How to Avoid Chaos during Disaster Response

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on August 10, 2017 | Print

When a large scale disaster happens, we commonly we see the following…

  • Loss of means of livelihood
  • Communities becoming separated from services previously provided
  • Loss of normal sources of food
  • Lack of shelter and household necessities
  • Lack of fuel for cooking
  • Lack of potable water
  • Communicable diseases and overcrowding
  • Additional burdens for women, especially as heads of households
  • Large numbers of unaccompanied children separated from family
  • Loss of land and tenure

The above problems create chaos in communities, making disaster response difficult. These 7 principles help us avoid chaos during disaster response efforts:

  • Assessment. We should only begin with good assessments of what is needed. We should have continual assessments the whole time we are working with a community/group in disaster response. And we should be constantly tweaking and adapting our responses to the changing needs on ground after a disaster. Assessments should be before an event, during our response to that event, as we close out a response to an event. Simply put, assessments (and constant assessments) are critical to any disaster response.
  • Nondiscrimination. We need to find ways to respond to the whole community and not select only a certain segment to help. In church work, many times our responders only want to help the Christians or just the Baptists. We should make sure that we are looking at total community as much as possible.
  • Equitability. It helps to work with the leadership that is left in the community after the disaster and come up with programs that are equitable and fair to all. We shouldn’t give two bags of rice to the family we like and one bag to the family we don’t like.
  • Noninterference. We shouldn’t come in and bring in a decision making structure from the outside. We should, as much as possible, work with the local culture and decision making bodies as to what type and how much relief will take place. It is even good to get local people involved on identifying the priority people/families for relief.
  • Timing. Based on our skills, gifts, abilities and strategies, we should consider the timing of entering into a disaster relief project. Are we first responders or are there others who are better at this? Are we more of a group that comes in after the emergency phase and stays deep into the recovery and development phase?
  • Sustainability. In the initial days after a disaster, we want to begin asking the question, “what are we doing that is or can be sustainable?” Even early on in the process, we should be thinking how we move from disaster relief to community development. Getting the people affected by the disasters involved in solving their own problems is a good step and should come early on in our disaster response strategies.
  • Personalization. It is easy to get lost in the massiveness of a large response. But we also need to keep the personal aspect of disaster relief in the forefront of our minds and hearts. These are people who have lost a lot in life. But they are people, created in the image of God, just like you and me.

What are some things you have learned from your disaster response experiences? We would love to hear your thoughts.