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Partnering to Prepare

Community and faith-based organizations, businesses, and volunteers are key parts of a disaster response and recovery

Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the FEMA Blog.  See the original post here.

During a disaster members of the community seek opportunities to help each other. Neighbors, faith-based organizations, businesses and volunteer organizations that may not normally not focus on helping disaster survivors often chip in to lend a helping hand wherever it is needed.

This assistance is a key part of a disaster response and recovery, but in the past has not often been fully coordinated with emergency managers.

Thanks to ongoing work by the Department of Homeland Security and our Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, we’re improving our ability to coordinate before, during, and after disasters.  Since 2010, we’ve partnered with local emergency managers, and faith and community leaders to create the Building Resilience with Diverse Communities process.

It begins with engaging groups by identifying and building trust with community leaders. Organizers work with these leaders to identify strengths, weaknesses, experiences, and expertise. For example, by engaging the community in Miami-Dade County, their Office of Emergency Management was able to grow from 15 groups participating in the program in 2011 to 110 groups by spring 2013.

Organizers work with faith-based and community groups to assess how they want to help during an emergency. Many are interested in a wide-range of areas, including volunteer and donations management, partnerships with emergency managers and providing shelter. We ask communities to assess their own strengths and available resources to identify where they can help. In Miami-Dade County, for example, this process led to the identification of 6,300 shelter spaces and nearly 2,500 volunteers who can help in times of need.

These assessments lead to the third and fourth stages as organizations begin self-guided and group training, and depending on their goals, receive technical assistance while establishing their roles during a disaster. 

Training topics can include first aid, community emergency response, volunteer and donations management, shelter operations, incident command, and communications support.

Volunteer agencies, such as the American Red Cross, can also be brought in to provide valuable training for community groups to build skills.

Groups from Miami-Dade County, Los Angeles and Lakewood, New Jersey, were able to use our online courses to better understand incident command, the National Response Framework, Emergency Support Function 6 (which covers mass care, emergency assistance, and housing and human services), and our volunteers and donations management program.

While our online resources provide a wealth of information, partnering with another volunteer agency is another option that has proven to be effective. For example, in Los Angeles, the Tzu Chi Buddhist Relief Foundation provided CPR and first aid training to groups. Groups in Miami-Dade County and South Los Angeles who were looking to involve youth more into preparing their communities were able to connect with our Community Emergency Response Team program to provide resources, training and expertise to get programs started.

As groups become better trained and establish their disaster-time roles, they can participate in emergency exercises to prepare. In Lakewood, New Jersey, exercises were used to increase faith-based participation with emergency management to provide a deeper understanding of their role in a disaster.

The final stages of the process are becoming affiliated with a local emergency agency or traditional non-profit agency and being integrated into existing disaster plans.  By formally partnering with these groups, emergency managers can be sure the new groups understand their roles during a disaster while an affiliation and integration allows groups to contribute before a disaster – a mutually beneficial relationship.

Seeing the program grow over time has been amazing and has given us a chance to make sure all parts of the disaster response network are involved in preparing for, responding to and recovering from a disaster.

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