Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Turning Tragedy into Triumph!

Five years after one of the most destructive natural disasters in U.S. history, Hurricane Katrina still looms large in the hearts…and minds…of the Gulf Coast residents. Everyone can certainly remember the gut-wrenching images of New Orleans being submerged under water as people who did not, or could not, evacuate struggle to survive – but the storm’s fury extended far beyond New Orleans. Many of Louisiana’s parishes were hit hard, as was as many beach front towns in Mississippi, and so too was Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Over 1,800 people lost their lives – with 1,577 deaths in Louisiana alone – during the storm and its aftermath, and the estimated total property damage was over $81 billion. In December 2005, summarizing Hurricane Katrina in their Tropical Cycle Report, Richard D. Knabb, Jamie R. Rhome, and Daniel P. Brown said the following:

Hurricane Katrina
“The extent, magnitude, and impacts of the damage caused by Katrina are staggering and are well beyond the scope of this report to fully describe. Thousands of homes and businesses throughout entire neighborhoods in the New Orleans metropolitan area were destroyed by flood. Strong winds also caused damage in the New Orleans area, including downtown where windows in some high rise buildings were blown out and the roof of the Louisiana Superdome was partially peeled away. The storm surge of Katrina struck the Mississippi coastline with such ferocity that entire coastal communities were obliterated, some left with little more than the foundations upon which homes, businesses, government facilities, and other historical buildings once stood.”

As if the storm wasn’t bad enough, Gulf Coast residents – especially in New Orleans parish – anguished because the federal government was slow to respond and state and local governments were completely overwhelmed. The support structure that had existing, including hundreds of community-based nonprofit organizations, was turned upside-down. In other words, there was little to no support structure in place to help the literally thousands of residents who needed to be linked to supports and services. This included pregnant mothers needing prenatal care, wounded Veterans needing therapy, people living with HIV/AIDS needing life-saving medications, and patients with kidney failure needing dialysis, just to name a few.

Despite the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina…notwithstanding the hundreds of lives lost…Americans responded just as they always do during times of tragedy. Sure, millions of dollars were donated to various charities and causes, but the heroic commitment of thousands of people who volunteered their time, energy and manpower was truly inspiring; countless non-cash items were also donated, including durable medical equipment, food and water, clothing, mattresses, medical supplies and the list goes on and on.

One of the biggest obstacles at the time was trying to coordinate everything during the storm’s aftermath – including linking the people who needed assistance to the appropriate resources. The American Red Cross, America's Second Harvest, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Catholic Charities, Service International, Southern Baptist Convention and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were among some of the national organization leading the recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast region…and they did an amazing job!

But what if there was something that could have helped the recovery efforts five years ago by banding together community resources using technology to improve outcomes? That is exactly the concept that has fueled the WE Movement and its national effort “bringing together all of the community resources from across the Nation on one, web-based platform.” WE’s innovative HELP4U – an interactive web-based platform that connects people to valuable life services – is designed to take what worked during Katrina’s recovery efforts, and learn from what didn’t work.

We have joined, will you? Learn more at http://www.wemovement.org/.

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