By almost any measuregeographic reach of the storm, population displaced, destruction of property and infrastructure, costs of disaster relief, and the prospective costs of rebuildingthe effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 represent the largest single natural disaster on U.S. soil in the past 100 years. Because the storm and the breaking of the levees devastated a major population center and totally obliterated large swaths of coastal areas, their effects were extraordinary. By one account, more than 100,000 square miles of land were affectedroughly the size of Great Britainand about 160,000 homes and apartments were destroyed or suffered major damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimated damage at $37.1 billionor four times higher than the costs associated with the World Trade Center attack in 2001.
The events surrounding the storms also produced one of the largest disaster response efforts by nongovernmental, charitable organizations. These included faith-based and secular groups, religious congregations both locally based and from other states, national umbrella organizations with substantial experience in human services delivery, and groups with specific disaster response expertise. By some accounts, the response of charitable groups was regarded as more effective than that of federal, state, or local governmental agencies.
For many faith-based and community organizations (FBCOs), the outpouring of services and generosity after the hurricanes was consistent with their missions and traditions of helping people in need. Yet, there have been few systematic studies on how these organizations function during emergency situations, what they do, who they serve, and with whom they collaborate.