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National Disaster

Legal Aid

Resources for Legal Aid Professionals

LSC Program Disaster Checklist

This is a checklist to help LSC programs meet a disaster, if they haven't done so before, and to serve as a refresher for those that have.  There are LSC disaster grants for LSC programs to meet an increased demand for help. 

Disaster Checklist for a Legal Services Program

This checklist is provided as a guide to a legal services provider facing disaster. Usually when faced with a disaster there will be a number of decisions that will be made quickly and a significant number of steps to take. This checklist will help focus on the most critical areas that will need immediate attention

We, as LSC providers, are always conscious of protecting client's civil rights.  But, as a reminder, please see this HUD, DOJ, DHS, HHS, and DOT joint guidance about protecting the civil rights of those affected by disasters.

(ORDER OF ITEMS LISTED BELOW IS NOT AN EXACT TIMELINE SINCE SO MANY THINGS WILL BE GOING ON AT THE SAME TIME-GOOD LUCK)

1. Secure your staff and assets. The well being of staff is of primary concern. The program's COOP (continuity of operations) or business continuity plans will provide guidance with this task.
ADP has a nice feature to store emergency contact information under Personal Information. It lets you save two or more contacts, so the second emergency contact could be an employee's evacuation information.

2. When the President declares a major disaster, one of the programs that may be offered is Disaster Legal Services (DLS), if requested by the state. If DLS is offered the Federal Emergency Management Agency, through an agreement with the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association, provides free legal assistance to low income disaster survivors. You can look at the MOU between the ABA-YLD and FEMA here: http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/legalaidstaff/item.5384-FEMA_Legal_Services_Information
When Disaster Legal Services is activated, the LSC funded agencies assist, under the auspices of the ABA-YLD.

3. Find out who your ABA YLD contact is here: See page 60 of the FEMA ABA YLD Disaster Manual http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/young_lawyers/dls/fema_training_program.authcheckdam.pdf
(Ideally, your program will have this and all other community contacts ready to go at any time per your program's disaster plan or other continuity plan which will be archived in various formats- thumb drive, print, secure on private email etc. )

4. Contact you ABA YLD disaster legal aid contact to discuss hotline and outreach issues. Find out who hosts the hotline in your state, how the tally sheet for the hotline is kept, who keeps it etc. If it's your program, you've already heard from them. 

5. Review the FEMA ABA YLD Disaster Manual, which is updated each year in June.  This and the other items mentioned below can become part of your yearly disaster preparedness for your program.  http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/young_lawyers/dls/fema_training_program.authcheckdam.pdf

6. Contact your local and state bar leaders, disaster representative or pro bono coordinators to discuss how outreach and services will be coordinated between your agencies.

7. If your computers are down you can contact:
Joe Hillis 817.886.8550 | c 817.264.7075
Information Technology Disaster Recovery Center - a non profit to help non profits with Disaster Technology needs, part of the national VOAD network
www.itdrc.org

8. Sign up for FEMA alerts, email, Facebook and Twitter so you don't miss any information that might be useful to you and your program.
http://www.fema.gov/subscribe-receive-free-email-updates
the same page has links to follow them on twitter and Facebook, as well as other options.

9. Contact your local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) or the VOAD closest to your impacted areas. www.nvoad.org

10. Go high tech with your disaster response. NY blogged after Sandy and got a lot of great feedback. They've created a tool kit so your program can do it too.
http://www.lawhelpny.org/disaster-toolkit

http://issuu.com/lawhelpny/docs/disaster_relief_toolkit_final for the ebook version


11. Get disaster flyers ready. Check your state's lawhelp.org site to see if some are there from another disaster that can be used and updated.
If you don't have any, you can get some from neighboring programs and adapt the language from your state's attorney disaster manual.
Consider where you will distribute these, in addition to the Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) and Red Cross Shelters.
Open FEMA DRCs can be found here: http://asd.fema.gov/inter/locator/home.htm
Open Red Cross Shelters can be found here:
http://www.redcross.org/find-help/shelter
Other places to consider for distribution are libraries, convenience stores, and community centers.
You can use virtual distribution through community partners. Often if you send the flyers to your local VOAD they will send the flyer to all community organizations that are part of your local VOAD.

