Disaster Recovery: Nonprofit Leader Views Networking as Way Forward

This story was gathered during David Snyder's visit to New Orleans. David reports on CDC programs in action for the CDC Foundation. 

Joseph Kimbrell, chief executive officer of the Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI), can see the Louisiana Superdome from his New Orleans office. It is a commanding view today – and a stark reminder of the chaos in the days following Hurricane Katrina when thousands of evacuees crammed the Superdome and the surrounding streets. Kimbrell and his staff were among those fleeing the city to escape the flooding.

“The first thing we had to do was get our operations functioning again,” Kimbrell says. “We set up a temporary office in Baton Rouge and found out where all our people were.”

LPHI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and improving health and quality of life in Louisiana through diverse public-private partnerships. As Kimbrell explains, leaders learned a great deal from the Katrina response.

“Right after Katrina, a flurry of business, government and nonprofit sector leaders came together in an unprecedented way,” Kimbrell says. “I think people know more about what others are doing than ever before.”

To further cross-sector connectivity, local leaders collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the CDC Foundation, Harvard School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to bring the Meta-Leadership Summit for Preparedness to Louisiana in June 2010. With a goal of linking community leaders across sectors before the next disaster strikes, the Summit meshed perfectly with the goals of many agencies like LPHI working in New Orleans after the oil spill. Kimbrell, and others, emerged from the Summit with new ideas about connections that can be made in the future.

“There were a lot of leaders at the Summit from the business community, and that’s a tough group to engage,” Kimbrell says. “The push to include nonprofits in the planning process is also important. I think the role we’ll play in the future is to be an extension of the state’s capacity during disaster response and recovery.”

Hurricane Katrina highlighted how vulnerable any organization can be when uprooted by a disaster. Working from temporary offices in a different part of the state was a challenge for LPHI, and Kimbrell’s team has worked to address some of the weaknesses that came to light.

“We’re more prepared now than we were then, particularly with our IT capabilities,” Kimbrell says. “One of the most immediate needs we faced was communication.”

To other leaders who might face disasters like the oil spill, Kimbrell offers advice from his firsthand experience of leading an agency through Katrina and the long recovery process.

“Think about what role you might play across the sectors,” Kimbrell says. “Be involved in that community plan so you’re not building the relationships when you’re already in crisis.”



The Meta-Leadership Summit for Preparedness is a unique national initiative to better prepare business, government and nonprofit leaders to work effectively together during a public health or safety crisis. Through the Summit, leaders learn skills needed for effective action during times of crisis and build organizational connections to strengthen community preparedness for responding to and recovering from emergencies. Learn more at www.meta-leadershipsummit.org.

Funding Partners:

The Summit is supported on the national level by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In lieu of a registration fee for Summit participants, local sponsors cover the Summit’s operational expenses.

Program Partners:

CDC, National Preparedness Leadership Initiative – Harvard School of Public Health

CDC Principal Investigator:

Andrea Young, Ph.D., Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response

CDC Foundation’s Role:

The CDC Foundation is organizing more than 30 Summits in cities across the country to train 3,000 leaders. For each Summit, the CDC Foundation identifies local hosts and sponsors from the business, government and nonprofit sectors and works with them to develop a successful Summit in their community.

Terri Heyns, MA, is the associate vice president for communications for the CDC Foundation.