San Francisco, a city that knows its faults

Low vacancy, so many homeless people, beautiful old buildings, shuttle busses to silicon valley… and warning, I’m going to talk about earthquakes. If it gets scary, stick with me: there’s good news at the end, ways to better understand the specific risks facing San Francisco, and some easy places to start.

Let’s Talk Numbers
After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, 11,500 Bay Area housing units were uninhabitable. If there was an earthquake today, the current estimate (from Spur) is that 25% of SF’s population would be displaced for anywhere between a few days to a few years. However, San Francisco’s top shelter capacity can only serve roughly 7.5% of the overall population. And that is only for short term stays in places like Moscone center. So where would the remaining 17.5% of the population go?

1. Some people may decide to leave the city and start over somewhere else (something called “outmigration”, which is not ideal for the economic health of a city).

2. And some people take longer term housing in vacant units around the city. But this is particularly tough in SF because vacancy is currently at an all time low of about 4.2% vacant units.

3. This brings us to the most ideal scenario: staying put. Something referred to in the emergency management world as “shelter-in-place.”



What is Shelter-in-Place?
Shelter-in-place is “a resident’s ability to remain in his or her home while it is being repaired after an earthquake — not just for hours or days after an event, but for the months it may take to get back to normal. For a building to have shelter-in-place capacity, it must be strong enough to withstand a major earthquake without substantial structural damage. […] residents who are sheltering in place will need to be within walking distance of a neighborhood center that can help meet basic needs not available within their homes.”

Continue reading


Disaster Planning for the Disabled

In your community, are there any plans specific to evacuating disabled individuals?
In New York City, the answer is no.


What’s The Problem?
New Yorkers are in federal court arguing that the city needs disaster evacuation planning specifically for the disabled.  Numerous complaints were received after Hurricane Sandy by disabled residents who were unable to access evacuation vehicles, shelters, or resources. According to the CDC, this is a widespread issue, as about 50 million Americans, or roughly 20% of the population have disabilities or access needs. It is clear that disabled individuals may need special consideration during evacuation and recovery. So why aren’t we building their needs into disaster planning? And what can you be doing as a resident or government official to help?

How Can Recovers Help?

For individual residents, our new preparedness platform (currently called ‘Ready‘) provides disabled individuals with information specific to their situation and location such as: Continue reading

Disaster Outcome Brokers

BCLC’s Richard Crespin writes about challenges in post-disaster corporate giving and local organizational efforts. Read the original article here. 

In eighth grade I had to pick an independent study project. It was the ’80s, the dawn of the Reagan Revolution, and it was cool to emulate Family Ties’ Alex P. Keaton (ok, maybe not cool, but cool enough for me), so I picked investing. This was before online brokers, before E-Trade, even before the Internet, so my dad took me down to the local Sears. That’s right. Sears. For some reason Sears had decided to offer financial services, so the local office of Dean Witter was squeezed between the lay-away desk and the lawn mowers.


As I sat there, a kindly man in shirtsleeves and a tie explained capital markets. Brokers like him earned their money by knowing who wanted something (the buyer) and who had it (the seller). He served not only as an intermediary, but he understood the goals of each party in order to ensure the trade was successful for both. That, in short, is what any good broker does, be they real estate, stock, or disaster brokers.

Wait. Disaster brokers? Do such things exist? No. But they should. Institutional and cultural barriers undermine the ability of businesses, governments, and NGOs to work together to rebuild after disasters. “Disaster recovery outcome brokers” could overcome these barriers.

A few weeks ago I helped the Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) lead a Business Delegation Tour of the communities damaged by Hurricane Sandy. We met with every local government, local chamber, and local business leader we could find in the boroughs of New York and up and down the Jersey Shore. In every meeting, the businesses on the tour would ask, “Whaddya need?” and the local leaders would say, “Whaddya got?” After a back-and-forth it became apparent that neither side really understood the needs of the other.

This is a classic brokerage situation: unmet needs on one side and resources in search of effective deployment on the other, compounded by a “language barrier” and a “time barrier.” The language barrier arises when NGOs don’t know how to express their needs in discreet work packages (send me 10 accountants to Union Beach on Wednesday and 100 cases of work gloves to Hoboken on Thursday) and the time barrier comes in when businesses with hard resources (people, money, products, services) have very limited management resources (executives capable of triaging and making decisions about where to deploy them).

