How surveyors can help in hurricane recovery
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
This article first appeared in The American Surveyor.
After a stressful week of trying to locate an old friend in Houston after Hurricane Harvey left town, her brief email reassured me she was safe and had not lost everything.
She was among the fortunate. Hundreds of thousands of others across the Caribbean and southeastern parts of the U.S. are going to be out of their homes (if they still have homes left) and jolted into a struggle to regain some sense normalcy for quite a while.
Hurricane season will be winding down over the next month, but the recovery phase will stretch on for years to come. Harvey, Irma and Maria rank right up there with the costliest and largest storms in American history.
On the nuts and bolts side of the equation, there is a lot of work waiting in the wings for surveyors. There are roads to clear and reconstruct, utilities to get back into working order, buildings to demolish and buildings to repair or erect.
Five years after Sandy, I am still working on floodplain buyouts. A dozen years after Katrina and Rita, Habitat for Humanity is still building homes in the Gulf Coast area.
On the human side, there is much more to be done. The immediate trauma and the long-term emotional toll cannot be overestimated.
I have never suffered flood loss. What I have gone through is loss of pretty much everything I owned in a fire the landlord accidentally started downstairs from my apartment. But that is nothing compared to an areawide disaster where there is no safe, dry place to sleep, no food or fresh water available, no easy (or any) access to medical care.
Anyone with half a heart wants to help. We all can, but the manner in which we approach this Herculean endeavor makes a difference as to whether we are speeding the process or adding to the burden by getting underfoot.
Many of us want to rush right into the thick of it to volunteer our sturdy legs and backs. Rather than self-deploying, a little patience and registering with a voluntary or charitable organization helps avoid additional chaos on site.
A central place to find numerous such groups looking for and accepting hands-on help is the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, which lists VOAD member organizations and links to where different kinds of help are needed. Even with advance arrangements, expect glitches in transportation, lodging and eating, as my brother and I did a year after Katrina when we arrived to fulfill our scheduled week with Habitat in New Orleans.
You will be in a disaster zone. Be flexible and compassionate. Expect to be filthy, frustrated and exhausted. But you will meet wonderful people.
Donations are always a welcomed alternative or supplement to physical assistance. But rather than sending physical items — unless they are specifically requested — monetary donations are generally more appreciated. This allows a more controlled manner of delivery, storage and distribution, maximizing on-the-ground volunteer energy.
Again, VOAD is a good central resource. But your own faith- or community-based organization may have programs to support recovery efforts as well. Don't forget about the NSPS Foundation's Disaster Relief Fund for our colleagues in need.
As awful as it may sound, one of the valuable outcomes from experiencing one disaster is learning better ways to handle the next one. Along those lines, learning how to respond during community emergencies is critical. Being prepared ahead of time means that when urgency is needed, we aren't operating in constant crisis mode.
The Army Corps of Engineers' Silver Jackets partnerships for state and federal agencies is one excellent means of establishing coordination of efforts, identifying potential conflicts and complications in advance of the need to activate response and recovery efforts.
For individuals, emergency training is available individually and as members of a community through FEMA's Citizen Corps. As FEMA notes, "You are the help until help arrives." Consider taking training certified by Red Cross to administer CPR and first aid, both adult and pediatric applications.
Business continuity is another concern. The plan I helped develop for a medium-sized company some years ago included data backups and off-site storage (in pre-cloud days), cooperative agreements with other firms to handle interim work during long-term recovery, alternative power generation for short-term outages, a crisis communication plan for both clients and employees, communication with the insurance company, and establishing a budget line for emergency recovery. (Some may recall having undertaken similar actions in anticipation of massive Y2K computational crashes.)
We also had meetings within the firm to establish team leaders and identified staff who had taken the CPR and first aid training offered to everyone. Numerous guidance documents are posted at FEMA's business continuity planning suite.
Don't forget your family. Make plans for emergency communication, evacuation, what must come with you and what gets left behind. Download FEMA's mobile app, which includes information about open shelters and other disaster resources.
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