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Dec/Jan 2006Vol. 6, No. 10Preparing an Agency for Disaster

In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, many child welfare agencies have begun to review their own disaster preparedness plans. Carmen Weisner, former Assistant Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Social Services Office of Community Services and current Executive Director of the Louisiana Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, as well as a long-time social worker in Louisiana, is able to speak firsthand about agency preparedness. As the invited keynote speaker at an October 2005 meeting of the Council on Accreditation (COA), Ms. Weisner talked about issues that child welfare agencies should consider when developing their disaster plans.

Major considerations for child welfare agencies should be:

  • In case of evacuation, where are the children going? Consider whether the agency currently asks foster parents where they will go in case of disaster, whether this information is recorded and updated, and how this information could be accessed by the agency in an emergency.
  • Where will the agency workforce go? Consider whether workers now report evacuation plans, what phone number they would call if the agency were out of commission, and how workers would be paid if the mail system and banks were not functioning.
  • What would happen to agency records? Consider whether all critical documents are in SACWIS, whether documents could be recreated, and how benefits eligibility would be determined for children if no records were accessible.
  • How would Federal partners be involved in the recovery? Consider how Federal partners work with FEMA and how the disaster would affect Federal funding.
  • What would be the long-term implications for the workforce? Consider that universities would close, and social work students would transfer out of State.
  • How does the agency use the media? Consider whether the agency can exert some control over the media message.
  • How would the agency deal with the many offers of help? Consider how and when volunteers would be brought in, as well as how volunteers' expertise would be assessed and how they would be fed and housed.
  • What is the role of other community partners? Consider that the disaster preparedness plan should include a broader pool of advocates who can help with child welfare issues in an emergency.

For the full text of Ms. Weisner's speech, visit the COA website at (Editor's note: Link no longer active).