Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Providing Relief and Recovery Services After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Magnitude of the Storms Impact

12/20/2008

The magnitude of the 2005 storms appears to be both the catalyst that motivated many FBCOs to provide assistance and the determinant of specific responses. According to case study informants, the storms were like nothing they had experienced in the past. The hurricanes affected more people and the effects lasted longer than previous disasters in this country. Eighty percent of New Orleans, a city of 440,000, was flooded, and the timing and pace of the evacuation created major problems for those who did not leave early or had no means of transportation to leave.

The storms magnitude also provoked attention to the personal and social dimensions of the event, including permanent loss of housing, widespread family dislocation and emotional trauma, and the particular vulnerabilities of low-income minority populations. These problems would be long-lasting and change over time as many evacuees were unable to resettle, some remaining in temporary trailer parks for nearly three years, and requiring new approaches to address the problems created by the hurricanes. However, specific disaster responses appear often to owe as much to chance as to deliberate planning.

While there is no reason to believe that the same humanitarian instinct that motivated FBCOs to respond in 2005 would not apply again in a disaster of similar magnitude, there is little evidence to suggest that they will be better prepared. According to the survey, less than a quarter of the respondents had created new emergency plans, new partnerships, or lists of local services, and more than a third had taken no steps to prepare for a future emergency. Officials charged with emergency preparedness who were interviewed in the case studies were aware of the importance of including FBCOs in their planning as a result of their presence in the 2005 hurricanes, but the details of how FBCOs are included were sometimes difficult to discern. The creation of the Greater New Orleans Disaster Recovery Partnership resulted from recognizing the need for coordination among multiple responders and interest in better regional preparedness for the next disaster. Yet, several case study organizations were not interested in formally committing themselves or their resources to a role in a future disaster, or being credentialed as an official Red Cross shelter, which would require conforming to Red Cross rules and regulations.

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