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Hurricane Harvey donations
September 06, 2017 : Disaster Response: When good deeds go wrong


Disaster Response: When good deeds go wrong


It’s been a little over one week since Hurricane Harvey struck the coast of Texas and caused massive devastation throughout portions of the state and Louisiana. Areas in Houston and Beaumont saw more than 50 inches of rain fall before the storm pushed East and caused more damage in Western Louisiana. During this disaster, many people lost their lives, tens of thousands of people have been displaced, lost their homes and belongings, and are beginning the very long road to recovery as the waters rescind.


Dr. Brenda Phillips, Associate Dean of OUC and a prominent scholar in emergency management and disaster preparedness, shared some insight into how people can contribute to recovery efforts effectively and appropriately.


Phillips emphasized two different ways people can get involved – through making responsible donations and through an organized volunteer effort.


Because of the unique challenges that come with donations, Phillips noted that an unintentional result of people sending donations during a disaster can create its own challenges in the process.


“Right now, in Houston and Beaumont and other communities, they are overwhelmed with donations,” she explained. “People tend to focus on that response time period, like cleanup supplies and immediate need things, which is when they will get the most stuff but will need it for the long term. What people need is money that can be secured through donations or through fundraising, so that people can buy things that they need for the long term.”


She discussed the importance of understanding the disaster recovery timeline in order to further understand why monetary donations or volunteering are necessary and extremely helpful.


Recovery from Hurricane Katrina, which took place in 2005, was still taking place more than 10 years after the storm hit New Orleans and Mississippi. This disaster recovery will take years of tireless effort from the community, volunteer organizations and willing participants in helping to rebuild these cities and towns.


Things that don’t come in the giant wave of initial donations - such as sheetrock, hearing aids, glasses, or work uniform items - are not common things one would find in a donation pile at a shelter. Some of these needs are extremely costly when having to replace, such as hearing aids, which are thousands of dollars.


Phillips underscored that these types of unique needs that people may have can truly be met with monetary donations.


“So really think about the long term when we can help. It’s not easy to donate a stove, but you can be a part of an effort to raise money for a stove and a refrigerator for someone so they can get their house back together again,” Phillips noted.


When it comes to volunteering, it’s important to be involved in an organized volunteer effort. We say organized because most help isn’t required when the initial response is taking place, but for months, and sometimes years, after the water recedes.


“You need to go with an organized team that’s connected to an experienced disaster organization, like almost every single faith tradition that you can affiliate with, who specialize in disaster recovery and rebuilding,” she said.


From there, people can volunteer to be a part of a team who will deliver the most help to those in need through the work with local long-term recovery committees (LTRC) or volunteer organizations assisting in disasters (VOAD). These groups of people have first-hand knowledge of what each individual community needs most.


A significant portion of those affected by Hurricane Harvey didn’t have flood insurance, which limits the ability to rebuild down the road. Most federal agencies who offer grants, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, only provide around $33,000, based on income eligibility, to those in need. That leaves a large funding gap for those trying to rebuild their lives, Phillips explained.


“It’s really impressive what happens when this organized effort can come together,” she said. “So, try to fit into that and think about volunteering in 3, 6, or even 9 months, because that’s when the help will really be needed.”


If people are still looking for ways to give back, but don’t necessarily possess the skills in home improvement, Phillips mentioned finding your passion and looking for ways to give back through it. For example, if you love working with animals, donate to an animal shelter in Texas or Louisiana or volunteer to collect donations for the shelter.


“There’s a lot of different ways that people can plug into [the recovery effort] and get involved,” Phillips said.


With the thought of another Hurricane wreaking havoc on the East coast as early as next week, Phillips stated that individuals can begin preparing now by visiting the website and understanding their role in emergency preparedness. Additionally, people can get advanced training in emergency management from FEMA’s website for free, which can help in a time of need for the person or their community.


For more information about how to give back, visit the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters at Also, you can visit for emergency preparedness tips.


Dr. Phillips earned her Ph.D. in Sociology and has authored and co-authored numerous books including “Disaster Recovery” and “Introduction to Emergency Management” and she has published research, funded by the National Science Foundation, in a variety of journals. Dr. Phillips earned the Blanchard Award for excellence in emergency management education and the Myers Award for work on the effects of disasters on women and she is an inductee in the International Women’s Hall of Fame for Emergency Management. In Chillicothe, Dr. Phillips volunteers for the Local Emergency Planning Committee and a multi-county Health Care Coalition addressing issues of social vulnerability.