|Harry and Phyl Kuipers led a team of Needs Assessment volunteers in surveying community members who experienced loss due to Hurricane Irene in August 2011.
Photo by Michael Daigle/www.parsippany.patch.
Last year, CRWRC Disaster Response Services volunteers talked with tornado survivors in Joplin, MO to assess needs.
Completed Needs Assessment surveys are put into a database of information and provided to local long-term recovery organizations.
The Birth of CRWRC’s Disaster Needs Assessment Program
Although it was been over nine months since Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast of the United States, many are still recovering from its devastating blow. A team ofChristian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) volunteers recently traveled to Morristown, New Jersey not to clear debris or rebuild flood-damaged homes, but to go door-to-door to talk with disaster survivors. They donned distinctive, green polo shirts and inventoried the unmet needs at every household in flood impacted area.
For thirty years, this “Needs Assessment” program has been a vital part of CRWRC’s Disaster Response Services. The team that went to Morristown was led by Harry and Phyl Kuipers who have been DRS Needs Assessment volunteers for two years.
“We think of Needs Assessment trips as a unique opportunity, and we enjoy it,” said Harry Kuipers. “You are sitting across from people in need—their tears are right there. And you have the chance to talk and pray with them—to share Christ’s love.”
The team visited homes, attended municipal meetings, and conducted approximately 125 surveys in an effort to assist with restoration in these communities. They saw, first-hand, the overwhelming needs that remained from Irene’s destruction -- houses with dry wall that still needed to be removed, floors still covered with mud, and people who did not yet have a home at all. One woman had lived for months in her car after the hurricane hit—and although she is now living with a family member she longs for a home of her own.
“I don’t mind not having a bed for myself,” said another hurricane survivor they met, “but it’s my kids I worry about—I want beds for them.”
In addition to the pain they had experienced, many Morristown residents also expressed frustration with the local government over the handling of resources and funds in response to the storm. Their impatience—and even anger—over delays and bureaucratic processes was palpable.
The CRWRC volunteers gave people time to express these feelings. They also explained their purpose and assured residents that they were there to listen and to help determine the most effective way to get them the help they so desperately need in their specific situations.
Thirty years ago, these types of one-on-one meetings with disaster survivors and the ability to match up volunteers with unmet needs were non existent. That’s when CRWRC’s Needs Assessment Program was created.
“When a particular disaster receives a Presidential Disaster Declaration in the United States, it automatically becomes managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)," explained former CRWRC Disaster Response Services (DRS) director, Neil Molenaar. “CRWRC-DRS places high value on working in collaboration with FEMA in its disaster recovery program. Federal regulations around confidentiality, however, were really frustrating to work within.”
When FEMA is activated following a disaster, one of its first major tasks is to put a process in place so that disaster survivors can register with FEMA and provide information concerning damages they had experienced. Once FEMA has collected and recorded that information, however, it becomes classified and confidential.
FEMA uses this information to determine how much money should be designated to various disaster survivors depending on their need and in accordance with federal regulations. Although concerned it is not their task to determine whether or not the survivors have the capacity to manage the money or do the necessary repairs.
In the 1970’s, CRWRC began its Disaster Response Services program and soon made a name for itself within the disaster response community.
“Because of FEMA’s confidence in how CRWRC managed its disaster response activities through trained volunteers, it would request that CRWRC work with disaster survivors on a one- to-one basis to help them manage the resources they received from FEMA,” recalls Molenaar. “From 1974 until 1981, CRWRC endeavored to meet these requests but were constantly frusterated by confidentiality regulations. How could we correctly identify who was and was not a registered FEMA disaster survivor to avoid duplication of resources? It was like trying to find a needle in a hay stack.”
After a devastating flood struck St. Louis, Missouri in 1982, CRWRC decided to take a new approach.
“The flood had received a Presidential Declaration and FEMA had been activated with its resources,” said Molenaar. “We had helped to establish a local interfaith organization called St. Louis Interfaith Recover Program. Our main task was to help the interfaith manage resources to best help disaster survivors in the region, but once again the FEMA records could not be released and we couldn’t tell who had received government funding. We made an arrangement and the St. Louis Interfaith officially requested that CRWRC conduct a door-to-door survey of the areas impacted by the flood.”
Nelson Gritter, a volunteer from Kalamazoo, Michigan, was assigned by Molenaar and, with a few other volunteers, put together what is now known as CRWRC’s Needs Assessment Program. A new form was designed to obtain much of the same information that the survivor had initially shared with FEMA. This form, however, also included a section the survivor could sign to authorize the release of confidential information from FEMA.
The program strove to identify as accurately as possible remaining unmet needs that would require long term assistance—particularly as it related to home restoration. The data that was collected was then compiled into a report and given to the local interfaith, which matched up volunteers and other resources with unmet needs.
This Needs Assessment Program soon became an invaluable resource in assisting interfaith and long-term recovery organizations to not only identify unmet needs, but also to establish realistic budgets, conduct more successful fundraising campaigns, and make more efficient use of time and money.
“Because of CRWRC being pro-active in creating its Needs Assessment Program, today CRWRC, members of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and FEMA can all work together and achieve their respective objectives within the parameters established by the federal government,” said Molenaar. “CRWRC has become a leader in identifying long-term
recovery needs throughout the United States.”
This impact would not be possible without Harry and Phyl Kuipers and the many other dedicated volunteers who canvas thousands of homes every year. Last year alone, 105 volunteers spent more than 11,260 hours visiting 9,292 homes.
In Morrisburg, the Kuipers team surveyed approximately 125 homeowners and determined their needs for additional assistance. The local long-term recovery organization is now making plans for how to best meet those needs in the coming year. On the Kuipers’ trip, a man approached one of the couples and said, “I know why you’re here, but I just don’t think you can help me.” But this man did have a need this couple could meet -- they sat and listened to him, letting him share about the struggles he had faced in recent months. He talked with them for half an hour. When it was over, his gratitude shone.
“Thank you for being with me in this way,” he said to them. A listening ear greatly blessed a man in need that day. When offered alongside a helpful form and a prayerful word the lives of disaster survivors are truly changed forever.
Thank you to all those involved in serving God’s people through this program—in past, in present, and in the days to come.
~ by Adele Konyndyk, CRWRC Communications