Around 230 Rogers County families were impacted by historic storms in May and June, but only 113 received FEMA assistance. And many of those who did receive assistance didn’t receive enough to fully cover their losses.
“We have some major gaps to fill,” said Claremore resident and business owner Crystal Campbell. “Unfortunately FEMA cannot solve everybody’s issues. And quite honestly that is not really their responsibility. They are there to help, aid and assist, but I am one of those old school people that know neighbors get it done so much faster than the federal government.”
Over a dozen representatives form local nonprofits, churches, county and state agencies met Friday with that shared goal in mind to establish a, as yet unnamed, community unmet needs group.
Laurie Freed, vice chairperson of Oklahoma Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (OK-VOAD) and emergency disaster services director for the Salvation Army of Arkansas and Oklahoma, lead the discussion on how to make such a disparate group work well together based on her experiences with similar groups in other counties.
“In nearly all disasters, a percentage of those impacted struggle to recover due to lack of resources,” Freed said. “There is a big misconception that FEMA is going to fix us, but FEMA is really intended to get us back to basic necessities.”
The goal of a community unmet needs group is to identify disaster-related unmet needs of individuals and households in the county and coordinate the delivery of resources from multiple sources to assist in recovery.
“Its comprised of local folks, just like yourselves, who come together,” Freed said. “I may have resources with the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities may have resources, your local church may have resources, but what we want to try to do is, instead of each of us piecemealing, pull all those resources together to help those individuals impacted.”
Freed highlighted the cycle of disaster recovery and the Rule of 10 that gives people a time estimate on how long it will take the community to fully recover.
From the start of the incident to immediate response and rescue to short and long-term recovery efforts to mitigating the extenuating circumstances all the way through blue skies work preparing for the next tragedy, services are in place, but coordination is required to ensure all the steps in the cycle happen efficiently and effectively, Freed said.
It could take more than two years for those impacted by the storms in May to fully recover to where they were before the event.
“There are people out here who have needs and people out here who have resources, but often getting them connected is the issue,” Campbell said.
In order to best serve those in need, the group will split into three main components. First is case managers, the first and only point of contact for those in need, where the extent of the need will be assessed.
Catholic Charities Emergency Services Director Erick Bell said, “FEMA focuses on disaster damage, but a person’s recovery goes well beyond that. For case management, you are looking at the survivor’s overall recovery, which is much more holistic than just a construction project. Often times cases are still lingering years later, because emotional needs are still being met and are ongoing.”
Once the need is identified, it will be anonymously presented to the whole group. Each organization at the table can chime in with their ideas and resources to help meet those needs.
The second sub-group will take in all the information about available resources plan the assistance projects.
Then the third group, volunteers, will go out and do whatever manual labor needs to be done.
All of these groups are comprised of local organizations with money, materials and manpower ready to help.
“The power of this group is that you still own your resources,” Freed said. No group will be asked to throw money at a problem with no input on how it’s used. Rather each person at the table sees the needs and looks inwards to see how their organization can help address that need from their own perspective.
The reason for keeping resources local is, Freed said, “All disasters begin in the local community and end in the local community.”
After the recovery from this year’s flooding is done, Campbell said she would like to see the group continue to serve other unmet needs in the community as a unified force.
“This is geared toward disasters, but I really see this trickling over into an everyday thing where if somebody says ‘I need help,’ and they have somewhere to turn to first, then we can gear them towards the already established resources and help those resources continue to grow and thrive,” Campbell said.
Freed agreed, “You have those families that are in disasters every day: a house is burned, someone loses a job, those types of things. This can become your go-to group.”
“Working together is a lot better than working separate, and what can be accomplished when we work together is much greater,” Campbell said. “Groups like this really bridge the gap and help meet those needs.”
Individuals, nonprofits and church groups who would like to get involved on the giving end of this project can attend the next meeting of the community unmet needs group, 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at First United Methodist Church, 1615 N Hwy 88. Those who would specifically like to volunteer as manual labor can contact Disaster Response Coordinator Tim McHugh with the Oklahoma United Methodist Church at 918-829-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Currently for Rogers County, if you are in need of assistance you can find a case manager at Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma. More organizations may be available for case management in the future.