Disaster Relief

by Lu Tian

Disasters often occur without a warning, leaving large-scale destruction, death, and mass hysteria at its wake. They destroy homes and livelihoods. For those lucky to survive, struggling to fulfill the basic needs of food and shelter is hard enough. Accommodating immediate disaster relief and long-term reconstruction require immense resources and planning. While the current disaster response system may be sufficient for small-scale disasters, at the present, the federal, state, and local government is unprepared to handle the immediate aftereffects of catastrophic events and provide for long-term community recovery.

Problem with current system:

The current disaster response system is filled with flaws and inadequacies. Two main problems plague the system: slowness in response and lack of coordination

1. Slowness in response:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency oversees the disaster response. However, a time lag exists between the occurrence of disaster and actual response from FEMA. This time lag can take up to several days, as seen in events such as Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Buffalo snowstorm in 2006, Arkansas Tornadoes in 2007. Meanwhile, thousands of victims stranded without proper shelter, cloth, and food. This slowness in response can contribute to the bureaucratic nature of FEMA. From the way it only act after formal disaster declaration to the numerous guidelines and decision-making process that must be fulfilled during disaster relief process, it is easy for relief efforts to be slowed and resources misallocated.

2. Lack of coordination:

FEMA repeated faces problems in allocating the correct amount of resources to the right location at the right time. While this can be part due to communication failure on the state and local level, which could not properly assess the extent of damage and relay that info to FEMA, since many of the emergency communication systems were compromised by the storm. FEMA’s own structural problem made it harder for it to work efficiently during times of need. FEMA has a small staff (around 7,500 employees) and yet they are in charge of handling all the tasks related to distributing relief supplies, coordinating federal agencies, and organize state and local relief efforts. It’s not surprising that FEMA is overwhelmed in large disasters and it’s hard for them to direct everything all at once.

How you can help:

With all its inadequacies, the government often times cannot handle the entire disaster relief process alone. Private sector organizations such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Tzu Chi assist in emergency response process. From providing food, temporary housing, and clothing to planning long-term construction projects and community rebuilding, these organizations play a large role in each step of the disaster relief and recovery process. All these services provided by the organizations are made possible because of the countless passionate volunteers who dedicated their time and effort.

Many opportunities are available on campus to help people in need.  Troy Philippines and Tzu Ching Trojans have ongoing fundraisers to help victims of the recent disaster in Philippines. USC’s Red Cross chapter helps support its global chapter through hosting multiple blood drives and benefit concerts. Medlife and Global Medical Brigade set up trips to help the less fortunate at abroad while Community Health Involvement Project reach out to the community surrounding our campus. There are so many ways to make a difference, but it depends on you grabbing the opportunity. Remember, “there is more happiness in giving than receiving.”

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