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Recovery committees created

Local long-term recovery committees are beginning work all across Florida - but they're going to need help.

BY SUSAN KIM | ORLANDO, Fla. | November 16, 2004


"County recovery groups are in need of encouragement, financial support and volunteers."

—Lesli Remaly


Local long-term recovery committees are beginning work all across Florida - but they're going to need help.

Channeling volunteers and resources through those groups will be vitally important, explained Kevin Smith, director of emergency disaster services for The Salvation Army in Florida.

Sometimes local people - clergy, social workers, residents themselves - are out helping families in the wake of a disaster, and their own community doesn't even know it, he said. "We need to turn to the local long-term recovery committee to identify needs."

Long-term recovery committees - often comprising church leaders, voluntary agencies, and other care-giving groups - are developed to help individuals and their families recover from disasters. They're not in place to help fix county infrastructure problems - such as road repair, explained Smith.

For national disaster response groups pouring resources into Florida, it's time to work through local recovery committees, he said, as national and state representatives from faith-based and voluntary groups met with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials on Monday in Orlando, Fla.

Many of the committees are being developed with guidance from Church World Service (CWS). CWS representatives have been actively working throughout the state to provide an overview of long-term recovery as well as organizational assistance and training.

"County recovery groups are in need of encouragement, financial support and volunteers," reported Lesli Remaly, a CWS disaster response and recovery liaison. Remaly has been guiding and tracking long-term recovery committees as they first start forming and meeting.

Who should be at the table at a county or community long-term recovery meeting? Anybody who wants to help and has resources to contribute - whether that means volunteers, materials or funds, suggested Tom Hazelwood, executive secretary for U.S. disaster response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Many counties affected in Florida have already put together such committees, and others are still being developed. It's a process that happens after the emergency phase of a disaster is over - and it's hard to put a timeline on it, said Hazelwood.

"We somehow want it to happen faster than it does," he said, comparing the development of a recovery committee to building an engine. "It takes a while to get all the cylinders firing together. It's going to take a long time."

For national disaster response groups as well as local long-term recovery committees, the question is: how do we meet the needs of families?

UMCOR has provided case management training in five communities across Florida. "In that training, we talked about what case management is," said Hazelwood.

But unless you're familiar with social work, defining case management can be tricky. "It means we're going to work with individual families on their individual recovery plans," explained Hazelwood.

A FEMA official urged those who will be involved in case management to remember to serve as advocates for disaster survivors who must maintain contact with FEMA. That means helping disaster survivors appeal FEMA aid amounts if survivors aren't receiving aid for which they're truly eligible. "We can't write the appeal," said the FEMA official. "We can't appeal a FEMA decision because we're FEMA. But you can help people do that."

The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army, along with many other groups, have been offering financial assistance and emergency assistance to hurricane survivors, said Jane Morgan, manager of individual assistance response for the Red Cross, as well as president of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

But that phase is beginning to pass, and now the Red Cross is also thinking, like UMCOR and other groups, of how to help people develop a family recovery plan. Morgan said the Red Cross plans to have 60-70 caseworkers in Florida for the next 6-8 months.

That doesn't mean recovery will be complete in 6-8 months, Morgan said quickly. "We get ready to recover at different paces and different periods."

Danielle Kearney of Lutheran Social Services of Florida (LSF) also said she could see the phase of disaster response in Florida was changing. "We have five coordinators who have been overseeing the process of helping people fill out FEMA applications and helping them write appeals when they've been denied legitimate aid."

Now, LSF - with support from Lutheran Disaster Response - is looking into case management as well.

"We are also planning to offer Camp Noah, a day camp for disaster-affected children, this summer," said Kearney.

Children, elderly people, and migrant workers are just three of the populations in Florida that could have special needs. And at this point, average families - even insured ones - are facing a tough recovery, pointed out Glenn Kaspers of Christian Contractors.

"There are people that do have insurance but not enough insurance to fix their homes," he said. "There are bids that are coming in $10,000 over the adjustor's prices - but that's the going rate."

In addition, FEMA recently reported that the number of Floridians left homeless by hurricanes is growing by as much as 100 people per day three months after the first of four storms hit the state. Thousands of hurricane survivors may be still living in damaged homes, with friends and family, in cars and even sheds, said one FEMA official.

Nearly 3,100 hurricane survivors were on a FEMA waiting list for temporary housing assistance as of last week. As mold begins to grow in water-damaged homes, that number could skyrocket, responders said.


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