The Center for Social Justice and the Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network hosted a panel discussion about Hurricane Sandy relief efforts and past responses to disasters in the Philodemic Room Wednesday evening.
The panel included Katie Oldaker, director of Disaster Response Operations for Catholic Charities, Regine Webster, vice president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Luca Dall’Oglio, chief of the Mission for the International Organization for Migration. Susan Martin, Herzberg Professor of International Migration in the School of Foreign Service, moderated the panel.
Oldaker explained the role of her organization in the current Sandy relief effort.
“In Sandy itself, we had 12 dioceses affected,” Oldaker said. “We’ve [sent] about 20 truckloads of supplies from national partners, [and] we’ve deployed four separate teams.”
According to Oldaker, the relief response to Hurricane Katrina provided lessons for future disasters.
“For us, Katrina showed that you can’t just have a plan that’s sitting on a shelf somewhere that you haven’t really been trained on. You have to have a training system that’s actually exercised,” Oldaker said. “You have to have staff that continually understands what to do in a disaster phase, such as your phone tree. Where are your staff members when a disaster hits? How do you find everybody and how do you make sure they’re safe? Especially if it’s a local emergency or disaster, your staff is also affected.”
The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has served as an information hub between donors and aid recipients.
“Donors may have an interest in responding to disasters, but because of their staff capacities or resource capacities, they may not have the ability to have a full-time disaster personnel and staff,” Webster said. “So we are positioning ourselves to be that support network for those organizations so that they can call us, email us, look on our website, and work closely with us to understand what the short-, medium- and long-term needs following a disaster may be.”
Webster stressed the importance of media coverage during and after disasters.
“What we know is that day four following a disaster is the peak media day, and day four following the disaster is the day when the most dollars are distributed to disaster [relief],” Webster said. “I think media plays a role [as] one of the challenges [we face]. Even in The New York Times, Sandy was off the front page after two weeks.”
Dall’Oglio brought attention to the problems that Hurricane Sandy caused to Haiti, a country still recovering from a 2010 earthquake in addition to Hurricanes Tomas and Isaac.
“The impact that an event like Sandy can have on a massive scale is devastating,” Dall’Oglio said. “The agriculture production has been affected by about 50 percent. That leaves about 45 percent of the population of Haiti at serious risk of malnutrition. Farmers have lost their produce; food will need to be imported. So this is a real present danger for Haiti for the next harvest is June of next year.”
Kayla Corcoran (COL ’15), who is leading the Alternative Spring Break program to New Orleans in March, noted the importance of disaster relief awareness and the long process that recovery requires.
“I think that these kinds of conversations about disaster preparedness are really important because we’re constantly facing this issue where two weeks [after a disaster], people are forgetting about it,” Corcoran said.