Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hurricanes Katrina & Rita - Remembering 5 years later

When Hurricane Katrina hit, most of our Aidmatrix team was working safely from home. The day after Katrina hit, we were online buying airplane tickets to get us as close to Louisiana as possible. Our partners at Adventist Community Services (ACS) were ready to move in with supplies, but they needed temporary facilities in which to stage them. Our partners at Feeding America were trucking in supplies, but all of the local foodbanks in the area were destroyed or under water. So with our COO, Keith Thode, we drove from Dallas to Houston picking up every gas can we could along the way, filling the trunk with gas. We met then volunteer, now VP of Delivery, Michael Ross, along with other volunteers in Houston where we picked up more water and supplies. Equipped with two laptops, a GPS and a wireless card, we headed for New Orleans.

Within a day, we had helped our partners in securing empty warehouse facilities (old retail stores and an empty church). They were splicing wires and hooking up electricity to make the warehouses ready to receive the semi tractor trailers coming in from across the country with supplies for Alexandria and New Iberia, Louisiana, and then they were off to Mississippi to repeat the same. So many good people working around-the-clock to get supplies in, breaking through the red tape, with a virtual team of volunteers and staff around the U.S. helping us load data, deliver training materials and map out the nearest resources via Internet and cell phones.

At each location, we literally helped our partners stand up emergency relief warehouses so the pallets of goods could be received and then quickly broken down into smaller parcels that the local relief workers could transport into the disaster area. We trained volunteers on the spot on how use the warehouse technology, to receive and deliver goods, so the turnaround could be as quick as possible. The flow of relief from these agencies was working. But sadly, we remember, too, that this grassroots response was not enough, and we made a pledge to help fix this.

Today, five years later, we've taken the arduous lessons learned during Katrina & Rita. We are working with local, State & Federal governments to create a network of relief programs that can work across State lines and even country boarders for when disaster threatens the lives of innocent people. We now have a network of thousands of charities, government officials and businesses all connected online. FEMA is now connected to and a leading participant in this network. And when Hurricanes Gustav and Ike threatened the region again during the U.S. presidential election of 2008, both Democrats and Republicans pointed the public to this network as an example of our new collective state of preparedness. We were ready.

What emerged is a movement of charities, business leaders and governments leveraging these tools to enhance and accelerate their response capabilities. We CAN help with what we have in our abundance. We've worked with the relief community to listen to their needs and find ways to help empower them to work with the public and the unsolicited donations that came from people wanting to help. Often it takes just a few small steps to link up the efforts and intentions of so many. We know the Gulf region is much better prepared today because of the work of so many who came to the table and worked together to ensure a disaster of this magnitude never happens again. We thank our partners in the relief community, government and corporate sector for that effort, which has not been easy. We thank the people of the Gulf for their undying spirit to survive and rebuild and to teach us all this great lesson.

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