On three Saturdays in May 2009, 45 volunteers went to work helping their neighbors recover from the effects of a severe ice storm in December 2008. The ice storm left scores of yards in New Hampshire's Monadnock Region littered with broken trees and tree branches.
The ice storm resulted in a federal disaster declaration (FEMA-1812-DR), making the state and local governments eligible for federal financial aid to repair damage to public property. Under the declaration, local governments were also eligible for federal reimbursement for the cost of removing fallen trees and debris from public ways.
Under the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Public Assistance program, eligible towns that submit applications are reimbursed 75 percent of their debris removal cost. In this New Hampshire event, individual homeowners were not eligible for federal financial aid because most damage was covered by homeowners' insurance. FEMA policy allows assistance to remove debris from private property if the debris poses a danger to the structure or blocks access to the home.
Some property owners were physically unable to clear the debris from their property. Among them were a man in a wheelchair, an elderly woman confined to bed, a single mother with a chronic illness and others with disabilities.
Fortunately, there were volunteers to help them - a coalition of organizations called The Monadnock Community Organizations Active in Disaster (MCOAD). It includes local governments, non-profit organizations, churches, civic clubs and businesses. The mission is to improve coordination of the region's ability to recover from a disaster.
Monadnock United Way was instrumental in organizing the regional COAD. Director of Community Building Ellen Avery played a key role. She explained that the need to strengthen coordination in the region became clear when the area suffered severe damage from floods in 2005.
"We all had a steep learning curve," said Avery. "It was through the experience of long-term recovery from the previous flood that we all got involved and learned about Community Organizations Active in Disasters, and it really took hold."
With help from the Monadnock Volunteer Center, MCOAD rallied its volunteers for what it called "May of Caring - Team-Up to Clean-Up." The volunteers cut downed trees, raked yards and hauled brush from 14 properties in five towns: Greenfield, Hancock, Jaffrey, New Ipswich, and Peterborough. Property owners were allowed to keep the wood for firewood, if they chose.
The volunteers involved in the cleanup could keep firewood or distribute it to people who needed it. The remaining debris was stacked by the roadside and picked up by the town. Participating towns chose the eligible property owners based on the need for help.
The 45 volunteers came from six organizations: Monadnock Volunteer Center & RSVP, United Church of Christ, Keene Youth Group, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Unit #321, Greenfield Givers, and Peterborough Kiwanis. The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service helped prepare plans for the scope of work. An anonymous donation through the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation paid for help from a professional tree service, and provided food and t-shirts for the volunteers.
This New Hampshire experience is an example of people pulling together and communities helping themselves to recover from disasters. As Avery pointed out, the organization has made many people in the region more aware of the need to prepare for future disasters.
For more information about N.H. volunteer opportunities, go to Volunteer NH.