Just like explaining where you’re from, handling a natural disaster is more complicated when you’re in a military family because you’re either enduring a disaster without the support of your extended family or familiar resources or the disaster happens to your extended family. Helping family from a distance has a powerless aftertaste, but you can do some real good for the people and community you love.
Duty to Warn
When you hold the page of a book at the end of your nose, you won’t be able to see it clearly. The same is true of a person too close to a situation. Take the Texas coast, for example. Since Hurricane Celia in the 1970s, Corpus Christi has dodged one major hurricane after another. Except for the residents who vividly remembered Celia, there was nothing to worry about when Hurricane Harvey took aim at the coastline near Corpus Christi in 2017 — everything was going to be fine, just like it always was. As a result, preparations and evacuations were slow to start and damage north of the city was catastrophic, namely in communities like Rockport and all the way up toward Houston where the storm slowly rolled up the coast.
If your family is in the path of a hurricane (or even in a location where a hurricane could happen at one point in the summer), do your part to get them prepared. Tell them what to do: board the windows, bring anything that could become projectile inside, evacuate, etc. — it’s a nice change of pace to parent your mom and dad (when they’ll listen). The same goes for any other types of disasters. Get them ready ahead of time so you know they’ll be safe and you can worry less. If you’re not sure what needs to be done, Ready.gov has a full list of possible disasters and how to prepare for each one.
If a threat is imminent, push them to put their plan into motion. Let them know what you’re seeing and reading. Don’t worry about speaking out of turn and bossing around mom or grandpa or Uncle Joe. Remind them that possessions can be replaced, but they can’t.
During the Disaster
Consider that your family will likely lose power at some point in the disaster. Be their eyes and ears. Scan the news and inform other family and friends (most easily done via Facebook or the dreaded group text) that you will solely be relaying information to conserve cell phone battery life. Keep them updated as necessary and check on their status regularly to ensure they are safe and out of harm’s way.
After the Storm
If a disaster happens near you, you can hand-deliver clean-up supplies, like trash bags and gloves or comfort items, like blankets, clothing, toiletries, meals, and lovies for displaced kids. When you can’t help in person, find an organization near your loved ones that are accepting supplies or monetary donations. Just make sure you understand the needs and donation restrictions.
This isn’t the time to clean out your garage and ship a box of random items. Military spouses love a meal train, but shelters likely have restrictions on homemade goods. Don’t be offended if the Red Cross turns away your world-famous lasagna; they have to consider allergies and food safety. What does this mean for you? You don’t have to feel guilty for not dropping off a home-cooked meal! Send money, grocery or restaurant gift cards, or arrange to have an operating restaurant drop off a meal on your behalf.
What You Can Do and What You Can’t
If you’re helping your family from a distance post-disaster, you are going to be exhausted and emotionally drained from sleepless, worry-filled nights, but this is where you can do the most good for your family and their surrounding community from your remote position.
- Assess what your family needs. First and foremost, are they OK? Are there any immediate medical concerns? How is their house or shelter? If they need a rescue evacuation, get the information and give them instructions or make an emergency call on their behalf. If damage is only minor, track down updates for power restoration, road openings, etc. to relay the information. Either way, make sure your family connects with their insurance company as soon as possible — the sooner the process starts, the sooner they can get back to normal.
- Identify what, when, and where to donate. It’s an ugly truth that scams arise when disaster strikes. Before donating, do your homework. You can use the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to check on a charity before you submit a payment. A big name in disaster relief is the American Red Cross, which accepts monetary donations online. When multiple disasters occur, you can opt to send your donation to a specific relief effort. You can also donate to local food banks, children’s charities, churches, and animal shelters. In the event of a major disaster, these local groups may have an online donation option or a Go Fund Me-type fundraiser accessible on social media. Remember that relief efforts take time. Just because the storm no longer makes headlines doesn’t mean people aren’t still working to rebuild. Check back often on the progress to see if your help is still needed.
- Recognize your limitations. The absolute hardest part of helping anyone through anything from a distance is that you can’t do everything you wish you could. You will want to run to them and help them through with your own two hands, but that isn’t always an option.
Disaster preparedness is not so much about if, but when. Do all you can before a threat to prepare yourself and your family. Have supplies and a plan and a determination to dust yourselves off and rebuild when it’s over.
Photo Credits: Miscellanea Photography