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The focus of this year’s National Preparedness Month (NPM) is individual preparedness, very timely in light of FEMA’s August 2009 report: Personal Preparedness in America: Findings from the 2009 Citizen Corps National Survey. The report shows that many Americans have unrealistic expectations for emergency personnel and government agencies in the wake of a natural or human-caused disaster. For example, results indicate that 30 percent of Americans have not prepared because they think that emergency responders will help them and more than 60 percent expect to rely on emergency responders in the first 72 hours following a disaster. NPM 2009 hopes to not only encourage individual preparedness such as creating an emergency supply kit and making a family emergency plan, but also getting involved in community efforts such as Citizen Corps to encourage preparedness at a grassroots level.

Many organizations use this month to promote disaster awareness and also to highlight their year-round efforts toward supporting people adversely impacted by a natural or man-made disaster. In 2008, more than 3,260 U.S. organizations signed up to partner with the Ready Campaign as Coalition Members to help educate the public about the importance of emergency preparedness. As a Coalition Member this year, Louisiana State University’s Extension Disaster Education Network has set up a website that offers resources for making plans and becoming involved as an emergency responder. Another Coalition Member, Ice Qube, is offering free emergency planners on their website for families, individuals, babies and pets as well as free annual reminders to help people remember to check on their emergency supplies and a free monthly newsletter with tips and news about emergency preparedness. The American Red Cross is urging Americans to donate blood as part of their preparedness plans.

Additionally, this year marks the first federally-designated National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11. NPM offers Americans a concrete and lasting way to pay tribute to the victims of 9/11 and the servicemen and women protecting our country. By encouraging families and communities to improve preparedness and emergency plans, these efforts will not only save lives but also mitigate the stress put upon first responders in a future disaster.

To view webcasts during National Preparedness Month targeting a variety of communities and business, follow the links on the Citizen Corps’ Community Preparedness Webcasts page.

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by Christina Rausch, MSW
Program Manager, MDC, Inc.

“The most important things they were trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina is… the business loss and the job loss… The people here rely on the seafood industry. And if the fisherman can’t get raw materials to continue their business, the people that are inland do not have any jobs as well. I think that is basically what is devastating for people here in the community.”

-Vannarith Suon, President of the Cambodian American Association

Many Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian, and Thai families living in the southern coastal United States work in the seafood industry and keep their financial assets in their fishing supplies. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, she tore shrimp nets apart, demolished boats, and blew crab traps away. Many fishermen were uninsured and without money to replace their property, and lost their means of providing for themselves and their families. Worse, local emergency managers and other relief organizations did not know who to contact or how, so these families did not get the help they needed to recover.

This scenario is common after a disaster. Low-income and minority families are disproportionately affected by disasters because they are more likely to live in hazardous areas, less likely to be able to protect their assets from damage, and less likely to have resources that aid in recovery. Disasters can knock these families into financial crisis.

Hazards need not have a catastrophic impact on the lives of individuals, communities, or the economy. Several strategies can help disadvantaged communities stem their losses.

Community Action
Low-income and minority households are rarely included in disaster plans. However, they face challenges when preparing for and responding to disasters. For example, Asian communities had difficulty accessing assistance after Katrina since information and services were nearly entirely in English. Emergency managers are able to best plan in collaboration with low-income community members, and can successfully communicate messages through trusted leaders (for example, faith-based and grassroots groups). The Emergency Preparedness Demonstration, a project supported by FEMA, convened government, residents, and community organizations to test innovative solutions for preparedness in low-income and minority communities.

The Southern Mutual Help Association created an innovative grant and loan product after Hurricane Katrina for low-income fishermen whose businesses had been devastated by the storm. These fishermen were provided with a low-interest loan package accommodating fishermen’s unique income schedule including a repayment plan that required individuals to make payments only twice annually.

