Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lessons from Deployment - Locals are important to the mission

In January I was deployed by Shelter Box to respond to massive flooding in Malaysia for three weeks; when I return I always do a lessons learned for my department. They are often not lessons we can utilize in Public Health but still important in the larger Emergency Management community.

Two of those lessons have been bouncing around in my head along with reading Patrick Meier’s book Digital Humanitarians
No matter what, “locals are important to the success of the mission”. 
I volunteer in a situation where after a usually long plane ride I am dropped into someone else’s disaster with a teammate.  And in a very short amount of time we accomplish some amazing things.  It is because we realize as an organization we can’t do anything substantial without local help. So lets bring this closer to home.  
In my recent deployment to Malaysia I had a couple of interpreters I worked with, they were both great; but I realized beyond the language, they knew the people. They would tell me when they thought someone was not being truthful, or needed help but weren’t identified, or taught me about the culture. 
You may live in the affected community, but you probably don’t speak all the languages of the affected population and you don’t understand from their point of view (economic, religious, etc.) how this disaster is affecting them.   

I recently saw a National Guard recruiting poster in the airport that showed 2 Guardsmen comforting a woman and the bubble above one soldiers head said “She lives 5 miles from here”. That was a powerful message to me.  We need to utilize the local spontaneous volunteer where we can, realizing they are going to come.

No matter what I respond to in the future (Even if I speak the language) I will employ a volunteer guide. Someone from the affected community, but not of the affected population.  Someone who can help me find my way to help those in need.

  • Understand your population and make contacts there
  • Don't be afraid to ask that population for help (I know you are there to help them, but you need them to do that)
  • Decide how you will activate, badge, give access to
  • How will you make sure you aren't showing favoritism to that person in the community? It could hurt their standing
  • How do you make sure they aren't taking advantage of you in the situation? It could hurt your standing

Remember the disaster happens to our/their community - connect and do the best you can. Locals are important.

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