We’re three months into the 2019 hurricane season. And, like us at New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, you likely have a plan.
Evacuation spot? Check. Insurance? Check.
But preparing for the worst can also mean preparing for the best in human nature. Volunteers, armies of them, will come. We saw it in New Orleans after Katrina and in Houston after Harvey. They will arrive ready and willing to help before the water even fully recedes.
These volunteers bring more than just free physical labor and spiritual support. They are also a key part of our economic recovery, shopping in our stores and eating in our restaurants until regular customers can return.
Yet volunteer management is not part of the conversation surrounding hurricane prep and recovery. That’s a mistake.
Following Hurricane Katrina, more than 200,000 volunteers arrived in New Orleans to assist Habitat. Yet there was no municipal plan in place to accommodate them, or any of the many others. The result? A significant strain on all systems.
Back then, New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity worked closely with FEMA and faith organizations to house and feed volunteers. Ultimately, they slept in tents on neutral grounds, church parish halls, a St. Bernard Parish military camp and school auditoriums. At Habitat’s Camp Hope, we learned that providing “three hot (meals) and a cot” was vital to the city’s recovery.
Yet, 14 years later, planning for volunteers is still not part of the overall Hurricane Planning and Recovery conversation.
Step One? Establish a Volunteer Coordination Office to introduce volunteers at a reasonable pace, on a clear schedule and to clear locations. Serving as the contact point for local and national volunteer organizations, a VCO would connect volunteers with local resources and needs.
Most importantly, the Volunteer Coordination Office would develop volunteer housing infrastructure in advance of the next storm. Public parks, golf courses and buildings can be outfitted with underground and capped water lines, sewer lines and electrical lines ready to be activated when needed. Absent grid power, generators can suffice.
Because volunteers, like hurricanes, will come regardless if we are ready for them or not.
They will gut our houses. They will lift our spirits. They will patronize our open businesses.
Let’s be ready.
New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity