After Hurricane Katrina, many organizations received help from their counterparts outside of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. But the influence extended both ways, said Susan Scrimshaw, president of the Sage Colleges, who moderated the fourth panel at the workshop. The experiences of organizations in and around New Orleans after Katrina helped precipitate change in similar organizations elsewhere. In this way, the social capital generated by Katrina generated additional capital elsewhere. The panelists included Mary Claire Landry, Pam Jenkins, Steven Bingler, and Natalie Jayroe (Appendixes B and C).
Scrimshaw listed five questions that the panelists were asked to consider:
1. What are the most critical social supports that people need to adapt to and recover from disasters, based on your experience?
2. How do you see community-based organizations best working with governmental organizations and the private sector to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters?
3. What are the unique strengths of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in building and sustaining community resilience, and what do you need to support your work in this area? For example, what role can faith-based organizations play in rebuilding communities; what is the role of social media; and should resiliency and self-sufficiency be included in the process of formal education (primary, secondary, higher education)? How?
4. Based on your work, how resilient or compromised is the current social infrastructure within the Gulf region in terms of helping underserved communities to meet their most basic needs of shelter, food, health and safety? What role does culture play in resiliency?
5. What short-term (3–5 years) and long-term (20–30 years) recommendations would you make for improving social resilience and mitigating social vulnerabilities in the Gulf region? What do you anticipate will be the most significant roadblocks?
ADDING FLEXIBILITY TO ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS: MARY CLAIRE LANDRY
During Katrina, the Crescent House domestic violence shelter run by the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans burned to the ground. That event was a great disaster, said Mary Claire Landry, who is director of domestic violence programs with the archdiocese, especially because people who are at risk for domestic violence and sexual assault are particularly vulnerable during a disaster. But the event also gave the shelter an opportunity to assess the needs of its clients and how to meet those needs. “It was an opportunity to change the paradigm around how we do our work.”
The individuals who manage best during a disaster are those with a network of family and friends, said Landry. After Katrina, service providers, of necessity, became adept at helping people identify the resources available to them and connect with support systems that were already in place.
Consistent and accurate information also was critical. In the shelters that existed after Katrina, information was often conflicting and confusing. Having systems in place that can provide consistent information could make a huge difference for providers and the people they serve. Also, many people need help dealing with complex requests for information after a storm, such as how to fill out Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) applications.
Following Katrina, government structures that were rigid and narrowly defined were a problem. Community-based organization helped challenge this rigidity. The same thing is happening with the Gulf oil spill, said Landry. Organizations outside government are challenging traditional visions of services.
Changing the delivery of services to be more flexible often means moving away from institutionalization of services. This has the additional benefit of aligning programs more closely with the needs of service recipients. People in underserved populations tend not to trust the government and often cannot work their way through the restrictions on assistance. “That’s one of the things that have made us so flexible and resilient,” said Landry. “We have changed how we deliver our services and … how we are able to maneuver through government regulations.” Changes in New Orleans also have had a national impact as people in other places explore new and different ideas pioneered in the city after Katrina.
THE ROLE OF NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS: PAM JENKINS
Nongovernmental organizations have played a central role in response and recovery in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, said Pam Jenkins, professor of criminal justice and women’s studies at the University of New Orleans. The Lower Ninth Ward has been revived not by any one government agency but by community organizations that worked with residents. “There are important things to learn from NGOs that the government can use in planning and preparing for disasters,” Jenkins said.
For the past 4 years, Jenkins has been studying resilient NGOs that not only survived the storm but thrived. The first characteristic of these organizations that she noted was their leadership. Effective leaders understood that when the disaster ended, things were not going to be the same. These leaders understood the new context and did not yearn to return to the way things were.
The budgets of some effective NGOs grew dramatically. In these cases, the organization had strong ties to agencies and people outside the area. They also were able to forge what Jenkins called authentic partnerships with the state and federal governments. “This isn’t just a partnership on paper. This is a partnership where you meet every month, and during hurricane season you might meet more than that.”
Jenkins also addressed the lack of knowledge about what happens after a disaster, which was so profound in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Katrina that people made poor decisions. In the aftermath of those decisions, groups got together and “mulled it over with their neighbors.” They talked about what went wrong and how the response to a disaster could be improved in the future.
