Ten Years Better

As humanitarian practitioners and philanthropists, we know that disasters are increasing in scale and intensity – but despite dire predictions, I have hope.
In the past 10 years, our response to disasters has changed in several remarkable ways. We have changed practice, in a way that better addresses disaster-affected communities and disaster-affected individuals.
Increasingly, private and public foundations have plans to respond effectively to disasters that incorporate the full lifecycle of a catastrophe. The United States government responded to well-earned criticism by revising elements of the Stafford Act and making changes to pet management guidelines. Lastly the whole domestic disaster management system has developed and implemented new ways of addressing mental health, disaster case management, shelter, protocols for in-kind donations, and countless other topic areas.
Are things perfect? Absolutely not! Families and whole communities often do not have commensurate resources to rebuild homes, social services infrastructure, or mitigate against future shocks. But we are all getting better!
The disasters that occurred in late 2005, Hurricane Katrina and a massive earthquake in Pakistan, catapulted our collective thinking about how the NGO, governmental, and philanthropic sectors prepare for and respond to disasters. The devastation experienced by the Gulf Coast brought forth a new disaster management movement. We do not rebuild the way things were after a disaster; we build them better.
Below are five initiatives that represent governmental, NGO, and private and public philanthropic efforts to do better by disaster-affected communities.
The kernel of the vision for the Center for Disaster Philanthropy came directly from Hurricane Katrina and the South Asian Tsunami – with the belief that funders are incredibly well meaning, incredibly well resourced, and yet not always able to find the information needed to make credible funding decisions following a disaster. CDP was born to serve as the 365 day a year resource for the philanthropic community – providing expert guidance on how to prepare for, and effectively respond to disasters.
The Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities (TFN)
TFN leads the Philanthropic Preparedness, Resiliency, and Emergency Partnership (PPREP). The partnership was created to provide resources for community foundations to build their skills and leadership capacity in order to be better informed and prepared should a natural disaster strike their community. The program is building community foundation leadership and capacity that will help their institution and community be better prepared for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters.
National Academies of Science, Disasters Roundtable
The Disasters Roundtable facilitates and enhances the exchange of ideas among scientists, practitioners, and policy makers concerned with urgent and important issues related to natural, technological, and other disasters. At the roundtable workshops, experts in the hazard and disaster field offer insight through presentations and discussion.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
HUD, with capacity building support from the Rockefeller Foundation, is well into its second phase of the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC). HUD is providing just shy of one billion dollars to support communities to help them become more resilient. In this second phase, forty jurisdictions are working on detailed plans that “help communities recover from prior disasters and improve their ability to withstand and recover more quickly from future disasters, hazards, and shocks.
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (National VOAD)
National VOAD is a membership-based organization that builds resiliency in communities nationwide. It serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle — preparation, response, recovery and mitigation — to help disaster survivors and their communities. To fulfill this mission, National VOAD fosters more effective service to people affected by disaster through convening mechanisms, outreach, advocacy, and as a champion and facilitator for the application of our values and core principles
I remember where I was and what I was doing the week that Hurricane Katrina (and subsequent storms Rita and Wilma) made landfall – like many major events in world history, the 2005 storm season was one that is deeply ingrained in our memories. Rather than mark the Hurricane Katrina anniversary with regret, I hope that the philanthropic community will celebrate its generosity following the storm as well as the changes that have been put in place to truly help communities “build back better.”

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