Tracking a Disaster

In late April, I was sitting in my office, one eye on the Weather Channel and one eye on the emails pouring in to my inbox.  Severe weather was forecasted across the Midwest and South during the next several days, and I was already putting together the pieces for what would become a disaster profile on the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s website. What would the damages be? What non-governmental organizations were preparing to respond? What community organizations, foundations, and volunteer groups were getting ready to assist if the storms caused damages in their communities?
One of the things CDP does for donors, NGOs and community leaders is profile disasters – it’s part of our core mission to inform all the key players so disaster philanthropy can be highly focused and effective. I came on as a CDP staff member in April, and those three days of severe storms across the Midwest and South were my first time tracking a rapid-onset disaster in real time (a total of more than 100 tornadoes touched down during the course of those storm systems!). So what does tracking a disaster look like and what goes on in CDP offices as we monitor an event?
CDP has a set of criteria used to measure whether or not a disaster will be something we profile. Those criteria include the number of fatalities or injuries; the dollar figure for damages; federal disaster declarations; and a few other key factors.  Some other components figure into this decision as well – such as the number of funders requesting information; the level of humanitarian crisis involved (Syria, for example); or how debilitating an event is to the community or region in which it occurs. Once we decide to profile a disaster, CDP staff starts reaching out to donors, responding NGOs, and community or national VOADs (voluntary organizations active in disasters). A big part of the nuts and bolts rests on me. What are the statistics? What are the urgent needs and the best ways responding NGOs think those needs could be met? What actions should donors take? I take all of that information – gleaned from United Nations, FEMA, and USAID reports, along with phone calls and emails from CDP staff members to responding parties, and populate a disaster profile that goes on our website. Once that basic profile is up, I continue to monitor incoming reports and update the profile as needed.
Currently, CDP is tracking the following disasters and humanitarian emergencies:

  • Hurricane Sandy
  • Typhoon Haiyan
  • Wildfires in the Western U.S.
  • Syria
  • Unaccompanied minors crossing the Southern U.S. border
  • Central African Republic
  • South Sudan

Both Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan remain on our list because we stood up our disaster recovery fund for both emergencies and have active grants working to complete projects in these affected areas. It often takes years for an area to recover from a disaster, and one of CDP’s reasons for existence is to continue to highlight those long-term needs long after the media stops paying attention.
Obviously, we at CDP rely heavily on our partners – donors, NGOs, and applicable councils and foundations when we track a disaster.  Is your organization working in one of the disasters listed above and not listed on our website profile? Is there another major emergency that you are working in that should perhaps be considered for a profile? If so, what is it and why should it make the list? I’d love to hear from you.