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After Disasters, FD Provides Financial Recovery Resources and Education

By Sara Croymans, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency

In the first nine months of 2017 the United States experienced 15 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each. These events included one drought, two floods, one freeze event, seven severe storms, three tropical cyclones (hurricanes), and one wildfire. These events resulted in 282 deaths and significant economic effects for individuals and communities according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In response to this need, the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Family Development (FD) provides financial recovery resources for disaster professionals and survivors in a variety of ways. Together, Lori Hendrickson, Extension educator in family resiliency, and I make up FD’s small disaster recovery team. Here are some highlights of what we accomplished from October 2016 to now.

Virtual Storm Chasing

Throughout the year, our disaster recovery team acts as virtual storm chasers, monitoring local and national disaster events. On a national level, we provide disaster recovery resources to selected Extension faculty across the nation for use in their communities. The flagship resources we promote and provide include the Recovery After Disaster: The Family Financial Toolkit and Financial Recovery After Disaster videos. Together, the toolkit and videos offer strategies and tools that help families move along the road to financial recovery.

This is the most popular video of the series.

The toolkit and videos are engaging educational resources that appeal to a variety of learners, including those with limited resources and/or literacy skills. The videos address a variety of topics for survivors. Those include maintaining resilience; finding sources of help, including disaster assistance options; replacing important papers; handling a change in income and expenses; getting insurance coverage; and looking at the long-term situation and considering all possible options.

Besides offering online tools, our disaster recovery team of two reaches out personally to communities affected by disasters, including places outside Minnesota. For example, we contacted Extension faculty in Texas following Hurricane Harvey. The Texas faculty recognized that their staff was not equipped to assist disaster survivors with financial recovery efforts, so they invited us to provide a webinar for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension educators on November 20. The webinar, which was designed to help Texas A&M Extension faculty assist individuals and families with financial recovery after disasters, included familiarizing the faculty with FD’s recovery toolkit and videos. We also outlined strategies for using resources to assist disaster survivors and discussed ideas for guiding families as they make financial decisions following a disaster.

Of course, our team also provides resources for survivors of Minnesota disasters, too. For example, in October 2016 we connected with over 100 flood survivors as we staffed a U of M Extension disaster resource table for three days at multi-agency resource centers (MARCs) in Waseca and Albert Lea.

Flood survivors said they had anywhere from a few inches to seven-plus feet of water in their basements, with some having standing water on their main floors.

Survivors in Waseca and Albert Lea expressed frustration, stress, sorrow, and exhaustion. Some cried as they shared their stories with us. Lori and I told survivors about our toolkit and videos and discussed our recommended financial recovery strategies. We also reminded them that disasters are not easily or quickly addressed — that recovery takes time. One survivor who recognized the U of M Extension logo asked, "Your Extension Parents Forever program helped me through my divorce. Will your Disaster Recovery Financial Toolkit help me through my disaster recovery?"

In addition to fielding financial recovery questions, we answered survivors’ questions about home rebuilding, shoreline erosion, and pasture land safety for horses. We also referred survivors with specific questions to the appropriate Extension specialist or educator to respond.

Providing Professional Development Education

Our disaster recovery team of two also provides professional development education for local, state, and national audiences. This past year we were selected to present at both the Minnesota and National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) conferences. In March 2017 we presented two sessions on the disaster recovery toolkit and videos at the Minnesota VOAD Conference in Maplewood. With financial assistance from the national EDEN (Extension Disaster Education Network), we also presented at the National VOAD Conference in San Antonio, Texas in May.

Contributing to the Field of Disaster Financial Recovery

With graduate student Sarah Cronin, Lori and I had an article published in the Journal of Family and Consumer Science, Extension Builds on Tradition of Meeting Community Needs by Using Technology in Disaster Recovery.

A second article, “Using the RE-AIM Framework to Evaluate Disaster Recovery Videos,” is scheduled for publication in the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension. In addition, we presented a poster, “Evaluating Video as a Method of Disseminating Financial Information,” at the 2016 Association of Financial Counseling, Planning and Education Research and Training Symposium in Louisville, Ky.

Recognized Locally and Nationally

U of M Extension disaster resources are recognized both locally and nationally. Our team was invited to present on a national eXtension webinar in August 2017, “Financial Considerations for Disaster Planning, Response, and Recovery.” We were joined by Martie Gillen, with University of Florida Extension and Elizabeth Kiss, with Kansas State University Extension. Locally, the New Brighton Community Emergency Response Team requested a training on the toolkit and videos following the Minnesota VOAD conference.

As natural disasters continue to occur, we encourage all FD staff to share our disaster recovery resources. Lori and I welcome requests to provide training sessions.

Lori Hendrickson, Extension educator — financial resiliency, contributed to this article.

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