Be Prepared

04.05.136:41 PM ET

Caitria & Morgan O’Neill Prepare Towns for Disaster

When disaster struck their hometown, Caitria and Morgan O’Neill realized how ill prepared most cities are at launching recovery efforts. So they invented their own training platform.

On June 1, 2011, sisters Caitria and Morgan O’Neill found their hometown of Monson, Massachusetts devastated by a freak tornado and a community confounded by the disaster relief effort.

The pair—aged 20 and 24 at the time, respectively—realized if their town was suffering, so were many others, and they set about creating a platform that could ease the recovery burden. They put their life plans on hold and launched, a software program that helps cities build a tool kit to use before and after natural disasters strike. The program trains communities to know what to do before a situation becomes dire, and how to manage volunteers, distribute aid, and start rebuilding after.

At a Women in the World Summit panel presented by Toyota, actress Claire Danes interviewed the dynamic sisters about their successful system, which has been utilized in regions across the U.S. Morgan, now studying for her Ph.D. at MIT, explained that the service is meant to provide long-term, sustainable “community tools that regular people can just look at and be more prepared without needing to take a class.”

“Why wait for disaster to happen?” asked Caitria. And it’s simpler than you may think: “Get an extra can of pb and crate of beans and that’s your emergency kit.”

With the tragic legacies of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy still fresh in the minds of many Americans, the country is primed to revamp its disaster recovery programs—and has shown that the leadership effort needs to reach beyond official relief program delegations and into the hands of civilians on the ground who live in the communities in need.

The path is long, but provides a necessary platform for the first steps. “We’re all learning,” Danes said.