By Kelly Daniel
For the Opelika
More than five weeks after the devastating March 3 storm, East Alabama Medical Center continues to provide support for tornado survivors while developing the MEND program to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
Origins of MEND
During a press conference held by EAMC leadership on April 2, Chaplain Laura Eason, the director of Pastoral Services at East Alabama Medical Center, explained that the MEND program began in the first days after the storm as an attempt to work with community organizations to fulfill immediate needs.
However, these initial efforts revealed the need for a massive, coordinated response to help the families and communities in the weeks to come.
“After 3 days it had morphed into a much, much larger organization,” Eason said.
While tornadoes cause tremendous destruction in moments, recovery is a long process that requires an enormous level of support from the community, government and charitable organizations.
“The tornado changed all these lives and families in just a few short minutes on that day, said EAMC PR and Marketing Director John Atkinson. “It’s not an overnight fix, and it’s going to take a while to return to some normalcy.”
The MEND program contains elements that experts consider crucial to successful disaster recovery: plentiful resources, a coordinated approach, and long-term vision.
Providing for Those Affected by the Lee County Tornado
Limited resources often decrease the effectiveness of civic organizations in providing aid, as was found in a study titled “From Disaster Response to Community Recovery” by Dr. Daniel Sledge and Dr. Herschel Thomas, which was published this month in the “American Journal of Public Health.”
However, the generous outpourings of supplies, financial assistance, and volunteers in the month after the storm have demonstrated that Lee County wasn’t going to have problems with rallying community support.
Dennis Thrasher, who serves as Vice President and Controller at EAMC, stated that in addition to the $184,000 from the Poarch Band and the $10,000 sent by Demarcus Ware, $89,000 have been donated to the Lee County Disaster Relief Fund from other sources. Additional large donations are expected soon.
While other communities with fewer resources struggle with finding sources of supplies, financial resources, and human capital, the primary need in Lee County was to ensure that recovery activities were organized and effective.
“We saw that there was a need for a coordinated community wide effort,” Eason said. “And we saw that it was so important to not duplicate efforts and to make sure that the actual needs were being fulfilled.”
The Role of Coordination in Ensuring Effective Response
EAMC responded to that need by creating an organizational structure to coordinate recovery efforts, which was named the MEND program.
“Our mission is basically fivefold: compassion, communication, cooperation, collaboration, and coordination,” Eason said.
MEND was created to bring together different types of organizations that can provide various forms of assistance into committees, each of which operates under the direction of the steering committee.
Coordination is vital to ensuring an effective recovery process, according to disaster recovery experts.
In their article, Sledge and Thomas discussed the importance of organizations that aim to coordinate recovery, which they call Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) groups. A recent study by Aaron Opdyke and three other researchers entitled “From Disaster Response to Community Recovery,” which was published in “Construction Management and Economics in 2017, supported the central role of coordination and also found that communication often suffers during the transition to long term recovery.
One of the key points stressed in the EAMC press conference on April 2 is that MEND will provide long term leadership and coordination in a recovery process that will span years. “MEND’s overall mission is to ensure that all who were affected by the tragedy and the disaster are able to recovery physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s going to be a marathon, it’s not a sprint. We’re just beginning the process,” Eason said.
Disaster recovery experts have found that a long-term, thoughtful approach is essential to helping communities rebuild in the long term. Opdyke and the other researchers in the Construction Management study found that disaster recovery efforts often become disconnected when coordinating organizations do not stay long-term. “The departure of key organizations, even ones that do not appear central, can have a profound impact on continued communication, and potentially, the long-term resilience and sustainability of the recovery effort,” Opdyke and the other researchers stated in the article.
The History of EAMC and the EAMC Foundation in Disaster Recovery
As an organization that has been involved in disaster recovery regionally and nationally while also engaging in humanitarian work internationally, EAMC knows the challenges of such work very well.
EAMC Vice President of Human Resources Susan Johnston said, “We have a long history of [helping in disaster recovery] from Katrina to the floods in Houston to Hurricanes in Orlando where our hospital has sent funds from our own disaster relief fund to help our employees’ family members who were affected, as well as other healthcare workers across the Southeast.”
However, before the March 3 tornadoes, EAMC has helped from a distance by sending teams of people, supplies, and money to other places. As Johnston later said, “This is the first time it’s really affected us, right here, and right at home.”
Providing a Place to Stay
Soon after learning of the extent of the tornado damage, EAMC anticipated that one of the main immediate needs of survivors would be finding a place to stay that is more permanent than a hotel room. As a result, EAMC began to lease apartments in the community to take care of employees affected.
“We are currently housing 15 families in 17 apartments. That apartment is fully furnished. That furniture is theirs when they leave because remember, these families have nothing,” Johnston said. “When they are finally able to be placed in a home they will be able to take everything with them that we furnished the apartments with.” While 11 of these families are related to EAMC employees four of the families are not connected to EAMC.
MEND is still in its early stages, and several large donations have been pledged that should be coming soon. ”We’re in the process right now of putting together our bylaws and executive committee, and we have people from all parts of the community wanting to jump in and be a part of the long term recovery efforts,” Eason said. To learn more about MEND, visit their webpage at eamc.org/mend.
To request assistance or offer to help, MEND can be reached at 334-528-MEND or via email at email@example.com.