The Top 5 Ways to Help Survivors During a Disaster

    by Caitria O’Neill
    October 30, 2012

    Image courtesy of NASA

    #Sandy #OMG #disaster

    Now that I’ve gotten your attention with the hurricane pulping the East Coast, I want to talk to you about smaller disasters. Face it — not every disaster is as fun to follow as a mega-storm. Ice storms aren’t generally live-blogged on HuffPost. Apartment fires rarely trend on Twitter. But these disasters are no less devastating for the people they affect. The aftermath of a small disaster might be less sensational, but always follows the same path.


    Disaster anatomy is pretty simple. Damage. Needs. Assistance. The complicated bit is making sure that we devote as much support and attention to the folks who lose their house in a small storm as we do to the people who lose a home this week.

    5 Things Survivors Need (regardless of disaster size):

    The following are the top five things that survivors need when faced with a disaster, regardless of its size:

    1. Privacy: Don’t be that guy with the iPhone, taking video of a family sorting through their possessions in the front yard. If you’re an aid provider, don’t require someone to post their needs publicly. You’d be surprised how many people forgo aid rather than announce their loss.
    2. Time: Homeowners need to have the insurance adjustor visit before they can accept help. Take a couple days, figure out where your skills are needed, then show up to help. If you come early, you’re just endangering yourself.
    3. Information: The biggest impact you can have is as your community’s “Chief Information Officer.” Learn everything you can about support available for survivors in your area. Don’t just post it on Facebook — print a flyer and hand it out to families in the disaster area.
    4. Continuity: Losses can’t be completely eradicated with a day of volunteerism. If you want to get involved in your community recovery effort, get involved for the long haul. Help your local newspaper publish stories at the one-, three- and six-month anniversary to sustain interest in the recovery effort.
    5. A Bit of Normality: Don’t treat someone who has lost their home like a victim, an alien, or a foreign dignitary. Treat them like your neighbor. Offer help when they ask for it. Provide support when you can. They’ll appreciate a bit of normal conversation.

    If you want to get involved, do so at every level. Help the people chewed up by Sandy, but let this experience teach you how to help out people during the next blizzard. You don’t need permission, or a badge, to make a huge difference locally. You just need information and a little bit of patience.


    My final pearl of wisdom: If you are looking for information on disaster preparedness the day a hurricane makes landfall, you’re looking too late. A speedy recovery necessarily begins with preparedness efforts in advance of an event. If you want to prepare your community for disasters, big and small, get in touch: [email protected]

    Read more Hurricane Sandy coverage on PBS MediaShift:
    Best Online Resources, Videos, Photos from Hurricane Sandy Coverage

    Caitria O’Neill is the CEO of Recovers.org. She received a B.A. degree in government from Harvard University in 2011. She has worked for Harvard Law Review and the U.S. State Department, and brings legal, political and editorial experience to the team. O’Neill has completed the certificate programs for FEMA’s National Incident Management System 700 and 800, and Incident Command Systems 100 and 200. She has also worked with Emergency Management Directors, regional hospital and public health organizations and regional Homeland Security chapters to develop partnerships and educate stakeholders about local organization and communication following disasters.

    Tagged: disaster preparedness east coast hurricane recovers.org recovery sandy

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