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Iowa Could Update, Coordinate Disaster Response Efforts

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A bill using funds already in place says Iowa recovery efforts could be better coordinated after a natural disaster. (National Weather Service)
A bill using funds already in place says Iowa recovery efforts could be better coordinated after a natural disaster. (National Weather Service)
May 3, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa - After a major weather incident like the tornado that hit Stanton in southwestern Iowa last week, water, food and shelter can suddenly be in short supply, and volunteers from faith-based and community organizations usually rally to help their neighbors.

But the goal of Senate File 492 on Gov. Terry Branstad's desk is to better coordinate emergency relief efforts.

Tiffany Keimig, director of training and technical assistance for the Iowa Community Action Association, says when help is needed quickly, figuring out how and where to get it can be confusing.

"There's obviously lots of folks in Iowa that are doing work around disaster response and recovery," she says. "But this would help get a statewide system and that, when Iowans experience disaster, they know where to turn."

The legislation gives the Iowa Department of Human Services the authority to coordinate case-management services, or hire local groups to do that, and allocates money from the state's Economic Emergency Fund.

The services would be activated whenever the governor makes a disaster proclamation for a specific area.

The bill says the agencies that help people need formal working relationships that outline their responsibilities. Keimig says they also need people who are able to step in and work with survivors.

"A case manager would help the family, no matter what their income," says Keimig. "Know what resources are available for them, help them identify what unmet needs they have."

Keimig says it's especially important to have people working directly with victims to get their lives on track after they've lost their home, or are without utilities or running water.

"Which is overwhelming anyway, let alone in times of a disaster, when an individual or family's life has been turned upside-down," she says.

The bill was passed just before the state Senate adjourned, leaving the governor 30 days to sign it.

Bob Kessler, Public News Service - IA