A week ago Sunday many of us were glued to our televisions as we saw a large tornado bearing down on Wichita. Only a short time later we were watching the storm enter Butler County and hearing the outdoor warning sirens shriek. Fortunately we dodged a real bullet and only minor hail and wind damage was reported here in Butler County.
Then on Monday we watched in horror as a huge tornado tore through Moore, Okla., with images captured on live helicopter cameras. Even worse, we saw those cameras zoom in on two occupied elementary schools, virtually flattened. Our hearts in our throats as we listened to the tragedy unfold.
Our Midwest compassion went into high gear; I know my phone rang all evening with rescuers wanting to be sent to help, or with persons wanting to know HOW to help. We contacted our friends at United Way and learned that they had already gone into disaster mode and were referring all non-rescue or emergency responders to call 2-1-1 to get details. But as those of us in the disaster business know, a second disaster was about to descend upon Moore, Okla. That disaster would not be another tornado but something carried in tractor-trailers or vans or cars; that disaster would be the donations of goods.
From around the country those who watched this terrible incident unfold did what we as Americans are so good at: we sprang into action and sent “stuff” to the disaster area. Now please don’t misunderstand me here; I am not against our giving nature but it’s the giving nature without considering what the needs are that causes the next disaster.
Truckloads of diapers, bottled water, used clothing, food, you name it, was being collected to be sent to Moore. The truth of the matter was this; the local charities did not need truckloads of “stuff”; they needed money. The charities were there already, working feverishly to help their local citizens. Money would help them buy the truckloads of water from Wal-Mart 5 miles away, rather than waiting on something that would take two days to arrive.
Instead of dedicating precious manpower and resources to get aid items locally (stimulating the local economy which just got hit hard), they now had to use those resources to figure out what to do with all the “stuff” that was continually arriving. Finally, local officials had to put out a plea via the media “thanks America but we can’t handle any more stuff”; please donate money to legitimate charities.
They set up a website to provide information to potential donors of what they really needed and how to give so that it would help. But, not only did people send “stuff”, they also descended on the area to help. Again, they acted without first asking anyone “do you need my help, how can I help?”
Page 2 of 2 - So you ask, what is my point in this? Pretty simple really; we are givers, we are truly compassionate and we hate to see anyone suffer. So knowing that, let’s take a minute and consider our giving when these things happen. If this happened to me, what would I need to survive? Would my family and I really have a need for a box of used clothes or a used sofa? If I need water, ice, diapers for the baby or food, wouldn't I rather be able to get it with a voucher from the local store than wait for a truck to arrive in a day or two? Do I want people coming to what remains of my home and digging through my “rubble” who have not been cleared by local authorities or disaster assistance agencies?
So next time we see tragedy and want to help do this - ask yourself what YOU would want, then find out HOW to give and WHAT to give. Contact local charities churches or non-profit agencies to see what help is needed. Be a part of an authorized aid group to go to the area and help; they will already have assignments and have procedures in place to help you stay safe while you are there.
For those who gave to our neighbors in Moore or Shawnee or even in west Wichita, our heartfelt thanks. For those who will be traveling to those places to help with the long road of recovery, God bless you all. For the next tragedy around the corner, just remember; to help eliminate the second disaster, give from your heart, but use your head when you do.
For information on how you can help with this disaster or any others please contact the Emergency Management office at 733-9796, via our website at www.bucoks.com (click on the EM link) or by calling 2-1-1 (United Way of Kansas).
Jim Schmidt, Director
Butler County Emergency Management