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Natural Disasters Impact Survivors and Domestic/Sexual Violence Services

Because of its location, Missouri is prone to severe weather. The spring floods of this year have affected several counties, and though water levels are beginning to recede, Missouri remains at risk of experiencing damaging floods in coming months. Snowpack melt from northern states and summer thunderstorms have elevated Missouri’s long-range flood risk. Here are three considerations organizations can take to be prepared:

1)    Recognize how natural disasters affect survivors. Individuals with physical disabilities, those who are homeless and housing-insecure, and those suffering from mental illness or substance abuse are often forced to stay behind while others seek safety from an approaching storm. These individuals are often already at increased risk of experiencing domestic and/or sexual violence, but in the aftermath of a disaster, the risk becomes even greater.

2)    Recognize how natural disasters can affect your organization and staff. Organizations that provide outreach advocacy and/or have staff who commute to work should create a plan for how staff are able to provide coverage and whether services will be temporarily halted. Organizations should also consider their leave policies. Can employees take time off until they are able to return to work, are there opportunities to work remotely, or will employees need to apply for disaster unemployment benefits? Will the organization need to temporarily close? Will the organization need major repairs? Necessary repairs and replacements might be covered under an organization’s insurance, regular funding sources, and/or through the Missouri State Treasurer’s LIFT program.

3)    Recognize how natural disasters affect community services. Directly after a natural disaster, police and other emergency first responders are busy and often not readily available. Similarly, there is an increased need for social supports in the community—access to food and water, clean clothes, temporary shelter, health and mental health services. Domestic and sexual violence organizations can be part of a coordinated community response by working alongside other community leaders to minimize the potential for survivors and their families to experience additional trauma.

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