Victims of a disaster, whether it be a tornado, flooding or anything else, could be in the midst of the worst day of their life. Dogs help.
Of course, so does financial assistance, food, water and shelter, and a whole host of other resources.
That’s why the Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) wants to make sure its collaboration with other government entities and nonprofits is down pat.
April 18, the OEM and its partner organizations gathered at Praise Assembly church in north Springfield to hold a disaster response exercise, and host a simulated Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC).
‘One-Stop-Shop’ gives disaster victims chance to access all resources in one place
In an auditorium at Praise Assembly, booths lined each wall, with employees and volunteers from each respective organization pretending to assist people acting as victims of a disaster.
Upon checking in, aid-seekers have access to helpful resources, all concentrated in one place.
“Each organization, it’s good for them to go through that process, for them to have that practice,” said OEM Deputy Director Darren White. “It’s also good, on a wide range, for all of these organizations to be together in the same room… it just helps us to know each other.”
The MARC was the culmination of a program known as “Operation: One-Stop-Shop,” which began in June 2022 and has been planned through a series of workshops and meetings. Following the MARC, participating organizations will identify areas where improvement is needed.
In addition to OEM, other governmental agencies included the Missouri Department of Commerce and Insurance, the Missouri Department of Social Services and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.
Other organizations included the American Red Cross, Burrell Behavioral Health, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, Pet Therapy of the Ozarks and the Salvation Army, among others.
Each organization helps provide or connect people to resources and information in the event of a disaster. Together, they form Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD).
Department of Commerce and Insurance connects you to your insurance company, Pet Therapy of the Ozarks connects you with a dog
Depending on the severity of a disaster, it could, in short, ruin someone’s life. In addition to the threat to human life some events could cause, residents may also have to deal with the loss of their home and all of their belongings.
In order to connect with many of the resources available, people often have to have proof of their identity, which may provide a challenge for some, such as a tornado victim. But, with an organization such as the Health Department, they can be helped accessing their birth certificate.
For many, dealing with homeowner’s or renter’s insurance companies after a disaster impacts their home can be challenging, but that is why an entity like the Department of Commerce and Insurance is an agency that responds to such events.
“We want to see folks that have insurance and we want to see folks that don’t have insurance,” said Jeana Thomas, a consumer services specialist with the Department of Commerce and Insurance. “If they have insurance, we can put people in contact with their insurance company. We can walk them through their claim process and answer any questions they may have about the claim process or their coverage.”
If someone does not have insurance, the Department of Commerce and Insurance can primarily provide information about how to obtain insurance, which leads to the need for nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits may provide financial assistance for people in response to a disaster.
Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, the Salvation Army and OACAC can provide everything from financial aid, which could take many forms (gift cards or vouchers), assessment for home repairs, food assistance and housing assistance, among other resources.
What about the dogs?
While Pet Therapy of the Ozarks dogs and humans are more likely to be seen in a school or hospital setting, they joined the COAD about four years ago, according to Susan Miranti, and were present at the “Operation: One-Stop-Shop” exercise.
Their pets, owned by members and volunteers, can be brought in for disaster responses to provide stress relief to people who may be experiencing the worst days of their lives.
Alongside Miranti was her miniature Australian shepherd, as other dogs mingled throughout the auditorium.
“They’re not emotional support animals, but what they do is they let people love on them and pet on them and so it is stress relief,” Miranti said. “…Our understanding about MARC would be the folks who are here are very stressed. And also the workers, because they’re going to work long hours.”
Latest MARC helps local organizations get on the same page
Larry Woods, the director of the Greene County OEM, acknowledged that it had been “a while” since he and his staff had done an exercise like the one on April 18, with more recent MARCs being smaller.
Even though exercises are preparatory in nature, Woods stressed the need for cohesive collaboration with partner agencies to effectively respond to a disaster.
“Each one of these organizations have some type of services that would benefit somebody,” Woods said.
Debi Meeds, a volunteer with the American Red Cross in Springfield, reiterated Woods’ points and the benefit of having all of the resources concentrated in one area.
“People lose transportation, they’ve never accessed any services,” Meeds said. “They’ve never needed to. So to have one place where they can come and what we do, we try to take them through to every agency, they can find out, one, these services are in your community all the time and two, after a disaster, we have expanded services.”