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The Rescue Impulse

Communities and spontaneous volunteers are the real first line of response in the wake of natural disasters.
Andrew Mitchell helps his neighbor Beverly Johnson onto a rescue boat to escape the rising flood waters from Hurricane Harvey
Andrew Mitchell helps his neighbor Beverly Johnson onto a rescue boat to escape the rising flood waters from Hurricane HarveyJonathan Bachman/Reuters

A caravan of National Guard vehicles. Large Navy ships swooping in. Organized teams of EMTs and firefighters barreling down. These are the organizations we typically imagine coming to the rescue during large-scale natural disasters.

In reality, the real responders are typically groups of local people who self-organize to help one another survive such massive calamities. In Hurricane Harvey’s wake, it was the flotilla of boats that went door to door, neighborhood by neighborhood wresting people and their pets from harm’s way.