During a weeklong winter storm in Texas in February 2021, officials with the library in the tiny town of Pottsboro coordinated community response to help residents access clean water, make food available, offer restroom access, and much more when the power went out for a long period. The library used social media to get the word out about the efforts and created proactive community responses.
“How innovative – they had that incredible social media presence, they were well connected with the community. They were able to really be that entity where people would not only get information right away but to be able to share information,” said Alana Knudson, who directs NORC’s Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis.
Knudson, along with Kristine Sande, who is the program director for the Rural Health Information Hub, and many team members recently developed a new toolkit offering information, advice, and case studies surrounding rural emergency preparedness and response.
The development of the toolkit was supported by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department (HHS).
“They wanted us to develop a tool that can help rural communities deal with disasters in infectious disease, mass casualty, all of the different emergencies and disasters that can happen in rural areas,” Sande told the Daily Yonder in an interview.
Oftentimes, Knudson said, toolkits are for one area of expertise, but this one is cross-sector, meaning it incorporates preparation, response, and recovery.
“…it takes everybody in a rural community to work together,” Knudson said in an interview with the Daily Yonder. ”And I think this toolkit really illustrates the importance of those partnerships to be able to recover from any kind of a disaster or event that occurs that may not have been planned for.”
Rural communities face unique characteristics when it comes to emergency preparedness and response, Knudson said.
“I think one of the things that is a little bit different in rural communities versus urban is just the resource capacity,” she said, adding that urban areas often have infrastructure dedicated to incident command and response. “Whereas in a rural community, you really have those types of expectations, but you have people wearing multiple hats. So they are not perhaps focused full time on addressing issues of preparedness activities, yet they still need to have that type of infrastructure in place.”
Additionally, Sande said, in some cases in rural communities you must figure out who’s going to fill some of those roles.
“I think the planning aspect of things is all that much more important so that when the disaster strikes, you know who’s going to be doing what, and it really is key to figure that out before you have an issue,” she said.
In a lot of rural communities, volunteers are an important aspect of emergency response and preparedness, Knudson said.
“In a lot of our rural communities, we have trained volunteers,” she said. “We have fire volunteers on the fire response. We have EMTs – emergency medical services – a lot of volunteers in that regard. But we also have different types of people that have experiences such as either people who are currently serving in the National Guard or who have retired from the National Guard. So these people are specially trained that we can really leverage in an emergency.”
The case studies illustrated what went well in some cases and also what didn’t, Sande said.
“Sometimes it’s hard to do that – to share that: what didn’t go well, and what you weren’t prepared for,” she said. “And so those lessons learned, I think, that are outlined in the case studies are so helpful.”
The toolkit is constructed in a modular manner, so people can go in where they need information and start there, said Knudson.
“If they’re interested in getting a broader introduction, they can go there,” she said. “If they’re interested in specific information about some of the emergencies and disasters that we looked at in some of the case studies that provide some more insight, they can go there. So it is really created in a manner that meets people where they are.”