Recovering from Disaster

One Year Later
by Jim Fassino
Tri-County Long Term Recovery

Once the initial emergency response is over, LTR is designed to fill unmet needs as efficiently as possible.

To see all the devastation wreaked by last year’s tornadoes, you almost have to be in an airplane. The trails of destruction in Tazewell and Woodford counties are miles long. As most of us know, the bulk of the damage was sustained in Washington, where more than 1,000 homes were destroyed. But in any other context, the damage to East Peoria and Pekin would have counted as major disasters by themselves.

As a licensed pilot, I’ve seen that big picture from the air. As a banker, I appreciate the millions of dollars it takes to rebuild. And as a member of the board of the American Red Cross Central Illinois Chapter, I know some of the first responders. Yet it’s as chairman of Tri-County Long Term Recovery that the full impact of this disaster has been brought home to me. LTR takes the long view, and it’s on the ground wherever a local disaster strikes.

Beginning the Healing Process
Over the past year, LTR has opened more than 1,026 cases. Each and every one involves a family or individual struggling to reach what we call “the new normal.” It takes more time than you’d think. Most of the wreckage may be cleared by now. New construction may be well underway. But as for healing, people still have a long way to go.

For example, LTR client Charles “Bud” Broyles is a weather spotter for the National Weather Service. He watched one major tornado head for his East Peoria home, touch down and spin off what he calls “little sisters.” He says even the smaller tornadoes would be classed as “EF-1.”

Technically, he might be considered one of the lucky ones. He and his wife survived, and they didn’t have to abandon their home that day.

But the storm slammed Bud into a wall, knocking out most of his teeth, and opened his rental home to water damage. Both FEMA and his insurer deemed water damage uncovered. Six years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Bud isn’t able to do a lot of physical work. His landlord didn’t move quickly on repairs, shorts in appliances sparked small fires, and the Broyleses ended up losing their clothing, furniture and antiques to black mold.

Bud says LTR and The Salvation Army, an LTR partner, helped him when few others would. Caseworker Chuck Friend helped him find and furnish a new residence, and helped him get dental care. In mid-September, Bud and his wife relocated to Bellevue, finally able to start the real healing process. Bud credits Friend for this.

“He stood right by us the whole time,” Bud says. “Everything he said came true.”

Filling a Long-Term Need
That’s what LTR does. Once the initial emergency response is over, LTR is designed to fill unmet needs as efficiently as possible. A standalone not-for-profit, LTR is a temporary umbrella committee with more than two dozen local members. When recovery is complete—which may take another year—it is designed to go dormant until there is another major disaster to address.

The need for long-term, area-wide disaster coordination became apparent after the spring 2013 floods. Interested groups and individuals met that summer. FEMA, the Red Cross and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster offered lessons learned after Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard and a tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri. The key takeaway: Coordination is vital and duplication can be avoided.

So LTR members were ready to respond when the tornadoes struck. Within weeks, these efforts were recognized and underwritten by a $500,000 grant from The Robert R. McCormick Foundation. In July, that funding enabled LTR to open its Washington Plaza headquarters (formerly Sunnyland Plaza) between the affected communities. It provides a place for meetings, including a September workshop advising homeowners how to deal with contractors, as well as a confidential environment for caseworkers and clients to meet.

As Bud Broyles discovered, one case manager helps a family through the entire process. The case managers come from the Red Cross, Eureka College, The Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul Society. They work as a team, using a central database to avoid duplication.

When an individual or family has needs beyond the regular resources available, LTR steps up in another way. Case managers present those needs at a monthly meeting of LTR member organizations with money, manpower and materials called the Funder’s Forum. Not every need can be met, but those groups want to do whatever they can. LTR aims to smooth the process for them as well.

To give some idea of the size of this effort, LTR member Bethany Community Church has coordinated more than 14,000 volunteers (including members of the Chicago Bears). LTR has funded items from dumpsters to unmet insurance deductibles to mileage for those who’ve had to travel to temporary homes and jobs. More than $150,000 had been distributed as of October 1st.

While the time and money expended to date are huge, LTR exists because the need is even larger. iBi

Jim Fassino recently retired as Northern Illinois Regional President of First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust. When he’s not flying or spending time with his grandchildren, he chairs LTR and serves on the boards of the Red Cross and Peoria Housing Authority.

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