Disaster: Boots on the Ground vs. Sending Boots

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    In this article the author discusses different ways to help victims of disasters.

    Disaster: Boots on the Ground vs. Sending Boots

    Disaster: Boots on the Ground vs. Sending Boots


    When we see a disaster of the magnitude of Harvey, we all want to help. Especially if we are nurses. After all, that is what we do! But what can we really do? Should we drop everything here and go, or do we simply send money and supplies? What is the best response?


    Yesterday, I talked with a friend whose husband is an inpatient at a tertiary care center in the Houston area. He is still receiving the needed care, but she told me that after 5 days of the hospital being essentially isolated, supplies were beginning to run low and staff was thin. “Everyone is doing the very best they can, but it is certainly not normal here.” Facing lower supplies of food, the hospital is focusing on the patients first, feeding them whatever they need to get better and feeding patient’s families and the staff less. “It is more like a mass feeding situation,” my friend said. “It is what we would expect and it is what is needed right now. But everyone is praying that the rain will stop and the sun will come back to dry all this out.”


    After our conversation, I felt both reassured and challenged. “I want to do something,” I kept thinking. But what? My questions led me to stop and examine motivation and means.


    In their book, Helping Without Hurting, Corbett and Fikkert talk about not duplicating services and working in the area with whatever is already in place, instead of “re-inventing the wheel,” as the saying goes. Sometimes our motivations are good: relieve suffering, help fix things, be present to others, but our underestimation of the challenges can make us more of an impediment than a blessing to those that are already hurting.


    We ask ourselves the pertinent questions: Am I focusing more on me and what I feel I can contribute or more on the people in the area and what their needs are? Sometimes the answer to this question can inform our actions in a meaningful way. It can help us decide how and when to proceed to active, boots on the ground participation—or not.


    By connecting for organizations that already have an effective structure in place to absorb and maximize the use of volunteers, we can be more confident that our desires to help translate into actual benefits to the victims.


    The second area we examine is our means. Besides connecting to an existing organization, are we in excellent health of mind, body and spirit? Are we trained to help in disaster areas? Do we have the necessary means of support, including a place to live and basic necessities? By rushing into an area where infrastructure has taken a massive hit, we weave into the fabric of the area and automatically become another person who requires support—especially if we become ill or have an accident. In our vision of helping the best we can, we must take a step back and look at what we can do given our abilities and the limitations of the location. The last thing we want to be is a burden.


    So given these consideration, do we go or send boots? Often, the initial response that is most appreciated is money. Sadly, clothing and actual boots make for distribution nightmares. While flood buckets (see description: Cleaning Kit - UMCOR) are helpful during the immediate aftermath of the storm, long term reconstruction from a massive disaster such as Katrina or Harvey, truly takes years. While writing checks and giving to the American Red Cross or other charities is not very exciting, a sacrificial, thoughtful monetary gift can be a real blessing to people who are rebuilding their lives. If you have family or friends who were personally affected, making a commitment to send a check once a month for a year can do wonders to boost moral and let them know that you haven’t forgotten after the first month or so.


    It is worth considering ways that we can extract some of the most affected from the area to support them away from the disaster zone while the area recovers its infrastructure. You may be part of a church or synagogue or mosque that will be willing to open its doors to those in need for a longer period of time. While that type of commitment is time consuming and physically draining, it can pay off big dividends to all. Our particular community absorbed several people who ended up leaving the New Orleans area after Katrina. Some of them became close family friends and integral parts of our local economy and fellowship.


    The key to a successful response to any disaster, be it Harvey, Haiti or something at home, may be personal involvement—finding successful ways to get boots on the ground, serving and connecting one-on-one with the victims. But another way to really make a difference is to carefully examine organizations that are already there and support them financially. There will be lots of unemployed in that area, needing jobs. Making meaningful work possible by sending support can be a win-win for all.


    Boots on the ground there? Maybe. But only after careful planning and consideration. Boots on the ground where you are? For sure. Commit. Give. Connect. Remember.
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    About jeastridge

    Joy is a long time nurse that loves the profession. She currently works as a Faith Community Nurse.

    Joined Jan '15; Posts: 242; Likes: 824.