Due to the cost of supplemental insurance, low-income households and businesses may not be adequately covered, placing them at risk of losing their livelihoods. Some countries subsidize insurance premiums so they are affordable. Another strategy is to help insurance companies stay afloat after large disasters to ensure communities have access to insurance. Some communities have done this through pooling funds from different insurers and backing insurers in case of serious losses (for example, see the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility).

Money for Home and Business Improvement and Recovery
Strengthening homes through mitigation protects the equity households have achieved. However, low-income families may need financial support to protect their home. Rebuilding after a disaster is also costly; even if a family has insurance, deductibles often apply and public funds do not cover all costs. Low- and no-interest loans can help low-income homeowners protect their equity (for example, see Enterprise Corporation of the Delta/Hope Community Credit Union). In addition, microloans have infused significant capital into low-income communities. These products are designed to increase access to capital that may not be otherwise available because conventional banks will not assume high risks.

These strategies require businesses, residents, government, and community-based organizations to work together. Public/private partnerships are essential to secure community assets and promote economic opportunity. Preserving the assets of all community members promotes a more resilient recovery.

For more information or to learn about the Emergency Preparedness Demonstration, contact:

Christina Rausch, MSW
Program Manager
MDC, Inc.
919.968.4531
crausch(at)mdcinc(dot)org

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by Scott Walker, PLAN!T NOW Staff Writer

Planning for and dealing with natural disasters can be difficult, even overwhelming, for traditional responders such as the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Increasingly, both relief groups and individuals are coming to view faith-based organizations as capable and accessible partners in preparedness.

Faith-based organizations rose to prominence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Even though many of these groups had had no prior experience with disaster relief planning, they were able to respond surprisingly effectively in meeting the challenges presented by the storm. In particular, faith-based organizations were instrumental in addressing issues that traditional responders, focused on physical reconstruction and material aid, were less equipped to manage, according to a December 2008 study conducted by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Urban Institute.

Faith-based organizations could play a crucial role in tapping into “the broader universe of expertise and service delivery that might provide appropriate and sustained interventions,” the report concluded. In addition, faith-based communities often have a more detailed understanding of local disaster-planning needs than traditional relief organizations.

Post-Katrina, government agencies, private and public organizations have developed ways to incorporate faith-based organizations into disaster planning and response. For example, Texas Christian University’s College of Nursing recently examined how public health nursing students might collaborate with faith-based communities. One approach involved presenting poster materials during Christian church services urging church members to contact the students for planning advice. This action fostered new relationships between the students and church members, and resulted in a improved preparedness for the congregation and the nursing students.

By far, the most valuable asset that faith-based communities have is the ability to communicate and network with members. One organization that has done an admirable job of using information technology to bolster communication is New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS). NYDIS has mounted a disaster-planning webpage that describes its online database HOWCALM (House of Worship Communitywide Asset and Logistics Management). Initiatives like these are becoming commonplace nationwide.

You can participate in disaster-preparedness planning by either contacting an exisitng faith-based network (see the Resources section on our homepage) or starting one within a faith-based community to which you belong. These efforts will significantly augment federal and state planning initiatives – and may well mean the difference between life and death in your community.

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by P!N Staff Writer Julia C. Dawson

In December 2008, a report was released by the Urban Institute entitled “The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Post-Hurricane Human Services Relief Efforts.”

The lead researcher in these reports, Dr. Carol J. De Vita, of the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, shared highlights from the study with P!N Staff Writer Julia Dawson earlier this month. Research of faith-based organizations (FBO) is one of Dr. De Vita’s areas of specialization.

“Faith-based and community-based organizations are very responsive after hurricanes in identifying the emergency needs and providing immediate relief. Churches, and other organizations, spring in to action after these disasters. They see a person in need of food or shelter, and respond.

Additionally, our study of 202 faith based community organizations (FBCO) in the hurricane corridor of Louisiana and Mississippi, found 1) FBO storm efforts are not always well coordinated with other efforts and 2) FBOs sometimes have difficulty connecting with mainstream disaster response groups like the American Red Cross.

