By Bob Miodonski
FOR THE SECOND time this year, we've devoted space in CONTRACTOR to a news story about a natural disaster. In January, we published a story about our industry's response to the tsunami that devastated southern Asia the day after Christmas last year. Now we're all dealing in some degree with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
While we commended the individuals, trade associations and companies that contributed to the tsunami relief efforts, I was disturbed by a few comments that I read online in discussion groups for contractors. While acknowledging the suffering being experienced in Asia, these contractors expressed the belief that we have our own problems here and charity starts at home.
The devastation has hit home with Katrina, and now is the time for everyone to get involved in the relief effort. CONTRACTOR recently participated in a conference call with leaders of several associations in the plumbing industry and other trade press to map out a response to Katrina. The groups in the discussion included the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association, Mechanical Contractors Association of America, Plumbing Manufacturers Institute, American Supply Association, American Society of Sanitary Engineers, and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.
The consensus of the coalition is that a two-step response is needed, and we agree that strategy makes sense. The first part has to help relieve the suffering in the Gulf Coast. The second has to be a plan to put a structure in place to react to these sorts of disasters more swiftly the next time one occurs.
The plumbing industry is in a unique position to give aid in the aftermath of Katrina.
Members of the different associations already are donating money to large charities such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Much more work needs to be done, and we urge you to support these organizations.
Understandably, some members of PHCC and MCAA have expressed a desire to make their contributions more personal or more direct. These PHCC members, for example, want to give directly to their colleagues who belong to the same association. These MCAA members are looking for a smaller charity, or a local hospital, where their contribution possibly would have more impact. This is in addition to the $ 25,000 that MCAA already has pledged to the Red Cross.
We encourage these members of both groups to pursue their goals. We would add a couple cautionary notes, however, to others who might want to follow their lead.
First, the IRS likely will question the tax-exempt status of donations given directly to individuals. While you're probably saying that this is the last thing you're considering when you're reaching out to help a friend in need, you may be thinking about the tax implications later on.
Second, be very wary about the lesser-known charities to which you give your money. Unfortunately, as we saw after 9/11 and the Asian tsunami, unscrupulous individuals and groups will prey on the generosity of people who want to give their hard-earned dollars to help others.
Beyond giving money, the plumbing industry is in a unique position to give aid in the aftermath of Katrina. Floods and unsanitary water, after all, have caused much of the damage.
The national conventions of PHCC and ASA took place Sept. 7-10 in Orlando, Fla., and talks were expected with manufacturers about an appropriate response to the hurricane. One idea is to create a clearinghouse of pumps and piping products that could be used to rebuild the Gulf Coast.
These discussions would be in line with the efforts that the World Plumbing Council is making at the request of the World Health Organization. The WPC is determining what the plumbing industry can do both when unsanitary conditions occur as a result of a natural disaster and when the reconstruction takes place.
The WPC is talking with the World Health Organization on a worldwide scale. We'll continue to work with members of the plumbing industry here to figure out how to help now and in future disasters. We seek your support and your suggestions.