I had been meaning to write about the work of the Disaster Accountability Project (DAP). So, I was happy to read a good article on DAP in theÂ most recent issue of Natural Hazards Observer,Â the terrific (and free) bimonthly publication of the University of Colorado’s Natural Hazards Center. Â
The article, “Disaster Accountability Project Uses VolunteersÂ to Monitor Official Response,” describes the history, current activities and future plans of DAP which was founded by Ben SmilovitzÂ in August 2007.Â According to the pieceÂ (on Page 5 of this PDF):
The nonpartisan, non-profit organization works to improveÂ U.S. disaster management systemsÂ through public accountability, citizenÂ oversight and empowerment, whistle-blower management, and policy research using a team of citizen volunteers whom Smilowitz calls disasterÂ accountability monitors.
“Our citizen volunteers provideÂ a valuable and much-needed publicÂ role by verifying and reporting gaps
in disaster prevention, response,Â relief, and recovery services typicallyÂ provided by government agencies
and nonprofit organizations,” saidÂ Smilowitz, who is executive directorÂ of the organization.
To this day the U.S. governmentÂ and many aid organizations receive harsh criticism for the mismanagement and lack of leadership in relief efforts afterÂ Hurricane Katrina. The storm was the costliest natural disaster ever to hit the United States.Â
“DAP was created to change the way disaster preparedness and emergency management are viewed, understood,Â and prioritized. Donating money and volunteering to help disaster survivors are the top ways Americans traditionally getÂ involved when it comes to disaster preparedness and response,” Smilowitz said. “Unfortunately, this approach has providedÂ the organizations and agencies responsible for disaster work with a blank check to maintain status quo in their activities.”
The program’s approach to disaster accountability is two-fold:
1) Short-Term/Immediate Accountability: A toll-free hotline and national network of concernedÂ citizen monitors ensures that critical gaps in disaster response and relief services are realized andÂ addressed by those responsible for their delivery. After Katrina, gaps in disaster response and reliefÂ services caused unnecessary suffering and there was no widely available mechanism for gaps inÂ services to be reported.
2) Long-term Accountability: DAP maintains a unique online database of more than 500 post-Katrina government and nonprofit recommendations to improve the disaster prevention, response,Â relief, and recovery systems. A Web site allows the public, policy makers, and disaster managementÂ professionals to locate recommendations and track implementation progress.
Funded through fellowships and donations, Smilowitz plans on launching an aggressive fundraising campaign to buildÂ a broad base of support. He hopes over the next five years his organization will prioritize public education and awarenessÂ while continuing to make a case for the importance of disaster oversight.
“We will recruit, train, engage, and encourage concerned citizens to be monitors, ask questions, review local disasterÂ plans, participate in training exercises, and work with local groups to ensure planning is inclusive and comprehensive,” said Smilovitz,Â ”In the future, I envision a full-time staff of policy analysts, lawyers, public affairs specialists, organizers,Â and fundraisers. DAP monitors will be located in every congressional district and the organization will be based in Washington, DC.”
I am looking forward to meeting and speaking with Ben and hearing more about what appears to be an exciting new avenue of citizen involvement and engagement in disaster preparedness and response
More information on the Disaster Accountability Project can be found at www.disasteraccountability.com.
If you are interested in a free ($24 for international subscribers) subscription to the Observer (which I definitely recommend to anyone interested in disaster preparedness), go to:Â www.colorado.edu/hazards/o/osubscribe.html