About this story
Micki Chestnut is communications director for the United Way of Douglas County, which provides occasional features spotlighting local volunteers and charities supported by the United Way.
It could be a Joplin-like tornado. Or an Estes Park-like flood. Or a train derailment that results in a widespread toxic chemical spill. At any moment, a disaster could strike Douglas County that could paralyze the social service agencies that serve the most vulnerable people in our community, at the time when they need help the most.
But area social service agencies are working to ensure they have plans in place to resume services immediately if disaster were to strike, thanks to a collaboration between the United Way of Douglas County, the American Red Cross and a host of United Way community partners.
As part of its community goal of self sufficiency, which is focused on helping people in Douglas County move from crisis to stability, the United Way provides resources and support for the Red Cross to offer its Ready Rating program to partner agencies. The self-guided program helps organizations assess their level of emergency preparedness and provides them with the tools, tips and best practices they need to improve how quickly and how well they can respond to a crisis.
“In Lawrence, having a halt to client services could be devastating to a lot of people we assist,” said Jane Blocher, community chapter executive for the American Red Cross. “The more planning you have in place, the more quickly you can recover if disaster strikes your organization, and the easier it is for you to get your doors back open and continue offering your service. There is so much you can do in advance. You can’t minimize the impact but you can make it more bearable and recover faster if you get your ducks in a row now.”
It didn’t take much to convince Visiting Nurses to take steps now to enhance their existing disaster recovering program. After Blocher spoke at a United Way partners meeting about the Ready Rating program, Cynthia Lewis, Visiting Nurses chief executive officer, was ready to go.
“With all the service agencies in our community, the need intensifies in a disaster,” said Janice Johnson White, human resources manager for Visiting Nurses, who has worked on the organization’s Ready Rating plans. “If something happens that takes away those support systems, it takes away the support system for those who need it most.”
In 2013, Visiting Nurses provided 52,870 visits to 1,411 patients in their homes, providing a continuum of health care services that range from physical therapy to hospice. In the event of a disaster, the organization had to determine how its staff could reach its most vulnerable patients first, those who depend upon Visiting Nurses for essential health care services. “If we didn’t have a disaster response plan in place, worst case scenario, our patients wouldn’t get any care and their health would deteriorate and the majority would end up being hospitalized,” White said.
Other United Way community partners participating in the Ready Rating program include Independence Inc., Cottonwood, The Willow Domestic Violence Center, the Arc of Douglas County, Meals on Wheels, Housing and Credit Counseling, Headquarters, Douglas County AIDS Project, GaDuGi SafeCenter, Just Food, Lawrence Community Shelter and the United Way itself.
“Anyone who has been through a natural disaster would agree that if a tornado hit our agency, you can’t ever get back exactly like you were before, but you want to return as quickly as possible to as normal a function as you can,” White said. “We want to be able to provide for those individuals who would need it the most, as quickly as possible. This process is making us stronger as an agency, which will also make our community stronger.”