It’s very similar to the challenge many of us face when picking investments. Assuming we’ve got the money, we lack the time necessary to learn about the markets and the different investment possibilities. Enter your friendly investment broker. This situation recurs after every disaster, which is why we need effective “disaster recovery outcome brokers.”

In his paper, “Can Government Work Like OpenTable,” my friend and colleague Frank DiGiammarino uses his insights from running for the Office of the Vice President to lay out a new model for how public-private partnerships could work. In his words, “As a global society, we’re at a cross roads. Government resources are increasingly diminished, yet our problems are more complex. If the public sector wants to break its beurasclerosis it needs to understand and embrace new ways of doing things… like Kayak, Hulu, and yes OpenTable [which] all exist to sort through huge amounts of data to deliver an individualized outcome.”

Similarly, after a disaster, the needs are hyper-local (varying from town to town, even block to block) and in unstructured datasets like social media or separate databases, but the resources to solve them live inside of institutions, like governments and big businesses, who are used to structured data and detailed processes. What people need in Union Beach, NJ differs vastly from what people need in Hoboken, NJ — much less what they need in Staten Island, NY. Knowledge about those needs exists, but only at the very local level. And the NGOs and governments that have it use different databases, if any. For businesses to respond to these localized needs they need to get them in work packages that they can easily access, so that they can assign resources to them using only a very small amount of management time.

As an example, immediately following the storm, I briefly sat in the FEMA Operations Center. A call came in for temporary housing. Racking my brain for atypical sources, since all the typical ones were either underwater or already engaged, I came up with real estate management firms. I called one of the largest. They said, “Love to help, but we manage office space. We can’t convert that to housing. Sorry.” Weeks later, I relayed this story to a local NGO in New Jersey. The poor woman’s head nearly exploded in frustration, “Argh! We needed office space for staging areas!” She hadn’t thought to ask for office space from businesses, and even if she had, chances are slim that her request would have surfaced to me in DC.

Now, it is true that systems like Aidmatrixexist and act as big spreadsheets in the sky for cataloging needs, especially for product donations. Those systems have their own advantages and disadvantages and smart people are hard at work trying to improve them. But even those plans won’t address several core challenges.

First, at a basic level, we need systems for dealing with services, skills-based volunteers, and directed cash donations. To deal with part of this challenge BCLC has partnered with National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD) to launch a Disaster Recovery Aid Portal for these specific needs. More fundamentally, however, we also need a bit of rapid human intervention. My Dean Witter broker, back when I was in eighth grade, did more than just match cells on a spreadsheet. He helped broker high-value relationships by understanding both the buyer’s and seller’s needs. The same thing is needed for disaster recovery and rebuilding. The BCLC/NVOAD portal will do some of that by inserting an actual human being into the posting/matching process to ensure the needs from NGOs and governments are expressed in a way that a company can respond to.

We also need a broader conversation about the role of businesses in disaster rebuilding and recovery. It has become increasingly common practice for companies like UPS and FedEx or Walmart and Target to embed in emergency management operations centers so they can coordinate with the governments and bring their supply chains to bear immediately following a disaster. That kind of partnership needs to extend beyond immediate relief efforts and security issues (so called “first response”) to the medium-term issues of rebuilding and long-term recovery (“second response”). Doing that will help breakdown several cultural and institutional barriers that currently impede long-term recovery.

On the cultural side, many people in NGOs and governments inherently distrust business. Part of that is inherent to their position: they have to keep potential vendors at arm’s-length to avoid compromising the procurement process. But it also comes from a knee-jerk suspicion of the motives of the private sector. On the other side, businesses, like the rest of us, have short attention spans. While they’re willing to open their wallets in the immediate aftermath, once things leave the front page, their interest and giving often wanes. Which is a shame, because if anyone has the know-how to solve these long-term issues, it’s business. We need to simultaneously better educate NGOs and governments on how to work with businesses and raise awareness among companies of the roles they can play in a long-term solution. Governments and NGOs shouldn’t be naïve in selecting partners, as there will always be bad actors, but they need to learn how to separate the good from the bad. And businesses need to give smarter, focusing their resources on the problems they can uniquely solve.

