Hurricane Matthew highlights effectiveness of disaster response

As Hurricane Matthew tore across the Caribbean causing catastrophic damage and taking hundreds of lives, the storm’s future path was unknown. The long-range forecast seemed to call for landfall somewhere in the U.S., but no one knew where Matthew would hit and how strong the storm would be. Regardless of that uncertainty, preparations for whatever would happen were in full swing — and that included ensuring that residents were ready, as well as animal shelters and rescue organizations.

Thankfully for the millions of Americans in the projected path of Matthew, the storm’s impact didn’t match the projections. The storm weakened significantly over the weekend. Having time to prepare is really a major factor in natural disasters, and the time afforded with Matthew seems to have spared a major loss of life, but that doesn’t mean that Matthew didn’t leave a trail of destruction. Widespread flooding with record-breaking storm surges from Florida to North Carolina continues to put people and pets in danger.

As a founding member of the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC), Best Friends has been involved in the response planning since Matthew was forming in the Caribbean. John Garcia, our emergency response manager, is on the ground in the affected area, on the border of South Carolina and Georgia, with other rescue experts. John is a seasoned responder and is also a certified search and rescue (SAR) instructor. NARSC was created in 2006 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at the urging of federal disaster response managers to help coordinate animal rescue efforts with human rescue operations.

At the same time, the Best Friends network partner team has been working around the clock since Matthew began bearing down on the U.S. We have dozens of partner organizations in the path of the storm, and our network specialists have been in close contact with shelters and rescue groups to assist with whatever they may need. So far, we haven’t had many requests for help, thanks to the ultimate track of the storm.

Just as we saw recently in Louisiana with the devastating flooding there, the management of response to disasters is dramatically different these days. The formation of NARSC improved communication, and any requests for help from affected people or organizations are much more quickly addressed.

Matthew may have weakened, but the response to disasters from Best Friends and the rest of the members of NARSC has only strengthened. Matthew wasn’t the storm that many feared it would be, but we know that we’ll all be ready for any disaster in the future that puts people and pets in danger.

Gregory Castle