Photo: Debra Jacobs, Connor Lagrange, Patty McIlreavy, Kellie Alexander, Michael Corley

Approaching Disasters and Recovery: Views from Thought Leader, Patricia McIlreavy

Posted on September 12, 2022 by Kellie Alexander, TPF Fellow 2022/24
Spending the entirety of my young life in Indiana with tornadoes, blizzards, and ice storms, I am well acquainted with the idea of being snowed in or bracing for a disaster. After moving to North Carolina, hurricane season trained my husband and me to prepare for extreme flooding, high winds, and lasting power outages. These natural disasters come and go everywhere, so what approach can be taken to better prepare and recover from the inevitable?

In the middle of hurricane season, The Patterson Foundation (TPF) welcomed Patty McIlreavy, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), to the gulf coast of Florida for a conversation on "How Leaders Might Address Disasters: From Mother Nature to Pandemics to War."

Being a TPF Fellow, I had the opportunity to meet with McIlreavy early in the morning before the wider community lunch. We dove into policy, approaches to recovery, and philanthropy's role in disasters. Throughout the day, I let my thoughts swirl. During the gathering, McIlreavy painted an intriguing picture for everyone in the room.

Disasters are not hurricanes, floods, or whatever Mother Nature throws at us. Those are inevitable hazards. Disasters strike when a hazard meets vulnerabilities such as homelessness, poverty, and inequity. Humanity creates and allows for the continuation of vulnerabilities. Instead of addressing the root causes, we oversimplify by blaming the people who live in vulnerable areas and the hazard that brought destruction.

The first step is taking a different approach that puts humanity at the center. McIlreavy shared that each organization acts as a specific tool – an expert at what they do. For instance, if your organization is a hammer, a foundation with a particular purpose, then you are looking for a nail, program/opportunity. There are also screwdrivers, drills, tape measures, and other gadgets, but when each tool comes together, like in a toolbox, we have an intersection of skills and expertise to strengthen the work.

Approaching root causes and disaster recovery is no different. CDP believes that everyone is a disaster philanthropist because regardless of the focus area, vulnerabilities can be impacted and society strengthened. I see this in philanthropy when organizations work together towards shared aspirations for a better future.

Philanthropy can convene people, create spaces for conversations, and host pilot programs. McIlreavy urged foundation and community leaders to do the work now in their community as disaster recovery isn't a timeline but a mindset and approach. A recovery mindset begins with humanity at the center of the response because when disasters do happen, inequalities become deeper. By working to create relationships in communities now, the most vulnerable will be better prepared to withstand the next disaster.

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