Disasters, like many other problems, are beset by silos. Government agencies work in their lanes, NGOs in theirs. Businesses, same story. “Outcome brokers aren’t slowed down by silos. Instead, they’re focused and designed to solve problems,” says Frank DiGiammarino. An outcome broker for disaster recovery would cut across these different sectors and craft hyper-local solutions, drawing on the vast institutional resources from each.

I haven’t cracked the code on what an outcome broker would look like for disaster recovery, but drawing on lessons from other models, here are some attributes:

  • Cross-sector governance. The major parties — businesses, governments, and NGOs — need equal seats at the table. A study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) pointed out that the US federal government still comes to the table in public-private partnerships (PPPs) with  the mentality of “my wallet, my rulebook,” meaning that as the major funder it calls the shots. The CSIS report calls for a “catalytic checkbook, dynamic rulebook” model, where the government pitches in the starter capital and adjusts its rules to the situation. For outcome brokers to emerge, that mentality needs to spread.
  • Access and analysis of large data sets. What makes the Kayak or OpenTable model work is those companies’ability to use localized data and customize it for easy use. I often hear problems of data security and confidentiality as barriers to data sharing in PPPs, but I can think of few more competitive environments than restaurants and travel. If Kayak and OpenTable can figure out how to get competitors to safely share information, so should we.
  • Integrated operations. Beyond overall governance and access to data, we also need integrated day-to-day operations. I recently interviewed a broad set of business leads responsible for their companies’ management of PPPs. Almost every one of them mentioned the importance of integrated day-to-day operations as the key to their success or lack thereof. Without trust and good working relationships at the ground level, things fall apart, even with intense backing from executive leadership.

I hope these principles can start a new conversation. Recovery and rebuilding will always be hard. But it doesn’t have to be as hard as it is today. By shedding light on these principles I hope outcome brokers will emerge who, like my old Dean Witter stock broker, will understand the needs of all sides and break through the cultural barriers, institutions, and data to find tailored solutions to hyper-local needs.

So you want to get Ready: Emergency Supplies

photoHi! I’m Caitria and I’m going to walk you through purchasing and storing emergency supplies. This is a very basic list – you can always add more items specific to your area or family. Suggestions? Let us know in the comments!

First – take a deep breath and relax. You do not have to run to Walmart and buy every bit of emergency gear that they stock. Getting your household and neighborhood ready for an emergency can be a more gradual process, completed in small tasks. I’ll tell you what you might need, and you can plan to pick it up on your next shopping trip.

  • Water. You should have at least 3-5 gal/person in your house for longer power outages. This can be a case of water, a tank, a few gallon jugs in the basement, or even a waterbed. I keep two 5 gal containers of water in my shed, and change the water every six months.


  • Food. You should have at least 3-5 days of food per person/pet in the house. Store nonperishable food that doesn’t require cooking (canned fruit, vegetables, peanut butter, jelly, crackers, canned soups, beans, baby food if you have an infant) and a non-electric can opener. Try to get something familiar rather than expensive dehydrated food you aren’t sure you’d like to eat. I keep a case of beans, a case of soup, and an extra tub of dog food from Costco in my shed.


  • Flashlight, Batteries and Candles. When you are Ready and the power goes out, it can be fun! I have a big yellow flashlight that slides out to a lantern and a few boxes of plain taper candles. Thomas and I bought both on Amazon, and I keep them in the cabinet over the sink.



  • First aid kit and Prescriptions. I’ll write a longer post on this and link it soon. You can get a basic first aid kit at most drugstores, online, or at Walmart. I added a whistle to signal for help, and we keep it under the sink. If you have prescription medicine, have 3-5 days worth on hand at all times.



  • Tools. Have a wrench or pliers to turn off the gas valve and other utilities. You can also have plastic tarping and duct tape on hand if a window breaks. Thomas’s tool bucket is outside in the shed, and the duct tape is over the sink.



