Background: There are well-established agencies and organizations in place to ensure basic human needs following a major disaster – food, water, clothing, shelter, medical care, relief workers, transportation, and of course monetary donations. But these disasters also create overwhelming, critical shortages of expensive and hard to transport items that are not readily available through government and non-government agencies: construction vehicles, power generation and distribution equipment, equipment for establishing water and sanitation systems, construction/office trailers, telecommunications equipment, etc..
Such has been the case in the 1020 Haiti earthquake disaster relief efforts: Urban rescue teams, medical teams, water, food, and shelters flooded in. But there was no effective system to reach out to non-government entities that possessed much-needed specialty items. A U.S. company offered a surplus portable power substation to restore portions of the Haitian electrical grid, but there was no system in place to facilitate the transfer of custody and legal issues, so the substation could not be cleared in time to meet a waiting vessel that was transporting relief supplies. Office trailers were urgently needed to reestablish the Port Authority’s ability to manage shipping of relief cargoes, but anticipated FEMA trailers were tied up in red tape. There are almost certainly companies out there with excess inventory that would be happy to donate the needed trailers for a tax write-off, but no system in place to facilitate the process – a “clearinghouse” to convey the need, facilitate receipt of the items, work out a standard liability waiver, qualify tax-exemptions, and arrange timely shipment of such items.
Suggested Action: Follow the example of successful commercial applications like “Craig’s List®” to create a web site that identifies critical needs and solicits individual or corporate donations. This clearinghouse service should include guidance on how to arrange transportation, establish waivers of liability and other legal issues, and obtaining tax credits for donations. DHS/FEMA is the obvious federal agency to manage this on a national level, but it could alternately be implemented through federal grant money to a reputable NGO like the Red Cross. The U.S. Department of State would need to be involved where international aid is involved.