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More Homes Owners are asking for help in Indiana as it looks like FEMA will not be able to help them recover from the Spring Storms. Volunteers are now needed in Central and Southern Indiana.
Catholic Relief Services responds to international disasters as they arise each year. They are currently helping in several different regions around the globe. Not only do they respond immediately to natural disasters, they stay in these communities to help them re-build for the long term.
Catholic Charities USA works with the first responders (Red Cross and Salvation Army) to provide basic needs after the initial impact of natural disasters. Additionally, they will work to develop long-term plans to help communities truly rebuild themselves.
Locally, we need to be prepared to do it all. When a disaster strikes your area, there is much to be done:. Immediately, short term and long term. Are you prepared? Are you prepared to help?
To begin, we will need to understand that a Disaster is a “fluid” environment – never stable, always changing. And because there are many types of Disasters that could strike Indiana, we will need to think in terms of All Hazard, All Threat planning. But, no matter the size, type or scope of the disaster, all will have common base needs, and that is where we begin.
What Happens Following a Disaster:
Immediately following the disaster, the Immediate Response Teams will respond to search for survivors, attend to any injuries, evacuate the area if needed, and secure the area from further damage to person and property. This phase is done by trained Rescue personnel, and unless you are trained, you should stay out of the area. This is the Rescue and Response Stage of Disaster Relief. Some of you may be interested in joining the First Responders. Again, this takes special training, and if anyone is interested, they should contact their local Emergency Management Director to see if they have CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) training available.
While this operation is going on, Basic Needs need to be met and Shelters need to be set up and opened so that they are ready to receive those being evacuated. Hopefully, these Shelter areas have been pre-designated and Volunteers have been trained in conjunction with the Red Cross ahead of time. If not, the Red Cross may ask for your help, and possibly for one of your buildings at the Church, to set up a Shelter. This happened during the Indiana floods of 2008 in a small town, and while it worked out well, it fell to the Priest to do most of the work because the parishioners had not been trained. This is part of the Response Stage of Disaster Relief.
Case Management will be very important from the beginning. Keeping records of who comes into the Shelter and who are asking for goods and services will enable you to locate these individuals and families later on, and help them get back to a normal life as quickly as possible once things have settled down.
As the shelters open and the Rescue Units are still working at the disaster site, people will start to donate water, food, clothing, personal hygiene products, household goods, furniture and money. Not all survivors will go to shelters, but those individuals and families will also need these items. If there is phone service, they may call, they may show up on your doorstep or you may have to find them. If contact numbers and locations for these donations have been set up ahead of time, things will go smoothly, if not, handling donations could prove to be a nightmare.
Depending on the type of disaster, immediate steps may need to be taken to prevent further damage to homes once the Rescue Units have cleared the area. Homes will need to be secured against theft or further damage from weather. Personal possessions will need to be salvaged. If the disaster involves flooding, once the water has receded, homes will need immediate attention. So now is the time to contact the Volunteers and brief them on the situation so that they are ready to swing into action as soon as possible. Again, this is part of the Response Stage of Disaster Relief. Other types of disasters will require certain actions. The purpose of this part of the Response Stage is to stabilize the situation, and may last about 3 weeks.
Communications following a disaster may be difficult. Often power and phone lines are down, but with new technologies, cell phones and the internet may be accessible. Posting information on a web site will be a valuable way to get information to your Team, to those affected by the disaster and to the public in general. Radio, Television, Newspapers, if these services are available, and even Flyers posted in stores and on posts are other ways that you will want to use to communicate.
Recruiting Volunteers will be an ongoing job, and there should be someone in your organization in charge of this. While many Volunteers will more than likely show up in the Short Term Recovery or Debris Removal stage, they will dwindle off quickly as the news of your disaster fades from the headlines. Finding skilled Volunteers to put homes back together will put you in the search mode. Putting up a web site, or at least a few pages on the Church web site, is very important and should be done as soon as possible. There are Volunteer groups all around the country who search constantly for mission trips and Volunteer opportunities for their groups. You must let them know what you need, and a web site affords you the best opportunity to be found. Implementing at least one page now can also be helpful in setting up your Response Team.
In the weeks following the Rescue and Response and Short Term Recovery efforts, things will phase into the Long Term Recovery Stage. By now, most counties will be forming their Long Term Recovery Committees. However, these committees usually take at least three months to get up and running and become effective. It is very important that at least two from your church or organization become involved from the beginning with the Long Term Recovery Committee. This committee is made up of local Volunteers and is open to everyone in the community. This is where FEMA, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, VOAD, Project Aftermath and other faith based, state and national organizations will come to share resources and impart information and funding sources.
The initial chaos should begin to settle down a bit as you move through the Short Term Recovery Stage, which consists of homes being "mucked and gutted" or otherwise attended to, debris removal and general services such as power being restored to the damaged areas. You will then begin to move into the Long Term Recovery Stage. Volunteers may have arrived from outside of the area to help with work on the homes. Most often these will be church groups who have assisted other areas of the country in Disaster Relief. Their main goal is usually debris removal, “mucking out and gutting” houses that have not yet been attended to and helping families repair their homes. If every local church had a group like this, the work would be completed in record time. But they will not all have such groups. It is recommended that you begin work with those from your own parish and spread out from there. When you work on a home, it is likely that the homeowner will ask if you could help a family member, friend or neighbor. If they do not ask, you should ask if they know of someone who needs your help. Your work load will spread into the community from there. Just be sure that you keep records of where you work and what you do, and that you keep the Emergency Management Agency informed so that they do not waste resources by scheduling others to do the same work.
The Long Term Recovery Stage is that of rebuilding homes and the community. It is very important to stay informed of the city and county long term plans in case new codes or restrictions are put in to place as a result of the disaster. This phase could take months or even years to complete. Your group will make a decision at some point as to whether you should continue as an independent Relief Operation working with the Long Term Recovery Committee’s efforts, or to blend into the Long Term Recovery Committee. This decision will be made depending on the size of the disaster, the size and resources of your organization and of your community.
Once the work is completed and the community and all of its residents are back to as close to normal as possible, or at whatever point your committee members may decide that they have done all that they can do, there are steps that you will need to take to close down operations. However, it is important that you not loose the contacts and continuity that you have built during this disaster. Your skills and services will be needed again, either in your own community or another community near or far away.
All of us need to be prepared to deal with disaster. We need to prepare our families, our churches and our communities.
If your parish has not yet set up a training date and formed a Disaster Response Team, please contact us so that we can help you get started.