Northland News

Responding to disasters

'All-hazards plan' in place, but more details needed

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The bare bones of a strategy for helping Northland residents cope in the aftermath of a disaster are in place.

Now, it's up to those who would benefit from such a plan to add some muscle.

The Rev. Kwesi Gyimah of the Columbus African Seventh-Day Adventist Church outlined the community disaster plan's "skeleton" during last week's ninth Northland Nonprofit Summit.

The effort, conducted with the assistance of HandsOn Central Ohio disaster preparedness coordinator Shaddy Swade, was undertaken in response to a fire a year ago at the now-closed Summit Park Apartments, Gyimah said.

The blaze left dozens of families, many of them Bhutanese refugees, without homes or their few possessions. Although American Red Cross officials arrived to assist, they ran into language and cultural differences, and also were only able to provide help for the first few days, he indicated.

The families in need of shelter also had longer-term needs, Gyimah added.

The preparedness plan deals with such issues as food, housing, interpretation, medical care and gathering of information. Assistance is needed in every aspect of formulating more details, according to Gyimah.

"The food situation depends on what the culture is or the ethnicity," he said as an example.

He and Joyce Bourgault, chairwoman of the Northland Alliance, are serving as coordinators for the preparedness plan. When disaster strikes, Gyimah said they would reach out to restaurants, apartment complexes, grocery stores and other businesses in the community to meet whatever needs arise.

"It's an instant structure," said Rich Bourgault, Joyce Bourgault's husband and facilitator for all nine of the summit gatherings convened under the auspices of the Alliance.

"This is intended to be a kind of all-hazards plan," Swade said.

Clothing and furniture, although keenly needed by families who lose homes to fires or other disasters, have been left off the plan because there is no place to store these items and cast-off donations generally aren't something that would help, Gyimah said.

Once the storage issue is resolved, he added, a screening process for providing families with clothing and furniture would be developed.

The plan is primarily intended to help disaster victims in the 43229 and 43224 ZIP code areas, Gyimah said.

"But churches are not limited to where we serve," he added.

With the structure of a plan in place, Swade announced that a training exercise is the next step. He said such an exercise might take place this fall, and probably would use the North YMCA off Karl Road as the location.

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