It Takes A Village

In The Atlantic magazine, writer David A. Graham takes a look at a phenomenon occurring with natural disasters — emergency professionals building the efforts of volunteer brigades into their coordinated plans.

“While many volunteer rescuers may be acting of their own volition, the federal government is welcoming their help and encouraging others to jump in too,” writes Graham. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, the volunteer Cajun Navy has been performing search and rescue operations alongside disaster recovery professionals. “In fact, the expectation that civilians will spring to action is central to the way federal, state, and local governments approach huge disasters like Harvey. There’s simply no way for those levels of government to marshal the resources fast enough to do all that needs to get done. Roads are impassable; resources are spread out; and manpower is limited,” writes Graham.

The idea is that locals may understand the community’s recovery needs more thoroughly and quickly than a top down response from government, writes Graham. In addition, the community should be seen as not only something that needs rescuing, but instead as a resource that can be tapped into in terms of disaster management in an easily mobilized and flexible manner.

“We had almost by default defined the public as a liability,” Craig Fugate, former head of FEMA told Graham. “We looked at them as, We must take care of them, because they’re victims. But in a catastrophic disaster, why are we discounting them as a resource? Are you telling me there aren’t nurses, doctors, construction people, all kinds of walks of life that have skills that are needed?”