Exploring how a caring community comes together after a disaster

Posted on September 21, 2010 by The Patterson Foundation

In May 2010, we began exploring how a caring community comes together to respond to a disaster. Focused on a four-county region on Florida’s Gulf Coast – Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties  – we sought information and inspiration from a variety of organizations doing relief work internationally.

We met and spoke with more than 60 people, both locally and around the world, including relief agency staff, public officials, volunteers, donors, foundations, staff from non-governmental international relief groups and interested citizens.

We learned how this region came together after the devastation of Hurricane Charley in 2005, an event that left DeSoto and Charlotte Counties in dire need of assistance from their neighboring counties. We have also learned how this region has responded to international disasters, from the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 to the flooding in Pakistan, and most recently, to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. 

Many themes have developed across this exploratory journey. 

Disasters will continue to occur both locally and around the world. The frequency of disasters seems to be increasing. It’s certainly true that we learn more about disasters through mass media. 

At the same time, as we say in Florida, “it only takes one storm.” Preparedness makes an enormous difference in terms of a community’s resilience when a disaster does occur. Japan is probably the best prepared country in the world, and despite the enormous devastation, the government and local relief agencies have been able to respond quickly. 

Locally, agencies and governmental entities have worked hard to increase preparedness and to strengthen communities’ systems of response.  Communities are working together, more than ever before, having learned through the experience of Hurricane Charley that we really must rely on each other. 

The Sarasota County Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) is one of the most effective in the country. The COAD continues to strengthen its preparedness system and is now working through a strategic planning process to take their work to the next level, on behalf of citizens of Sarasota County and the Gulf Coast region. The consistent themes of our relief agencies are:  Communication, Coordination, Cooperation and Collaboration.

The Patterson Foundation will now consider possible next steps in our exploratory journey. How can we encourage and inspire further partnerships and collaborations? How can we help relief organizations and communities build and strengthen the connective tissue that leverages their work? How can we encourage community members to give to relief organizations in a proactive way, so that those organizations can mobilize quickly to respond to the next disaster?

We will share with you our ideas and what we learn about collaborations. We will seek ways to provide information channels to community members to enhance your ability to respond thoughtfully to disasters wherever they may occur. And we will continue learning, because we know that disasters will continue to happen, and we all want to help.%uFEFF

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