Chapter 5: Community Organizing
The old adage is true - there’s strength in numbers. As we mentioned earlier, collaboration and coordination will make navigating an emergency far more successful. Alone, the burden falls on you to supply food, water, shelter, medical supplies, sustainable power, transportation, and communication. Coming together with friends and family, you can assign responsibilities and rely on each other to carry the load.
Whether it’s coordinating only within your household or with neighbors in your building or on your block, managing things like backup power, sustainable communication, and transportation become much more feasible. Together, you are stronger, safer, and far more resilient.
Government Programs and Materials for Community Preparedness
Your community can mean more than just your household or neighbors. Even city, state, and federal government agencies come together to form a disaster relief community. Several federal and state agencies that advocate for community preparedness and response.
One of those programs is the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. This program, sponsored by FEMA, educates volunteers about disaster preparedness so they can assist their communities in a time of need. Volunteers also learn basic response skills like fire safety, search and rescue, and disaster medical assistance. And, joining your neighborhood CERT is a great way to meet others that are thinking about emergency planning too.
If you’re considering creating a CERT, it’s very likely that there are already some existing programs in your community.
There are over 2,700 local CERT programs nationwide and you can choose to join an existing team or create a local one within your community. Government programs like CERT or Citizen Corps provide the necessary materials and assistance needed to organize. If there are no local organizations, contact your city council to see how you can begin creating a local team.
- This guide can help you and your city council recruit team local members.
- Learn how to start a CERT program in your area with this guide by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
- Information about CERTs
- Community Preparedness Toolkit
- FEMA’s Preparedness Portal
- FEMA’s information packed regarding preparing the whole community
Use these resources to talk to your community. Depending on where you live and the subcultures you’re part of, getting to know neighbors may seem foreign in 2019. Luckily it doesn’t have to be awkward. It can be as simple as leaving a short note with your email address for neighbors to contact you if they’re interested in participating.
Once you have your community engaged, set a date, time, and place to meet. Open the discussion on disaster preparedness by discussing your own concerns. For instance, “Living in San Francisco has me thinking about what I’d do if an earthquake hit. Is anyone here already working on preparedness in some way? Can we explore ways we can organize to support each other?”
Work together to identify ways you can assist each other in times of need and determine who is already able or would like to help own community responsibilities.
Start with a local team, either a smaller neighborhood team or a bigger organization. Whichever you choose, the idea is the same: find like minded individuals in your area who are willing and able to work together in preparing your community for and responding to disasters
Here are a few guidelines to get your community conversation started:
- What can your team do with what they already have?
- If your team is hyper-local, such as a neighborhood group, assign someone to use the Redfora Definitive Emergency Kit Checklist to record which emergency categories and items you already have and items you still need.
- Which resources can be shared and which must stay with their owners?
- What preparedness and survival skills are already present on your team, and what skills are still needed?
- Consider, but do not limit your team to, skills such as search and rescue, outdoorsmanship, and medical and injury assistance.
- What are your unique community’s needs? Identify common, fundamental needs in addition to outlying needs. This will help your team determine where your time, energy, and resources will be best spent.
- Common needs include, but are not limited to, a communication plan, a community evacuation plan, a response team phone tree, and a triage plan for injury and clean up.
- Your community’s needs will vary based on your geographical location, the skills and resources of your members, and differing abilities within the group.
One of your first goals as a team should be to find training. In addition to CERT, there are several other training programs for first responders.
- Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium - his organization provides free training across the country, specifically for first responders in rural areas.
- CERT -In addition to training provided by your local CERTs, FEMA provides an independent study course online for individuals interested in becoming a CERT member.
- FEMA’s IS-909 Program (Community Preparedness: Simple Activities for Everyone) - This program is for community members who are interested in learning the basics about disaster preparation and recovery efforts. Course modules include Preparedness on a Shoestring, Fire Extinguisher Operation, and Disaster Planning. You can take the online course or, if you plan on sharing it with your team, download this guide to print the course materials for distribution.
- Other Training Programs by FEMA - FEMA offers a catalogue of Independent Study programs, including several regarding disaster preparedness.
In addition to partnering with local organizations, your team can also seek grants from philanthropic organizations with an interest in promoting community preparedness.
- The official Department of Homeland Security website helps you find and apply for grants relating to preparedness.
- Four important grant programs for disaster preparation and relief to consider.
- The Lions Clubs International Foundation offers several grants for disasters preparedness and relief.
Ask for help and put the word out! Other local organizations and nonprofits are there to help provide the funding you need.
Disaster Relief Resources
Your greater community is a resource as well. The federal government partners with state agencies to provide assistance. If you ever need it, The United States Disaster Assistance website is the best place to start. You can determine whether your area has been declared for individual assistance, apply online for assistance, and find local resources to help you in the meantime.
IF YOU NEED HOUSING…
If your area has not been declared for individual assistance, you can still navigate the website to find other means of immediate assistance.
- DisasterAssistance.gov offers a list of all forms of federal disaster relief assistance, which can be sorted by category or Federal Agency
IF YOU NEED FOOD OR WATER…
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the organization in charge of providing assistance following a natural disaster
- USDA FNS Food Assistance for Disaster Relief provides food and shelters for those in immediate, critical need. They also run the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) program
IF YOU NEED FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE…
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is another available resource. The HUD works with FEMA, USDA, and the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) to offer recovery assistance.