Spontaneous Order Leads Tuscaloosa Tornado Relief Via Talk Radio

As many of you know, I teach at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. I really appreciate all of the emails and calls asking how I fared in the tornado. We are fine as are all our family and friends. The tornado by-passed Northport (where I live) entirely. It also spared the University of Alabama. Many areas in the city and suburbs, however, look like postwar Berlin including the communities of Alberta and Holt.

There is a more positive side to this story, however, that deserves more emphasis. The outpouring of volunteers and donations is not only inspiring and effective but extremely decentralized. The two local talk-radio stations, plus another, owned by Clear Channel are on the air with a simulcast from 8:00 to 8:00 to serve as an informal clearing house for relief efforts. The station that started this effort has only three employees (who were normally not on air) and it has preempted the normal programming.

Typically, someone calls in to the host and expresses a need for a particular area or group. Ten minutes later they call back to say that ten people showed up on their doorstep. Those coordinating relief often specify that they are short on particular goods and have too many others, thus allowing givers to tailor the donations. The broadcasts have informed me of several opportunities to be of help. You can listen in at WRTR 105.9 FM, and look at the talk-radio Facebook, here. Be prepared to be emotionally moved. Just last night, a worn-out informal relief coordinator in a trailer park, who needed to see her ailing mother in Mississippi, called for help. The Hispanics at the park were afraid to contact anybody about their needs. Volunteers (including two nurses) rushed to the scene.

Although most of the relief effort starts with individuals who weigh in on their own, churches are playing a key role in coordinating it. I don’t know if a more secular city would fare nearly as well.

David Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute and editor of the Independent book, The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society (with Peter Gordon and Alexander Tabarrok).
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