Staff Blog

This is a space where Foundation staff share their thoughts and musings on giving and community:

After Irene: Continuing Our Leadership in Disaster Philanthropy

Posted by: Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup on 2/17/2016

In May of 2011, and again at the end of August during Tropical Storm Irene, my house in Montpelier took on water from the Winooski River as it came over the banks, swallowed Route 2, and zoomed up the driveway into our yard and basement. We had just moved in, and it was quite a welcome to the neighborhood, but fortunately my house didn’t suffer serious damage. I was certainly glad to have FEMA representatives just a phone call away and even happier that they were there to help many friends and neighbors who were suffering with extreme losses.

My direct experience of Irene was extraordinarily helpful in building empathy and understanding, as well as practical, personal knowledge of the relief system. The Community Foundation moved quickly to take on a leadership role in the wake of the storm.

Taking on that leadership role, however, meant answering the complex question of how to focus our resources in the most effective—and timely—way. How could we provide immediate relief to those impacted by the disaster? How could we balance serving those human needs while also focusing our efforts on recovery? In our own work at the time of Irene, we often had to find answers to these questions in a piecemeal way, looking for resources scattered across many states and among many different organizations. It was a confusing and sometimes overwhelming situation for us and our local partners back in 2011.

And yet, we came through. We received national recognition for our response to Irene, and we continue to regularly receive requests from community foundations around the country to share our learning from that time. To that end, we recently joined with regional and national philanthropic partners to help launch the Disaster Philanthropy Playbook, a new tool to help the philanthropic community plan for disaster relief in their regions. In reviewing this new resource, we are delighted to see a comprehensive set of best practices and innovative approaches.

As the Center for Disaster Philanthropy notes, the Playbook is a multimedia, interactive website which compiles ideas and approaches from multiple organizations (including the Vermont Community Foundation) and serves as an “evergreen” resource designed for continuous updating and knowledge-building. Here in Vermont, we know that disaster response intersects across many fields including regional and community planning, state and municipal governments, legal services, housing, social services for vulnerable populations, and climate change mitigation, not to mention emergency preparedness. These are only some of the common issues faced by communities post disaster that are covered in detail in the Playbook, and we’re excited to have access to this resource going forward.

We’re proud to be a sponsor and contributor to this new resource. You can check it out here: www.disasterplaybook.org

The Disaster Philanthropy Playbook is a joint project of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Council of New Jersey Grantmakers in association with the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, with leadership support from the Vermont Community Foundation and several other disaster philanthropy partners.

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