Out of Recovery, Preparedness

by Jim Fassino, Tri-County Long Term Recovery, and Ben Davidson, Community Organizations Active in Disaster

With Long Term Recovery going dormant, many have signed up to help in the next phase.

In mid-November, dozens of the people who opened the first Tri-County Long Term Recovery (LTR) met to celebrate its closing. The moment was bittersweet.

After two years of collaborating to help Tazewell County recover from the tornadoes of 2013, LTR had accepted its last client. The final monthly meeting had been held. The office was shutting its doors. Folks who had enjoyed working side by side were almost sorry to see it end.

Yet driving to the luncheon through rebuilt neighborhoods near Five Points Washington showed how far recovery had come, and LTR had played its part. Every person celebrating knew the value of being prepared before disaster strikes again. Many have signed up to help in the next phase, Tri-County COAD, shorthand for Community Organizations Active in Disaster.

From LTR...
Central Illinois already saw the benefits of being prepared in 2013. After spring flooding, interested groups and individuals met that summer to discuss long-term, area-wide disaster coordination. They built on two lessons learned after Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard and a tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri.

First, coordination is vital. Second, duplication can be avoided.

Coordinating without duplicating is what an LTR does after a major disaster. A standalone not-for-profit, it’s a temporary umbrella committee with dozens of members—not a permanent group. There are many fine emergency responders. As its name implies, LTR steps in to fill unmet needs when first responders have completed their work. Longer-term recovery may take two years, as it did in Tazewell County, or more. Then LTR goes dormant until there is another major disaster to address.

So LTR members were poised to respond when tornadoes struck more than 1,100 homes. Within weeks, their efforts were recognized with a $500,000 grant from The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, which enabled LTR to open an office in Washington Plaza where case managers could shepherd people through the paperwork and processes. Those case managers came from the Red Cross, The Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul Society, but they worked as one team, using a central database to avoid duplication.

Such coordination eased traumatized families, but it also helped LTR partners. Government and insurance sources rarely cover all the needs of every homeowner impacted by a storm. Once those sources were exhausted, case managers brought remaining items—insurance deductibles, mental health counseling, soil remediation, stumps, rent payments and the like—to monthly meetings called Funder’s Forums. From the Apostolic Christian Church to the Washington Illinois Area Foundation, funders provided manpower, materials and money to help.

As of November 4, 2015, more than $1.4 million has been distributed through the Funder's Forum. The highest total was in May 2015—18 months after the tornadoes—when $176,036 was given out. Although a firm number is hard to determine, Forum members also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars they had collected to assist tornado victims.

LTR itself has granted $518,395, thanks to local contributions and the McCormick grant. (That’s just cash. It doesn’t include Christmas gifts or a 573-bicycle giveaway spearheaded by case manager Chuck Friend and Joe Russell of Russell’s Cycling and Fitness Center.) LTR has also set aside funds to finish the paperwork on roughly 100 cases which remain, a process that may take into this spring.

...To COAD
About a year ago, even as unmet needs were at their peak, LTR’s executive and steering committees were discussing the next steps. We wanted to create a package of “best practices” advice which could help other communities learn from our experience, just as we were helped by Joplin. And we wanted to help form a standing group to focus on emergency preparedness when LTR was dormant.

After months of meetings and discussions, both goals were met. LTR subcommittees from Construction Management to Donations to Pets condensed their advice into brief reports, and Ben Davidson agreed to lead a COAD, the format which best suits Tri-County’s situation.

Tri-County COAD wants to develop relationships which emergency responders can count upon during a crisis. As head of LTR’s Volunteer Management Committee, Ben saw how confusing things become when would-be helpers just show up at a disaster site. That’s why COAD, like LTR, is designed to keep things simple.

A COAD doesn’t jump in on its own. It only stands up at the request of emergency responders, such as a county Emergency Management Agency director. But if called, COAD members will have relationships built to put basic plans in place. For example, one church may have offered storage space for donated items like diapers and water. The Lions Club may have members trained in how to use chainsaws. And good information will be provided via text, Facebook, email and mass media.

There are differences between an LTR and a COAD. A COAD might be called for a much smaller crisis, such as an apartment fire, and it only meets quarterly. (You’re welcome to attend at 8am on Tuesday, January 12, 2016, at the Community Foundation of Central Illinois, 3625 N. Sheridan Road in Peoria.) But COAD is a continuing group. Unlike an LTR, a COAD has no money of its own and no Funder’s Forum. A disaster big enough to require those services will probably reactivate the LTR. Unfortunately, that could happen at any time.

In early December, Tri-County LTR got a call from South Carolina, where flooding prompted the formation of an LTR. Their newly elected chairman said the executive committee was about to meet and members weren’t sure what to do next. Advice from central Illinois would be welcome, and Jim Fassino was happy to provide it.

If the lessons learned in central Illinois help South Carolina get to its own bittersweet moment any quicker, something good has come out of the November 2013 tornadoes. iBi

LTR Chairman Jim Fassino is the retired Northern Illinois regional president of First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust. COAD Chairman Ben Davidson is executive pastor of Bethany Community Church in Washington and chairman of LTR’s volunteer management committee.

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