  • Information. Having important information printed and in your wallet is very important! helps you assemble the information and phone numbers you might need, and print a wallet sized or full page sheet. For example, having my insurance claims phone number on hand can help me call in for help even if I leave the house for shelter. I created an emergency profile on, and you can too!

Whew – that’s it. I spread out these purchases over about 2-3 weeks and just added the items to my regular grocery lists. Do you have advice or tips for other readers? Put your suggestions below!

Learn more about emergency preparedness and create a profile at !  Questions and comments? Image credit to Noun Project. 

Rise of the Remote Volunteer

People are wonderful.

After a disaster, there is a flood of goodwill that pours into communities to help with the local recovery effort. These volunteers and donors come not only from within the community, but from areas all over the US.


The Problem
Unfortunately, it is hard for someone in California to help someone in New York in a meaningful way — they would have to travel to the devastated community. This is not only costly, but also causes an unnecessary influx of people to an unsafe disaster area.

The Remote Volunteer
We’re helping change this pattern and allow people across the country to volunteer meaningfully without rushing into a disaster zone. Using the platform, a California resident has the ability to help in a New York recovery effort, without ever leaving their home. We’re seeing a new class created – the remote volunteer. Since the software logs all of the needs, donations, and volunteers into online databases, it allows for volunteers outside of the disaster area to remotely view this information from their computer and match people in need of assistance with available local resources. Therefore, the person living in California can directly help those affected by the disaster in New York, without ever leaving their living room.


Utilizing remote volunteers provides multiple benefits to recovering communities by:

  1. Capturing the goodwill of people from around the world and channeling it to help with the local recovery effort.
  2. Reducing the flood of out-of-town volunteers into an affected community, which is unsafe and unnecessarily inundates the local volunteer organizers.
  3. Lessening the burden and responsibilities of local volunteer organizers and lengthening their participation in the recovery effort.
  4. Helping bridge the gap from immediate response (first 7 days) to long-term recovery (2 months +).
  5. Increasing the speed and efficiency of meeting needs within the community.

Our Experience
We’ve seen these remote volunteers in action. After the initial response to Hurricane Sandy, local volunteer organizers began to leave the day-to-day recovery and return to their jobs and families. They were burning out and could not commit as much time to the recovery effort, but affected households were still reporting needs. To solve this problem, we empowered remote volunteers from NPower ( to manage these incoming needs and match them with available resources. The fantastic crew of NPower volunteers, many from locations outside of the Hurricane Sandy disaster area, were able to spend a of couple evening hours contacting those in need of help and connecting them with available volunteers and donors. These remote volunteers helped fill in where the local volunteers had left off and bridge the gap from initial response to long-term recovery.

Again, people are wonderful. In response to a disaster, I have been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming goodwill of those wanting to help. And it’s clear that the quantity of people is not a problem, but rather capturing and utilizing those people effectively. The right tools, given to the right people, can harness and deploy this goodwill in a recovery effort, and even allow remote volunteers to participate directly. That’s what we’re trying to do here at

Become a remote volunteer! Sign up at this link!

Image Credits:
Family Care designed by Maurizio Fusillo from The Noun Project
Volunteer designed by Dima Yagnyuk from The Noun Project
Worker designed by Bart Laugs from The Noun Project – Disaster Address Changes

How to Forward Your Mail to a Temporary Address

 In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and other recent natural disasters, homeowners have had to become more aware of the need for disaster preparedness, education and their own community’s crisis response protocols. It’s possible that your community or home could be severely impacted by a disaster, and that you’ll need to find temporary housing if one occurs. Securing shelter and making sure your family is safe is one of the most critical considerations when you’re displaced.

If the unthinkable happens and you need to find temporary housing, it would be nice if you could stay on top of important mail such as bills, insurance forms and health correspondences. This is easy when you file a temporary change-of-address with the United States Postal Service (USPS).

You can have your mail forwarded to a new address, or change address easily if you have to relocate.

