National Preparedness Month: 4 Pathways to Community Empowerment

This is the first in a five-part blog series around National Preparedness Month.

In the U.S., National Preparedness Month lasts through September. This time comes just after wildfires have ravaged parts of Hawaii and Spain, intense heat blanketed Greece and Italy, and a rare tropical storm has struck California. We are entering what is typically the most active part of the Atlantic hurricane season, which means disaster and how we respond to it is top of mind for many. That’s what prompted us to speak with two renowned disaster preparedness and response experts to get their best advice: Chris Cameron executive director of HandsOn New Orleans, a Points of Light Global Network affiliate, and Meghan Foley, a disaster preparedness and response expert with more than a decade of hands-on experience. They shared their perspective on their work, which has resulted in a five-part blog series, our answer to National Preparedness Month, and begins with this open letter from them both.

There are things each of us can do to foster community empowerment that will mitigate the effects of disaster on the people and places we know and love. These actions are critical to building resilient communities. To nonprofit/NGO crisis leadership teams, corporate citizenship team and anyone who recognizes the urgency we face around climate change, the disasters it can spawn, and the urgency of cultivating our response to those disasters, this series is for you.

Prepare Now: Download the Disaster Planning Guide

Building Sustainable Communities: A Guide to Disaster and the Civic Circle is a resource that offers insights and strategies to empower you to take action before, during and after a disaster. You’ll also learn how to be an advocate for those affected by disasters. Download the guide today made possible in partnership with The Allstate Foundation, and created by Points of Light.

Weather is an issue that affects communities around the world and throughout the year. According to a 2021 study of global climate-related mortality, temperature shifts alone can have significant impacts on communities, causing more than five million deaths each year globally from excessively hot or cold conditions. And these extremes inevitably exacerbate natural and human-made disasters, both in severity and frequency. As disasters happen around the world, more people are scrambling to deal with the far-reaching consequences. It is not a matter of if but when these aspects of climate change affect all the communities where we live and work.

Considerations for National Preparedness Month

Take Care of Yourself and Your Family

Advance planning is the key to staying safe during a disaster. There are plenty of things you can do now to prepare for an emergency:

  1. Make a plan for how you will receive emergency alerts and warnings.
  2. Figure out in advance how you would get to your nearest safe shelter and how you would communicate with loved ones if cell towers are down, for example, by purchasing a long-distance calling card.
  3. Build an emergency kit that goes beyond nonperishable food and water to include prescription medications, important documents, batteries and local maps. This kit should sustain your household for seven days.
  4. Don’t forget to safeguard your important documents. You may consider using a fireproof and waterproof box or safe.
  5. If possible, save funds for an emergency. Ask yourself: how much money can I save each month? For many, saving a little at a time works best.

Take Care of Staff and Volunteers

Whether activating from an NGO, nonprofit or corporate perspective, prior to responding to a local disaster, work cross-functionally to create a staffing plan for those working throughout a disaster. Consider operations, HR, social impact, and other organizational functions, depending on your business model. Businesses should talk to NGO partners to understand their strengths in times of disaster and understand how, when and if a giving campaign will come into play. No matter what, start meeting with your team as soon as disaster is on the radar.

Outline shifts that account for both working hours and days off. Building rotation into your schedule in advance staves off burn out by allowing responders to mentally prepare for and maintain their work/life balance, knowing when they will be off duty.

Choose appropriate and safe volunteer opportunities that allow your organization to respond to a disaster in real time while keeping staff and volunteers safe. Train staff in standard policies and procedures to ensure volunteers are following safety protocols. Most importantly, teach staff how to make an informed decision in the absence of all information. This singular effort will empower them to be nimble and flexible in responding to community needs.

Before a disaster, plan what types of volunteer response activities your organization can support such as staffing heat relief or warming shelters. For organizations planning outdoor volunteer activities, consider policies that will keep participants safe. Annually review your volunteer safety policies and protocols. Create transparency with all stakeholders around when an event will be postponed, canceled, or moved to a different venue. When working in the field, orient volunteers on your natural and human-made disaster protocols.

Amplify Messaging from Local Experts and Officials

Often, word of mouth travels quickly in the disaster aftermath, which means it’s essential to review and update standard operating procedures and have a communication plan ready ahead of time. To combat misinformation, use your organization’s voice to support messaging from emergency management officials and reputable sources. Share safety tips on your organization’s social media channels. Promote messaging from trusted and experienced organizations around immediate food, shelter and safety community resources, and be sure to use familiar and simple terms everyone can understand.

Educate your followers on what they can do to be helpful, for example, by donating to a local nonprofit or NGO. While it may seem blunt to say, the truth is, what is most helpful to these organizations is money. Donating dollars means responders can get what they need in the right quantities, and if infrastructure isn’t wiped out, they can source from local businesses to help boost the economy.

Also, while it’s understandable that people want to jump in right away to help, communicate with your audience that patience is essential. It’s critically important to the safety and wellbeing of all to allow trained officials to deploy and restore operations in the impacted area.

Above all, organizations should communicate with compassion, concern and empathy while recognizing that people who are impacted by a disaster are likely experiencing stress, loss and suffering.

Expand Your Impact

Consider how to use the nine elements of the Points of Light Civic Circle®. Provide opportunities to listen and learn about climate change. Match community members with organizations doing advocacy work on how to cool down our planet or encourage people to use their Purchase Power to support ecofriendly and sustainable businesses. Combine Civic Circle elements to strengthen your impact.
Social impact leaders, this time is an opportunity to connect the everyday work you do to systemic issues. When it comes down to it, preparation and forethought are the best tools we have in addressing real and sustained change. So, even if you don’t have experience in disaster response, you can use your skills in tackling big, challenging problems. Our strongest assets are our grit, determination and collective knowledge, which means we can stay cool, no matter the temperature.

— Chris Cameron & Meghan Foley

Our next post in this series answers the question: what is the disaster cycle? You’ll learn the four stages of the cycle and what you can do during each phase to support your community.

Chris Cameron & Megan Foley