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Why don’t we play by the rules?

April 2, 2013 Leave a comment

by Jock Menzies, President, American Logistics Aid Network

I participated in a panel on Private-Public partnering in disaster response earlier this week in Washington. The panel following featured academics and representatives of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) community, the groups usually providing the survivors needed services. One of the academics held out that a significant issue is the failure of groups and individuals to understand and abide by the established “roles and responsibilities” that responders have. With this thinking we leave the Red Cross and Salvation Army to “mass care” functions, food supply to Feeding America and other groups have their functional silos.

Would that it were so. “Ready, fire, aim” is very much the mode in our social media powered GIS and web enabled world. In the Superstorm Sandy response a de novo group “Occupy Sandy” became a serious player deploying more than 65,000 volunteers and quickly raising more than a million dollars. Government agencies and the VOAD community are coming to terms with this new dynamic. In fact it is likely not that new but just more visible and with technology more scale-able.

Agility isn’t easy for government, established VOAD’s or we in business. Structure is important and there are formal protocols that have been shared and adopted nationally regarding how to manage large “incidents.” Nevertheless we are seeing an evolution in this space as in the rest of our worlds. FEMA now comes to ALAN to ask us to help Occupy Sandy with logistics support needs. The Red Cross has developed a program for “Community Volunteers” to enroll the capacity of spontaneous volunteers’ eager to help their neighbors.

Stay tuned as we learn to better channel the goodwill and caring that flows from these “extreme events.” For a real challenge sort out how to stem or put to good use the 2nd Disaster of spontaneous donations of inappropriate stuff that gums up straining supply channels after these events.