Lady Luck has been shining on Southwest Colorado recently as it relates to natural disasters.
The fire threats that we have had in these past several years have been quickly addressed and remained far enough from our towns to prevent extensive damage or loss of life. Knock on wood – the much-welcomed rain this year should work in our favor as well.
During the past few years, I have been learning from my United Way friends in other Colorado communities who responded to community needs after fires and floods. Disaster response is always a complicated task that requires many agencies and organizations to help people respond, cope and rebuild.
In a disaster, emergency management professionals take charge of the scene and coordinate firefighters, emergency medical services, public relations and much more. A well-known United Way partner agency, the American Red Cross, is typically nearby providing shelter and other basic needs to those displaced by an emergency.
Staffed by well-trained volunteers, this organization specializes in helping people feel human during very abnormal and stressful circumstances. The American Red Cross also helps people prepare before emergencies strike so they are able to remain self-sufficient as long as possible should one occur. There are wonderful resources on the website, www.redcross.org, to help you prepare now, during a time of relative calm.
In addition to providing funding to the American Red Cross, United Way organizations can help in other ways during a disaster. First, most United Ways (including ours) fund a 2-1-1 call center to help people obtain urgent information, locate shelters, identify sources of assistance, volunteer to help, make donations to assist the efforts and so much more. These centers take the burden off the 9-1-1 system for nonemergency calls. They operate year-round, but typically increase staffing and hours during a disaster.
Second, most United Ways help manage relief funds. When donations increase because of disaster, it is essential to have a system for reviewing requests and verifying that money is used appropriately. United Way and our partners have experience in this area and often take the lead. Interestingly, the management of money may go on for a few years beyond the initial disaster as recovery efforts take shape.
How can you help? First, improve your own preparedness ahead of a disaster, so that you can ride out many situations. Second, if you donate, give to an organization’s general fund or specify that your gift can go to any part of the recovery. The greatest need could be to pay for something other than providing direct cash assistance to victims. By giving flexibility in the use of funds, you help them to be spent where they can make the greatest difference. For example, they could be spent to hire a counselor to benefit many people.
I encourage you to plan now for a disaster and know there is a network of services to help when and if needed. For now, I am keeping my fingers crossed for more good luck. Thank you for Living United.
Lynn Urban is president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Colorado.