disaster meeting

At left, Heriberto Martinez, a disaster response and recovery liasion for Church World Service, speaks to a group of civic and church leaders Wednesday.

By Samantha Swindler


Almost a year after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita sent thousands seeking shelter in Cherokee County, city, church and school officials met at the Norman Activity Center to plan for the area’s next big disaster.

On Wednesday, a group of local charity and civic leaders heard from Heriberto Martinez with Church World Services, who was invited to speak on disaster planning by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.)

Fran Daniel, executive director of Helping Others Pursue Enrichment (HOPE), used the meeting to kick off the formation of a local Disaster Relief Efforts Committee. HOPE acted as a clearing house and a leader for Katrina and Rita relief efforts and is now leading the way for a community-wide organization to help when the next disaster strikes.

“If you notice, there’s a lot of HOPE here,” Martinez said after meeting the crowd.

Martinez, a former pastor who is now a response and recovery liaison, said organizations must be prepared to attend to more than the basic needs of food and shelter when a disaster strikes.

“One thing that concerns me is the emotional and spiritual needs they may have,” Martinez said. “We found out in New Orleans, it was precisely that — emotional care is really important.”

He also stressed the importance of organizations working together and gave practical tips such as using a single charity’s 501(c)(3) to receive tax-deductible funding for relief. He also offered to help Jacksonville charities receive grants and government funds.

Many of Martinez’ organizational suggestions were incorporated by HOPE in 2005. Last year, churches, hotels, restaurants and individuals offered a variety of support to hurricane evacuees, and the Disaster Relief Effort Committee plans to streamline relief efforts even more.

“I think we have more community pride because of what each of you and your organizations did (after the hurricanes),” Daniel told attendees.

Daniel is planning another meeting to establish committee chairs to coordinate shelter, food, media relations and volunteer efforts when needed. This group, Daniel said, can also help with a variety of smaller disasters — such as house fires, tornadoes, and even long heat waves.

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