Disaster Relief Planning – Is Your Organization Ready to Respond?

October 13, 2019

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, nonprofit humanitarian and relief organizations were primed and ready for swift action, with their disaster relief plans in place.

The scene likely looked something like this….

The conference call starts, the key players are involved, and like a well-coordinated dance, the response routine begins. There are no questions about who is leading, when and where. Everyone’s actions are already outlined, including who manages the various critical communication streams, and what needs to be delivered.

The above describes a fully prepared, well-thought out strategy and an organized team. This is part of what’s predictable in an emergency relief situation.

But what’s not as predictable? No matter how prepared they are, organizations can’t always determine what the outpouring of donations will look like, what the impact will be to other fundraising efforts, and perhaps most important, what the long-term effects and needs will be.

Hurricane Dorian – An Unpredictable Storm

Hurricane Dorian was one of these unpredictable cases. Fundraisers, news stations and weather forecasters alike all had a watchful eye on the storm. At times, it was uncertain where it would hit and what the force of the impact would be.

Dorian brought tremendous destruction. The Bahamas was torn apart in a matter of 24 hours, but almost as quickly, support started to pour in, in huge amounts. Donations came into organizations via digital campaigns, emails, paid media, lightboxes on websites, TV interviews, changes in SEO strategy, and the list goes on.

The collective outpouring of support also helped to boost campaigns that didn’t speak specifically to disaster relief – like in the direct mail channel, for instance. While unrelated direct mail campaigns may have been planned well in advance, when the pieces arrived in home, donors’ intent to give was already heightened and they were ready to provide support.

Along with all the fundraising efforts, many organizations deployed teams of volunteers and doctors to help those most in need in the effected areas.

Some of these efforts included:

International Medical Corps deployed an emergency response team consisting of doctors, nurses, logisticians, mental health and psychosocial support services (MHPSS) specialists, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) specialists. They led an assessment of needs on Grand Bahama island, and provided medical care throughout the island, including establishing a temporary clinic, with clean water and portable toilets, at High Rock, where the local health facility was completely destroyed. They also worked closely with the staff at Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport, and deployed mobile medical teams, who provided service to more remote locations throughout the island.

Project HOPE delivered essential medical supplies in the early days after the hurricane to Abaco’s Marsh Harbour Community Clinic, including gauze, bandages, medications and more. Medical volunteers have been providing health screenings and services to displaced families. Today, they continue to provide health care to survivors, and to coordinate with partners to deliver needed medical supplies.

After the Storm – Post-Impact Considerations

Let’s not forget the after effects of a devastating natural disaster like Hurricane Dorian. Organizations often have to ask themselves how long they should continue to emphasize the need in these areas. Until just recently, organizations were still largely focused on Hurricane Maria, which happened in 2017.

And whether you’re an organization on the front lines, sending in volunteers or doctors to help rebuild towns or to treat victims, understanding the potential revenue effects on your program and budget goals is a necessity. When these emergency gifts are given by a donor, they may decide not to give during the time of year or to a specific charity where they normally may have.

Awareness is Crucial

If you’re not an organization that takes direct action, you might ask yourself, “what does mu disaster plan look like?” While it might not be the same coordinated routine as a relief charity, you’ll want to consider thinking through how to account for donations that would have been raised during a specific time of year when you are dependent on making your goals.

So, regardless of your organizational focus, having a disaster plan in place, makes sense from both a planning perspective and for achieving overall program initiatives.

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