Future Roles for Extension Agents in Disaster Recovery

  • Chapman, Larry;
  • Hinds, D. G.

Traditional efforts to minimize the consequences of disasters have emphasized scientific and technological advances, such as better warning systems, building designs, and land use plans. Federal and state disaster assistance efforts have traditionally focused on minimizing physical effects during the disaster impact phase (e.g., evacuation, emergency care, food, shelter) and the emergency response phase (e.g., damage assessment, debris removal, restoration of basic services). However, existing efforts are not designed to provide much assistance with the more complex restoration activities that take place during the long-term recovery phase (e.g., restoring a community's social, institutional, and economic fabric, reintegrating victims with the larger community). Recently, there has been a recognition of this gap and a new appreciation of the importance of public health and especially psychosocial interventions for alleviating the impact of disasters.

Experience in communities hit by disasters has made clear the importance of community-based educational support in facilitating individual and community activities during the months to years required for completing the recovery phase. In many disasters, the network of Extension educators, who work out of offices in virtually every county in each state, has proven to be an ideal vehicle for aiding long-term recovery efforts. Local Extension educators are not outsiders but members of the affected communities and typically have years of experience working with the area's individuals, families, businesses, community organizations and local government officials. Extension educators are also skilled at providing community-based educational support, at facilitating planning groups and public meetings, and at coordinating community development initiatives. Currently, most Extension educators have no special training for or experience with disasters and developing that expertise takes time. Extension educators in local communities would be far more valuable and effective if a few state level Extension specialists could provide them with training and guidance in the first hours after a disaster strikes. Timely training of Extension educators in affected communities is also more practical and less costly than attempting to train every Extension educator in the country.

A program to provide training and support to locally-based Extension educators as disaster situations occur would compliment and enhance existing federal and state disaster assistance programs. To undertake this type of program, training materials and teaching modules need to be developed for Extension educators that address:

  • the psychosocial dimension of disasters,
  • human responses at the individual and community level,
  • the multiple dimensions of the long-term recovery process, and
  • intervention strategies and techniques.

This research abstract was extracted from a portion of the proceedings of "Agricultural Safety and Health: Detection, Prevention and Intervention," a conference presented by the Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Health, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The authors noted above are from: Both at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI

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