Monday, May 17, 2010

2010 Nashville flood relief: agencies lose cool, get defensive over coverage criticism

When facing community criticism for uneven coverage across hardest hit flood areas in each sector of Nashville, beleaguered non-profits would do best to acknowledge the criticism, admit that attention should have been equally distributed, and assure places like North Nashville that they will work harder to avoid the impression of neglect in the future. However, disaster newby Hands on Nashville did not handle recent criticism of its response gracefully.

"We feel like the process has been pretty good," said Brian Williams, president of Hands On Nashville. "Obviously, when there is a disaster of this scale, you're not going to make everyone whole immediately."
Let's hope that Mr. Williams was quoted out of context, because this is a ridiculous statement that represents a personal attack on North Nashville communities that sat back and watched while efforts focused on wealthier, whiter communities before they got some. It also reflects a callous indifference to the historic neglect that North Nashville faced while Metro resources streamed to points west.

Of course, no one in their right mind expects a small non-profit saddled by the Mayor's Office with the Herculean task of responding to relieve county-wide suffering in the wake of a 1,000 year flood event to "make everyone whole immediately." That was not even the criticism lodged. What some of us do expect is that Hands on Nashville put boots on the ground as quickly in North Nashville neighborhoods as the did elsewhere. Maybe that means less attention in more westward affluent neighborhoods during peak volunteer times. Or maybe it means earlier proactive efforts to tap into northward community leadership networks instead of coordinating a kick-ass social media campaign that recruits thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook friends for the organization's future.

Either way, Hands on Nashville did not redeem itself by responding defensively to community criticism.

While disaster veteran Red Cross did a little bit better in responding to criticism by saying that it would not be satisfied until it heard from all people saying they feel neglected, its CEO said that he was satisfied with agency response. That comes across a more benign discourtesy. Uneven distribution is still unsatisfactory.


  1. Maybe blame the news media for not getting the news out about flooded areas in North and East Nashville. Maybe Hands on Nashville just reacted to the info available. Maybe they had better contacts and organization in West Nashville. It seems a little crass to criticize an organization that's done a ton of good things in the last weeks because you think they haven't helped enough, or helped the right people.

  2. Make everyone whole? Not one flood victim should expect to be made whole after flood relief has concluded. That's just not in the cards. No one would expect to become whole from HON. If that's their mission, then they should redifine their goals.

    Or, maybe he was reading someone else's prepared comments, which is likely.