Organizing Theory & Artistry

Inspired by Oklahoma

Tiles painted by children at the site of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.
Tiles painted by children at the site of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

Since we don’t own a working television and get our news from the Internet, I am not completely caught up on the tornado in Oklahoma. I have seen the devastating pictures and the video of the woman reconnecting with her dog. (I loved that video even before the dog was found because the woman had such a “courage under fire” attitude about the tornado. She didn’t seem the least bit traumatized.) From the Facebook posts of friends, however, I understand the news coverage has been intense and thorough to the point of overwhelming people.

It seems we are still learning how best to cover disaster situations in the new social media era. Just because we can film someone right after a disaster and then transmit that information to the entire world immediately, should we? Maybe it depends on the situation.

When I heard about the tornado, I thought of our drive through Oklahoma 4 years ago and all the prairie land we saw there. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to see a huge tornado whip through all that open space.

Oklahoma farmland 2009.
Oklahoma farmland 2009.

I also feel confident that Oklahomans are about as tough as they come and will show us all how to be strong in the face of a sad event like this.

I hope we also take a moment to realize that something like this (whether a tornado, earthquake, tsunami, hurricane or other event) can happen to any of us and we should also use the experience in Oklahoma to learn.

FEMA and ready.gov have put out some great tips for people that share some lessons learned from their experience. Here are a few that I think bear repeating. We spend so much time worrying about how to prepare for a disaster and how to survive the disaster while it is occurring but not so much time thinking about how we will recover once the disaster is over.

If you are directly affected by disaster:

1) Don’t tie up the telephone lines.
Once you are safe, get in touch with your anxious family and friends to share the news that you are OK. If the cell phone or telephone networks are down or overloaded, remember that texting and Internet generally don’t get overwhelmed in the same way as the phone system. And if you can’t text, try sending an email, a Tweet or posting a status update on Facebook from a public computer if you are able. FEMA also promotes use of the Red Cross’ “Safe and Well” database. In a mass disaster, if you are in the affected area and are OK, the best thing you can do is probably list yourself in such a database so that emergency personnel will not waste time looking for you and can focus their efforts on others in need.

2) Don’t go home before it is safe to do so. In a disaster situation, I can only imagine how strong the pull is to go home and try to salvage what is left of your home. But even if you are worried about looting, damage from rain, items blowing away in the wind, etc. don’t risk your life and the lives of our first responders by putting yourself in a dangerous situation just for the sake of your stuff. FEMA warns that some of the dangers awaiting you are downed power lines, gas leaks and unsafe structures that could collapse at any time. When you do go home, inspect your home with a battery powered flashlight until you know it is safe to turn on the power, gas, etc.

3) Don’t be a fraud victim. Ask for identification from anyone who claims they are a federal or state official. Don’t give out your personal information unless you have this verification. You are in a vulnerable position and there are sadly too many people who could take advantage of you.

If you are unaffected by the disaster but want to help out:

1) Don’t tie up the telephone lines.
As a family member of an affected person, the best thing you can do is consolidate communications within the family so that you don’t tie up the telephone network in the disaster area where emergency responders need the phone lines! Establish a line of communication in your family so only a few people are calling in to the disaster area.

2) If you live near an area that has been hard hit, don’t immediately drive over to try to help out. Several disaster agencies are putting out this information. We all know that seconds count in some disasters and it is understandable that people want to help. In most cases, however, emergency personnel need to control the situation. If they need help, they know who to call. First responders need to be able to count and identify the victims without other random people mixed in. Untrained but well-meaning rescuers might also end up causing more problems than helping. There are also reprehensible individuals who want to take advantage of the victims and subject them to scams, loot their valuables or other “unhelpful” acts. If you just feel compelled to go to the disaster site, at least call ahead to the police non-emergency number to let them know you are coming and allow them to direct you to the area where your help is most needed.

3) Don’t send stuff, send money. It feels so much more personal to send blankets or food or clothes or stuffed animals to people who are hurting but we hear time and time again that all this “stuff” just gets in the way of helping. What is really needed is money to pay for hotel rooms or rental housing, money for medications or medical care for the uninsured, money for restaurant food or money for transportation to fly people home to relatives who can care for them. There are so many things that only money can provide in these situations. You may never know exactly where your dollars went but most likely they were well-spent and made a huge difference to someone.

For all of us, we can honor those affected by a disaster by allowing them to inspire us to work on our own preparedness, such as:

    1. Setting up a 72-hour emergency kit
    2. Storing emergency food and water
    3. Having a contact list and emergency action plan, especially if you have children (or pets) to care for. Here is Ruly’s form and here is one from FEMA.
    4. Changing our smoke detector batteries.
    5. Practicing and identifying our emergency plans.

Sending love and prayers to those in Oklahoma.

Another tile from the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.
Another tile from the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

Have a disaster coping tip? Please share in the comments.