Northland News

HandsOn offers help in preparing for emergencies


A plan for better coping with emergencies and disasters like last summer's apartment-building fire that left mostly refugee and immigrant families homeless is in the works for the Northland area.

Two representatives of HandsOn Central Ohio -- the successor to FirstLink -- which connects people to volunteer opportunities and those in need with services, were on at a gathering of nonprofit organizations earlier this month to outline how such a plan can be put together.

Shaddy Swade, HandsOn disaster preparedness coordinator, said Northland is a large area with a significant population but only "minimal disaster plans" in place, as evidenced by problems getting the right assistance to the dozens of people displaced by the Aug. 20 fire at the Summit Park Apartments.

Speaking at the Northland Nonprofit Summit, Swade said American Red Cross officials, in seeking to assist the largely Bhutanese refugees from Nepal who were the fire's victims, ran up against language and cultural barriers.

Proper emergency preparedness in the form of a plan developed with the help of outside organizations and agencies but with the full participation of individuals and businesses in the Northland area can lead to better outcomes in such situations, Swade indicated.

"It's a whole community effort," he said. "You have to involve everyone and make everyone a part of it."

HandsOn Central Ohio officials have applied for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist with the project to craft a disaster preparedness plan for the Northland area, Swade said, adding that his organization would want to be involved in such an effort even if the funding does not come through.

The community has resources available for helping those in need following emergencies, Northland Alliance chairwoman Joyce Bourgault said. If a plan is in place, those resources can be pulled together, she added.

"I think it's great the way you're connecting with one another and sharing these resources," Swade said.

He cautioned that it's one thing to write a plan, perhaps in conjunction with Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security, which has its headquarters on Strawberry Farms Boulevard and is "sensitive to the needs" of the surrounding community. It's another thing entirely to make certain residents participate in developing the plan and contribute to implementing it when disaster strikes, he said.

Kiley Orchard, a community research analyst, gave a PowerPoint presentation at the summit, explaining how the organization serves as a kind of clearinghouse to connect residents to resources and volunteers to opportunities that fit their skills and desires.

Swade said one of the goals in creating a plan would be to establish a volunteer reception and training center at some location in the Northland area, and then to offer training to local businesses. Exercises to determine where a shelter could be opened to house victims of a disaster, what organization or which churches would provide food, and other necessities would be part of the plan, he said.

By next summer, Swade said, it is hoped that local participation could begin, with an overall goal of having an "all-hazards disaster plan" in place by the end of 2013.