Founder's Story and DAP History
In 2007, Ben Smilowitz witnessed firsthand the failed response to Hurricane Katrina while managing high-volume Red Cross Client Service Centers in Coastal Mississippi.
Despite the power and resources of the United States, basic human needs exceeded the services made available to survivors, resulting in significant unnecessary loss of life and suffering.
Ben knew that if the public realized the extent of service gaps at relief sites, many would question how billions of donated dollars were spent and demand accountability and action.
He decided there that if there was not a group that existed to demand public accountability and provide an open line for survivors, emergency workers, and volunteers to report gaps during disasters, he would start it. In 2007, at the end of his first year of law school, Ben started Disaster Accountability Project. In 2008, Ben and DAP received a competitive Echoing Green Fellowship awarded to cutting-edge social entrepreneurial ventures.
In January 2010, after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, DAP launched its Relief Oversight Initiative to improve the efficiency and coordination of humanitarian/aid and relief efforts through greater transparency and publicly available factual data about the activities of groups responding to disasters.
Immediately after the earthquake, it was clear that the public would donate generously and, with hundreds of organizations soliciting donations, the biggest question was “Where do I donate?” The public was inundated with heart-breaking appeals to emotion and generic anecdotes, basing their donation decisions on brand recognition instead of factual data. Some organizations were raising millions of dollars intended to save lives, simply to skim overhead and pass the remaining funds to other groups. One year later, DAP found nearly half of the dollars donated for Haiti relief were sitting in banks unspent, despite worsening conditions and a cholera epidemic killing thousands.
FEMA begins hiring "Disability Integration Specialist" positions in each FEMA region.
Ben Smilowitz is invited to the White House for the announcement of an agreement between FEMA and National Council on Disability.
DAP visits Haiti to do "site visits" at relief operations. After requesting permission to visit the operations of five groups, Partners In Health and Doctors Without Borders granted DAP access to sites across Haiti.
DAP's website was designed and programmed pro-bono by an exceptional professional team. Design: Peter Davis of pdcreative.com; Programming: Trey Eckels, Lead CMS Developer, The Boston Globe; Selected Photography: Nadav Neuhaus of nadavneuhaus.com
DAP releases two reports (one in 2010 and one in 2011) on the transparency and accountability of organizations responding to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. The reports receive significant international media attention and are requested by both candidates for President of Haiti and U.N. leadership.
DAP volunteers visit 22 Southern Louisiana parishes to request and review all-hazard emergency plans for modernity, comprehensiveness, and accessibility. The report is first covered by the Associated Press, followed by numerous local and regional papers.
President Obama appoints DAP Board Member Marcie Roth to the position currently known as Director of FEMA Office of Disasbility Integration and Coordination. The appointment followed a DAP campaign to compel the FEMA Administrator to implement this post-Katrina recommendation.
DAP receives over 100 calls to its "Disaster Accountability Hotline" in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ike.