P!N-terview: Dr. Carol J. De Vita

by P!N Staff Writer Julia C. Dawson

In December 2008, a report was released by the Urban Institute entitled “The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Post-Hurricane Human Services Relief Efforts.”

The lead researcher in these reports, Dr. Carol J. De Vita, of the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, shared highlights from the study with P!N Staff Writer Julia Dawson earlier this month. Research of faith-based organizations (FBO) is one of Dr. De Vita’s areas of specialization.

“Faith-based and community-based organizations are very responsive after hurricanes in identifying the emergency needs and providing immediate relief. Churches, and other organizations, spring in to action after these disasters. They see a person in need of food or shelter, and respond.

Additionally, our study of 202 faith based community organizations (FBCO) in the hurricane corridor of Louisiana and Mississippi, found 1) FBO storm efforts are not always well coordinated with other efforts and 2) FBOs sometimes have difficulty connecting with mainstream disaster response groups like the American Red Cross.

FBO were often the immediate providers of food, water, and shelter to their communities, meeting these crucial short-term needs. But after time, FBOs either don’t have the capacity or interest to address the long-term needs and the question becomes, how seamlessly can the FBO hand off the tasks to other groups.

In terms of preparedness, our survey of FBOs and community-based non-profits found that nearly half of FBO respondents were not engaged in any planning future disasters, 18 percent of the FBOs surveyed did develop new emergency action plans as a result of the natural disaster, and 12% spoke of new partnerships created as a result of work after Hurricane Katrina.

In short, we found that FBOs in the United States’ Southern hurricane zone were not as future oriented as other non-profit groups. The task for groups like PLAN!T NOW is to encourage faith groups to use their position in their communities to advocate better severe storm planning.”

PLAN!T NOW would like to thank Dr. De Vita for sharing her expertise and insight into the faith-based organizations, and for encouraging P!N in our advocacy and preparedness efforts.