The Washington Post
Disaster Relief Groups Regroup
When the Pentagon was attacked Sept. 11, 2001, local volunteer groups were a key part of the response, handing out sandwiches to firefighters and counseling victims’ families. And yet, nearly six years later, local nonprofits have made few plans to coordinate for the next disaster. That’s about to change. Dozens of nonprofits met this month to start drawing up a blueprint for working together more effectively in a crisis.
“We need to be more prepared. In the Washington area, we know this more than anybody,” Chuck Bean, the executive director of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, told a crowd gathered under the crystal chandeliers of the downtown Grand Hyatt.
The workshop drew representatives of about 60 nonprofits from the Washington area, as well as a small army of volunteers in blue Tshirts from Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, a consulting and financial advisory firm.
It was Deloitte’s annual “Impact Day,” in which employees around the country devote a day to community service. But this wasn’t a one-shot deal: The firm’s Washington office will continue to work for free over the next two years to help the nonprofits develop their plans. It estimates it will donate $250,000 in services.
“As our volunteering effort evolves, we’re finding that smart [nonprofit] organizations are looking beyond simply getting a check. They’re asking to tap our intellectual capital,” Gary H. Tabach, managing partner of Deloitte’s D.C.area practice, said of the volunteer effort. “And our employees tell us they get more satisfaction from helping organizations solve problems.”
The National Capital Region adopted a homeland security plan in the fall, laying out how local jurisdictions would work together to prepare for disasters, including terrorism and a flu pandemic. But that plan focuses on government institutions. The nonprofits are hoping to have a similar blueprint.
Bean said the effort will identify the focus of each nonprofit — to “make sure we know what Capital Area Food Bank does, what Goodwill does, what Greater DC Cares does,” so that the groups can avoid duplication and to ensure regional coverage in a disaster.
“A lot of nonprofits often work within one jurisdiction; we want to make it easier . . . to work across the river,” Bean said.
The groups also aim to put together a regional plan for different tasks, such as caring for animals during a crisis and handling donations of food or clothing, he said.
As part of the project, Deloitte volunteers also will help the nonprofits draw up a “continuity of operation” plan, to ensure it can continue to function during an emergency.
Faye Hegburg of Family and Child Services of Washington said her organization was so focused on helping others it hadn’t made many plans for its own survival in a crisis.
“What I’m hoping today is to leave with a very strong sense of what my organization . . . needs to be prepared” to continue operating through a disaster, she said. “We can’t just vanish when there is an emergency.”
Bean said that after the 2001 terrorist attacks, about 20 nonprofits got together to work on improving coordination during a disaster.
“The scale of the opportunity that Deloitte is providing is just much, much greater. So we’re going to involve many, many more nonprofits,” he said.
Nonprofit representatives said the workshop filled an important need.
“We have the people in place to help and assist in a disaster. But we don’t have the proper planning in place to take care of any type event that may come through,” said Christopher Leal, director of operations for the Capital Area Food Bank.