In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the Caribbean and Eastern Seaboard, leaving thousands without a place to call home. Following the example of a host in Brooklyn, over 1,000 Airbnb hosts in New York opened doors and cooked meals for those left stranded. Humbled and inspired, in 2013 we launched a disaster response initiative that makes it easy for Airbnb hosts to provide space for people in need when disasters strike.
Since then, we’ve been working to build on our initial efforts and evolve Airbnb’s Disaster Response Program. As part of that, we’re proud to announce we’re working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the long-standing Ready campaign to better educate Airbnb hosts on how to prepare for and respond to emergencies, including natural disasters. In one of the first steps of this collaboration, today we’re sending hurricane preparedness information to over 100,000 Airbnb hosts in hurricane-prone regions across the United States, including regions like the Gulf Coast, Louisiana, Florida, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and Hawaii.
The hurricane preparedness notification will direct Airbnb hosts to FEMA’s Ready.gov website, where they will find a variety of simple steps to prepare themselves in the event a hurricane approaches their region. Going forward, we’ll also be working with private sector liaisons within FEMA to receive real-time information during disaster situations, which will help us more effectively deploy our Disaster Response Program in the areas where Airbnb hosts can be of the most help.
The program is being led by Kellie Bentz, Airbnb’s new Head of Global Disaster Relief. Kellie began her career in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, where she started a disaster recovery project called HandsOn New Orleans. The program housed volunteers, deployed crews to rebuild and fix homes, and engaged with corporations to assist with rebuilding schools, parks, homes, and community centers. After leading the HandsOn New Orleans project to a local sustainable non-profit, Kellie became Senior Director of Disaster Services for Points of Light, the largest volunteer network in the world. Kellie helped manage volunteer responses to disasters worldwide, including the Japanese tsunami and earthquake and Superstorm Sandy.
“Throughout my career, I’ve seen the terrible devastation that disasters can inflict, but I’ve also seen the powerful ways that communities come together to respond and recover,” says Kellie. “At Airbnb we have a real opportunity to use our disaster response program to help these communities in a time of need. We look forward to collaborating more with agencies like FEMA around the world.”
Through the Disaster Response Program, Airbnb makes it easy for hosts to offer their space for free, supporting their neighbors and relief workers following emergencies or disasters in their community. Recently, the program has been activated in Texas and Oklahoma following flooding, Nepal following the earthquakes, and in Manhattan after the explosion in the East Village.
Our Disaster Response Program is also serving as an effective way to find housing for volunteers that are on-site to assist with disaster recover. All Hands Volunteers, a disaster relief organization that has deployed over 28,000 volunteers over the past decade, used our disaster response tool to connect with an Airbnb host and find shelter for volunteers on the ground in Nepal. “Airbnb’s ability to quickly find local hosts that were willing to contribute their space, free of charge, allowed All Hands Volunteers to overcome one of the biggest challenges we face in responding to a natural disaster: finding a safe place for the team and volunteers to stay,” says Erik Dyson, CEO of All Hands. “This meant we were on the ground working in a matter of days after the Nepal earthquake. This flexibility is crucial to our success and we are truly thankful for this partnership.”
We also activated the worldwide Airbnb community to raise over $200,000 to support the relief efforts in Nepal, through donations to Oxfam, UNICEF, and Mercy Corps. We hope to partner with more volunteer groups moving forward.
Our collaboration with FEMA is one step in our ongoing efforts to expand our program both domestically and globally. Through increased preparedness messaging and further collaborations, we hope to build a program that is global in scope, but local in its impact.