A disaster response workshop in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, attracted more than 200 participants, many of them Rotarians with experience in providing emergency relief and rebuilding communities in distress. Senior Rotary leaders, including RI President William B. Boyd and RI President-elect Wilfrid J. Wilkinson, also attended.

By Vukoni Lupa-Lasaga
Rotary International News

9 February 2007

The 11-13 January event was aimed at discussing best practices, strategies, and management skills that Rotarian volunteers can apply to increase their effectiveness in responding to disasters.

"The workshop showed us that we need to coordinate, cooperate, and communicate among ourselves and other organizations wishing to respond in a disaster," explained RI Director Donald L. Mebus, who convened the workshop with RI Directors Barry Rassin and Robert Stuart Jr.

Donald Chauvin, who chaired the workshop, said the event was a great opportunity to share experiences and create more awareness about the different ways Rotarians can help when disaster strikes. He was governor of District 6200 (Louisiana) when much of the Gulf Coast, including New Orleans, was heavily damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

"We wanted to elicit an opinion on what Rotary's role should be in the event of a disaster and how to measure our response," Chauvin said.

Seven facilitators, including several past district governors with disaster response experience, led discussions during breakout sessions. Topics included defining Rotary's role, planning and preparing, working with other organizations, communicating and publicizing, harnessing the Rotary network, and utilizing district and club foundations.

The facilitators assembled a panel of experts to help answer audience questions and comment on participants' suggestions for addressing disasters. "It was important to hear what our diverse audience had to say about relief aid provided through Rotary," Chauvin said.

Tom Henderson, a member of the Rotary Club of Helston-Lizard, England, and founder of the emergency relief organization ShelterBox, said the workshop provided a great networking opportunity and was very well organized.

"I know from my conversations that many district governors and other Rotary officers greatly benefited from the conference and were going back to their respective districts and areas to reflect and plan for potential disaster relief," he noted.

One such leader is Richard McCombe, governor-elect of District 7020, which spans 10 countries and geographical areas, including the Bahamas and U.S. Virgin Islands. "Our plan is to have a disaster relief plan in place by the end of Rotary year 2007-08, which takes into account all the learned lessons from the workshop," he explained.

After the event, participants toured New Orleans neighborhoods and other Gulf Coast areas in Louisiana and Mississippi that haven't yet recovered from the hurricanes.

"The tour proved to be a sobering moment for all as they witnessed miles and miles of total devastation," noted Chauvin. "The reality of what had happened on August 29, 2005, began to sink in as a vivid picture of what a disaster in their hometowns might look like."


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