When the August derecho struck Iowa, it instantly stopped the lives of more than 150,000 people and incurred perhaps multi-billion-dollar losses. Iowans had little warning for a storm described as “relatively uncommon, and uncommonly intense,” and their suffering was compounded by an extremely slow response from government.
Fortunately for Iowans and millions around the world, United Way is uniquely positioned to provide on-the-ground disaster response, including raising funds, mobilizing volunteers, and engaging local partners to ensure community stability. In Cedar Rapids, one of the areas hardest hit by the derecho, United Way of East Central Iowa is coordinating volunteers and supporting the efforts of state and federal relief organizations and a partner organization, Linn Area Partners Active in Disasters. United Way of Johnson & Washington Counties, a half hour south in Coralville, is charged with coordinating disaster volunteers for the area, connecting anyone who wants to help to the needs of Johnson County. Established in 2008, the city’s Emergency Volunteer Center mobilizes trained volunteers to coordinate spontaneous volunteers to meet community needs for disaster response and recovery.
From debris removal, to delivering supplies and meals, to checking on elderly residents, to operating donation sites and more, volunteers are responding around the clock, all while following Iowa Volunteer Guidelines for COVID-19.
The Iowa derecho is a sobering reminder for us all to take a few hours – today – to update our emergency response plans and stock supplies. FEMA’s planning tool is a good place to get started, along with this checklist for assembling emergency food, water, and supplies to last several days.
Once you have your own plan in place, contact your local United Way to register if you are able to help after a disaster and learn how to be prepared to respond to an emergency in your area. Don’t wait. According to the New York Times, “the number of disasters that FEMA is handling is about twice what it was three years ago, before Hurricane Harvey struck Texas, and that doesn’t include its pandemic response. Disaster preparation and recovery have blurred into a single frenzied motion, never ending but also never quite succeeding.”
That’s a bleak forecast. The good news? The gale-force strength of United Way and volunteers will help us prepare and respond in our own communities and throughout the world.