference by making a financial contribution to The American Red Cross at www.redcross.org or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS. Or consider a volunteer opportunity—and assist with volunteer recruitment, placement, record keeping, and so much more.
- Check out voluntary organizations active in disaster relief to find out how you can volunteer, such as www.nvoad.org, an association of organizations that mitigate and alleviate the impact of disasters.
- Make a cash donation directly to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, through Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico), an organization started by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, to provide aid and support for Puerto Ricans affected by both Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Or donate to Students With Puerto Rico, a group mobilizing college students across the mainland United States to raise awareness and funds for Puerto Rico. Funds from their GoFundMe campaign, which has raised more than $200,000 to date, go directly to Unidos por Puerto Rico.
- Donate your frequent flyer points and miles, which can be used for travel (such as for relief organizations) or toward airline charitable donation programs. Pick your favorite provider to make the donation that works best for you.
- Donate your time in your local community in efforts like the Orlando Cares Hope for Puerto Rico disaster relief project, a month-long event taking place at the Orange County Convention Center in Florida where thousands of volunteers are helping to package 4.4 million meal kits for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. The meal kits are being shipped directly to FEMA for immediate distribution to the children and families devastated by the storms this year in conjunction with Feeding Children Everywhere. Or join veterans’ efforts like Combined Arms and 1836 Veterans in Houston.