It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the emotion and logistics of disaster recovery. So when Mennonite Disaster Service, a national expert in disaster response and recovery, brought together people across the country who’d been through similar situations for a weekend workshop, it was cathartic, said Carlene Anders, executive director of the Okanogan County Long Term Recovery Group (OCLTRG).
The group followed a “care for the caregivers” format — comparing strategies, allowing themselves to share their frustrations, and even getting massages, said Anders. By the second day, they had decided to use their diverse, in-depth experience — gained from working with survivors of fires, floods and hurricanes in small towns and large urban areas — to help others, she said.
They formed the nationwide Disaster Leadership Team (DLT). The group assembled a toolkit based on their own experience and on the best practices established by the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, who’ve been working in the field for decades. They acquired nonprofit status so contributions could be tax-deductible.
“Disaster-recovery community leaders face a labyrinth of obstacles and challenges. We are there to support them by listening, advising, and connecting,” the DLT said about its new venture.
The DLT is currently mentoring 18 long-term recovery groups across the country, said Joan Rave, federal disaster recovery coordinator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA has funded some of their work, including recovery workshops to committees in Nebraska (for floods) and Florida (after Hurricane Michael), said Rave.
FEMA helped connect the DLT participants, said Rave. “The concept is, we’ve been through this. There are lessons learned from peer-to-peer local community groups. FEMA gave technical assistance — with serious handholding,” she said, but they don’t dispatch the group. DLT members only go if they’re invited.
“Most communities have a group that wants to rise up and help,” said Anders. “They’re there, but don’t know who they are and what they look like.”