COLUMBIA, S.C. – When a disaster strikes, local police, fire departments, neighbors and the whole community take part in the response. If the disaster is designated as a federally declared disaster, FEMA and its federal partners supplement work with the state to help survivors get back on their feet. A third component of disaster relief — volunteer organizations — fill the gap and help meet the needs of survivors not met by other means.
Every year, in every disaster, local volunteers feed their neighbors, provide clothing, transportation and help meet other immediate needs. In many communities and counties across the country, volunteers band together to form Long Term Recovery Groups.
These committees pool their expertise and resources, collaborate with state Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and work with FEMA to help survivors find assistance to keep their recovery moving forward. They secure funds, labor and materials and match them to disaster survivors in need.
Michael Riedy serves as the FEMA voluntary agency liaison in South Carolina for Hurricane Florence. He coordinates with the state VOAD and the local Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRG) providing advice and reviewing benefit requests to make sure there is no duplication of funding.
“In South Carolina six counties have existing committees, others are starting up,” Reidy said.
These locally-based LTRGs look for survivors with unmet needs and help them meet their recovery goals. Skilled volunteers replace damaged roofs or rebuild homes from the ground up. LTRGs can replace personal property including appliances and furniture all financed through grants and donations. Recovery groups also organize relief centers in their communities where survivors can find clothes, food, personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies, baby and pet items.
The groups are made up from a variety of organizations – faith-based organizations, local charities, community foundations and independent groups. The one feature they all share is a calling to help serve those in need.
While Long Term Recovery Groups work to fill recovery gaps, more than a dozen national voluntary or religious organizations are working in South Carolina to help survivors in any number of ways, from mucking and gutting homes, to putting tarps over damaged roofs.
“South Carolinians have a strong sense of community,” said South Carolina Emergency Management Director Kim Stenson. “They look after one another and they certainly have demonstrated that instinct first after Hurricane Matthew and now after Hurricane Florence.”
Much work remains to be done, he added. “In some ways we are just getting started. Voluntary organizations are providing vital assistance to those affected by the flooding, meeting needs that are beyond what government agencies can provide.”
To get involved in response and recovery efforts, or to donate money or connect with an established voluntary organization, visit www.scemd.org/recover/volunteer-and-donate/. Survivors with unmet needs can find local help to keep their recovery on track by calling South Carolina 2-1-1. In addition, local emergency managers can help survivors locate organizations working in their community.
For more information on Hurricane Florence and South Carolina recovery, visit the S.C. Emergency Management Division website at scemd.org, on social media (@SCEMD on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram), or FEMA’s Hurricane Florence disaster webpage at www.fema.gov/disaster/4394, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/FEMA, and the FEMA Region 4 Twitter account at twitter.com/FEMARegion4.