Temporary Change of Address

 Before moving to your home, it’s likely that you changed your address with the official USPS website to ensure delivery of mail to your new address. When you’re forced to relocate due to a disaster or need to move to a temporary address, USPS offers a temporary change of address as an option. This means that USPS forwards your mail to the new address for as long as needed up to 60 days. Just as with a permanent address change, this can be done several ways:

  • Online: The easiest and most convenient method, this requires $1.00 verification fee with a valid credit card. (USPS electronically verifies the information you entered with the bank that issued your card. This is done to verify the address you provide matches the address record for your card.)

USPS offers information about the temporary change-of-address process and answers questions on their website FAQ.

Other Ways to Change Your Address Temporarily

Depending on your situation or your temporary housing setup, you might not have Internet access to complete a temporary change of address online. Check out these four other options:

  • By phone: This also requires the $1.00 verification fee.
  • In-person: Do this at the nearest post office.
  • By mail: You can mail the change-of-address card to any branch location.
  • Via a mail carrier: Hand your completed card to any mail carrier.

Disaster response personnel and designated volunteers may be able to assist you in completing the mail forwarding, as most have specific knowledge to help disaster victims accomplish “normal” routine tasks during a crisis. Completing a temporary change-of-address form and assuring your mail will be forwarded is one thing that will make temporary displacement a bit less stressful. 

Post by Nancy LaFevre for is the place for stress-free moving. Visit us for a free customizable moving checklist, tips and hand-picked deals to make your move more affordable and less stressful.



The Year in Review

Creating new standards in disaster recovery

We would like to thank every one of you for your support throughout 2012. In the past year, the team at Recovers launched software for 12 communities, saw nearly 30,000 accounts created, and helped local organizers meet hundreds of reported needs. We’d like to take a moment to look back at the lessons we have learned this year.

A strong start

Our small team began working with disaster stricken communities across the United States nearly one year ago to design a better community toolkit. We believe that every community member has the right to help put their city back together, so we built tools for volunteer, donation and case management that anyone could safely use. The first version of this software was finished in April of 2012 and launched the same day in North Texas to aid a tornado recovery effort. Our site was able to gather $30,000 in donations in the first four days and captured the goodwill of more than 500 donors and volunteers.

More recently, after Hurricane Sandy our software was used in four neighborhoods of New York City to post important information and collect donations, volunteers, and needs. The software captured the goodwill of over 20,000 volunteers and donors, and helped organizers meet hundreds of needs. This database of resources can now be used in the long term recovery effort to rebuild the communities and meet the needs of those affected.

“We wouldn’t have been nearly as effective in helping people if it hadn’t been for the Recovers software.”
– Cooper Taylor from Forney, Texas

What we’ve learned

While our primary focus when launching software post-disaster is assisting the community, these “stress tests” in disaster zones teach us valuable lessons about recovery. We’re sharing a few of the most interesting points we’ve discovered this year.

1. The Remote Volunteer Organizer

Our software creates a new class of remote volunteer organizers, who can now log needs, donations, and volunteers into searchable online databases, and better match supply and demand.

Since the Recovers databases can be accessed anywhere via Internet, people from around the US can participate in local recovery efforts. Volunteers from groups like NPower and Occupy Sandy have directly helped by searching the databases and matching need with aid in their communities.

As things return to normal, and local volunteers return to work, we are seeing the power of these remote organizers. They can easily stay involved for longer, by spending just an hour or two at home in the evenings matching requests for help with available resources. Months after Hurricane Sandy, volunteers continue to meet reported needs.

2. Analyzing Disaster Data

Our software reveals gaps between “things people want to give”, and “things people need”. This information can help with resource distribution, guide donation, and highlight communities that need a little extra help.

Data from the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort revealed interesting information. First, 70% of all volunteers and donors that registered using our software occurred in the first 5 to 6 days after the Hurricane struck the city. The Recovers system was able to capture all of this initial interest which can now be used in the remainder of the recovery effort. If no system was in place, all of this goodwill would have been lost.

Second, knowing the most requested needs, donated items, and volunteered skills gives a good idea of what you can leverage in your recovery effort, and what gaps need to be filled. During Hurricane Sandy, it is now evident that clothing is the most readily available donation item, and that volunteers can be leveraged for debris removal purposes.

Stay tuned for more articles on this blog  as we continue to analyze our data from Hurricane Sandy and other recovery efforts! 

– The Team at