Morgan Freeman, Fixer
"People on every coast in the world are our neighbors, and we have to find ways to help them be prepared for what will come when storms hit."
You know him as Red in The Shawshank Redemption, Lucius Fox in the Batman movies, and maybe even as God in last summer's box-office dud Evan Almighty. But Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman is a man who acts far beyond Hollywood. Sierra spoke with him about PlanIt Now, a nonprofit he founded after Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada in 2004. Initially called the Grenada Relief Fund, the group--which has partnered with the Sierra Club to encourage disaster preparedness--now works to help people in the Gulf Coast and Caribbean ready their families and businesses for big storms.
SIERRA: Hurricane Ivan was not the first disaster to strike a vulnerable community. What compelled you to do something about this one?
Morgan Freeman: I got a call from friends in Grenada. They were worried about the people on the other side of the island who were struggling to get water, food, and medical attention because of the mud slides and other issues. In the weeks that followed, people there were sick and dehydrated and losing weight fast--and relief was slow. I had to try to help.
SIERRA: PlanIt Now works mostly in low-lying coastal regions, which could suffer some of the earliest effects of climate change. Why did the group choose to focus more on preparing for disaster than slowing climate change?
Freeman: There is no way to separate preparation from climate-change issues. People don't always understand the impact that storm devastation can have on inland communities--changes in population growth when coastal areas are abandoned, for example, or stress on inland communities that bear the burden for family, friends, community organizations, and businesses displaced from ravaged communities.
SIERRA: What could the next administration do to make government
entities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency better
prepared for natural disasters?
Freeman: You'd be surprised at the number of programs FEMA has in place because the systems of information about them are so convoluted and inaccessible. We're working to understand how people in storm-vulnerable communities want to receive information about preparation so that they can put it into effect quickly to save their lives when trouble arises.
SIERRA: Are you concerned about being seen as just another celebrity hawking the latest trend?
Freeman: I don't worry about it. I share a genuine interest in helping people understand that losses can be cut if a few steps are made prior to storms and severe weather. [I work] with others who know a lot more than I about it. If even one person listens--and we're actually giving information that helps--then it's worth it.
SIERRA: How can people get involved?
Freeman: Check with your local emergency-operations centers to understand what procedures need to be followed in your particular community if hurricanes, storms, tornadoes, or other disasters come.