Friday, January 15, 2010

Beyond underwear: Useful things for crisis situations

A friend just asked me what would be useful to send to Haiti or to any evacuee camp, refugee camp, or disaster situation besides food, water, and medical supplies. She had the opportunity to send a box immediately by small aircraft and had to send things that were in her house already. So, here's my question for you. Other than food, water, and medical supplies, what would you list as non-obvious and useful in a disaster?

Here is my list.

Backpacks - things to hold other things
Tape - all kinds but mainly duct tape, electrical tape, and masking tape
Sharpie markers
String or strong cord
Safety pins, binder clips, rubber bands
Ziplock and other plastic bags, all sizes
Handkerchiefs or bandanas

What would you add to that list?

My list is heavy on the office supplies but that's because I believe that information is power. With paper, a Sharpie, and some good tape, you become an instantly powerful distributor of information, because you can create useful signs that spread information efficiently. The list is strangely similar to what I'd recommend you need to organize an impromptu conference.

I still believe that along with food, water, shelter, and medical care, information is a primary need.

Given a point of internet access, priority should be on peoplefinding and information booth services. For peoplefinding, register people for email if they don't have it - Gmail is excellent- and on some existing popular social software. I think Facebook is ideal as they have okay privacy controls, useful for limiting volatile family details. Their neighborhood and group features are useful for finding, say, everyone you can think of who you work with or who lives on your block. Full names (which is what official databases go by) aren't useful when you're trying to make sure that lady who works on your shift or your neighbor "Bud" are okay because you heard that their sister's looking for them. Sign people up for email and make sure they understand how to get back into it. Sign them up on some social software, and friend them and get them to friend you back. You are now a point of contact for anyone who knows them. Do this with everyone you speak with, and you'll be doing something very useful!

In Katrina relief efforts I found that evacuees needed backpacks and tools to carry information -- notebook and pen, or a small folder or even a manila envelope, were crucial as they started to get paperwork, ID, and have to take notes on where to go for what resources, who they've seen, talked to, lists of people they're trying to find, and so on. Since officials, army and police would often just move cots and trash bags full of people's rescued (or newly received) belongings, a backpack is much better so people can carry essentials around.

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Unknown said...

Worth reading:

"Disasters like the Haiti earthquake and the Indian Ocean tsunami present colossal logistical challenges. Nonetheless, in Aceh officials and relief workers did their best to sort through this stock: Drugs were stored in private homes, in hospitals rooms and corridors (despite a desperate shortage of space for patients). Eighty-four percent of the facilities lacked air conditioning, rendering their contents unusable, according to the study. A large depot near Aceh’s airport was so overwhelmed that mountains of pricey pharmaceuticals were dumped outside to rot under the monsoons and tropical sun.

Of course, the donors were only trying to help, but misplaced intentions actually worsened the suffering. Buried under care packages and out of date antibiotics labeled in Thai and Chinese were the world’s most advanced malaria medications. Meanwhile along the coast, people who had just lost homes and families writhed in malarial fever for lack of treatment."

Liz said...

Here's a list from a group I donate to.

The school needs:

Réa needs medicine supplies for:

-Cough for children
-Cough for adult
-Blood pressure
-Malaria fever
- Pump for Asma
- Flu

Outdoor living supplies:

-Tarps for shelter

karen h said...

Yes! Things to carry things in. For Katrina, I packed clothing and toiletries in all kinds of totes and old suitcases and gave that.

Meg61 said...

I would add matches or a lighter and a pan for cooking and boiling drinking water.

Book said...

I remember during Katrina's I asked for was some Shoes and duffle. and i got what i needed...

someone even sent me a Printer.. I still have it too..

Unknown said...

I would add a bar of soap. For information/communication I would add a mobile phone (most parts of the world have some access to mobile) with a solar or hand-cranked re-charger - and a battery powered FM/AM/Long wave radio receiver. Road chalk (yellow wax crayon) is useful for marking walls with messages and maybe a can of hi-viz spray paint for marking paths with dots of bright color. Polaroid camera maybe for taking pix of lost, injured people/bodies? and passport photos of your self to leave at message walls if you are likely to have people looking for you. A map and compass are always useful - even if it covers the whole country or even the world.