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NGOs: Filling Gaps In Disaster Planning, Response, Recovery


The role of NGOs in disaster events

Disaster response and recovery requires a coordinated effort between various public, private, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in order to be effective. And planning must involve everyone from these various sectors in order to ensure a coordinated response and recovery effort.

Often, well-known NGOs are thought of and included, such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. But it is also important to remember the local, regional, or possibly international organizations that are available and may provide relief or services after all of the major players (FEMA, Red Cross) have fulfilled their obligations and reached funding limits.

Planning and the inclusion of NGOs

Specialized or lesser-known NGOs can offer a variety of products, services, and functions that are in addition to -- or outside of the scope of -- other, more widely used organizations. One organization, World Renew, offers assistance for underfunded disasters, or when federal funding or private insurance is not enough to cover the losses experienced by individuals and families during a disaster.

Weather events that caused widespread damage and flooding in Missouri in December 2015 resulted in a federal emergency declaration on January 2, 2016 by President Obama. The declaration released funds for debris removal and emergency protective measures, including equipment and resources, to alleviate the emergency in accordance with Title V of the Stafford Act.

Federal funding can often be limited in severe weather events, especially at the individual or family level, and organizations such as World Renew can offer financial assistance to victims who are struggling to replace necessary items or make home repairs not covered by insurance.

NGO assistance for Missouri counties

Assessments by World Renew were offered to homes in several counties in Missouri recently. However, because local emergency management agencies did not know in advance about the organization, it was not included in pre-disaster planning efforts.

Although county agencies reached out to World Renew in the aftermath of the disaster, very few actual assessments were conducted as citizens were not widely aware that the group was in town. Since teams visited homes during the day, few people were found to be at home, and because it had been nearly six months since the flooding, some families had moved out of their homes.

Mitigation and disaster recovery services

Other NGOs, such as Team Rubicon offer multiple services, including assisting homeowners with repairs, organizing spontaneous volunteers, and debris management by using trained military veterans.

Team Rubicon also offer volunteer assistance before a disaster to help mitigate potential impacts of natural hazards including creating fire breaks and handling debris clearing (under bridges, in culverts) to prevent flooding.

Tapping into sources

There are several ways to tap into the wealth of NGOs available to local and tribal communities, including the well known National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD), an association of members committed to disaster relief and recovery, and the National Disaster Inter-faiths Network, a non-profit organization that offers a searchable directory of faith-based disaster relief and recovery NGOs.

Contacting local community organizations, churches, and leaderships groups (Rotary or Lions Clubs) can also help local emergency management agencies locate other sources of assistance, or identify local or regional NGOs that can help during a disaster.

The key to tapping into these key NGOs that fill such crucial gaps with their available resources, services, and/or funding is the ability to research such organizations in advance, during the planning stages, and to include them as potential partners in the response and recovery plan should such a need for a community ever arise.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.