The flood has passed and the bayous are starting to recede. People have moved out of their unlivable homes and are trying to settle into new unfamiliar lives as they are starting to either rebuild, sell their existing ruined homes or figure out what their next steps are going to be. If it seems as if we have forgotten those that have flooded, we haven’t. Things are still happening, it’s just that the furor of those first few weeks have passed and the needs are now different. The community of lost and flooded homes are now figuring out how to navigate the system of permits, contractors, realtors, builders and relocation. Just as the face of the landscape of the city will change from the Memorial Day Flood, so will the face of disaster relief.
There is no question that when the floods occurred we were a city that wasn’t prepared. Can you ever be prepared for such a disaster? But, the City pulled together all the Volunteers and decided on implementing a singular portal for all the data to be dumped into that would be used by the Agencies on the ground to cleanup the crisis. If a home was reported to have flooded it was put into this portal and then it was picked up by an Agency and workers were sent to that house to help clean out the house. Cleaning out the house meant, removing carpet, hardwoods, furniture, sheet rock, appliances and even some packing if necessary. But, this was for the heavy lifting; to make sure that people weren’t sitting in mold filled and water soaked homes.
Were there challenges? Yes!
- The quality of data was a huge problem. Although the portal was put into place one week or so after the flood, that is considered late in the disaster relief world, and there was a lot of duplication. There were homes that didn’t make it into the portal and homes that were entered three times.
- Bugs in the system. The portal is an open source software and the Alpha version was built in 2012. It was first put to a major test during Hurricane Sandy in November 2012. Whenever you are dealing with software there are bugs to be worked out and when you are in disaster mode, those bugs can be a big challenge.
- Work flow issues. It was up to the individuals from the Agencies to mark work items closed and that didn’t and couldn’t always happen in real time. There was also some issues with who was claiming which work items. This was important, because if a work item was marked closed, but then the homeowner called and said that the work wasn’t done, then the person taking the call needed to know who to contact to see what happened. Human error…big challenge.
- Not enough people to input data. This is always the most common challenge. There just isn’t enough manpower. When you have one person who is sitting there all day importing data, or just doing it once a day, it is overwhelming and time consuming and mistakes will be made. At the same time, the manpower needs to be on the ground.
- There needs to be real time data. In other words, a phone app so that people who are in the field can just input the data right on the spot.
Changing the Face of the Disaster Industry – Aaron Titus
J-Vibe Online Magazine had a very long chat with Aaron Titus, who is the creator of Crisis Cleanup and also an on the ground expert in disaster relief. His ultimate goal is to change the face of the disaster industry, and by the looks of it he is setting out to do just that. What we loved about Aaron is that he is humble, excited and knows that no one thing is the perfect solution. He realizes that Crisis Cleanup is a work in progress and he is continuing to work on it and improve it with each disaster that his company’s portal is hired to handle. He has a love for what he does. He has a love for people and helping everyone. You can see it in his actions, his face, hear it in his voice and in his demeanor and you want to be his friend and confidante. He inspires and excites with his knowledge and his attitude.
What does Aaron Titus want to do?
I want to change the culture of disaster recovery.
And, we believe that he not only is doing just that, but will continue to do just that.
An Outsider’s Perspective of The Houston Flood
We asked Aaron Titus to give us his perspective as an outsider at to how he thought we handled the disaster relief after the Houston Flood.
Disasters knock down fences and make good neighbors.
The City of Houston – Completely impressed with how the city has been involved and how the red tape was so quickly cut away. This empowered the people to act, which was important.
The On The Ground Volunteer – The women on the ground who were grassroots involved with handing out food, clothing and helping those with things in need were fantastic. They stayed in their communities, neighborhoods and Temples and he thought they did an excellent job of organizing and taking care of peoples needs while helping with the cleanup process by making sure those they came across were registered in the right places and placed in the portal.
The Spontaneous Unaffiliated Volunteer – Although it is appreciated that these men and women want to jump in and help with mucking and cleaning, it is best for them to affiliate with the grassroots volunteers that are on the ground. Aaron made some valid points when he said that the agencies don’t know how to use these volunteers and that the agencies need to trust them, because they will not only be in peoples homes but also because they need to have the same work ethic, training and culture as those they are working with. The solution to this is if you are serious about becoming a volunteer with an agency, start during “peace time” so you can get proper training. He said that agencies will never turn you away during peace time. He also said that it’s important to affiliate with an organization that suits your skills the best.
Everyone wants to be involved when the disaster strikes, but sometimes, you can only help where you will be most useful.
Aaron ended with these encouraging words;
Be patient because it might take longer and be harder to find your place in disaster relief, but be persistent and advocate for yourself and continue to look for opportunities because there are opportunities to serve all around you and never lose hope because if you keep reaching out you will find the right place for you.