Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lessons from Deployment - People want to help

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

1. Local’s are important to the mission

2. People want to help, they just need direction

No matter what you plan for “People want to help”

 The local government was overwhelmed so this is not meant to be critical of them; this is a cautionary lesson we can learn from.
I saw a terrible amount of waste and un-controlled giving in Malaysia. We utilized a government center in the affected area to store our tents and moved them in and out daily as we worked through the affected communities.  In that center were piles (not stacks) of liter water bottles, rice, soap and many other things. And after two weeks those piles were still there; maybe they had a plan for distribution, but I didn’t see one.

The other area was in the village of Manik Urai  
one of the most heavily affected community's. While we were moving through the community putting up tents with the help of our local volunteer force, there was a stream of cars going through the village (mostly on the one or two main streets) handing out *stuff.  Many of them were truly wanting to help, many were just disaster tourist there to drop off a few things and look around and get a selfie.  While it is great to see the people (many who drove as far as nine hours) helping, it was unbalanced and disruptive to the organized aid. 
 I watched people hand out items to those on the main streets, often the people would put the item in their tent or ruin of their home and get more; sadly for the people not on their front yard or on a side street they were missed.

So what can we do to fix this before it happens?

Well first have a plan, think about what might be needed if disaster X strikes. Part of that plan is to tell well wishers from the outside (or the affected) communities, what you need and where to bring it.  Don’t allow people to drive through a damaged area and look or drop things off.  Set up a drop off point and then have a volunteer force trained (in the moment) go in in marked vehicle and distribute things as quickly as possible; for the affected time is precious. 


  • Written list of what you might need for disaster type X
  • List of where you will post need-Facebook, Bulletin boards (virtual and real) (and who/how it will happen)
  • Brief write up of a team make up:

o   Type person

o   Job skills & duties

o   Requirements (drivers license, calm personality, focus)
    • Shifts they would work

  • A volunteer team trained in advance how to implement this plan! They could be from one of your already registered group.

Is it hard to work in the future? Yes, but its harder to fix things after - insert here (flood, fires, earthquakes, Hurricanes, Tornadoes)

But don’t do Nothing…

 * Stuff - water, food, clothes, Koran's, Women's hygiene, CASH, books for kids.

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