In many ways, the coronavirus outbreak can be likened to a massive natural disaster.
In fact, Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, made just such a comparison recently, saying COVID-19 is like having “54 separate hurricanes in every state, territory and the District of Columbia.”
That’s why Longmont resident Aaron Titus, a seasoned veteran of disaster response coordination and the founder of nonprofit Crisis Cleanup, has decided to lend his expertise to this historic crisis.
Crisis Cleanup, which Titus runs out of his Longmont home, has helped respond to more than 140 disasters including Hurricane Harvey, connecting organizations, charities and nonprofits with those in need of help.
Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, he’s set up coronacommunity.org, where at-risk individuals can apply for aid, and through his website crisiscleanup.org, Titus can help organize efforts that can sometimes overlap and leave people by the wayside.
“If you are going to volunteer, then let’s do it as efficiently as we can so that we don’t duplicate efforts, and we maximize our volunteers’ time and we keep them as safe as possible,” said Titus.
For those individuals who find themselves wanting to pitch in and help elderly and at-risk people, but aren’t with any organization — what Titus refers to as “spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers” — he recommends they spend their time with a group they might be familiar with.
“There are a lot of websites where you can go and sign up to volunteer and will put you in contact with somebody who wants your help,” said Titus. “Here’s the dirty little secret about those websites: during disasters… between 92 and 97% of people who sign up at those websites, regardless of the website, never get engaged and never get contacted.”
He said the reason is, most large relief organizations, while in the middle of responding to a disaster, don’t have the time to train people they don’t know. Instead, he added, going somewhere more familiar could mean getting to work much sooner.
Both crisiscleanup.org and coronacommunity.org are meant to help build these smaller organizations doing work on the ground into a more effective disaster response-force. But, Titus said, without residents and nonprofits willing to lend a hand, the technology and the organization he operates wouldn’t make much of a difference in relief efforts.
“Technology doesn’t actually do things, people do things,” he said. “Technology can help people (and) help volunteers help more people.
“And that’s the goal — but without the community, crisis cleanup and COVIDcommunity are nothing.”