In the past, the federal government had no role in responding to emergencies at the time of disasters. When People were caught in disasters, they use to seek families and nonprofit organizations, like the Red Cross, churches, and private charities for support, while state and local governments engaged in rescue operations and substantiating and enforcing the civil order when necessary. Not until the early 20th century, after the San Francisco earthquake in 1960, the federal government has began to take a role in disaster response, after the Congress had given the President the power to designate disaster areas in 1950.
This designation had triggered the availability of federal funds for rebuilding infrastructure and public properties like schools, courts, libraries, police and fire departments, and other public institutions. In 1969, the Disaster Relief Act passed to provide federal fund for relief and recovery operations to aid citizens and businesses who are victimized by disasters. In 1979 President Carter issued the executive order that created FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
Since then, responding to disaster has been defined as a national process that include all levels of government, Federal, State, and local, private and nonprofit sectors, foreign countries, and even individual citizens. The process of disaster response in the United States has been based on a very complex system, due to the fact that responding to disasters must be first addressed at local governments, and if the problem is too big or difficult for local governments to control, state governments are called in, then federal government will take over to help with significant resources in situations where state governments become devastated.
Moreover, the centralized nature of the government and intricacies that accompany the process of the government’s decision-making, makes it very challenging to meet all people’s needs and necessities at the time of disasters. However, large number of nonprofits, recognized at the national level, had historically played important role in emergency response. For many years, the Salvation Army has been significantly participating in relief and recovery activities, likewise other organizations, such as the United Way, has been operating with a defined mission of directing local funds to those needing help during the recovery period.
As well, the American Red Cross had an official role as the main provider for emergency shelters since 1881. Each of these nonprofits had proven to be essential to the vitality of the American communi¬ties at the time of disasters. Since most of extreme disasters affect our communities are unpredictable, nonprofits, with a defined mission of being emergency responders, are obligated to become fully equipped and prepared to respond effectively to emergencies and disasters, by implementing relief and recovery strategies to help them increase capabilities when dealing with emergencies and tragedies.
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM: While many argue that nonprofits had played important role in disasters relief and recovery process, others believe they are poorly prepared for disaster response, operating with very limited resources and volunteers. A research by the Government Accountability Office – GAO, revealed that a large-scale disaster would overwhelm the American Red Cross and other nonprofits (GAO, 2008).
The research also evaluated FEMA as not being able to fully assess the capacity of nonprofits and clearly documenting the role that each nonprofit should play in a disaster (Rucker 2008). Apparently, responding to a disaster of an extreme magnitude has been always a big challenge for nonprofits on how to direct relief activities to provide aid for the right people at the right time. Moreover, some nonprofits are also challenged by conflicts with government’s agencies during disaster operations.
For example, staff and volunteers are restricted from response activities due to mandate evacuation orders, or by security precautions that prevent them from accessing areas that is highly impacted by the disaster. In the post- September 11, the World Trade Center had become restricted because it was estimate to be a dangerous and unsafe area for volunteer and human service organizations, at the same time it identifies as a crime scene of the terrorist attack on the country.
Yet, nonprofits were always known to be the first to arrive on disaster sites, assume actions during and after disasters, and provide immediate assistance to affected individuals and their families, and when the government becomes overwhelmed and unable to meet these needs. This research will focus on nonprofits’ role during emergencies and disasters response, and the essential role they assume to fill the government’s gaps in responding to disasters. THE FOCUS OF THE STUDY The goal of this research is to illustrate the role of nonprofit organizations in responding to emergencies and filling the gaps at the time of disasters.
In addition, will examine the collaboration among government’s local and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations that allow them to effectively respond to disasters, deliver services and resources needed during disasters. Examining the effectiveness of services and resources delivered by nonprofits, the relief and recovery response, activities and procedures followed during the relief, will provide evidence and patterns that will help in analyzing the effectiveness of nonprofits’ role in filling the government’s gaps in responding to disasters.
The research question is: are nonprofits prepared to perform the role of gaps-filler during disasters? There are two hypotheses used to develop the questions of this study: oH 0: nonprofits are prepared to perform the role of gaps-filler at the time of disasters oH 1: nonprofits are NOT prepared to perform the role of gaps-filler at the time of disasters
This research is essential because it will allow understanding the advantages and disadvantages that nonprofits bring to disaster sites, post-disaster, as well as behind the scenes. Moreover, it will benefit executives, professional staff, and volunteers at the nonprofit sector, by helping them to become current on the growing need for nonprofits’ contributions during disasters relief and recovery, and to learn different procedures that nonprofits utilize during emergency and disaster response.