Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Providing Relief and Recovery Services After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Knowledge of Local Area and Its Resources


The assistance FBCOs provided after the 2005 hurricanes was delivered in the context of perceived failure by governmental agencies and others officially charged with disaster relief. One of the complaints case study respondents lodged against Red Cross and FEMA was that their teams were generally not local and were unfamiliar with the local geography, facilities, social services, and other venues that might provide help. Because relief and recovery work wore on for months, staff was rotated in and out, and any gains that may have been made in understanding the local situation were lost in the rotation. Additionally, respondents said that rules seemed to change with each changing shift, creating confusion and frustration, and increasing a sense of insecurity when reassurance was critical. Even under the worst circumstances, when many human service agencies are damaged and inoperable, and therefore unavailable as referral sources, knowledge of the local topography and how to make ones way around is an advantage. Units in responder agencies that had regional or local ties were cited as more helpful to the recovery effort.

In contrast, the FBCOs studied were generally staffed by people who knew the local area, often by individuals who were in the business of helping peoplesuch as clergy, clinicians, or other social service providersand often by those who were victims themselves in the widespread disaster. As such, they were perhaps able to express a level of sensitivity, empathy, and responsiveness that staff from other kinds of organizations might not. As noted earlier, one observation repeated by several focus group participants was that the FBCO staff member helping them rebuild their houses always seemed to be able to anticipate what they needed and know how to get it. Some in the field also commented about the freedom from rules and protocol evident in local operations, such as small, locally run shelters that were not officially certified as shelters and therefore not subject to others rules. Whether those rules would have added a measure of protection to the service recipient or provided other benefits is unknown.

Some local FBCOs may be able to provide the sustained commitment to hurricane victims necessary to achieve long-term recovery. One good example from the case studies was the omnipresence of the director of the Community Initiatives Foundation and others who returned repeatedly to help. The ability to connect with the sometimes confusing mix of actors in the FEMA trailer park and the sustained presence built trust among traumatized storm victims who were otherwise unreceptive to help. Other local FBCOs were less interested or able to make a sustained commitment.

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