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In the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and in the face of Category 4 Hurricane Irma bellowing toward Florida, all hands are on deck across the country. For one group of volunteers and organizers, these deadly storms are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to truly help others in need.
The Cajun and Texas navies – highly organized groups of volunteers who use their personal boats and vehicles to help rescue others – have been in the news lately for their efforts during Hurricane Harvey in Texas. This should come as no surprise, as the group has craftily utilized a powerful social media platform to get the word out and share the stories of others who are literally on the front lines of destruction.
“We’re using social media to evoke emotion, not just cash,” Rob Gaudet recently told American Military News. “We’re leveraging social media for disasters like no one has ever done.”
The Texas Navy 2017 Facebook Page has more than 33,000 followers, and there is a Hurricane Irma Facebook group that now has more than 4,200 members. They use Facebook to organize volunteers, Gaudet explained, but they also use the platform to go “live” and broadcast their own coverage of the hurricanes, sharing heartbreaking and moving stories of those who have been affected by these natural disasters.
Gaudet and Melissa Adair co-founded a nonprofit group, the Cajun Relief Foundation, and were also key organizers of the Cajun Navy in the wake of the catastrophic flooding in Louisiana in 2016. Gaudet, a computer programmer and business analyst, is a past Louisianan of the year for the incredible things he has done with relief and recovery following natural disasters. Gaudet is in good company, as other Louisianans of the year include LSU football coach Ed Orgeron and Louisianan teacher of the year Kelly Stomps.
The Cajun Navy is citizen-led help and relief. It’s about people helping people, and it’s powerful stuff, Gaudet told American Military News.
“The idea that citizens have to wait for an authority to come and help them is out the window now. It’s truly a movement,” he said. The Cajun Navy – and now the Texas Navy, as Gaudet’s organization extended its efforts when Hurricane Harvey wrecked havoc in the Houston area – wants to continue helping, but also telling stories to keep the public who might not be on the front lines of these storms engaged.
And in today’s day and age, social media has been a huge driver of emotion and motivation to go help others.
“It’s a people problem,” Gaudet said. “You can’t solve this by throwing money at it. You have to move hearts. You have to move people to come and help, to give up certain aspects of their lives to come and help.”
Long after the storm passes through and the donations are made, there are countless phases of recovery that take weeks, months and, yes, years.
“When do you get a chance to help like this,” Gaudet asked. “These changes are going to transform communities.”
“One of the messages I tell people is that these things have happened before. But this is a 1,000-year event. You have to see it as a 1,000-year opportunity to give back – not a 1,000-year disaster,” Gaudet said.
And it’s working. Facebook Live streams have drummed up increased enthusiasm, and people hopefully won’t soon forget the true faces of the hurricanes.
“The idea is to keep people engaged in recovery and relief by showing it to them,” he said.
“These disasters are akin to a foreign country invading our land,” Gaudet went on. “It’s a battle. But the country rallies when these things happen. We rally together and fight it together.”
The Cajun and Texas navies are not funded; they have raised more than $20,000 through online channels.
Beyond the physical efforts of relief and helping others, and after the donations, is a huge infrastructure that drives these efforts, Gaudet pointed out.
“It’s an entire system. Boaters don’t just show up and put their boats in the water and go look for people. They’re told where to go,” he explained. “Dispatchers tell them where to go.”
While Hurricane Harvey is technically “over,” Texans are going to feel its affects for a long time. And Hurricane Irma is about to bring an unfathomable amount of destruction to Florida and beyond.
Their organization is going to continue helping those affected by Harvey while also helping out during Hurricane Irma, Gaudet added.