When Disaster Strikes
[imgbelt img=bp3.jpeg] Disasters can be a test — and in the last year, rural America has been tested. But there are ways to get through and, eventually, to recover.
For rural America, 2011 has been a year of fire and rain.
Wildfires have raked across the southwest, from East Texas to California. Vermont has flooded and so have New York, Pennsylvania, the Dakotas, Missouri and Louisiana. Hurricane Irene flattened tobacco and cotton crops in North Carolina and Virginia before it continued its destructive path up the Atlantic coast.
The long journey to recovery has just begun in many hard-hit rural areas, often given little or no attention in post-storm media reports.
Beginning even before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed rural communities along the Gulf Coast in 2005, MDC, a Durham-based non-profit, started working with citizens in distressed and disaster-prone communities along the Atlantic Coast to reduce individual, household, and community vulnerability. Through our work with the FEMA-funded Emergency Preparedness Demonstration Program, which expanded to the Gulf Coast after the devastation there, we learned some key lessons.
Here are a few :
1. It’s hard to start over.
The first step on the path to recovery is to understand that many people and families will be starting from scratch. A community hit by a disaster begins to recover by accounting for and serving the needs of survivors. Some will have evacuated, others remain in shelters, and some choose not to leave, or aren’t able to.
After the search-and-rescue phase is over, communities have important questions to answer in the short-term. How do they get people out of shelters and back into permanent housing? How do businesses get the necessary certifications to reopen and put people back to work? How do they get schools and other critical facilities up and running again?
Rural communities almost always require federal and state assistance to deal with such problems.
2. Neighbors are the best first responders.
Every individual should be encouraged and enabled to act on the natural inclination we all have to come to the aid of a neighbor. This is especially important in rural areas where FEMA and state officials may not arrive for days after relief centers are already open in more populated areas.
In the midst of a crisis, it is too late to address issues of coordination and liability that keep neighbors from acting in a safe, timely, and efficient way. Without the proper training and coordination in advance, citizens could pose a danger to themselves and others.