To aid flood victims, forget goods. Send money

“There is a natural inclination for generous people to send supplies of all sorts,” wrote Howitt, who is senior adviser at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and Leonard, who is the George F. Baker Jr. Professor of Public Sector Management at HKS and Eliot I. Snider and Family Professor of Business Administration at the Business School. They jointly wrote the question-and-answer primer.

But, they added, “We don’t know exactly what displaced people need, and the task of unpacking, sorting, and routing various items that randomly arrive in the disaster area is usually well beyond the constrained capabilities of the aid providers on the scene.”

Harvey’s floodwaters have displaced tens of thousands of people in Texas and Louisiana, and damages from the storm could rival those of Louisiana’s Hurricane Katrina, which reached $108 billion. William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told the Washington Post that Harvey “will be a devastating disaster, probably the worst disaster the state’s seen. The recovery to this event is going to last many years.”

Because the campaign will take so long, Howitt and Leonard recommended that people wait until recovery efforts are underway to volunteer their own time: “There may be a need for volunteers to help with cleanup, repair, and reconstruction of housing, and other tasks, but we need to wait for the rain to stop, an assessment of needs to be made, and some form of organization put in place before volunteers can be most useful.”

VanRooyen recommended that people donate to reputable organizations with a local presence in the stricken area, such as the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, because those outlets can deliver help directly. “Funding local organizations is the most effective thing to do,” he said.

In addition, local organizations are able to put the funds to immediate use, added Theresa Lund, the Humanitarian Initiative’s executive director.

“Financial donations are the most effective way to provide relief for those affected,” said Lund.

VanRooyen said dozens of doctors affiliated with Harvard Medical School are poised to be deployed as part of the Massachusetts Disaster Medical Assistance Team. Members of the initiative’s Signal Team on Human Security Technology will travel to Texas to work with relief providers and study the use of drones in the response effort.

In another question-and-answer session, Richard Serino, former deputy administrator of FEMA and now a distinguished visiting fellow at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and at HKS, praised the early cooperation among the responding government agencies and the public.

“One of the great things that we have seen, along with the federal, state, and the local assistance, is a lot of neighbors helping neighbors, for example, people using their own boats to rescue people,” said Serino in the interview published on the Harvard Chan School’s website.

But, he added, “The response is very much still in life-saving mode. There are still a number of people who are trapped in homes who need to be brought to safety. Anybody that’s in a flooded home, that’s trapped, and they have serious medical conditions, those are the ones that are going to be triaged and prioritized first.”

This story is published courtesy of the Harvard Gazette, Harvard University’s official newspaper.