NASW representatives attended a training workshop held in New Orleans in May that had the goal of strengthening the role of communities in disaster preparedness and emergency response.
The Project Reconnect Disaster Preparedness Training Workshop was sponsored by the Baylor College of Medicine and the Intercultural Cancer Council and funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. It was presented in New Orleans by the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine's Department of Environmental Health Sciences.
Rebecca Myers, NASW special assistant to the executive director, represented the national office at the meeting. Louisiana Chapter Executive Director Carmen Weisner, Florida Chapter Executive Director Jim Akin and Texas Chapter member and former chapter President Libby Kay also attended.
The focus of Project Reconnect is to restore linkages to health resources for people with ongoing health needs after the first 100 hours following a disaster. The training workshop was designed to bring together community organization representatives to examine their role in preparedness efforts.
Myers spoke on a panel that included other representatives from national organizations and agencies. She explained that part of the purpose of the meeting was for national organizations to explore ways they can work with local groups to improve disaster preparedness.
"NASW has many assets for this kind of effort," Myers told the News. "At the panel, I discussed our consumer Website [HelpStartsHere.org], which can be used to offer updated information about disaster preparedness; our professional training programs, which can be expanded to include preparedness training; the NASW Foundation, which has already been used to channel donations after Katrina; and the policy changes we can push for with advocacy work."
Myers also noted that NASW's chapter-based structure makes it well-equipped to quickly disseminate information and resources during an emergency. "We need to establish methods for ensuring that accurate information is available," she said.
Another important element for social workers to consider in addressing preparedness, Myers said, is the need for disaster planning within the context of being a first or early responder. "Many social workers are trained to respond very soon after a disaster occurs," Myers said. "But this doesn't mean they don't have their own families and issues to take care of. A social worker's family preparedness plan needs to dovetail with their employment and volunteer preparedness plan.
"This conference was a very valuable opportunity for NASW and the Gulf Coast chapters to connect with other organizations, identify strategies for dealing with disasters and learn about frameworks for individual and community disaster plans," Myers said.