Southeast KS shares lessons

Pick Kip Kennedy's brain, and you'll find practical pointers on disaster recovery that have been put to the test in the field.

BY HEATHER MOYER | FRANKLIN, KS | November 10, 2004

Pick Kip Kennedy's brain, and you'll find practical pointers on disaster recovery that have been put to the test in the field.

Kennedy, a licensed social worker, took on a recovery job that ultimately changed the way he approaches disaster response altogether.

In May 2003, several powerful tornadoes ripped through rural southeast Kansas, destroying over 100 homes and leveling almost the entire town of Franklin. Kennedy, former disaster response coordinator for the now completed Tornado Interagency Recovery for Southeast Kansas (TIRSEK), began leading that recovery effort three months after the disaster.

Already involved as a Salvation Army volunteer caseworker, Kennedy watched several Long Term Recovery Committees (LTRCs) form and then flounder trying to identify a caseload.

The first stage of the intake process should be as simple as possible, Kennedy reflected. "I brought my caseload from The Salvation Army over to the new position - and I couldn't understand why the LTRCs had no clients.

"I saw that their intake forms were too difficult and too elaborate, though, and that's not necessary at that stage of the recovery," he explained. "The initial volunteer caseworkers all left because they were frustrated by the forms."

That's where a paradigm shift needs to happen, he said.

Kennedy developed a simplified intake form based on forms offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Then FEMA mailed out the forms to disaster-impacted residents.

"This mailing was the most effective strategy for identifying persons with unmet disaster-related needs," he said.

TIRSEK also followed up the mailing with public service announcements on local radio and television stations, and in the newspapers. Residents with different degrees of damage then received more comprehensive forms after initial intake. This helped bring in many more affected residents and then separate them based on needs.

Kennedy credits his background as a social worker in identifying these successful recovery tactics. "I think it's important to bring those techniques into the process. It really enhances the efficiency of the process."

FEMA is supportive of the LTRC process because it helps FEMA's own process, added Kennedy, and a professional relationship with the agency is of "immeasurable importance" to LTRCs and their clients.

Yet because the FEMA process often takes time, LTRCs need to move quickly. "If you don't come into (the recovery process) quickly, you often will not be successful. I'm sure many other LTRCs have come to similar conclusions, and then others are probably still struggling."

Other lessons learned for Kennedy include utilizing the media's ability to get the word out about his community's needs, and making sure local social service agencies had a large role in the recovery.

"We made a huge number of referrals to agencies around us. Many people were amazed by how much we did with so little money, and most of it was because we would make the agencies aware of the needs of our clients frequently."

He is now using his disaster recovery learning experience to help others. Kennedy is making the simplified intake forms available to anyone who needs them. He said his interest in emphasizing easily managed intake paperwork is so that LTRCs can generate client data as quickly as possible, a move he sees as the most beneficial to disaster-affected communities.

Kennedy is also busy writing a book about disaster relief - a task he had actually started before the tornadoes struck southeast Kansas. He said his book will differ from others because it is not as specialized, but is rather more of an overview.

"It discusses the process. People need an overview to understand everything if they've never been through a disaster before. I think it'll be very practical. If you didn't know this stuff to begin with, this book will make it easier."

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