5 Ways to Help Hurricane Laura Survivors During COVID-19

How to give aid without giving COVID-19 to disaster survivors.

Posted Aug 27, 2020

Photo by John Middlecoop on Subsplash.
Source: Photo by John Middlecoop on Subsplash.

Hurricane Laura struck Louisiana this morning, making landfall five months into the pandemic—just days before Hurricane Katrina’s 15th anniversary. 

Many of us who feel helpless as we watch the damage on our television screens will want to help. And one of the ways we can do that well after Hurricane Laura is to know what not to do when providing disaster assistance, especially in such unprecedented times. 

Helping after a disaster is challenging enough, but helping after a disaster during COVID-19 brings whole new set of challenges. Here’s how to help. 

Practice COVID-19 safety precautions

Recent research has shown that few people prepare for disasters and that many people don’t have the financial means to prepare, even if they wanted to. This means many people will not have the proper supplies needed to weather the storm, especially resources like masks and hand sanitizers. 

We also know from current research that people across the U.S. have struggled to observe social distancing guidelines. Socially distancing is going to be even harder after the disaster for several reasons. For example, people may find it hard to perform recovery tasks while distancing, like removing debris or mucking out homes. Large groups of people are also going to be in need of temporary sheltering, which will also pose a challenge. 

Following COVID-19 safety precautions will no doubt be complicated: but we need to do our best to be mindful about making sure we are responding to Hurricane Laura and COVID-19 when we are helping.

Don’t be a spontaneous unaffiliated volunteer

Because of COVID-19 it will be even more important than ever to volunteer through a trusted organization. Look for organizations capable of not only following disaster response best practices, but also pandemic safety guidelines. 

In my work among survivors, some of the most harmful responses I’ve seen have been from SUV’s: spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers. These helpers show up, uninvited by any organized reputable organization, and actually contribute to the chaos. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, one local leader taught our team, “Volunteers were one of the biggest blessings after Katrina, and volunteers were one of the biggest curses after Katrina.” This is because unaffiliated volunteers can thwart the work of trained responders, divert resources from survivors, and further tax strained local infrastructure. 

In the same way you should check your temperature, stay home if you aren’t feeling well, or have a loved one who recently had or has COVID-19, do the same before volunteering. Also be sure to follow local and state travel guidelines that have emerged because of COVID-19.

Help with humility 

Make sure your helping doesn’t accidentally further compound the one-two punch from COVID-19 and Hurricane Laura that impacted communities are experiencing. 

While the impulse to help is a good one, some can be tempted to get involved for the wrong reasons. When we respond because we want to be heroes, our actions are more likely to harm than to help. Those who have a hero complex are helping for the purpose of meeting their own needs, and not the needs of others. Some who are driven by the adrenaline rush want to “get in on the action.” Others, who might have good intentions, want to be known as do-gooders. And others, who are themselves distraught by the disaster, may engage as a way to soothe their own negative feelings. If any of these sound like you, pause before engaging. The antidote to harmful heroism is humility. 

The humble helper is other-oriented and pays attention to notice what survivors most need, including COVID-19 safety precautions. 

Don’t give unsolicited goods

As noted earlier, people will likely need goods like face masks and hand sanitizer in addition to typical disaster response resources (e.g., water, cleaning supplies). 

Resist the urge to go on a buying spree to collect and mail these sorts of resources to areas impacted communities. Before doing this pause, give the organizations and leaders on the ground responding time to assess what is needed and provide direction on how to best help. Some groups may ask for others to purchase and send, and if that’s the case, I hope you will. 

But if you buy and send before more is known about what is needed, you’ll likely make it more challenging for those better positioned to help. For example, if everyone rushes out to buy COVID-19 related safety supplies, it could tax distribution channels relief organizations rely upon to obtain resources and could make some goods even more scarce. Further, many organizations will prefer to have monetary donations so that they can mobilize resources through their established channels, which will likely be faster and more efficient.  

While it feels good to show up with “stuff” you think people might need, this form of assistance can become more about you than it is about what survivors most need. Don’t assume that you know what survivors need. A helpful rule of thumb is that “aid happens where need meets resources.” 

It’s better to leave room for those who’ve been impacted or are helping on the ground to name what will most help them, especially because of COVID-19. Then, respond accordingly. If your help is going to make a lasting and effective difference, it needs to match up with what the actual needs on the ground are—both right now and in the future. 

Don’t forget to help after the headlines stop

Studies have shown a direct correlation between media coverage and donor giving. What that means is that when news coverage moves on to the next big story, financial giving diminishes. 

Research has demonstrated that the early phase of disaster response is when the most robust giving occurs. But the impact of Hurricane Laura means that the time it takes for communities to recover will last long beyond the headlines. 

Donations will most likely dry up although there’s still more work to be done for survivors to flourish again. Communities impacted not only need your gifts now, but will continue to need your donations throughout the recovery process.