Technology plays key role in Cajun+Navy volunteer efforts

Marlisa Harding

A new day has dawned in regards to how communities recover from natural disasters, Rob Gaudet, Cajun+Navy Foundation founder, said. The non-profit has been actively responding to Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles since Laura’s landfall with Gaudet saying there is still much work to be done.

“We’re attempting to create a new model for disaster relief. Not that it’ll replace anything but it’ll supplement what other organizations do now,” he said.

Comparing the organization’s model to crowd-sourcing, Cajun+Navy Foundation has harnessed the power of social media and computer technology to create a volunteer-based infrastructure that allows citizens to request assistance digitally, be instantaneously routed to a dispatcher who then alerts ground level volunteers. “We’ve cleared over 700 homes of trees, had 750 volunteers and served 50,000 meals in 18 days. It’s just one thing after another.”

The logistics of the efforts are organized with software developed by Gaudet himself, a professional software programmer. Watching the power of social media in the aftermath of the 2016 floods, Gaudet decided to use his skill set to bring increased organization to the newly created citizen first responder groups.

He used his social media savvy to organize a Facebook group that grew to over 20,0000 users asking for help. “But there was no coordination of the people asking for help,” he explained.

Comparing the early days of the operation to a police department he said, “All of those guys, police officers, they don’t just drive around looking for crime. No, they’re dispatched by someone behind the scenes… People don’t realize that I have 30 volunteers working from their home that do dispatch and take that ticket to have trees cleared or whatever’s requested.”

Gaudet’s programming expertise allowed the organization to tie together the willing volunteers with needs of residents resulting in a nimble and cost effective model of response.

“We have a ground component and a work from home component and technology is what enables it all,” he said.

With volunteers who pay their way to arrive on the scene and a headquarters consisting of efficient accommodations and storage, Cajun+Navy Foundation’s method of operation could serve as a model to other communities and organizations, he said. “This is a societal shift in how communities (handle) disasters….I want us to be seen more as a movement and platform than a club.”

As of Monday, Cajun+Navy Foundation had 50 open tickets of Southwest Louisiana residents still in need of assistance. “A lot of that is manual labor and we really need a lot hands coming here to help with that.”  

To volunteer or learn more, visit www.cajunrelief.org or download the Cajun Navy Ground Force App.This DeQuincy grocery store parking lot was a staging area for Cajun Navy volunteers waiting to see where they would be needed next during flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Rita LeBleu

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