One size does not fit all when it comes to the provision of information. Social networks, for example, may work for some people but not all. Some people need personal help to complete paperwork or navigate a process. Also, information needs to be accurate and complete. In New Orleans, people tend to worry about hurricanes from May to the end of October and try to forget about them the rest of the year. But resilience and mitigation need to be part of everyday life all the time. “That changes what we do as organizations. It changes what we do as individuals,” said Jenkins.
THE DECENTRALIZATION OF POWER IN NEW ORLEANS: STEPHEN BINGLER
Before Katrina, certain aspects of New Orleans were very centralized, said Steven Bingler, president of the architectural firm Concordia. The city had one central public hospital. Power was concentrated with the mayor. The school system was run largely through a single unified district.
Much of that centralization broke down following the storm. Katrina “spawned a democratic revolution in the city of New Orleans,” said Bingler. The city now has 250 community organizations. “Most people before the storm were waiting for the mayor to tell everybody what to do. That clearly doesn’t happen anymore.” The city now has multiple community health clinics and medical homes. Many of the remaining schools have been converted to charter schools with their own school boards. “We were mired down before the storm. After the storm is when all the good stuff started happening.”
Bingler also cited the example of bloggers after Katrina, who became a critical source of information. Since then, some bloggers have evolved into investigative reporters, helped in part by the New Orleans Coalition on Open Governance.
Sometimes people in New Orleans talk about planning fatigue, Bingler said. But then a meeting is called and 300 people show up. “There is no such thing as planning fatigue, I’m convinced, as long as you’re making forward motion.”
Systems thinking is much more prevalent in New Orleans now. For example, the remaining schools are being repurposed to serve the broader needs of the community. Auditoriums are available for community performances and cultural events. Gymnasiums are community fitness centers, and libraries are open to the public. Also, community services are being colocated with schools through a program called Nexus, so that schools can be centers for recovery. “We’re getting multiuse 24/7,” said Bingler.
Schools also are being hardened to withstand floods, and their energy efficiency is being raised to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver level. The number of school sites has been reduced from 127 to 85 and those 85 have been located in such a way that every student in the city has a walk of no more than three-quarters of a mile to get to school. At the same time, the schools will be within walking distance for refuge. Though many of the schools are still being designed and built, people have on the whole been patient because they know that a plan is in place to produce improvements.
In its 30th anniversary issue, Metropolis Magazine, which is aimed at urban planners, named New Orleans as one of six game changers in approaching urban design. “If we’re looking for big ideas, [one is] to think systemically. Think disaggregated rather than aggregated. Think deinstitutionalized rather than institutionalized. That is what’s given New Orleans the strength to rebuild and to recover.”
POSTDISASTER INNOVATIONS: NATALIE JAYROE
A few months after Katrina, Natalie Jayroe, who is president and chief executive officer of Second Harvest Food Bank of New Orleans and Acadiana, and her son were driving through New Orleans and surrounding parishes to survey the damage when they came to a roadblock in St. Bernard Parish. The traffic
lights and gas stations still were not working due to damage from the storm. But the roadblock was there not because of the damage but because of a St. Patrick’s Day parade. As floats came down the street, they dispersed carrots, cabbages, and potatoes that people gathered up in wheelbarrows to take home and make into stew. “I was amazed that in the middle of this great tragedy the culture of this community was so strong, people were so determined to honor their traditions,” said Jayroe.
Government experienced many failures during and after Katrina from the local to the federal level. But the spirit and courage of individual citizens and nongovernmental organizations, including many newcomers to New Orleans, compensated for these failures. Furthermore, the strength of neighborhoods “allowed us to do all kinds of amazing experiments that we would not have done had government been such a strong leader.”
For example, the food system was so decimated after Katrina that food providers were able to sit down with their partners and talk about the basics. One result was a 4-year analysis of the food system in southern Louisiana. Also, a food policy advisory council has brought together government, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit partners to talk about food access. “That was an incredible opportunity,” said Jayroe.
What neighborhoods need most from government and NGOs is the critical base of food, shelter, and safety. NGOs can complement government in providing this support. Government is often a blunt instrument, while NGOs can be more responsive to communities. “The NGOs in this country are unique in the world,” said Jayroe, as is the individual and corporate philanthropy that supports many NGOs. A future challenge will be maintaining the energy and involvement of NGOs as the experience of Katrina fades. “We have to transition [to] a sustainable model that includes grassroots-oriented change.”