005This week guest blogger Julia Menzo, coordinator for Liberty’s Lutheran Disaster Response-Eastern PA (LDR-EPA), shares how LDR-EPA continues to coalesce with its disaster partners and refine best practices.


In May, I attended the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) annual conference, held this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota thanks to Homeland Security funding that is allocated to the greater Philadelphia region.

What is most valuable about the NVOAD Conference is the chance to spend dedicated time comparing notes, trading ideas and planning with disaster relief partners from Pennsylvania. The conference is also a great opportunity to network with Lutheran Disaster Response colleagues from around the country.

I was inspired by my colleague Lisa Adler, Lutheran Social Services South Dakota, who presented details of the long-term recovery partnership between South Dakota VOAD, the Oglala Lakota Tribe, and FEMA, in order to meet overwhelming housing challenges on the Pine Ridge Reservation due to devastating spring floods in 2015.

006Additionally, keynote speakers shared their experiences with urban disaster recovery following the August 2014 flooding in Detroit and the fallout from the Flint water crisis this past year. We were reminded that key factors in reaching underserved populations means reaching out to communities in a variety of languages and mediums.

The Challenges Faced by Disaster Planners
Without a quick, yet carefully orchestrated response, people can linger, homes can get moldy, and damage can become greatly exacerbated.

Obstacles we face as disaster planners include meeting basic life needs quickly, deciding in what manner to help people, figuring out how to collect donations, addressing the spiritual crisis that a disaster can present for individuals and communities, and figuring out how to become more resilient to future disasters.

Prioritizing which families and individuals are most in need of assistance is a great challenge. Some common characteristics among these folks are that they are underinsured, sometimes do not have family or friends in the area, or are elderly or disabled and not able to repair damage themselves. Other barriers may include poverty, lack of access to information, and English proficiency.

Technology Is a Valuable Tool
In one of the conference sessions we learned about a web-based open source tool called Crisis Cleanup that provides an updated, real-time map of damage so that responding organizations can see which areas are the most compromised.

This principle of real-time mapping is inspiring disaster planners in Pennsylvania to consider how similar concepts of plotting data can be used to more quickly discern where damage is concentrated.

Growing More Resilient
All in all, disaster response is a little bit like running a mud run. If you’ve ever run or know someone who has run a Spartan race or other type of mud run, you know that it’s about striving to get more proficient at navigating the obstacles until you finally reach the end, exhausted and pretty muddy. Yet, no matter the challenges, when the new day comes, you’re definitely the stronger for it!

Learn more about Lutheran Disaster Response – Eastern Pennsylvania (LDR – EPA), including how you can volunteer or make a donation at LutheranCongregationalServices.org/disaster.

Julia Menzo