The aftermath of a disaster — when demand for immediate assistance is high — is not the best time for legal service organizations to build relationships with other organizations involved in disaster relief and recovery. “An effective response requires coordination, coordination requires trust, and trust in turn must precede the chaos,” according to “Mitigating Disasters: Lessons From Mississippi,” a report written by two public interest attorneys involved in the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Building relationships before a disaster occurs makes a difference because:
- Active coordination before a disaster occurs helps prepare everyone involved so that they can respond quickly.
- Local organizations know their communities best, including what resources and assistance they need and what resources they already have.
- Legal providers will need to refer survivors to local organizations that can provide long-term support.
- Organizations that help survivors may know where to refer them for legal help.
“If I don’t know you exist, then we end up exchanging business cards at 2 a.m. That’s not when we should be doing that. We should know each other by face and by name.”
— Mark Sloan, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Coordinator, Harris County, Texas
Legal service providers should build relationships with:
- Federal, state, local, and tribal emergency management organizations. This should include putting a framework in place to integrate the delivery of legal services with the emergency management response to a disaster.
- Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and Long Term Recovery Committees/Groups (LTRC/LTRG). Providers should join as members of their local VOAD and LTRC/LTRG. The local VOAD and LTRC/LTRG consist of many social services organizations that prepare pre-disaster planning activities and provide the members with much-needed resources and expertise after a disaster. VOAD members provide case management training, grant assistance, debris removal, referrals, long-term recovery support, and more.
- Faith-based organizations, which have deep ties to many of the people that legal service providers are aiming to help. These organizations are a trusted source of information for the public, and many are committed to community service.
- Educational institutions. Like faith-based organizations, these institutions provide a direct connection to people in the community, especially students and their parents.
- Disability advocacy organizations, which can help providers reach and serve people who are among the most vulnerable or in need of special assistance.
- The private bar, local and state bar associations, law schools, and other volunteers in the legal and business communities. Providers can recruit and prepare volunteers who want to help with legal services after a disaster.