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Needs Assessment is Key to Recovery

January 2, 2007

Imagine interviewing hundreds of people, maybe even thousands, about their needs after a disaster and then entering all of that into a database. That's something Ken and Mary Geurink do on a regular basis on behalf of CRWRC--and they couldn't be happier. In fact, their dedicated work is helping survivors of Hurricane Katrina see hope for rebuilding their lives.

Ken and Mary live in Walhalla, Michigan, and serve as Needs Assessment leaders with CRWRC’s Disaster Response Services. They help provide crucial information to local long-term disaster recovery organizations (LTROs) so that the recovery can move along more quickly, and provide help to the most needy people.

"We're here because the Lord put us here, and we love it," said Ken Geurink about his recent time in Gulfport, Mississippi. "We have the heart to serve."

While in Gulfport, the Guerinks helped assess the needs of families living in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Several of these hard-hit counties are just now getting a full grasp on the needs remaining after Katrina struck in August 2005.

To assist communities in this process, CRWRC Needs Assessment teams worked alongside Long-Term Recovery Organizations (LTROs) to determine which areas were most likely to have low-income and under-insured families. From there, the CRWRC teams went door-to-door in affected communities to conduct interviews.

"We sit down and talk to the clients for a while," explained Ken. "We hear about their lives, their stories. The recovery in a community hinges on knowing where the real needs are. It's so impor-tant. You need all the 'who, what, where and why' so you know what to do."

Looking at all areas of how families were impacted helps address the entire well-being of the cli-ent. "We're looking at the whole need - not just construction and home repairs," said Mary. "It includes personal needs, household needs and construction needs. If we see that the client is stressed, we'll alert the LTRO to it."

Once the assessments are complete, the CRWRC teams hand them over to the LTRO for follow up. Ken said that those clients who are very stressed are top priority, citing an example of a cli-ent in Gulfport they met with recently. "(The client) said they were at their wit's end and they wanted to die. It was bad, so we turned it in immediately and there was someone there the next morning to help her."

"Very much can be utilized from the data," Mary continued. The data collected shows all sorts of client needs. Some may need major home renovations while others need cars to get to their job. Still others may be having a hard time purchasing their medication. The data provides the initial information for the case managers to properly attend to the clients.

The needs assessment interview is also a helpful time for clients to share, and for the interview-ers to educate them on the recovery process.

“The interviews themselves are frequently very emotional,” said Mary, “And the chance for the clients to just talk is very important.”

Mary said they are sure to educate the clients on how to apply to the Federal Emergency Man-agement Agency if they haven't already, and just how the FEMA process will work.

The teams don't guarantee that help will arrive quickly, but they do give hope and let the clients know that a hard-working LTRO is on the job doing its best.

And with the volumes of data given to the LTRO, the hope is also seen in the eyes of the local people helping out. "When we give an LTRO a final report, it certainly gives them a great out-look," said Mary. "And usually you can see the light bulbs come on for them, you can see them thinking and hear them saying, 'Okay, we can do this.' "

Ken nodded. "They'll say things like, 'Now we know what we have to do.' "