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Nancy Beers, Midwest Early Recovery Fund Program Officer

Nancy Beers joined the Center for Disaster Philanthropy in October as the program officer for the Early Recovery Fund. The CDP Early Recovery Fund—the organization’s largest to date– is a $2 million fund created to efficiently and effectively allocate money to organizations supporting the needs of vulnerable populations within communities affected by low attention disasters in the Midwest. The fund will be tapped within two weeks to one year after natural disasters — tornadoes, flooding, earthquakes, landslides and wildfires – in the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

We sat down with Nancy after her first month in the job to get her insights.

CDP: How were the 10 states for this work selected?

Nancy Beers: Although the 10 central Midwest states represent nearly 20 percent of the United States landmass, only about 10 percent of the nation’s population lives in this area. All 10 of these states have population densities 50 percent below the national average. That means much of the area is made up of small communities in rural areas.

When a disaster impacts even a large portion of a state, it still might not affect a huge number of people. The public has become saturated with news about high impact disasters but these lower impact disasters often don’t make national news and often, may only get minimal media coverage, even in their own state.

The people affected by these disasters, however, are impacted in the same way as someone affected by a highly publicized event. The main difference for those affected by low attention disasters is in the amount of resources allocated to their recovery. Without news coverage, the general public is unaware of the great need. Therefore, too often, those needs go unmet.

CDP: What types of disasters are most common in the Midwest region?

Nancy: Although tornadoes occur frequently in the Midwest, floods account for more than 60 percent of the disasters and very few homes are covered by flood insurance. Most of the floods within the past five years were caused by huge rain events, which resulted in flash flooding. For instance, in 2012, in and around Duluth, Minnesota, 10 inches of rain fell in a two-day period and damaged more than 1,400 homes, with nearly 100 destroyed. Since much of the area had never had even minor flooding before, less than 5 percent of homeowners had flood insurance. Uninsured home damages were estimated at nearly $15 million, and yet, the area did not receive any federal assistance for homeowners.

In the past five years there were 78 federal disaster declarations in this 10- state region, yet only 16 (22 percent) received any individual household assistance, with Oklahoma and Arkansas receiving 50 percent of those. The Minot floods, the Joplin tornado and the 2013 tornadoes that ravaged Central Oklahoma, were the most significant.

But it’s important to remember that these statistics don’t include the hundreds of small events — that are becoming all too common in this region — affecting a few dozen to a few hundred homes

CDP: Who is most affected by these disasters, and what financial resources or social capital do they have to respond effectively to them?

Nancy: Midwesterners are typically highly self-sufficient, resilient people. We often hear “we can take care of ourselves” but no matter how “tough” you think you are, it’s pretty hard to recover from the loss of your home, all your personal property, your vehicles, your job, and your way of life. No one can do that by themselves. You need help from outside resources. And although the Midwest is full of wonderful, generous people, the increase in disasters and their impact has financially challenged hundreds of small communities across the entire Midwest. And without much media attention, it is very difficult to raise awareness and funding for these disasters.

CDP: From your experience promoting disaster recovery in the Midwest, what are the biggest challenges in the region?

Nancy: I would say the five greatest challenges for low attention disasters in the Midwest are:

  • Identifying and developing sufficient resources to meet the needs of those affected by the disaster, both in terms of funding and human capital.
  • Developing robust long-term recovery efforts without additional support from national, regional or state disaster organizations and/or other partners. Our national partners are underfunded and overburdened. Most of the faith-based organizations have had their budgets drastically cut over the past several years and yet the demand for their services increases every year. We need more “boots on the ground” and more subject matter experts at these low attention disasters. Without this important national and regional resource, affected areas will continue to struggle with developing a sustainable long-term recovery process.
  • Coordinating information and resources from multiple agencies. Because most Midwesterners believe they can “do it themselves”, almost every community has multiple agencies, groups and churches willing to help those affected by the disaster. Unfortunately what happens, too often, is that there is no single entity that knows who needs help or who has been helped. This challenges recovery because no one person/ organization can speak for the community as a whole and coordinate the development of resources the entire community needs to recover.
  • Identifying affected vulnerable populations and creating appropriate resources.I have found that in small communities the leaders of the social networks in that community often think they know everybody and everything about their community. But that is not true. They often don’t know who is struggling with mental illness, or on the verge of divorce, or has cancer. And without that knowledge, it can be very difficult to help the most vulnerable in your community. Also, the Midwest is much more diverse than many people think, and often the appropriate resources for those populations are not readily available.
  • Meeting the unique needs of children post disaster. First of all, I know most people don’t understand what the unique needs of children post disaster are, therefore they cannot address them. Even so, small communities in the Midwest are already challenged to meet the everyday needs of children and after a disaster those challenges increase. The disaster community needs to develop more resources for children impacted by disasters.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part blog. The second part is posted here. To reach Nancy, email nancy.beers@disasterphilanthropy.org.