Emergency preparedness toolkit for small and rural communities rolls out across the U.S.

By: Sally Crocker

Toolkit Web
 
A quick reference guide to help small towns and rural communities prepare for potential disaster situations is now available for free download on four Texas websites and is being rolled out across the U.S. by a UNT Health Science Center public health professor and her team.

The Toolkit for Rural Communities is the result of a CDC grant through a Planners4Health partnership between the American Planning Association Texas Chapter and the Texas Public Health Association. It will be presented nationally at the 2018 Disaster Preparedness Summit of the National Association of County and City Health Officials in Atlanta and rolled out in May at the Texas Department of Emergency Management’s annual conference.

A team of students from the UNTHSC School of Public Health and the University of Texas at Arlington’s Urban Planning and Social Work departments, led by Dr. Melissa Oden, UNTHSC Assistant Professor and Public Health Practice Experience Liaison, developed this kit in response to the needs of Van Zandt County, Texas, after a series of seven devastating tornadoes hit the community – the lessons learned, and resulting recommendations, are applicable to any community preparing for or dealing with the aftermath of a disaster.

Based on months of study, focus groups, personal interviews and other community-based research, the kit offers advice on disaster planning, immediate response and long-term recovery, with chapters and special considerations for economic impact and funding, infrastructure, mobilizing supplies, insurance, health care and EMS services, volunteer management, emotional/spiritual and social services, animals and pets, communications, resource planning and team development.

“We are grateful to so many individuals who assisted in this process, especially the Van Zandt community members who shared feedback with the team on what they wish they had known beforehand and what they would recommend to others preparing for or potentially facing a disaster from fire, flood, tornado, hurricane or other life-threatening conditions,” Dr. Oden said.

Russell Hopkins, a contributor to the project who serves as Director of Public Health Emergency Preparedness for the Northeast Texas Public Health District (NET Health), serving Van Zandt and six other counties, said the importance of the Toolkit is that it gives “rural communities the ability to immediately start building a recovery team and, importantly, provides a sound strategy to follow, based on the science and principles used in public health.”

“This Toolkit allows public health to take a leadership role in the recovery process,” Hopkins said. “We hope that communities both in Texas and beyond can benefit from this important resource.”

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