FBO were often the immediate providers of food, water, and shelter to their communities, meeting these crucial short-term needs. But after time, FBOs either don’t have the capacity or interest to address the long-term needs and the question becomes, how seamlessly can the FBO hand off the tasks to other groups.

In terms of preparedness, our survey of FBOs and community-based non-profits found that nearly half of FBO respondents were not engaged in any planning future disasters, 18 percent of the FBOs surveyed did develop new emergency action plans as a result of the natural disaster, and 12% spoke of new partnerships created as a result of work after Hurricane Katrina.

In short, we found that FBOs in the United States’ Southern hurricane zone were not as future oriented as other non-profit groups. The task for groups like PLAN!T NOW is to encourage faith groups to use their position in their communities to advocate better severe storm planning.”

PLAN!T NOW would like to thank Dr. De Vita for sharing her expertise and insight into the faith-based organizations, and for encouraging P!N in our advocacy and preparedness efforts.

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by P!N Staff Writer/Editor Suzie Ahlers

In 2002 the Brookings Institute published an article asking “The Volunteering Decision: What Prompts It? What Sustains It?” For many, a major motivator to be involved in relief efforts is through opportunities provided by their places of worship. Examples abound of teens involved in mission work to hurricane-struck regions, as well as various church groups that provide immediate emergency relief and others that return year after year to provide sustained recovery efforts to hard-hit regions such as New Orleans & Texas.

Faith-based volunteerism is vital in relief effots for many reasons; first and foremost, places of worship often serve as shelters in severe weather and therefore become a connection point for affected community members who need support and services. Also, these volunteers reach out in ways that are not always obvious but still important. Although volunteer efforts often focus on physical needs, Waco Tribune writer Cindy V. Culp recently reported on a Texas program where a team of crisis volunteers tend to people’s psychological and spiritual needs after major disasters. The program was piloted after Hurricanes Ike and Rita in 2008, and responds to disasters including hurricanes, pandemic illness and terrorist attacks.

Organizations such as The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life examine the relationship between religious groups and human services providers and government, as well as public opinion on the topic. Controversy can arise over the ties between religious groups and government agencies, as found in public discourse such as The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy’s roundtable discussion entitled Assessing the Role of Faith-Based Organizations in Disaster Response. There is great value in exploring these social issues and discussing how federal money is allocated and how programs are assessed for cost value. Still, the role of faith-based organizations not only in spearheading relief efforts after disasters but also in encouraging preparedness cannot be ignored.

Regardless of the controversy, the politics and continous debate, the final word comes from hurricane victims themselves on the great need for these outreach efforts. In a 2006 NPR report from correspondent David Schaper, he quotes Biloxi, MS City Councilman Bill Stallworth: “We could not have survived without the help of volunteers. I pray to God every day, that he keeps sending volunteers.”

View photos of churches’ responses to Katrina here, and personal accounts of these efforts in Religious and Ethics Newsweekly.

Read the transcript of the June 2009 speaker event “Government Partnerships With Faith-Based Organizations: Looking Back, Moving Forward” hosted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Resources

A listing of National Faith-Based Disaster Service Organizations has been provided by the NYDIS. See link below to access the PDF file.

US Faith-Based Organizations specifically involved in hurricane relief:
Friend Ships Unlimited
1019 North 1st Avenue, Lake Charles, Louisiana 70601
337.433.5022 / info@friendships.org
Friend Ships provides food, medicine, clothing, and other critical life support relief items to people in need, throughout the world. In response to Hurricane Ike, Friend Ships delivered over 100,000 meals have been served or distributed. Many homes have been cleaned and prepared for rebuilding.

