Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Pandemic could weaken disaster response, since most volunteers are seniors; rural residents tend to be older

Government agencies at all levels rely on volunteers to help survivors of natural disasters. "However, the covid-19 pandemic has exposed a critical weakness in this system: Most volunteers are older people at higher risk from the virus, so this year they can’t participate in person," Christopher Flavelle reports for The New York Times.

Rural areas often have a harder time recovering from natural disasters, and have a disproportionate population of seniors, making such areas likely to be hurt by a lack of volunteers.

Greg Forrester, president of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, told Flavelle that more than five million volunteers usually pitch in with disaster relief each year, but said he expects this year's turnout to be half that, which won't be enough.

Complicating the possible lack of volunteers, the highly trained staff of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is already spread thin from responding to the pandemic, Flavelle reports.

"It is the latest in a cascading series of problems facing an already fraying system ahead of what is expected to be an unusually severe hurricane season combined with disasters like this week’s dam collapse and flooding in Michigan, a state particularly hard hit by covid-19," Flavelle reports. "FEMA says it has taken steps to prepare for hurricane season, including expanding its coordination center in Washington, hiring staff and working with state and local officials and nonprofits to adapt to the pandemic."

Because of the pandemic, FEMA said last week it intends to rely on "virtual" disaster aid as much as possible, Flavelle reports. The frequent lack of broadband in rural areas could complicate such efforts.

No comments: