The Christian Appalachian Project: Disaster Relief in Appalachia
Disaster recovery requires speed and a great many hands working cooperatively. The sooner the first people arrive to help, and the more effective those people are, the better. In recognition of this, a regional charitable organization in Kentucky has developed its own rapid disaster response. The Christian Appalachian Project expanded its mission not long ago to include dispatching trained volunteers to help in the wake of disasters throughout Appalachia and beyond.
“Back in July, we received a phone call at midnight for emergency supplies in eastern Kentucky,” explained Assistant Director for CAP’s Disaster Relief Program Sherry Buresh. Pike County had been devastated by a flash flood that washed away two hundred homes and killed two people. Pike County is a three-hour drive from CAP’s headquarters. “We got supplies there by noon,” Ms. Buresh said. “We were the first ones on the ground.” The organization’s small size and proximity to such disasters makes its speed possible.
CAP began in 1964 to meet the urgent needs of people in Appalachia. Expanding into disaster relief had been considered for some time, given the frequency of natural disasters in the state and the large percentage of Kentucky counties that are rural with little resources of their own. The consideration became a reality when a five-county flash flood hit eastern Kentucky in May 2004. CAP already had a number of relief programs operating in those areas, and it made the decision to get its people to assist in disaster relief right away.
The organization has a database of volunteers it can call upon, one that has recently reached six hundred members. Using mass e-mails and phone trees, they can dispatch disaster relief crews throughout Kentucky, or points beyond. At disaster sites, CAP disaster relief teams take in unaffiliated volunteers, people who arrive on-site and want to help but don’t know what needs to be done. CAP provides those people with on-site training and coordination.
Ms. Balish noted that “One thing we’ve gotten really good at over the years is learning the importance of networking and training together and everyone working together. We’ve become involved in every kind of planning committee and disaster organization there is.” The CAP disaster relief program coordinates its efforts with voluntary organizations active in disaster (VOADs) for various states, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and local disaster coordinators. Ms. Buresh herself has become the chair of the Kentucky VOAD. Additionally, to speed its ability to act, CAP has signed memoranda of understanding with the American Red Cross, local emergency management agencies, health departments, and hospitals.
Kentucky has had six major disasters requiring response and six minor since January 2009. Ice storms, tornadoes, flooding, high winds, all have plagued the area. The Christian Appalachian Project has several advantages in responding to those disasters. The organization already has outreach programs throughout the state, and it can roll out very quickly. By linking together the emergency networks already available, moving quickly with knowledge of local conditions, and calling upon the desire of ordinary people to help, CAP has made a tremendous difference.