Disaster Legal Aid with a Tech Twist

By Matt Herzberger [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Disasters are now happening with greater frequency and intensity. No community is immune. To provide more disaster survivors better access to assistance, Iowa Legal Aid used a national grant to develop and launch the Iowa Legal Aid Disaster Relief app. A model of best practices for legal service programs, the app leverages technology to help legal service programs and their clients better respond to and recover from disasters.

Developing a mobile app was a significant challenge for Iowa Legal Aid. Not only had we not done anything like this before, there did not appear to be anything like it available. Iowa Legal Aid staff interviewed government officials and disaster responders, conducted focus groups of disaster responders, and surveyed disaster responders and survivors (from the floods of 2008) to determine what features should be included in the app.
These insights heavily informed the development of the following features:
iowalegalaid-preparation-tools-screenPreparing for the Inevitable
The more a person can prepare ahead of a disaster, the easier it will be to recover. The Iowa Legal Aid Disaster Relief app includes tools to help users prepare in advance for a disaster. It contains information on how to create a disaster kit, communication plan, and rally point for family members to meet after a disaster. The app allows users to take pictures of insurance policies and valuables so possible future losses are well documented.
Helping Survivors Recover
After a disaster occurs, the app helps survivors recognize common legal problems they may experience. The app provides information on whether a federal and/or state disaster declaration has been made iowalegalaid-resourcesfor a particular county, and if so, what benefits are available, the application process, and deadlines. It contains articles on disaster recovery, legal rights, and how to locate other sources of aid that are available, including shelters, feeding sites, and disaster recovery centers. The app includes links to other websites that contain helpful disaster relief information and allows users to contact other disaster relief and human service agencies.
Disaster responders uniformly requested the ability to directly refer a disaster survivor to Iowa Legal Aid through the app. Iowa Legal Aid created the Disaster Responder Referral page to allow disaster responders to refer disaster survivors to us from the field, community resource fairs, etc. Users can also chat with Iowa Legal Aid staff from the app and register to receive push notifications with vital up to date information.
It is our hope that disaster relief agencies will provide us with updates on their programs so that our app will serve as an information clearinghouse for disaster survivors. The goal is to provide disaster survivors the option to access their county or area and find all the available recovery information and assistance in one spot.
The Iowa Legal Aid Disaster Relief app went online on August 31, 2016, and is available in the Google Play Store and the iTunes Store.

Lisa Gavin

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