AUSTIN, Texas -- As Texans continue to recover from the 2011 wildfires, some may find they have needs that extend beyond the scope of state and federal assistance. That’s when community-based long-term recovery groups can step in, providing the three resources wildfire survivors most often need: money, materials or manpower.
With support and guidance from the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, four recovery groups — in Bastrop County, Waller/Montgomery and Cass/Marion counties and the Travis County community of Spicewood — are now up and running. In Walker County, the local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster is also developing a committee to address survivors’ unmet needs.
Each of the recovery groups is now working vigorously to assess the needs of individual wildfire survivors in their communities and get them the assistance they need. For some that means help clearing the rubble that remains of their fire-destroyed home so a new home can take its place. For others it is help building new fences so livestock are safely enclosed in their pastures. Still others are getting help paying utility bills or with everyday necessities such as clothing and furniture.
And that is just the beginning:
- Still Waters Cowboy Church from Panola County has “adopted” the Spicewood recovery group and is supplying survivors with boots, hats, jeans and gloves to wear as they rebuild their houses.
- Local churches in connection with Bastrop County’s long-term recovery team have built “Faith Village” in Smithville, which will house volunteers who come to help with construction and debris removal. This includes the hundreds of college students who are expected to arrive during Spring Break.
- The recovery group for Cass/Marion counties is organizing efforts to provide hay for livestock, set utility poles at homes so survivors can have basic services, replace septic systems, and test and clean wells.
- A town hall meeting is being planned for Waller by the Waller/Montgomery recovery group to reach out to survivors who have unmet needs. The recovery group is also helping survivors obtain appliances for their new or temporary homes.
The recovery groups are formed from a network of nonprofits, voluntary agencies and faith- and community-based organizations, many of whom have been on the scene helping their fellow Texans since the wildfires began late last summer. In each case, Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VALS) from FEMA and the state helped to organize the group.
“The challenge is to help get the recovery groups off the ground as the individual member agencies are working feverishly to meet immediate needs. It’s kind of like flying a plane and trying to put wings on it at the same time,” said Patricia Froelich, supervisor of FEMA’s VAL group in Texas.
In addition to helping form the groups, VALs support them by providing training for services such as case management. The VALs recently provided construction workshops to help recovery groups learn how to organize rebuilding projects in their communities, what builders are donating their labor and where survivors can go to get construction materials.
“VALs prepare the recovery groups to help survivors rebuild their lives,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin L. Hannes of FEMA. “Their work makes a community whole again, one household at a time.”
Wildfire survivors who live in a designated county and need assistance with unmet needs should call the 2-1-1 Texas Information & Referral Network. Those who wish to donate time or money to wildfire recovery efforts can also dial 2-1-1 for assistance.
Although FEMA’s registration period for assistance has ended, survivors can still get questions answered or check on the status of...