Masjidur Rahim (Mosque of the Merciful)
1228 1/2 N Johnson St., New Orleans, LA 70116
504.827.2555
The Louisiana Family Recovery Corps, in partnership with the American Red Cross Hurricane Recovery Program (HRP), has announced 21 new grants for emotional health and community wellness programs to assist hurricane-impacted individuals and families in communities all across Louisiana. In collaboration with the New Orleans Recovery School District, Mosque of the Merciful provides resilience classes for struggling students and at-risk, inner city youth in New Orleans.

Greater St. Mary Community Development Foundation
1917 Harless St., Lake Charles, LA 70601
337.433-1300
This is a faith and community outreach program in the Lake Charles area, made possible in part by a May 2008 grant from both the Louisiana Recovery Corps and the American Red Cross.

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
820 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017
212.533.7800
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the USCJ created a Hurricane Relief Fund and through it has made substantial contributions in the relocation of some of Hurricane Katrina’s many displaced victims and in rebuilding efforts.

National Faith-Based Disaster Service Organizations as provided by the NYDIS:

Resources

Correspondent Claire Hughes published a 2008 report entitled ‘Faith Groups Respond to Acts of God Early, Stay on the Scene Late’, exploring the history of faith-based organizations’ involvement in disaster relief efforts and the work done in recent years by modern organizations.

Resources

Through NYDIS, faith communities serve as Emergency Rest Centers,
providing temporary refuge, basic care and critical information to the public in times of crisis. The ERC program is a partnership
between the New York City Office of Emergency Management (NYC OEM) and faith communities. NYDIS provides its ERC houses
of worship with volunteer training and coordinates all emergency communication and operations with each center during activations.

"Surviving Disaster deconstructs how the brain responds to life-or-death events—so that we can all learn to do better. The documentary includes many characters from my book, in addition to other survivors of all kinds of trauma, from tsunami to car crashes. One young survivor describes in unflinching detail exactly what it felt like to get out of a house fire as a little girl in Texas. It is the kind of story you will never forget once you see it, and it is told with a purpose—to help the rest of us become smarter and stronger in our own homes and communities." - Amanda Ripley, author of THE UNTHINKABLE, Who Survives When Disaster Strikes.

It's been just over five years since this revolutionary book was first published and we urge you to celebrate by buying a copy of THE UNTHINKABLE. It's essential mantra is ours : practice makes perfect where preparedness is concerned. Go to PBS.com to purchase the 2012 companion documentary that will change your life and perspective about emergency preparedness, based on the book by the insightfully, plain-spoken Amanda Ripley. Click here and buy it on AMAZON!

Get your game on with Owlie!

Look for Owlie the mascot at the following events:

  • Maryland Day (April 26, 2014) University of Maryland Campus--Open to the public
  • 3rd USA Science and Engineering Festival (April 25-27, 2014) Washington DC Convention Center
  • Nationals Weather Day (April 2014). Washington Nationals baseball team in partnership with the NWS office in Sterling, Va., and Fox TV
  • Public Service Recognition Week (May 4, 2014). Event Sponsor--US Govt Office Personnel Management (OPM). Several government mascots participate including Smokey Bear

To help increase awareness of the need for educating children about severe weather preparedness, PLAN!T NOW (P!N), has teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Weather Service (NWS), the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the National Education Association (NEA) to produce The Young Meteorologist Program (YMP). The program is a free online resource and computer game starring OWLIE, a wise, weather-savvy hero who educates and empowers children and adults alike as he teaches severe-weather science, weather awareness and safety. Click here and play the game now!

TODOS HELP DONATE EMERGENCY WEATHER KITS

You can help protect low-income and disadvantaged families in Mexico and the U.S.!

PLAN!T NOW, in collaboration with Estes Mexico and other corporate partners, is working to provide life-saving weather survival kits--including water, storage-ready food, flashlights, batteries, first-aid kits and other critical supplies--and emergency family plans for residents in two severe-weather vulnerable towns in Mexico and the U.S.

Your tax-deductible donation today helps save lives tomorrow--give now.

For more information and the metric for this project, click here.