Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice Uses Katrina Lessons to Organize Long-Term Haitian Relief

PHILADELPHIA — The University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice, using the lessons it learned from the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast, is coordinating a long-term, interdisciplinary Penn response to the disaster in Haiti.

After wrapping up its Feldman Initiative, a three-year interdisciplinary collaboration to rebuild Hancock County, Miss., the School has created a disaster-relief model to address how universities can best assist communities after natural disasters.

With experience in disaster relief, including an understanding of which efforts are counter-productive, the School plans to team up with other schools across the University again, this time for Haiti.

“The Feldman Initiative in post-Katrina Mississippi provided relief for the victims of that disaster and created a model for how universities can and should contribute to disaster relief,” Steven Feldman, Penn alumnus and member of the School’s Board of Overseers, said. “By using that model, the School of Social Policy & Practice will be more effective in addressing the devastation in Haiti.”

As a part of the University-wide Penn in the Gulf Katrina-relief program, the Feldman Initiative allowed Penn faculty, staff and students to volunteer, using their specific expertise to help in the recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast. It also gave Penn the opportunity to research the immediate- and long-term needs in a post-disaster environment, including the mental-health issues that may arise and the important role of social services.

“What we’ve found is that a university can be most helpful in capacity-building, in addition to direct relief. The long-term goal here is to give the Haitians the ability to continue rebuilding themselves,” Richard Gelles, dean of the School, said. “Keeping that long-term goal in mind, the capacity-building will likely have the most long-term, sustainable impact. However, both immediate- and long-term relief efforts will require financial support.”

During the next few weeks, faculty members at the School of Social Policy & Practice will be reaching out to their partners who also participated in the overall Penn in the Gulf post-Katrina relief efforts, including the schools of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Applied Science, Nursing, Dental Medicine and Design, to examine the needs for volunteers and how they could be most helpful in rebuilding Haiti.