When disaster strikes, first responders are there—whether it’s to put out the fire, restore law and order or clear the roadways.
But after the first responders leave, what happens?
St. Charles Office of Emergency Preparedness is spearheading an effort to organize community groups to provide continuing care and resources for disaster victims.
Representatives from about a dozen local organizations met Friday morning to learn more about the new committee -- St. Charles County Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD).
The idea is that COAD will to help with victims answer questions, help them find clothing and shelter, and point them in the right direction to existing resources, said Capt. Dave Todd of the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department who heads the County’s Division of Emergency Management.
Right now, the division has a list of some organizations, but it's very limited in St. Charles County.
“What we’re trying to do is make this much larger," he said. "Had we been hit like St. Louis County was hit by the tornadoes (earlier this year), we’d have been overwhelmed. Our resources would have been stretched beyond what we could handle."
Several people at the meeting stressed that the community must look to itself for help.
“Everyone thinks FEMA will come in and rescue everything,” Sheila Harris-Wheeler, Crisis Response/Disaster Response Coordinator for , said.
In reality, FEMA can come in only in certain disasters after a governor asks for federal help and the president agrees to give it.
While FEMA can provide loans or grants to owners of property suffering “verified uninsured disaster losses,” it does not provide intense one-to-one case management, counseling or goods or services not mandated by law.
“Everybody thinks that at the end of the day when there’s a disaster, the government should help the people out,” Todd said in an interview after the meeting.
Government serves the role of initial responders, who send the ambulance, fire truck and offer protection, he said. "But once that’s done, that’s where the COAD comes in."
A church, school or other group may want to offer its facilities as a shelter but officials need to know it is accessible and has bathroom facilities for the physically challenged, Todd said.
That’s why organizations should contact the Red Cross during normal times to get assessments of their facilities so that they can be used if disaster strikes.
Another meeting will be scheduled in coming weeks and officials are hoping more nonprofit, governmental, volunteer, faith-based, public service and private business organizations will participate. Some 200 different agencies could become involved.
Officials have already designated committees on Mass Care, Public Health, Long Term Recovery, Spiritual Care/Crisis Counseling Outreach and Volunteer Management and found people to head them. They are still looking for an expert on handling in-kind donations to head the Donations Management Committee.
Eventually, COAD will also be looking for individuals who are willing to do what they can during a disaster. Even those who cannot for whatever reason assist at the disaster scene are needed to file and man the phones behind the scenes, Todd said.
"It’s not the federal government’s job at the end of the day to take care of the people," Todd said. "The people take care of the people."