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Emergency Management and the Role of Nonprofit Organizations in the Time of Natural Disasters

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sharif Shamroukh
December 16, 2021

Natural disasters come in different forms that have become part of human life: hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and devastating winds. Sometimes experts were successfully able to predict disasters’ approaches, while most of the time, weather specialists failed to address them due to unknown reasons. Regardless of how and when natural disasters occur, there are responsibilities on government agencies that deal with emergencies and the critical role of nonprofit organizations to save lives and help affected regions survive the aftermath of disasters.

Recently, more than eight states were hit by a devastating tornado that resulted in leveling out some townships in Tennessee and Kentucky and killing tens of individuals, while also destroying factories and distribution centers, blowing down an overwhelming number of trees and causing permanent destruction to infrastructure and important service facilities.

However, this article is dedicated to highlighting the critical role that nonprofit organizations play side by side to emergency response teams that the government provides at the time of devastating disasters. This brings to the surface the purpose for creating the whole philanthropy sector and why one may believe that nonprofit organizations are critical at all times. Nonprofit organizations play a dynamic role in building communities and providing essential services to apply economic stability and community survivability.

Accordingly, nonprofit organizations apply their services on the ground where natural disasters occur to help victims and address their critical needs. The level of devastation that is usually left by severe storms and hurricanes makes a case for calling every hand for help—not only on the government and nonprofit organizations’ level, but also on individual citizens to help distribute food and water, dig into damaged properties for possible stranded people in the rubbles and so forth.

In particular, nonprofit organizations may provide the following critical support during and aftermath of natural disasters:

First and foremost, nonprofit organizations may provide workforce volunteers and mobilize neighboring communities to come together and help save stranded individuals. This is great support since the first respondents from various government agencies are limited to their available resources. Therefore, volunteers who are willing and ready to be present in the devastated regions are also the first respondents who put their lives on the front lines to save others. It is essential to highlight the priceless value that every volunteer provides. Every little bit of help is crucial since every second may form a matter of life or death to the stranded individuals.

Secondly, the critical role of nonprofit organizations is not limited to mobilizing volunteers. It constitutes an essential relief effort needed during disasters and stays in effect weeks and sometimes months beyond the actual time of the disaster. Let’s not forget that hurricanes can cause severe damage to properties, sometimes leveling out an entire town, such as with the recent tornadoes that swept through multiple states and leveled a significant portion of Mayfield, Bowling Green and Dawson Springs in Kentucky alone. As a result, the role of nonprofit organizations in general, and those classified as nonprofit relief organizations, particularly during such devastating events, is invaluable since these nonprofits carry out the essential services to save lives.

Thirdly, let us not forget that natural disaster damages and losses are, in most cases, not predictable, which means that even with highly advanced technology that monitors weather and signals potential hurricanes and other natural disasters, it is not possible to specify the geographic target of the disaster and the number of materialistic losses or the loss of human lives. Therefore, in all occurrences, nonprofit relief organizations would be ready to provide various relief efforts such as rescue, shelter, food and water and even rehabilitation services.

Lastly, let me stress that any nonprofit organization may provide tremendous support to regions affected by natural disasters even though not all organizations are physically present in the affected areas. Nonprofit organizations may mobilize their communities and broader constituencies to participate in fundraising efforts that aim to support regions affected by disasters. Those organizations provide the raised funds and materials to confirmed organizations working on the grounds at the devastated areas. This type of support is essential since the disaster consequence requires every asset to relieve the affected regions and citizens.

It is crucial to constantly stress that relief efforts in times of severe natural disasters are priceless since every little attempt may save lives. Thus, nonprofit organizations’ leadership must give great attention to the preparedness of their respected organizations so that once a natural disaster occurs, the organizations’ resources are ready to take off and respond to the call of duty.


Author: Dr. Sharif Shamroukh is a Senior Lecturer at the American Institute for Philanthropy Advancement, and frequently writes about various public policy issues. Also, Dr. Shamroukh provides consulting services to nonprofit organizations covering a wide range of topics that help achieve their missions.

Contact Dr. Shamroukh via e-mail: [email protected] or Facebook / LinkedIn / Twitter @DrShamroukh

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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