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Disaster Awareness from the Schoharie County Office for the Aging

On August 29, 2011 Hurricane Irene poured rain on Schoharie at record levels. More than 13 inches fell in 30 hours in the Catskill Mountains. Water overfilled the Gilboa Reservoir and flowed over the dam. Ten days later Tropical Storm Lee poured a record rainfall on an already saturated valley, bringing additional flooding and destruction to the area. The Schoharie Valley sustained severe damage due to these storms, and the record precipitation generated widespread devastation. The hurricane's high winds and floods devastated Schoharie County communities. Homes, businesses and farms were leveled. Roads, bridges, crops and livestock were decimated. The overwhelming sense of loss, despair and helplessness temporarily paralyzed the region and its residents. The Villages of Prattsville and Schoharie were among the most affected, with approximately 90% of all village structures sustaining major damage. Within the town of Schoharie alone, the cost of repairs exceeded $30 million. To date, more than 2,100 families have registered with FEMA for aid and a higher than usual percentage of grants have been awarded, both of which are significant for a rural, already economically struggling area. Many of these households included older adults.

Schoharie County Office for the Aging's Response

Schoharie County Emergency Management staff contacted the Schoharie County Office for the Aging (SCOFA) to ascertain the need for meal delivery to some of the frailest individuals that were still living in their homes. The volunteer shelter kitchen made 100+ lunches on the day after the storm, and sent out volunteers on public transportation buses to deliver meals. Since most of the communication within the county was down, staff used personal cell phones and personal computers to contact older adults. Clients receiving meals, Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program (homebound), Caregivers and case management were contacted to ascertain if they were impacted by the flooding and if they had any unmet needs. Staff at the SCOFA were able to share information regarding the delays of some services and the process to assist those that needed additional resources. SCOFA staff visited the local shelters to make contact with the older adults that were evacuated to determine who needed additional assistance. Individuals that needed immediate support, those individuals who were being sheltered but felt isolated or had extenuating circumstances, and those that needed to resume services as soon as feasible were identified. SCOFA staff were assigned to those shelter sites for daily contact and followed through with unresolved issues.

Concurrently, SCOFA administrative staff worked with the subcontracted service providers to determine who was available to provide services, which older adults were in need of services, and shared information for those that were no longer at home. This process included participation in the Local Recovery Group as well as daily, and then weekly, county department government meetings to assist with cross-departmental collaboration. The flooding forced the county to have multiple departments sharing the SCOFA space in order to provide essential services to all Schoharie county residents. Although this was difficult at times, it led to efficient processes and relationships with Department of Social Services, Adult Protective Services and the local court system. Staff assisted with applications to FEMA and to local organization assisting with donation distribution. Being part of the Long Term Recovery Group allowed SCOFA to receive and share timely information to those in need of assistance. Case Managers were connected to Disaster Case Management training through the United Methodist Committee on Relief Program, and two staff members were sent to work with those needing assistance in the recovery process. A basic intake form was used to meet and document each visit that staff had with older adults. This was one of the most valuable ways the SCOFA was able to connect with those affected by the floods.

Disaster Case Management (DCM) is an important component of responding to emergencies like the storms, as DCM helps coordinate efforts across agencies in accordance with best practices.

What is Disaster Case Management?

The federal definition is as follows: Disaster Case Management (DCM) is a time-limited process that involves a partnership between a case manager and a disaster survivor (also known as a "client") to develop and carry out a Disaster Recovery Plan. This partnership provides the client with a single point of contact to facilitate access to a broad range of resources. The process involves an assessment of the client's verified disaster-caused unmet needs, development of a goal-oriented plan that outlines the steps necessary to achieve recovery, organization and coordination of information on available resources that match the disaster-caused unmet needs and the monitoring of progress toward reaching the recovery plan goals, and, when necessary, client advocacy.

Schoharie Area Long Term, Inc. (SALT)(External Link)Director Nancy Dingee is a board member of the Schoharie Area Long Term (SALT) disaster recovery regional coalition which is an innovative, collaborative, replicable model formed in the wake of the 2011flooding. SALT has brought together governmental, educational, faith-based, and social service agencies from across Schoharie and Northern Greene Counties and created an effective long term sustainable infrastructure while simultaneously providing services for 'boots on the ground recovery' across the area. SALT's model focuses on high collaboration of existing systems as a starting point for creating innovative solutions to meet needs now, and in future disasters, including the creation of new communication and partnership networks for future response. See SALT's spotlight on Seniors Receiving Assistance.(External Link)

Moving Forward

As the months and years have passed since the flooding, many residents have recovered, others have moved, and still others are in progress. SCOFA is still assisting some of the more complicated cases as well as those who are now ready to begin their restoration. Staff are documenting where older adults reside in flood prone areas so assistance can be provided, if needed. SCOFA staff have learned how quickly disasters can occur and how long recovery can take. They have also learned that prompt notification, how to obtain information if a disaster strikes, and providing older adults with the tools to learn how to shelter in place are crucial.

For additional information, please contact Nancy Dingee, Director of the Schoharie County Office for the Aging(External Link) at (518) 295-2001 or nancy.dingee@co.schoharie.ny.us