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Hurricane Michael Recovery Efforts Point to the Power of Local Generosity After Overlooked Disasters

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Hurricane Michael Recovery Efforts Point to the Power of Local Generosity After Overlooked Disasters
A scene of Damage from Hurricane Michael at Mexico Beach, Florida on Oct. 17, 2018. Tim Donovan / Florida Fish & Wildlife

By David Berlan

When Hurricane Michael made landfall on Florida's Panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018, as a Category 5 storm it was only the fourth on record to have ever hit the U.S. mainland. The storm surge it brought about, along with 160-mile-per-hour winds, leveled coastal communities from Panama City to the town of Mexico Beach.



Then the storm continued northward, causing flooding in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a government agency, attributes a total of 16 deaths to the storm and the authorities say that Michael killed another 43 people indirectly.

I've been traveling throughout the Florida Panhandle – the area Michael hit hardest – to towns like Marianna and Port St. Joe, meeting with a wide range of dedicated community members and conducting a survey of recovery efforts by leading a team of public administration student researchers. We have identified nearly $150 million in donated money, supplies and time.

Most of this support garnered within 11 months of the storm is coming from or being channeled through organizations within this part of Florida, near my home in Tallahassee. We're finding that local residents are organizing themselves to meet lingering needs in the absence of substantial outside attention and support.

Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND

Source: NOAA Office for Coastal Management

Causing Massive Damage

Even after getting $1.3 billion in assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and other government agencies, much of the region remained devastated from Michael's estimated $25 billion in total damage.

Many of the region's largest employers, including forestry companies and Tyndall Air Force Base, are still rebuilding a year later. So are school systems and homeowners.

But unless you live nearby, this may come as a surprise. Michael garnered less attention from the media and donors than the other storms that also caused damage on a massive scale, such as Harvey and Maria in 2017 and 2018.

Giving After the Storm

The gravity and force of this hurricane, which NOAA only upgraded to a Category 5 storm six months later, may never have fully registered on the public's radar.

That may explain why Americans didn't donate as much to support relief and recovery efforts following this disaster as they did a year earlier.

For example, the Red Cross collected donations totaling some $97 million following Hurricane Irma, nearly triple the $36 million it obtained after Michael a year later. But Irma only caused twice as much damage, according to NOAA.

Table: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND

Source: Red Cross and NOAA

Studying Hurricane Michael

The aftermath of other big storms like Sandy and Katrina have made it clear that the recovery process takes years to complete, with the burden falling on local nonprofits once the sense of urgency outside the immediate area dissipates.

In the largely rural Florida counties where Hurricane Michael hit hard, a few nonprofits are leading the way with rebuilding efforts that bring local religious congregations, businesses, governments and independent organizations together. These new networks are coordinating efforts by national, regional and local organizations that bring their own expertise and resources.

The donations, which include cash, services, supplies and volunteer labor, add up to about $145 million. While far less than the total of $1.3 billion in federal funding for the storm, this support equals about two-thirds of the $240 million Florida's government has appropriated so far.

Nearly all of the funding is coming from organizations with a local presence.

Data collected between Oct. 10, 2018, when the storm hit, through Sept. 5, 2019.

Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND. Source: Florida State University hurricane survey

Playing a Critical Role

Another reason why recovering from disasters takes so long is that relatively few post-disaster government programs serve renters, homeowners without clear property titles or the homeless. That leaves big gaps for charity to fill.

And when communities don't get much in the way of donations after disasters, they have trouble meeting the needs of their most vulnerable. This is made worse by poor targeting and coordination of aid that can leave out rural or remote communities.

Donations come with fewer restrictions than government programs, giving nonprofits more flexibility. They tend to arrive quickly and do not need to wait on the government to appropriate money.

Throughout my research in a string of beach towns and rural inland communities along a stretch west and south of Tallahassee known as the Forgotten Coast, I directly observed nonprofits relying upon donated funds, supplies and labor to meet housing and other needs not being met by flood insurance or government funding.

Everyone my students and I spoke with relayed multiple stories of how neighbors helped one another and how this generosity made the disaster recovery quicker and more bearable.

Being Generous After Disasters

The aftermath of Hurricane Michael shows how when public attention outside the region experiencing a disaster is minimal, it can lead to lower levels of donations.

As a result, I've seen people in the region feel overlooked and forced to rely on themselves. Fortunately, the post-disaster generosity of residents, neighbors and friends was more extensive than is immediately visible. Still, the region faces a long struggle to full recovery and cannot be certain the resources available with be enough.

From this example, I have two main suggestions for those wishing to help support survivors of disasters reevaluate how they choose to respond.

First, consider helping after overlooked disasters. That includes the ones that don't draw saturation media coverage, and those that occur on the heels of other tragedies that ushered in big donation drives. That's what happened with Hurricane Maria, which crashed into Puerto Rico within a few weeks after Harvey and Irma.

Second, consider waiting before you give, or repeating your gift later. Try donating six months, a year or even two years after a disaster rather than right away because the need will continue for a long time. Not rushing also makes it easier to identify the best nonprofits to support.

Making choices like these may bring hope and assistance to communities seeing too little of both.

David Berlan is an assistant professor of public administration at the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy, Florida State University.
Disclosure statement: David Berlan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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