The Libertarian Approach To Disaster Relief

We hear it all the time. What about the roads? What about the schools? Of course, we point out that roads and schools can be handled privately, and many are. But disaster relief is one of those things we struggle to point to great successes on the individual side…

Until now!

Hurricane Harvey has shown just how capable individuals are to handle such situations. From the opening scenes of the floods in Houston, it wasn’t the government that came to help. It wasn’t even the big international organizations. It was prepared citizens.

Clip after news clip showed Texans jumping in big trucks and privately owned fishing boats to rescue people from trapped neighborhoods. For days I watched the media “discuss” the support that was on the way. All the while, real people were being saved by the average joe.

If fact, once the government did arrive, they became part of the problem in some situations. One instance caught on tape showed monster trucks pulling military vehicles out of the floods. Unfortunately, that won’t match the narrative of most media outlets.

The Organizations

Many of the first-response organizations that were able to help out were not government organizations. While FEMA and the National Guard were called in to help, organizations like the Red Cross and The Salvation Army also arrived on the scene to help. Some people may need reminding that these are not government agencies.

Organizations like these are prime examples of volunteer based emergency relief. They often arrive before any government aid and provide emergency assistance before the emergency is over. Sure, the government will dump unknown amounts of money into relief efforts, but that’s another problem for another day.

Private organizations like these ought to be a shining light in the libertarian debate. Donations are completely voluntary and they play key roles (although not always perfect) in disaster relief efforts. When people ask “What about the roads?”, we should respond with “What about disaster relief?”

Lessons Worth Learning

I made the mistake of turning on Fox News during the aftermath of the event. I should have stuck with local news stations, but the mistake was made.

What I saw was Geraldo Rivera discussing how Hurricane Katrina had been so much worse in terms of loss of life. On that point, we agree. But then he followed it up with some speculation that the government didn’t want to help those in Katrina because it’s a more liberal area and didn’t have ties to the sitting president.

I started screaming at the TV but quickly realized that was useless. Mr. Rivera seems to have missed two important points.

First, New Orleans is up to 6 feet below sea level in many places! Of course, the devastation is going to be worse when the levees break.

Second, the people of New Orleans got on TV and asked for help. In contrast, the people in Houston jumped in their boats and trucks and started helping people. Some people did wait for help. And those were the ones on the news saying “Help never came.” It was the active assistance of neighbors, friends, and families that saved lives in Houston, not the government.

Be A Hero Or Don’t, But Don’t Become A Victim

Hurricane Harvey showed a very heroic side of people. Many wading through waters to help people trapped in or on their homes. Not everyone will be able to do that, but everyone can take steps to be more prepared. At the very least, your goal should be to keep from becoming another victim in need of rescuing.

Every disaster is different, but there are commonalities for most weather related incidents.

  1. Get Out Early: The government officials didn’t want to order an evacuation because they feared a traffic jam. When they start quoting the last traffic jam as a reason not to evacuate, that should be your sign to get out. Have some bug-out gear ready to go if you need to leave on short notice.
  2. Prepare Your Transportation: The floods in Houston limited travel to boats and lifted trucks in many places. However, in your neck of the woods that may be tire-chains and snowmobiles. I remember being the only one on the road during a freak snow storm in North Carolina in the late 90’s because my grandfather had snow chains. We drove around for a bit to see if anyone needed help. Fortunately, everyone had hunkered down and the only people we saw were kids playing in the snow.
  3. Have Some Basic Supplies: Many of the people stranded in their homes were safe in their homes. It wasn’t until they began running out of food and clean water that they decided to risk their lives to get out. A week’s worth of supplies would have been enough to get them through this disaster.
  4. NEVER WAIT FOR THE GOVERNMENT: I’m only adding this portion in case some of those big-government supporters accidentally stumble across this article.
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