12. Review your state's attorney disaster manual and update it if needed.

13. Review the Individual and Household Program and related sections of the Stafford Act and the related CFR. You can find both here: http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/legalaidstaff/item.5384-FEMA_Legal_Services_Information

14. Set up a training on FEMA and related benefits after a disaster, along with a review of your State's Disaster Manual. Invite members of your local bar to your organizations training so you will have more qualified volunteers to help you do outreach at DRCs and ARC Shelters. National Disaster Legal Aid http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/ has a list of experts on FEMA law that can help you. You can review FEMA information for attorneys at:
http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/legalaidstaff/item.5384-FEMA_Legal_Services_Information

15. Contact your state's Voluntary Agency Liaison (VAL) in the Department of Emergency Management and introduce yourself and your program and what you will be doing. This must be checked on a state by state basis.
FEMA VAL information is here: http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1829-25045-8002/val_brochure_final.pdf

16. Contact your local VOAD and, if appropriate, use their email system to send out your legal advice and information flyers to all area non profits involved in Disaster Recovery. This is a good chance to connect with your local VOAD if you're not a member and for you to consider becoming one . Also, other VOAD members might need to be educated that with and through the ABA YLD, LSC funded programs are now part of the Nation's Disaster Recovery Plan. www.nvoad.org Not all areas have VOADs. If you don't have one, you could consider starting one.

17. Contact, or have LSC (John Eidleman Senior Program Counsel eidlemaj@lsc.gov, 202-295-1640) contact, your local FEMA representative (http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1829-25045-8002/val_brochure_final.pdf) and American Red Cross representative (http://www.redcross.org/find-your-local-chapter) to facilitate outreach at the DRCs and Shelters.

18. Add copies of the ABA YLD MOU with FEMA and the ARC MOU with LSC to your outreach kits.
ARC-LSC MOU: http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/legalaidstaff/item.5383-LSCProgram_Specific_Information
ABA-YLD- FEMA MOU: http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/legalaidstaff/item.5384-FEMA_Legal_Services_Information
You, as an LSC program, will get a letter from your local ABA YLD representative authorizing you, as their agent, to enter the DRCs to provide legal assistance under the legal assistance provisions of the Stafford Act.

19. Start outreach at FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers and Red Cross Shelters.
Open FEMA DRCs can be found here: http://asd.fema.gov/inter/locator/home.htm
Open Red Cross Shelters can be found here:
http://www.redcross.org/find-help/shelter

20. Prepare to be able to do FEMA appeals early. Get copies of sample appeals that have been successful from other programs and look at http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/legalhelp/item.5466-Appeal_Your_FEMA_Decision

to do an online appeal and file request.

21. Find out if Disaster Food Stamps and Disaster Unemployment are available for your disaster. Programs available are listed on each disasters page and in the declaration and amendments from FEMA. Each disaster will have different programs available for survivors.
If you have these, be ready to do appeals.

22. Once it's determined who will be doing case management in your area for FEMA individual aid recipients (check your state emergency plan), you can contact them and introduce your program and explain how disaster legal aid fits into the national disaster recovery plan.

23. See if your state has made a request to FANNIE MAE and FREDDIE MAC to expedite release of insurance monies to homeowners like the one in NY after Sandy. http://www.dfs.ny.gov/about/press/pr1302262.htm

24. Check the IRS to see if there is a tax deferral or other benefits for this disaster. If so- consider using flyers in the community, post on your website, email your flyers to your community partners to get the word out. 
http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Disaster-Assistance-and-Emergency-Relief-for-Individuals-and-Businesses-1

25. Make sure the public understands that they must use their FEMA and insurance monies for what it is designated for or they will cut off their ability to get additional money from the later CDBG programs.
Flyers are a good way to accomplish this. One of your mentoring programs might be able to provide sample flyers.

