Disaster Response and Recovery – Starts and Ends at the Local Level

April 28, 2005

As the nation becomes better prepared to recover from natural and man-made disasters, the development and importance of long-term recovery committees is reportedly becoming increasingly evident.

A long-term recovery committee is the coming together in common purpose of representatives — local when possible — from myriad volunteer agencies. The representatives join forces to help disaster-affected individuals and families develop a recovery plan. They bring to the table experience and assets with access to needed resources.

When greater than normal storms hit Nevada in January, 2005 causing flooding, Gov. Kenny Guinn declared a state of emergency for the affected counties and requested a presidential declaration.

Nevada received a Public Assistance declaration for Clark and Lincoln counties; the preliminary damage assessment did not reflect sufficient damage to warrant an individual assistance declaration. That being the case, there were a number of homeowners and individuals in the two counties who suffered damage to their homes and/or lost personal possessions that would not be eligible for federal assistance.

The U.S. Small Business Administration declared those counties and contiguous counties disaster areas under their own authority, and provided opportunity for disaster victims to apply for low-interest disaster loans to replace lost or damaged property. Even with that type of assistance, many people reportedly had ‘unmet needs.’ It was at this point the idea for and need of a long-term recovery committee surfaced.

Usually long-term recovery committees develop and begin to function near the end of the recovery phase of a disaster and generally when the Individual and Households Program is made available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The situation in Nevada is reportedly unique.

The sense of community and the strength and number of volunteer agencies already in place in the state has made it possible to begin the long-term recovery committee process with experienced members at the table.

In Mesquite, right after the floods, local agencies, along with the local Emergency Operations Center personnel moved quickly. Nearly 100 households that suffered damage were contacted with offers of food, shelter and money. While those involved in this endeavor weren’t all working under the auspices of a particular agency or group, (with the exception of The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross and other unaffiliated groups), perhaps without realizing it, this community had taken its first steps toward developing a long-term recovery committee.

With guidance from FEMA, encouragement from the state and from within their own ranks, and knowledge of the importance of developing such a committee, the South Eastern Nevada Long Term Recovery Committee was born.

After the group’s second meeting, more than 15 individuals representing agencies, organizations and faith-based groups began to work together. Members include The Salvation Army; American Red Cross; The Shively Foundation; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; City of Mesquite — Emergency Management Office; Boy Scouts of America — Las Vegas area Council; Mesquite Mental Health; Township of Overton and Moapa Valley area; Southern Nevada Community Organizations Active in Disasters; City of Mesquite; Clark County; Lincoln County; City of Caliente and the State of Nevada.

In support of this committee, FEMA’s outreach teams visited households with unmet needs in both Lincoln and Clark counties, collecting information about their specific needs and handing out information about how to contact the SBA; providing Other Federal Agency (OFA) referrals, mitigation materials, and telling community members about the importance of the National Flood Insurance Program, as well as the availability of the long-term recovery committee.

Another of the positive outcomes of forming a long-term recovery committee reportedly comes after its current work is complete.

The committee does not necessarily disband, but can take a step in another direction by becoming a community organization active in disasters or COAD.

With a minimum amount of effort and time, this committee can arrange to meet on a regular basis, continue to educate its members in ways to meet the unmet needs of fellow community members, and subsequently become better prepared to assist those in need should another disaster event occur.

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