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    5 Comments

  3. by   traumaRUs
    Great very grounded article
  4. by   JustBeachyNurse
    Excellent advicd. Many don't realize the logistical nightmare of even sorting truckloads of well meaning supplies and items never mind they forget that a needs assessment should be done and then manpower required to distribute. Even gift cards (easy to ship, store and distribute) are a better choice for those uneasy sending cash plus it permits those affected to put funds back into the local/regional economy thereby facilitating rebuilding on a larger scale. But make certain what gift cards are useful. A $500 Wawa gift card when there are no Wawa convenience stores in Texas or Louisuana. But an H-E-B, Lowes, Walmart or Home Depot would have many uses. PLUS now the victim is empowered to choose what they want & need so the 6 year old boy now living in a shelter can get his desired D.C. Flash pajamas and underwear rather than "settle" for the donated Marvel Avengers pj's two sizes too big

    Many local teachers adopted a classroom from the affected area via teacher union connections. Once the students return to school the TX teacher will alert the adopting teacher what they could use whether Staples & Walmart gift cards so the students can choose what they want, the class sharing an Amazon wish list of supplies and in turn the adopting class (many previously affected by Sandy or Katrina or other similar) can send cards and notes of encouragement to the students. In fact I know a class affected by Sandy that was adopted by a TX class when they were in second grade that has turned around and adopted the same class who helped them as sixth graders to return the favor.


    Nothing says nursing floors/units can't do the same for this disaster, then they can personalize their efforts to assist. While my company doesn't have offices to service the southwest they are matching employee donations to a voluntary disaster relief organization as well as in contact with a major competitor who was directly affected both corporate and field employees to send directed assistance once they are able to certify need.
  5. by   jeastridge
    Quote from JustBeachyNurse
    Excellent advicd. Many don't realize the logistical nightmare of even sorting truckloads of well meaning supplies and items never mind they forget that a needs assessment should be done and then manpower required to distribute. Even gift cards (easy to ship, store and distribute) are a better choice for those uneasy sending cash plus it permits those affected to put funds back into the local/regional economy thereby facilitating rebuilding on a larger scale. But make certain what gift cards are useful. A $500 Wawa gift card when there are no Wawa convenience stores in Texas or Louisuana. But an H-E-B, Lowes, Walmart or Home Depot would have many uses. PLUS now the victim is empowered to choose what they want & need so the 6 year old boy now living in a shelter can get his desired D.C. Flash pajamas and underwear rather than "settle" for the donated Marvel Avengers pj's two sizes too big

    Many local teachers adopted a classroom from the affected area via teacher union connections. Once the students return to school the TX teacher will alert the adopting teacher what they could use whether Staples & Walmart gift cards so the students can choose what they want, the class sharing an Amazon wish list of supplies and in turn the adopting class (many previously affected by Sandy or Katrina or other similar) can send cards and notes of encouragement to the students. In fact I know a class affected by Sandy that was adopted by a TX class when they were in second grade that has turned around and adopted the same class who helped them as sixth graders to return the favor.


    Nothing says nursing floors/units can't do the same for this disaster, then they can personalize their efforts to assist. While my company doesn't have offices to service the southwest they are matching employee donations to a voluntary disaster relief organization as well as in contact with a major competitor who was directly affected both corporate and field employees to send directed assistance once they are able to certify need.
    Thank you for sharing this thoughtful comment. We all want to help and will do so in different ways. What is important is that we take a few moments to step back, assess what is our best avenue to assist and the move forward. Thank you also for the reminder of the long term nature of this commitment to help. It will be a long while before a new normal comes to Houston.
  6. by   NunNurseCat
    I very much appreciate this article, it really seems to get it. I volunteer as a disaster relief nurse and have been able to see just how much is involved in disaster responses. The word "disaster" says it all...things are far from ideal, peoples hands are full, and everyone "wears many hats". A lot of flexibility is needed; patience and understanding go a long way.

    Money really is the best thing some of us can offer right now, as it allows organizations to remain flexible. Although as nurses you are in a unique position and will find our services are in particular need during a disaster. A lot of sick people wind up in shelters, chronic conditions exacerbate as meds run out or were destroyed...illness goes around quickly in a shelter with hundreds of people. It is the health workers who handle that.

    Have been wanting to go to Texas since I am between paid gigs right now and have time, however we are dealing with a threat from another hurricane that may strike. By the way, please volunteer your time before a disaster (blue skies) too if you can...for example with Red Cross we do a lot of good during blue sky campaigns like I will rotate duty to help local families who lost meds and equipment during a fire or flood. We also do a lot of local preparation and training.

    Give the time you can give, the organzations understand if a disaster strikes at home you'll probably have your own workplace disaster stuff to deal with. They are thankful for what you can give.

    Disaster relief comes to the forefront during a disaster, but the truth is it was there all along.
  7. by   bluebonnetrn

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