November 10, 2021

Lisa Orloff: Empowering communities to save themselves

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9/11 was a watershed moment for millions of Americans and the world as a whole, it shook the collective consciousness of humanity and the world responded in kind asking “How can we help?”. This moment changed America and Americans forever. It was in the aftermath of 9/11 when amazing stories of the human spirit, resilience, empathy, and compassion started surfacing, we could see first responders, volunteers bravely fighting the odds to rescue trapped people, provide comfort, and care to family members and coming together as a united community. Working as a volunteer and coordinator between the Jacob Javits Center and Ground Zero at World Trade Center, Lisa took it upon herself to develop the first informal supply chain from the Javits Center where donations were coming in and Ground Zero where rescue workers needed supplies including medicine, protective gear, food, water, and other essential items. She was able to maintain effective communication lines with the groups at Ground Zero, very early on. Lisa shares, “There were doctors, there were nurses, there were school teachers, there were people from all occupations, many of them did not have disaster management experience, but they wanted to help. We soon realized that there was a tremendous emotional pull, you saw firefighters and construction workers realizing that their brothers were not going to be found, and we knew we needed to carry forward, we knew we needed to maintain that support structure, we started to brainstorm on what was the very first thing we needed to do, we began to formalize, World Cares Center as its first program, September Space.” September Space was a place where family members, first responders, survivors could come together, share their experiences, and access help with the healing process. With the support of volunteers, and donated services from construction companies, they were able to build a place where anyone affected by the impact of their work at Ground Zero and the attacks of 9/11/2001 could come together as one big family and access emotional and physical support services as well as maintain connections that would carry them through the long journey of healing. 

Lessons to learn: Inception & Growth 

It was here that the World Cares Center (WCC) mission grew. Under the passionate leadership of Lisa Orloff, Founder & President of the Board at WCC, saw the challenges firsthand that people had to face after 9/11. Their motto, “Collaborate, Prepare & Recover” outlines their vision for WCC. As she states, “World Cares Centers’ mission is to reduce the harm, suffering, and loss caused by disasters through the empowerment of underserved, at-risk communities to prevent everyday accidents and react as educated and skilled ready responders when disasters occur. WCC believes that resiliency is best promoted when all facets of communities are prepared to respond to disasters together to mitigate their inherent risks, thereby reducing human and economic loss and suffering.”  When World Cares Center was founded, it launched its first program, September Space to provide a safe sanctuary for all affected. Disaster workers, volunteers, survivors, and family members came together in a supportive and holistic environment to receive different therapies, share their experience with those that shared the same experiences. 

Lisa Orloff: Empowering communities to save themselves

WCC believes, “Everyone can be a Ready Responder” and they ensure that they train everyone to work together in disaster response. In the time between 2001-2005, they responded and helped over 45,000 people affected by the travesty. They provided the stimulus for the whole community to grow and heal. WCC consists of people who adhere to the fact that everyone has something to offer and their programs are designed to avail community empowerment from within. Learning from their experiences during 9/11, WCC was able to create a program for first responders and volunteers, which would later be replicated with success in responding with disasters the world over on a hyper local level. They also realized that having boots on the ground was not the only solution, it was organizing the collective effort and teaching future leaders the how which helped them in circumventing the gap between first responders and volunteers and enabling the first responders to view the volunteers as a resource and not just another as assets which they had to manage.  

Lisa’s experiences prompted her to write the book, “Managing Spontaneous Community Volunteers in Disaster – A Field Manual” which helped explain and apply the NIMS (National Incident Command System) to greater success in disaster management by using simple language and the revolutionary curriculum prescribed by Lisa. 

“Everyone can be a Ready Responder” 

Experiences: How do they shape a future leader?  

