Who We Are
Unlike the other Cajun Navy groups, who limit their scope to direct action on the ground, the Cajun Navy Foundation is an action-oriented think tank consisting of a diverse group of technology, social media, disaster relief and rescue professionals. As a 501c3 charity, our objective is to empower communities across the country with the knowledge of how to use technology, social media and mobile apps to take action in their own communities in the midst and aftermath of a disaster. We are working together to understand how to fill the gaps during the chaos of disaster and respond more quickly than authorities are typically able to. In the aftermath, our greatest opportunities lie in rebuild and recovery efforts.
As we continue to learn from experience and adapt along with the ever-emerging nature of technology, we recognize that our volunteers are our greatest assets. With extensive and diverse backgrounds, skill sets, strengths, gifts and abilities, we strive to maximize our collective impact by engaging volunteers where they are most needed. In our organization, people bring their talents to the table and use them in ways that compliment one another.
Cajun Navy Foundation in Context
Before the Internet and before social media and mobile apps, specifically, citizens couldn’t communicate with each other during a disaster. They were relying on authorities to save them, or people were otherwise left to their own devices to figure out how to save themselves. Once the Internet, mobile apps and social media came along, suddenly we could save ourselves. We could reach out to our neighbors for help rather than calling 911.
Today, people go to Facebook to ask for assistance. We, the volunteers at Cajun Navy Foundation, are able to take those requests off of Facebook and put them into a dispatch system. This enables volunteer dispatchers to send out volunteer rescuers to perform the rescues, conduct welfare checks, to deliver supplies or to rebuild homes.
Our journey began after disastrous flooding ravaged Louisiana in 2016, and we became the first to bring technology to citizen-led engagement. During that time, we emerged as a Think Tank focused on creating the best possible solutions to problems faced by disaster survivors. By utilizing technology to connect volunteers with those affected by disasters, we have since been able to streamline and enhance the workflow involved in disaster relief.
The 2016 Louisiana flooding was a four-day rain event without a name. The major rainstorm dumped four times the amount of water that is contained in Lake Pontchartrain, a 630 square mile lake north of New Orleans. During the storm, 150,000 homes flooded over about a ten-day period. The floodwaters, after the rainstorm ended, swelled all of the bayous, rivers and creeks headed down to the Gulf of Mexico through the south of Louisiana.
Nobody anticipated this disaster, and the reality of what people were facing was devastating. There were floodwaters in places where people had not seen flooding in the history of their homes. Many were home sleeping at 3:00 in the morning. They’d awaken and stand up to find themselves in four or five feet of water in their home, with the water steadily rising. They would call 911, but the authorities were overwhelmed.
Survivors turned to Facebook, frantically looking for help. If it had not been for Facebook and mobile apps, lots more people would have died because we could not have dispatched boaters to go find people who were texting us on Facebook from inside their attics.
As the requests came in, we started dispatching boaters. Since we knew where the water was going, we begin staging people ahead of the imminent flooding. With that experience, we emerged as the think tank that pulled it all together. Contrary to what people sometimes assume, the Cajun Navy doesn’t just show up with boats, put them in the water and go look for people. They are told exactly where to go; in the same way that police don’t just drive around looking for crime – they are dispatched when there is a crime.
The Emergence of Technology and Disaster Relief
Reflecting on Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans in 2005, we know that 1,500 people died as a result of the storm. At that time, we didn’t have Facebook, mobile phones or mobile apps on phones. However, we did in Baton Rouge. By bringing technology to citizens and putting it in their hands, we were able to save lives. Without a doubt, many more people would have died if we would not have been able to use technology to perform rescues.
Our founder, Rob Gaudet, realized that in 2016. With a background is in software and building businesses, he could see the impact that social media, Facebook and mobile apps can have on disasters. As a result of that vision, he created the nonprofit, Cajun Navy Foundation, to begin to understand how to start putting those technology pieces in place during disasters. Our first big chance after the Louisiana flooding was when Hurricane Harvey struck southeast Texas and the Houston area. Many dozens of communities and towns were flooded. We engaged in that disaster without dispatch software, but with a spreadsheet instead, documenting more than 4,500 rescues.
With each ensuing disaster, we became better and better at using technology and understanding exactly how it’s supposed to work. In advance of Hurricane Irma striking Florida, Marco Rubio called Rob Gaudet personally to ask him to take this idea of citizen-led relief to Florida before the storm. We had about 45 teams across the state ready to go. After that, we engaged during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Then Hurricane Florence struck North Carolina a year later, and we were there to help. On the heels of Florence, Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle, and we also became engaged in the California wildfires.
During that time, we were able to show communities how to use technology to do home searches, to look for pets and to organize search parties for missing people. We also demonstrated how to use technology to efficiently place people in homes, to get survivors into shelters quickly and to move supplies when and where they were needed most. We engaged during flooding in South Dakota, Nebraska, Tennessee and Mississippi, as well. Most recently, we responded to tornado-ravaged areas in and around Dayton, Ohio. We have currently been involved in relief for more than a dozen disasters.
Cajun Navy Foundation continues to function as a Think Tank, learning and adapting to each new situation and to advancing technology as it all unfolds. We are building a scalable concept, not just direct boots on the ground relief. What we’ve taken from our experiences and learned has led us to begin developing a platform called CrowdRelief. Cajun Navy Foundation is just one of many nonprofits that use CrowdRelief to engage communities to help. CrowdRelief is the future of disaster relief across the United States.
With ongoing growth of the CrowdRelief platform, the Cajun Navy Foundation has flourished. We now have a team of more than 40 experienced citizen volunteers spread across the country; ready to use CrowdRelief to help businesses and nonprofits respond to disasters in any community. When you have motivated citizens and businesses prepared to help locally in their own communities, disaster relief through a reliable framework such as CrowdRelief is inevitable.
Missing from the recovery effort is funding to replace the household things that families need to live in a modern home. Not having a stove and refrigerator for a senior who lost everything can be critical for their well-being, yet from ur experience, no one has planned a way to help with these necessities.
As homes are rebuilt, things like appliances, furniture, linen, pots and pans, plastic food storage, silverware, curtains, blinds, etc., will need to be replaced. All of these items that took years to accumulate must be purchased and replaced, yet many families have no remaining funds to do so.
The idea for CrowdRelief came after realizing that there would be no outside funding for this aspect of recovery.