26. Understand the different types of FEMA housing, ie initial rent assistance, temporary housing units, pros and cons of each if people have a choice. See https://www.fema.gov/individual-assistance-program-tools to explain temporary housing and
http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/legalaidstaff/item.5384-FEMA_Legal_Services_Information has FEMA's Policy on transitional shelter (hotels)

27. FEMA temporary housing will end after 18 months unless the state asks for an extension.

28. Is a lawsuit a viable option for any of your clients to keep them in their emergency housing? This was done most recently in NY. Compare benefits of any potential lawsuit to potential benefits of getting onto a longer term Disaster Housing Program, like Disaster Housing Assistance Program. (a link to the pleadings and cases status will be added)

29. If Disaster Housing Assistance Program is implemented, review the PIH which initiates it and understand how it is similar to, but different from Section 8 voucher housing. The notice will be published by HUD as a PIH, along with any updates and extensions. The program will be extended if your state's governor requests such an extension.

30. Will Flood Insurance Claim deadline be extended? Who in your area is involved in asking for that extension?

31. Prepare to do FEMA Flood Insurance appeals. Get samples from other programs. (a link to sample forms will be added)

32. Prepare to negotiate insurance appeals. Verify the deadline (usually two years from disasters) for these client's to file claims under homeowners insurance policies, which don't cover flooding. Verify that homeowners policy has windstorm coverage. There types of cases are fee generating for an LSC program in Texas. Check your state law regarding attorney fees in breach of contract cases. 

33. Make sure you understand the requirement of filing the Proof of Claim for Flood Insurance cases and how that will relate to the one year deadline from denial to file a NFIP lawsuit in federal court. Must file Proof of Loss Claim before Filing Lawsuit. It is possible that the Proof of Loss deadline will be after the Lawsuit filing deadline. Track everything to lawsuit deadline of one year from first denial. See Touro's Disaster blog on this issue.

34. Do something in recognition of the many pro bono volunteers.

35. Familiarize yourself with the CDBG monies as soon as they are available. They will go to your state, which will then either create a state agency to administer them or they will send them back to local governments or Council of Government agencies to administer them. There has been very unequal distribution of these monies in the past and unequal administration of these plans between different counties and agencies.

36. Make sure CDBG monies are fairly allocated or consider an administrative complaint.

37. Keep an eye on what is going on with Federal Subsidized Housing after a Disaster. Are they rebuilding? Will they rebuild the same number of hard units? The trend has been that they are not. Consider an Administrative Complaint on this issue if there are issues that negatively impact your clients.

38. Make sure all clients understand that they must insure in the future for what caused their disaster damages if they got any federal money. For example, if your house was flooded, you must get flood insurance going forward, FEMA will not pay you twice for the same type of damage. This comes from the Stafford Act.

39. Understand the Biggert-Waters Act (http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/legalaidstaff/item.5385-Flood_Insurance_and_Related_Issues) and what this can mean for your client. Make flyers to make people understand how to make flood insurance more affordable. By raising your deductible to 5K from 1K, you can save 25% on your flood insurance. Even more if you lower your contents coverage. This will help those with repetitive flood properties the most. A new law has delayed the implementation of much of it.

40. Make a disaster plan for your program/ samples are readily available. http://lri.lsc.gov/

41. Make a disaster plan for your state. See Louisiana's for example. http://files.lsba.org/documents/DR/ATJDisasterPlan.pdf

42. Next year, update your disaster manual when the next law change happens. Make sure it's before the next disaster. Some states make it a yearly virtual meeting. If you divvy up the manual, it's not too hard for any one person or program to update it.

43.  If you are a pro bono or legal services attorney working on a disaster-related case and have a question, consider contacting the National Disaster Legal Aid Advisory Group to tap into their expertise and experience.  

44. If you think of a resource you want or need or would like to see on www.disasterlegalaid.org please email the expert group there or the administrator for the page. Thank you.

The Disaster Legal Aid National Advisory Group consists of experts in disaster legal response from the Legal Services Corporation, American Bar Association, legal services organizations and law schools. If you are a pro bono or legal services attorney working on a disaster-related case, the Advisory Group is here to help! Please visit the Advisory Group page for information on the group, group members and how to contact the group with inquiries.