Lisa has had an interesting life, which was shaped by her parents’ specially her mother whom she cites as her role model, and the experiences she had in her youth. She recalls, “Honestly, I grew up with a father that treated me equally to any boy. I was challenged by the fact that some people did not think that I could do as well as my male counterparts. The one thing that does sicken me is to reflect on the history of sexual abuse from going to school in NYC to working in the fashion industry. To us in the 80’s we just thought it was normal and we needed to be hyper-vigilant and stick together, defend ourselves. It was not until my interns were suffering the same fate that I said this is completely unacceptable. It is odd that I could not see that for myself, but became hyper-protective of my interns and young female friends.” These experiences made Lisa what she is today, being a female and being a leader, she has had many doubters and fear mongers, but it’s her faith to be someone who is ever learning, her passion, her commitment, and to never “know her place”, which has kept her forever seeking new challenges to improving situations, as she shares, “I feel like being a female leader you are responsible for more. You are not only leading a deployment, but people turn to you in more of a maternal way. They may share with you what they will not with men. You need to be careful with that, with feelings, with the result of an overshare and with maintaining the authority you have but balance it with the gift of being a woman.” 

Lisa Orloff: Empowering communities to save themselves

Lisa is a strong advocate of corporate social responsibility, as she points out, “I am 100% for it and believe it is the heart and soul of a company but too many companies have no idea how to help. So many helping days are turned into a promotional opportunity.”  WCC has been at the forefront of effective disaster management and continued adaptability to counter emerging challenges. Early on the university of New Orleans partnered with WCC to teach and interact with community leaders who could replicate the lessons from 9/11 in their communities and recover. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005 FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) asked WCC to come forward and talk to the community to motivate them to respond as a well-oiled machine with predefined roles and effective management. Continuing the legacy WCC has been instrumental in preparing at-risk communities to have the know-how to respond and manage disasters. They have been helping and teaching leaders from all around the world, their incomparable contribution during disasters such as NYC Blackout 2003, Haiti Earthquake 2010, Hurricane Irene 2011, Superstorm Sandy 2012, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico 2017, Hurricane Harvey 2017, and so on are without parallel. The insight, training, and support from WCC have been instrumental in effective human response and collective action to help people.  

“I am 100% for it and believe it is the heart and soul of a company but too many companies have no idea how to help. So many helping days are turned into a promotional opportunity.”

– Lisa Orloff on Corporate Responsibility

Future: Overcoming the Roadblocks 

One of the biggest challenges before WCC has been fundraising, but as Lisa shares, “Women are trusted leaders and caregivers in disaster response. I love working with women from around the world in diverse cultures and communities. We seek them out and provide training and support so that they can do more.”  The undeniable success and impact of WCC are slowly transforming the situation, along with the stellar reputation and patronage Lisa enjoys with countless volunteer’s world over.  

With over 20 years of training, teaching, helping people, and being constantly in connection with other leaders, Lisa has developed and honed the skills which separate her from other women. Her future aim is to get balance in her life and build her legacy which is to change the way we work when a crisis occurs. As she shares, “The greatest highlights are working with a set of a diverse, generous and motivated group of people. As we move further from 9/11/2001 and we are bringing on different generations it is challenging to align motivations.”  

As the world progresses forward WCC has transformed its strategy. Lisa says, “Increase in the frequency and impact of disasters. Increasing our reach, influencing people to become prepared and more self-sufficient in the face of disasters.”   

Lisa has been transforming perceptions and responses for a long time now. Over the years working with upwards of half a million volunteers, she has understood that for women to succeed there needs to be balance, kindness, and acceptance within the society, as she shares her advice, “Be “place” Blind. So many people have said, she doesn’t know her place or some other type of unkind version of that. I say, damn straight. My place is a moving target.” Her work might take her all around the world but in her free time, she loves playing with her dogs, gardening, volunteering as a firefighter, watching “The Princess Bride” which she cites as her favorite along with planning a future trek through Bhutan. 

“Women are trusted leaders and caregivers in disaster response. I love working with women from around the world in diverse cultures and communities. We seek them out and provide training and support so that they can do more.” 


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