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
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.