- Pacing. Hurricanes come during the warm months of
the year and they hit areas that are hot and humid. It takes about a week to
adjust to the humidity, which is simply indescribable if youíve never worked
in it, and about two weeks to work yourself into some kind of physical shape.
If you are coming down for a few days or a week or two, take your time. Take
frequent breaks and drink water relentlessly.
- Be careful of emotional investment. You cannot
and will not save a community, a town, a county, a state or a region in a day.
Or a week. Or a month. The people you are helping were living a way of life
before you arrived and will live largely that same life after you leave, no
matter how foreign that way of life may seem to you. Do what you can for who
you can and then move on.
- Pick a mission. Trying to be all things to all
people generally leads to you helping very few people very little. Pick a
mission and stick to it: tarp installation, roof repair, electrical, plumbing,
trees, soggy drywall and insulation removal, mold remediation, trailer
delivery and installation, etc. Pick a single mission and stick to it. In the
end youíll be much more efficient and will help a lot more people.
- People are people. Regardless of the community,
people are people. A relatively small percentage will make things happen. A
relatively large percentage will follow. A small percentage will resist
everything through a variety of methods ranging from passive aggressive
behavior to outright obstinace. Another small percentage will use any disaster
to advance their particular agenda, be it career, commercial, social or
cultural. Race is a good example in the Katrina example. An even smaller
percentage will prey upon the community and the situation as a pure parasite
through looting, crime and price gouging.
- Help everybody. Many people will seek to control
your efforts to advance their own agendas. Pastors will seek to have you work
only from their list of ďapprovedĒ needy. Cities and governments will seek to
segment you to particular areas. Dispatchers will seek to send you hither and
yon with most of your time spent on the road or in traffic jams. In a true
disaster area you can simply work door to door. Pick a neighborhood and help
everyone, rich or poor, working or unemployed, white or black. It makes life a
lot simpler and youíll end up helping a lot more people.
- Be entirely self sufficient. In a disaster you
cannot be a load upon the local infrastructure. Bring your own shelter, your
own food, your own fuel, your own supplies and your own tools. Keep things
locked up and secure.
- Disasters are equal opportunity. Despite the
efforts of lots of people to spin it otherwise to advance their agendas,
including some people in Turkey Creek I spent a lot of time with, Katrina
wiped out everyone and everyone did without any assistance for at least two
weeks. We talked with and worked with people from all levels of the
socio-economic spectrum. No one, from the richest rich to the poorest poor had
drinking water, food or fuel for weeks. There wasnít any racism in the stormís
impact and there wasnít any racism in the incompetence of the relief agencies,
everyone was abandoned for weeks, across the board. Be aware that people will
try to use you and the disaster to advance their personal, career, social and
political agendas. Stick to your single mission and help everyone.
- Bring professional equipment. This is serious
work and requires serious equipment. Consumer level equipment is a waste of
time and money. Come prepared with proper equipment, training, safety
equipment and clothing. You will only have a certain number of hours of
daylight to help people. Donít waste them on equipment that is not up to the
- Be patient and flexible. If a storm victim wants
or needs to tell you their story, then sit and listen. The people you are
helping have been severely traumatized. Some will have seen neighbors or loved
ones killed. Treat them gently and with respect. The local organizers,
pastors, dispatchers and officials will likewise be traumatized, overworked
and underfed. Most will have been running on adrenaline for days or weeks on
end. Give them lots of slack and stick to your mission. Do your job, donít
make waves and donít try to change or improve their system.
- Be safe. Stop and think before each step of your
job. Donít get in a rush and donít take risks. You canít help anyone if you
are injured. When you get tired you will start to make stupid mistakes. It is
critical that you take frequent breaks and keep yourself thinking clearly.
This type of work can involve very dangerous tools and situations. You must
face each step of each job with a clear head. Take a moment at the start of
each day and the start of each job, especially the last one of each day to
think about doing things safely. Again, you canít help anyone if you are