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Study: Better Systems Needed To Connect Volunteers, Donations With Hurricane Victims

At RDU, Ben Akroyd helps pilot Martin Fessele pack his Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft with supplies for victims of Hurricane Florence.  Fessele came from New Jersey to help with "Operation Airdrop."
Leoneda Inge

More than 75,000 North Carolinians volunteered to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence and the months of rebuilding that have followed.

Now, state officials and a team of experts from IBM are working to make sure the volunteer response to a disaster is well-coordinated among private and public agencies.

A group of 12 from IBM's Corporate Service Corps spent a month analyzing the volunteer response to hurricane Florence. Their report highlighted the need for new systems to help connect volunteers and donations with individuals and communities during a large-scale crisis. 

Last September, as state emergency management coordinated its response the storm, many volunteer organizations also sprang into action, delivering food, water, and shelter to those in need.

But as Caroline Farmer, executive director for the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, noted: "There's not a centralized way for tracking that, because they're volunteer organizations. So (IBM) came up with some technical tools to help out."

Other strategies under consideration include using coordinated online documentation to keep track of donations, and training volunteers in disaster response ahead of time.

In addition to moving people and supplies more efficiently, Farmer said it's important to make sure volunteers are recognized and appreciated for their work so they stay engaged for the long haul.

"A long term recovery is a long term recovery," she said. "We're talking years. We're going to need volunteers helping to rebuild homes for the next three or four years to come. It's incredibly key to make sure we're treating them as the resource they are."

Looking ahead, Farmer said a task force will work to create a blueprint for organizing and coordinating volunteer efforts and donations that can be used any time a crisis strikes.

"We want to do things right now so that in years to come, we are stronger and being smarter about this, and better prepared."

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