New local organization helps coordinate storm assistance aid
This spring’s flooding, tornados, and high winds made it clear to state and local agencies and non-profits that the Grand Lake area, and surrounding counties, needed a long term recovery group to coordinate the many requests for assistance by individuals and families impacted by the storms.
And in August, FEMA, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, and voluntary organizations assisting in disasters met and began to work on creating a long term recovery group to address the unmet needs of storm survivors.
In just four short months, the group established the new Northeast Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Coalition (NEODRC) which is led by Mike Johnston, a retired ConocoPhillips employee. The organization serves the four-county region of Delaware, Ottawa, Mayes and Craig Counties. NEODRC is a 501c3 non-profit organization.
In November, the group funded its first two projects. Although many similar groups are in the process of being formed throughout the state, NEODRC was one of the first in the state to actually fund a project.
NEODRC works closely with the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), which was founded in 1970. There are nearly 100 coordinating groups that are members addressing disaster needs throughout the country.
In the past 20 years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared at least 100 disasters in Oklahoma or an average of five a year.
Despite the many government and non-governmental organizations which come to the aid of those hit by disasters, it is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of those individuals and families, who have damage, have major unmet needs even if they have insurance, FEMA assistance, or are eligible for government assistance through Small Business Loans. Providing assistance to these survivors is the focus of the NEODRC.
In the Grand Lake area, there are many individuals who still have major unmet needs from the spring flooding, tornados and high winds. While state and federal agencies have been very helpful in providing coordination and organizational support, actual long term recovery support to affected survivors, the hands-on aspects of recovery, is a local responsibility.
At the same time, a number of nonprofit organizations such as Catholic Charities, United Methodist Disaster Services, and Red Cross independently and through the NEODRC.
Johnston outlined the group's purpose and needs while addressing a recent Grove Rotary meeting. "The first response to a disaster is always local," Johnston said. “Then, with significant disasters, the state and federal agencies may step in. But they leave after only a short time and many unmet needs remain. It always comes back to what local groups and individuals can do. This new organization will help provide for more effective delivery of services as well as provide communications and coordination of organizations that deliver disaster assistance."
From this spring's flooding, FEMA recorded 639 registered cases of damage in the four-county region. Disaster workers indicate that 15 to 20 percent of the individuals and families involved in those cases still have major unmet needs. Of those who applied for assistance, 193 were in Ottawa County, 212 in Delaware County, 162 in Mayes County and 72 in Craig County.
"We estimate that it will take two to three years to actually address the estimated 125 cases that have major unmet needs," Johnston said. "No doubt we will have other disasters in-between such as hail and wind. In fact, there was a tornado in the Jay area and high wind events in the four counties in late summer. Long term, the goal of the NEODRC is to not only address the needs of survivors of federally declared disasters but also survivors of non-declared disasters.
"Even those who have insurance and may have received money from FEMA often are very much in need. A caseworker meets with those who apply for assistance. Once a case manager qualifies a client for assistance, an estimator is assigned to the case. The estimator develops an in-depth estimate of what is needed to bring the client back to pre-disaster condition, including cost, manpower and materials. The case is then presented to the Unmet Needs Committee of the NEODRC. We then begin the process of developing a plan to assist the survivors."
All cases are confidential and treated as such. There is a strict confidentiality agreement that all the NEODRC members and volunteers sign for every application.
The first two projects heard and funded were for senior citizens whose roofs were damaged allowing water intrusion into the homes. These survivors were denied help from FEMA and lacked the financial resources to repair the damage, did not have insurance, and there was insufficient family support to assist with recovery.
The group is seeking volunteers as well as seeking businesses willing to participate in the program. Of course, donations are also needed.
Johnston says the biggest needs are for funding, a communication coordinator, estimators, case managers and volunteers. If you are interested in learning more about the program or are able to meet one of the pressing needs, call Mike Johnston at 918 791-5082 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The current partners in the NEODR include the following:
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma
Catholic Charities of Eastern OK
Mennonite Disaster Services
OK Emergency Management
United Methodist Disaster Response
American Red Cross
Easter OK Presbytery
United Methodist Volunteers in Mission
Church of Christ
Crisis Care Ministries
Recovering Oklahomans After Disaster
Southside Church of Christ, Jay, OK
Legal Aid Services, OK
Federal Emergency Management Agency