Leadership

Power of A: Critical Aid in a Crisis

By / Apr 1, 2019 (SafakOguz/Getty Images)

Associations band together to support diabetics in natural disasters.

As Hurricane Harvey was approaching landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast in August 2017, Endocrine Society CEO Barbara Byrd Keenan, FASAE, CAE, was one of many nonprofit leaders thinking about how its members could assist following the storm. Among Harvey’s many victims were diabetics, whose access to insulin Keenan knew would be badly disrupted in the hurricane’s aftermath.

“We’re not an organization that has boots on the ground. We’re not like the Red Cross,” she says. “But we do have a network of physicians who could be contacted.”

Her eagerness to pitch in was shared by leaders at multiple organizations and helped create what’s now called the Diabetes Disaster Response Coalition, which works to ensure that diabetics receive care in the wake of hurricanes, fires, and similar events.

At the center of DDRC is Carol Atkinson, director of Insulin for Life USA. IFL is that “boots on the ground” organization—it knows how to ship medicine to disaster areas. But much of its work was conducted outside of the United States. So as Harvey approached and Irma gathered steam, Atkinson was texting leaders from multiple organizations to plan a response.

“The coalition was really born through text messages between colleagues and friends who said, ‘You know what? We’re going to make a difference.’”

Within days of Harvey’s arrival, IFL had sent out five pallets of goods and supplies to the Gulf region. And multiple associations had signed on to help by coordinating volunteers, extending hotline hours, and providing other resources. Members of DDRC now include the American Diabetes Association, the diabetes research organization JDRF, the American Association for Clinical Endocrinologists, and more.

Since its founding, DDRC—which received a Summit Award in ASAE’s 2018 Power of A Awards competition—has responded to other crises, such as last year’s California wildfires. But it’s also become more proactive, producing a preparedness plan to help insulin users be ready for emergencies and anticipating how coalition members will be deployed in different scenarios.

“It’s not just resources, it’s not just education, it’s not just healthcare providers,” says Atkinson. “It’s tying all of those pieces together, so you can look at the problem as a whole and let each of us work within our strengths.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. More »

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