Disaster relief organizer: ‘There are people pulling for you’

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While Mari Mitchel decided to sell her property and leave Montecito, her neighbor, Thomas Tighe, is planning to rebuild. Tighe’s story is almost surreal. He’s the CEO of Direct Relief, a nonprofit that helps people around the world stuck in disaster zones. But during the debris flow, he became the disaster victim himself. Nearly a year later, he talks about that experience and  about how he’s doing now.

“We’ve moved six or seven times, so we’re not the most attractive renters, with dogs and cats and kids, but the house is still inundated with mud. We’re in an impressively complicated navigational situation with the insurance company and the county. It’s going slower than I think anyone would have liked, but you can understand it, considering the magnitude of the event. I’m just terribly thankful. For whatever discomfort and fear and inconvenience happened [to my family], it could have been so much worse, and it has been for a lot of people.

I’ve met personally with a lot of people who were part of the 1/9 Victims Fund to disperse money. I felt the privilege of being able to tell people that there are people pulling for you. No one really knows what to do, what to say. I’m better at the work part, but the interpersonal, social fabric that holds people together is something that you’re aware of. Being part of a community that was hit — it was a real learning experience.

It was my personal view [following the debris flow] — and with a lot of respect and admiration for the people who do this in Santa Barbara — that the [emergency notification] system was broken. The messages were confusing. It needed to get fixed. I think improvements have been made, but what happens when cell towers go out, communications don’t get through? It’s still a problem.”