Disaster

Transitioning From Response To Recovery

During the initial response to the Missouri Winter Flooding, AmeriCorps St. Louis - working in conjunction with other AmeriCorps Disaster Response Teams (A-DRT) from across the United States - acted as a statewide “clearinghouse” for homeowner intakes in addition to their role in direct service performing muck and guts and debris removal on affected homes. The large A-DRT team has since disbanded, and recovery from the flooding is now beginning to move into what is known as the “long term recovery” phase. Many voluntary organizations have left the disaster area, and the formation of community Long Term Recovery (LTR) Committees and Groups has begun. These LTRC/Gs aim to continue the long road to normalcy for many Missouri families. Often as local community organizations active in disaster (COADs) begin to transition into LTR Committees and Groups, survivors of the disaster must wait while the group forms, writes its bylaws, and identifies key resources and players still active in the affected area. These are of course important steps to take to ensure the proper functioning of the LTR group as a whole. However, many families and individuals simply cannot wait for help to come. That’s where the most recent ERT deployment comes into play.

The recent ERT team of six deployed across Missouri worked hard to identify high-needs and at-risk survivors in order to pair them with organizations and resources able to begin emergency repairs during the interim phase of recovery. In addition to identifying homeowners in need, the ERT identified key resources still active in Missouri and assisted LTR groups in the area with their startup process.

Several ERT members also facilitated in the start up of a pilot project called the Bridge to Recovery Coalition – a collaborative effort between AmeriCorps St. Louis and several key partners. The aim of the Coalition is to provide simple repairs (like drywall replacement, insulation installation, and floor work) to affected homeowners so that they can shelter in place until their local Long Term Recovery group can address their needs.  The Coalition – made possible by a generous grant from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy – targets at-risk populations with critical unmet needs and emphasizes guiding the survivor towards self-reliance in a holistic way. The Coalition is currently underway thanks to the tireless work of several ERT members and the work of partnering agencies.

Update written by Brittany Merriman

Planning

by Maria Tran Being a part of my first disaster response as an AmeriCorps Saint Louis Emergency Response Team (ACSTL) member was unalike any of my prior experiences in crises. Honestly, hearing about the Missouri flood in December was not as staggering as hearing about a tornado or hurricane. In spite of that, the flooding that hit several counties was a sight to see in person. The several feet of water that filled football fields and complete sections of highways was striking, but seeing the destruction done to the homes it drowned was truly impactful. It was heart-rending to witness homeowners lose their homes to water and to throw away personal belongings which had turned into debris. The aftermath required a fair amount of assistance that even ACSTL alone could not handle, with hundreds of homes needing immediate assistance. Therefore, more AmeriCorps members were called upon to help. Within a week, 100 members from across the country were stationed in Eureka to respond to the disaster.

My part amidst the larger response was to assist the planning chief in organizing the expansion. For the first few days, I did assist, but it soon became necessary that I would be leading the planning section of the operation with a partner as the planning chief was rotated off the disaster response. My partner (we called each other co-pilots) and I had to quickly learn how an Incident Command System worked, how to form an Incident Action plan for a 24-hour operational period, and what a situational report entailed. All without prior knowledge or experience. The steep learning curve only added to the pressure of the responsibility of the position itself, as fellow staff depended on us to organize personnel positions, assignments, and meetings. Suddenly, 7AM turned into 10PM, as days were filled with tasks that took up hours without my co-pilot and I noticing. Nevertheless, I loved it.

Even with a co-pilot, my attention was divided among several people at time and not a moment passed where a single task had to be done without a few more in queue. The satisfaction came from the liveliness of it all, accompanied with the sense of accomplishment at the end of the day when the coordination was complete. I was suddenly surrounded by like-minded and talented individuals who wanted nothing more than to help folks affected by the disaster. Working alongside them, every day was a new challenge to us while we balanced additional factors or issues that arose to our strike teams or operations. Orchestrating solutions to those problems was worthwhile because it meant that more homeowners would be helped if our operation ran smoother. Our work was valuable because flood survivors were benefitting consequently from our decisions. Be that as it may, there were difficulties that didn’t make the position enjoyable.

Situating 100 members in their positions meant that at least a few individuals would be discontent with their positions and there certainly were. Handling discontent was not the most pleasant part of the service, but relieving that discontent was productive and gratifying. The weight of the position also came with its fair share of stress and required hours. Sleep deprivation became standard and coffee became a staple at the incident command post we worked in. Truthfully, we didn’t mind the effort it took to accomplish what we were doing.

In closing, the disaster response was an experience I will always value and remember. It was unique in the sense that the fellow staff worked so well together while not knowing each other before the unfortunate circumstances. We will probably never all be in the same place or time again, but it was an honor to work with such individuals. There is a certain virtue that is rare and invaluable, which is necessary to dedicate oneself to help a community that you’re not even a part of. Everyone I worked with in the disaster response certainly possessed that quality. I will not only attribute the indispensable experience I gained from the response from the position and role I was placed in, but to the members I was placed with. Together in the month rotation, we were able to assist nearly 100 homes affected by the flood.

My First Disaster

by William Cretinon The first week was rough. The worst part of it all was walking into a command system that had already been created. This was very difficult especially for me. Especially since my job didn’t even have a title yet. I had always pictured a disaster deployment to be spent canvassing and mucking and gutting or making endless phone calls. This disaster was different than all the other ones I had heard of. It wasn’t the endless chaos I had gotten prepared for. My personal work seemed like utter chaos. Everything changed on that Friday though. Everybody that had been doing my job prior left and it was just me. I had become the trainer for the new folks coming in. That’s when I decided to revamp the system that I had come into, make it even more organized. I spent the next four weeks doing the same tasks and combing through my database over and over and over. What I was doing was crucial to our operation. But t was hard to feel like I was making a difference sitting behind my makeshift desk. However, the third week I was able to go on home assessments, and that’s when my “slump” changed. Just visiting one home for 20 minutes changed the way I felt when I was back at work the next day. For each home on my database I picture a flood survivor and their difficulties, their personal details. I was the one of the phone keeping track of all their information. I was the one sending help to their doorstep. That was A-DRT dispatch! The best first disaster position ever! That assessment gave me the disaster bug and I cannot wait for my next one.