This Best of the Best Practice takes a new twist to county-wide efforts to increase communication and to enhance community, organization, and neighborhood preparedness, with an emphasis on the needs of vulnerable populations. This is done through a grass-roots community working group called Together Prepared.
Together Prepared came about by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department and Douglas County Emergency Management initiating a coalition with Research and Training Center on Independent Living at The University of Kansas, and local organizations serving vulnerable populations including Roger-Hill Volunteer Center, Independence, Inc., Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, Cottonwood Incorporated, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, and Success by 6 Coalition of Douglas County.
The mission of Together Prepared is to ensure that local capabilities exist for enhancing personal readiness through training and education to minimize the impact of disasters on vulnerable populations.
Significance of the Problem
Information and education is needed to assist vulnerable citizens and the agencies that serve them on what to do in crisis situations. Studies have shown that a majority of people with disabilities and community-based organizations (CBOs) serving vulnerable populations do not have preparedness plans. For example, Together Prepared distributed a survey to 102 community-based organizations in Douglas County, KS asking about the populations they serve and their current emergency plans. Survey results from 33 responder found that only 58% of the organizations have a continuity of operations plan (COOP) to continue serving clients during an emergency, and only 48% felt their plan actually met the needs of their consumers. Of participants that did have emergency plans for their agency, the majority said that the plan was practiced never or almost never. Fewer than 50% of agencies said they would be able to provide information about what to do in an emergency to their consumers.
To addresses these issues, a coalition was formed and on November 6, 2007, Together Prepared began by holding a forum for community-based organizations serving vulnerable populations in Douglas County to discuss concerns and challenges they encounter in preparing for a disaster. Eighteen agencies participated. Participants reported that their consumers lacked education and resources, or that their personal and facility preparedness levels were quite low. Evaluations from the forum indicated that 100% of attendees found the forum helpful and 98% wished to continue participation in the Together Prepared program. The overwhelming positive responses prompted forums to be held on a quarterly basis for CBOs. Forum topics have included: Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP) for agencies, preparing CBO agencies and consumers for hazardous weather, pandemic flu tabletop exercise, a panel of emergency response agencies discussing expectations from the public and realistic expectations from response agencies during a disaster or emergency event, and information for consumers on personal preparedness. Because of these forums, many CBOs in Douglas County have begun working on a more comprehensive COOP.
Together Prepared secured several grants to assist with program development, primarily though Americorps VISTA volunteers. Together Prepared has also conducted asset mapping, initiated a neighbor to neighbor program, and are in process of instituting another best practice, a disaster call center at the local library (see Douglas County Emergency Information Call Center). The coalition is now working with local neighborhood associations to increase communication, education, and training, especially focusing on assisting vulnerable populations at the grass-root level at the county level.
Contact InformationCharlie Bryan
Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department
Phone and TDD: 785-843-3060
Specific guidelines to assist others in duplicating these efforts are also forthcoming.
Home Page Photo : Heather Thies, Director of Life Enrichment, and Cottonwood Inc., resident, Adam Kessler are reviewing existing evacuation plans that are regularly drilled at Cottonwood, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas.
Heather and other Cottonwood staff serve on the Together Prepared coalition and advisory committees on disasters and persons with disabilities. Staff has created an exceptional model COOP for office and residential settings.
"Cottonwood, Inc. is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit organization that was established in 1972 to provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities," according to Cottonwood's website http://www.cwood.org/aboutus.htm