Magazine article Policy & Practice

A USDA FNS Perspective on Louisiana Disaster and EMAC

Magazine article Policy & Practice

A USDA FNS Perspective on Louisiana Disaster and EMAC

Article excerpt

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Southwest Regional Office assisted Louisiana in its quest to seek volunteer Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) staff from other states during the relief effort of the aftermath of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Under FNS Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig's leadership, Southwest Regional Office staff was able to help Louisiana in this effort.

EMAC stands for Emergency Management Assistance Compact. It is a congressionally ratified organization that provides form and structure to interstate mutual aid. Through EMAC, a disaster-affected state can request and receive assistance from other member states quickly and efficiently, resolving two key issues upfront: libility and reimbursement.

Louisiana has been successful through two hurricane seasons (Katrina/Rita and Gustav/Ike) requesting volunteers through the EMAC process. Officials in Louisiana initiated the process by communicating the need not only through EMAC channels but also through the American Public Human Services Association. The USDA's role was to answer questions of the interested states and connect them with the appropriate EMAC officials in Louisiana.

Challenges

When Ludwig notified staff in Dallas that Louisiana would be requesting SNAP staff from other states to help with the Louisiana Disaster SNAP, staff leapt into action identifying what needed to be done. Areas that present a challenge during disaster relief are:

* Air Transportation--If airports are not open, volunteers must drive.

* Rental Cars--During a disaster, rental cars may be in short supply and not available for volunteers. Rental car companies may need to be contacted to have cars moved in to accommodate the volunteers.

* Lodging--Hotel rooms are frequently not available during a disaster for volunteers. Faith-based organizations have stepped up in the past to provide lodging, but that requires coordination.

* Training--The state staff responding must be trained on the Louisiana Disaster SNAP.

* Logistics--Communicating all of the logistics to the volunteering states is a challenge. The questions--When, Where, Who, How, What--all have to be answered for the state agencies responding:

*When will staff travel

* Where will they report

* How will they get there

* What will they do when they arrive, and

* To whom will they report

Having learned the lessons above from previous disaster experience, SWRO, staff began contacting hotels and rental car companies to determine availability. At the time, there were plenty of hotels in New Orleans but virtually none in the affected areas where Disaster SNAP offices would be established. When it was discovered that hotel accommodations were not available in all the needed areas, Baton Rouge primarily, FNS staff contacted the faith-based organizations that had provided lodging during the relief efforts for Hurrincanes Katrina/Rita. However, Baton Rouge electricity was interrupted for an extended period due to Hurricane Gustav; therefore the lodging provided in the past was not available. Louisiana DSS staff performed worked diligently to get the housing needed for the workers and succeeded. Rental car companies were contacted to determine if rental cars were available. Rental cars were plentiful in this situation.

While USDA/FNS can help from the regional office in Dallas with certain aspects of coordination when bringing in volunteer staff, certain aspects of the coordination must be handled by Louisiana state staff, such as logistics and training.

Communication is Vital

Neither APHSA nor the SWRO is an expert on the EMAC process. But the reason it was successful is that everyone communicated to provide the information necessary. The Louisiana Department of Social Services identified Debra Nance as the coordinator working with SNAP to coordinate the efforts at the program level. …

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