Recent images of hurricane Irma and Harvey’s devastating impacts remind all of us living along the Gulf just how powerful tropical cyclones can be. There’s a Gulf of Mexico kinship we all feel. Even more today since Irma has put our Florida homes and cities in the news just like Harvey did a few days ago in Texas.
Ivan, Dennis, Katrina, and Ike are names that conjure personal memories of past storms that I’ve lived through and helped others recover from. Every storm’s impact and response is different but the main question is always the same, “What can I do to help?”
Help is the keyword. Showing up in a disaster area without a plan, without training, or without the support of a recognized and welcomed organization is potentially risky. Rogue, unaffiliated volunteers put themselves and others at risk by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just showing up is not help but compounds emergency recovery efforts.
Donating money is the best method to quickly provide resources where they are needed the most. Donating the wrong items can burden damaged communities and waste efforts. A better place to start to help is Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster or VOAD for short, http://NVOAD.org . VOAD includes well known response organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army, and other non-profit or faith-based organizations which specialize in community disaster recovery. You can visit their webpage to donate to specific recovery efforts and to learn about volunteer opportunities. VOAD organizations support volunteers with training, coordination with emergency managers, and often provide volunteers with some types of work insurance coverage. Similar opportunities and information can also be found with Volunteer Florida at https://www.volunteerflorida.org/irma
The severe impacts from Irma and Harvey will extend recovery for several years, so there will be ample opportunity for individuals to help immediately and into the foreseeable future. Harvey’s flooding reminds me of Katrina. I volunteered months after the storm with a faith-based organization to help rebuild a church in St. Bernard Parish. This church became a focal point to help distribute clothing, food and other resources as local families recovered. Another time we assisted flood victims on the Wakulla River, volunteering with the Salvation Army. This organization provided us with training and support as we helped with mud-outs, removing sediment flooded homes. Look for similar opportunities in responding to Harvey and Irma. These are just two examples of many ways you can help make a difference.
Now is the perfect time to contact one of the VOAD organizations or with Volunteer Florida if you are interested in volunteering. Floodwaters will soon crest, safe access will be restored, and assessments will be completed. As a result, restoration efforts will be prioritized, timed, and coordinated to meet local needs. Quality trained volunteers are needed to help life return to normal. You can be the answer to prayers all across the Gulf.
Florida Sea Grant Regional Specialized Agent (Artificial Reefs and Fisheries)
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