The events of Hurricane Katrina inspired my career in nonprofit emergency management. My experiences on the Gulf Coast following the storm, and in dozens of domestic and international disaster zones since, have reinforced my choice of career and the role we all play in emergency management – from personal preparedness to effective partnerships.
The aftermath of the storm may be remembered by some as a failure of communication and coordination. My memories are more personal – of the people I met, survivors and responders, some of the bravest and most selfless people I know. I still communicate with many of them – people who have committed their lives to making the coast, and country, safer, healthier, and a less vulnerable environment in the face of future emergencies.
Many things have changed since Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast ten years ago. Over the last decade, AmeriCares has responded to dozens of disasters – tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, wildfires – each disaster creating its own unique crisis, devastating lives and whole communities. We arrive quickly, often in the midst of chaos, and quickly identify needs and set in motion targeted response and recovery efforts, delivering medical and humanitarian aid, supporting and providing health care and other basic community services. That’s just who we are and what we do.
But the way we do it has grown and evolved with each new emergency. Technologies have enabled us to be faster, smarter, more connected than ever before. We have increased our capacity and capabilities to respond quickly and sustain larger recovery efforts. Yet, I have seen again and again that there is no technology that can replace the importance of personal relationships.
In the U.S. alone, we have built and now maintain regular communication with a network of more than 800 safety net health care facilities that provide health services to low-income populations, many of whom are vulnerable in the face of disasters. These partners are critical to community response and recovery, and shoulder the ultimate responsibility of patient care before, during and after disasters. It’s our strong relationships that enable AmeriCares to meet the immediate needs of survivors and stand by communities while a new normal is established. We know and trust each other. We are investing in emergency preparedness efforts that will enable our safety net health care partners to prepare for disasters, keep their doors open during disasters, and ultimately enhance post-disaster health outcomes.
In addition to safety net clinics and health centers, we have strong relationships with voluntary organizations active in disasters, federal and state partners, the private sector and academia. Leveraging these relationships, we are using our experience and expertise to shape the future through engagement in national initiatives such as the National Health Security Preparedness Index and through forums like the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster where we cooperate, communicate, coordinate and collaborate with numerous stakeholders.
At the community, as well as national level, it still all comes down to the personal connection – these ongoing dialogues, the joint training and exercises, innovative programs and, most important, the core understanding of how we can best work together that provides a foundation for us to move quickly, be effective, efficient, and fiscally responsible in times of disaster.
As we approach #Katrina10, we remember. We also continue striving forward. Together.