Low Morale of Disaster Workers – a personal perspective

The Diva does not usually do personal essays on this blog, but since it is my blog here goes.

The Diva is concerned with the state of morale of all of the disaster-related workers with whom I have chatted recently — including FEMA staff, Reservists, Red Cross staff and volunteers, researchers, and consultants. I realize that my realm is a small one, but having been in the field for almost 40 years, I do not recall a time of such widespread low morale and pessimism.

I have no idea if this is symptomatic of a national problem, and I do not have the ability to do the research. But, intelligent and well-intentioned folks are frustrated and depressed about their ability to help and serve disaster victims. Our organizations and systems are defeating their efforts.

At a time when the federal government is increasingly unreliable — with short budget cycles and political turnover — it is especially important that non-government sectors of society  are adequately prepared and ready to help. How can we overcome the pessimism?

Comments are invited

4 thoughts on “Low Morale of Disaster Workers – a personal perspective

  1. Claire:-

    The people on the ground by and large seem to be as good as they ever were – often better, because of training and practice. They believe in their mission of service. However, if the systems they’re embedded in make it inordinately difficult to provide the services they want to provide and that they know in their hearts that they could, frustration and low morale is inevitable. I’m afraid Tom P’s optimism seems awfully Polly Anna-ish to me – it’s hard to feel good about your service when you’re exhausted from fighting the systems supposedly supporting you.

    A few places to start to make things better…
    • Recognize at the federal and state level that many (most?) of the rules and regulations are intended to be applied to normal situations. In preparation for disasters, agencies should consider how they should regulate under abnormal conditions before the poop hits the propellor. Example: after Katrina, MS DEQ did a great job of figuring out how to deal with all of the debris – had plans in place within 3-4 months. But that meant that downed timber, for example, sat where it had been knocked down, dried out and became fodder for forest fires the next spring. This should have been done ahead of time.
    • Local, state and federal officials need to figure out how to coordinate efforts better BEFORE the disaster. And the federal government cannot dictate this – our hodge-podge of state laws and approaches to Home Rule means that the feds have to have their buddies help them through this minefield.
    • The management of some of the larger non-profits need to stop bureaucratizing their processes and figure out how to really support their people in the field. As I’ve pointed out before, during Matthew, our local Red Cross folks were hampered by a bureaucracy seemingly focused on efficiency rather than service. Maybe someone at the ARC should ask why the public has so much more confidence in, e.g., the Salvation Army, the Baptist Men and the Mennonites, who seem to provide better service with less hassle.
    • Most importantly, all of us need to do two things – thank those who serve for their service, and ask them how we can help them do even more.

  2. Diva, in business, industry, education, health care, when one does very well, there are opportunities for advancement, increased compensation and status derived from position power. All of these factors are incentives. They can boost morale. In disaster preparedness, response and recovery, we seek to save one life or one future at a time. We do our best, not seeking to reach a quota or the reward of advancement. We serve! One needs to count one’s blessings as a servant to others. There are huge rewards when you reflect on that little bit of relief you could provide. We need to support each other; provide a chance to reflect on our good deeds. There will always be systemic obstacles and barriers, and we need to provide positive and appropriate criticism when warranted. Seek comfort in the community of good souls who engage in the business of humanitarian support before, during and following a disaster. Contribute your talents. When deployed, I’ve worked hard, written as required, kept good records, communicated and even sung at the daily briefing meeting. Use your talents and reflect upon the good you are doing.

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