Emergency Services: 5 Ways to Prepare Your Community for a Natural Disaster

Disaster Relief & Emergency Services

Endeavors Regional Director of Disaster Recovery shares expert advice on how communities can prepare for natural disasters. 

As hurricane season approaches, communities along the Eastern and Gulf Coasts are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. From Hurricane Harvey in Texas to Hurricane Irma in Florida and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, our Disaster Case Managers have seen a thing or two. We also just launched hurricane recovery efforts in Louisiana, helping residents across five parishes get the resources they need to rebuild and recover. 

In order to help communities minimize the devastation of potential storms, we’re sharing 5 expert tips for social workers, city offices, local nonprofits, emergency services professionals, and community volunteers so that your whole community can be prepared to weather whatever storms come your way. 

5 Ways to Prepare Your Community for a Natural Disaster

With Endeavors Regional Director of Disaster Recovery Dominique Stephenson

A lifelong social work professional and community advocate, Dominique Stephenson leads Endeavors’ Disaster Relief and Recovery teams across the United States currently including  Kentucky, Texas, Florida, and Louisiana. “If we do the outreach in our blue sky days, then we’ll see a better response from the citizens across the board,” she said. “They’ll be more prepared, and that makes it easier for the city, county, and state level to respond.” 

So, what does that outreach and preparation look like in real, actionable terms? 

1. Partner with other organizations. 

Collaboration is key for fast and effective emergency services. At Endeavors, we have seen how the most effective disaster recovery plans leverage partnerships between nonprofits, local and federal government offices, and faith-based organizations to help people as fully and quickly as possible. We are stronger when we pool resources, put heads together, and hit the ground running. 

Stephenson says the same approach can be applied to outreach. If a consortium of  organizations work together to provide consistent emergency information and best practices across the state, we can efficiently reach more people, streamline services while providing clear and concise information.  

2. Host in-person informational sessions.

In emergencies, residents are lucky if they have cell service, let alone internet access. And on top of that, many of the most vulnerable residents may not have access to computers, or have computer literacy. This is why in-person emergency preparedness outreach is just as important to leverage as online spaces like websites and social media. 

Assisting residents with their aid applications is also crucial. “When residents complete applications for federal or any available assistance, if they’re not familiar with certain terminology, they might complete the application incorrectly and be denied,” Stephenson says. 

3. Reach out to rural communities and underserved populations.

Getting information to underserved populations like the elderly, rural low-income communities, and non-English speakers is also crucial. Furthermore, Stephenson says that when a disaster strikes, it can be challenging to gather data from rural communities quickly and efficiently, but these areas need to be a priority. If the reality of the disaster’s impact isn’t fully communicated in the county’s data, they may not meet the threshold to qualify for certain state and federal declarations/assistance.  

4. Help families develop emergency plans.

Most people don’t think about how they’ll respond to a hurricane until it strikes. But a clear, thought-out plan can make all the difference between safety and homelessness, life and death. 

“We need to show people how to apply for aid,” Stephenson said. “What documents to keep on hand, why they need to keep their home insurance active. What resources are available. Help them develop family emergency plans. If you have to evacuate, where do you go?”

(ICYMI: 5 Resources To Help Your Kids Prepare For An Emergency

5. Be proactive about emergency services, not just reactive.

If the outreach was done in our blue sky days and the informational sessions were done then I think across the board we’ll see a better response from the citizens. They’ll be more prepared, and that makes it easier for the city, county, and state level to respond. 

“Texas does a great job of assessing how we’ve handled a storm previously, and adjusting accordingly,” Stephenson explained. “It’s a leader in emergency services. The winter storm in 2021, for example: We had never experienced a winter storm before. However, because we had navigated Hurricane Harvey in 2017, we had learned so much and we could get shelters up quickly, and our nonprofits all work really well together. Everything fell in place really quickly to minimize the death tolls from the winter storm.”

Applying for Federal Disaster Response Aid

Disasters come in many forms: hurricane, tornado, sub-freezing temps, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm, pandemic, drought, fire, flood, explosion…

The good news is: the process for applying for Federal Disaster Response Aid remains the same for all of these disasters. Here’s a quick summary of how it works:

  1. Cities survey the damage and then submit the collected data to the state.
  2. State assesses the data and submits an application for federal aid that lists all the cities that will receive funding if the federal aid application is approved. (Make sure to check FEMA’s specific application requirements here.)
  3. If the State’s request is approved, the federal government can grant up to three types of Disaster Assistance: Individual Assistance, Public Assistance, and Hazard Mitigation Assistance. (Disaster Relief and Recovery through Endeavors is an example of Individual Assistance.)
  4. The Federal Government will provide a timeline for how long these funds are available after declaration. (Contractor organizations typically have 8-12 months to assist as many people as possible with the funding.)

A successful application boils down to three things: Preparation, Communication, and Documentation. Preparing your community and gathering your disaster data efficiently will help minimize the time it takes for your community to receive government assistance, and maximize the help that disaster response contractors like Endeavors can provide. 

Get more details on Federal Disaster Response Aid at fema.gov

Get Involved! 

We encourage everyone to be proactive about their individual, family, and community emergency preparedness. Learn more about how Endeavors helps communities recover from federally-declared natural disasters, public health crises, and city-specific inclement weather by visiting our blog. If you’d like to support our mission, make a monetary or goods donation to our programs, or sign up to volunteer with us

About Endeavors

Headquartered in San Antonio, Endeavors is a national non-profit that provides an array of programs and services in support of children, families, Veterans, natural disaster victims, and those struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. Endeavors serves vulnerable people in crisis through innovative personalized services and Emergency Services/Disaster Response.

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