LSA Blog

Before a Disaster Strikes – Preparing Communities to be Ready and Resilient

Blog Date: 
Friday, August 21, 2015
by TJ Cantwell, LSA Director of Member Engagement

Have you ever experienced a disaster? Not the kind where you burn the turkey on Thanksgiving Day or even the time you sent a fundraising letter with all incorrect names. No, I mean a true disaster, such as a hurricane, fire, tornado, flood, earthquake or even a man-made disaster such as a factory explosion. Thankfully I have not and hopefully you haven't either, but the reality is there are disasters large and small, declared and undeclared, each and every year throughout the U.S. Whether they affect one person or thousands of families all disasters leave a path of destruction and heartache in their wake.

Thankfully LSA member organizations are there to help communities recover in the days, weeks, months, and often years following a catastrophic event by providing disaster services such as assessing unmet needs, connecting survivors with needed resources, and providing long-term case management. However, the ability to maintain trained and knowledgeable staff and volunteers as well as strong community partnerships before a disaster strikes continues to be a common problem. The need to be ready as an agency and to enhance the readiness of the local community, especially the most vulnerable, is recognized by all involved in providing disaster services, unfortunately there are few resources available for this important work. During the past year LSA and its members began the process of transforming this ongoing challenge for disaster resources into an opportunity we call the LSA Disaster Network.

The network, established in 2014, leverages the experience, expertise, and national footprint of LSA member organizations to increase members' ability to help local communities prepare, respond and recover from declared and undeclared disasters by building new partnerships and obtaining additional funding for organizations' disaster services.

One of the biggest accomplishments of the network thus far is the development of a concept focused on the unique effect Lutheran social ministry organizations have on building more resilient communities. In fact, many factors identified as important to assisting local communities in better responding to, withstanding, and recovering from disasters such as health, financial security, housing, awareness, and social connectedness are already being addressed through the services provided by Lutheran social ministry organizations.

The LSA Disaster Network is using this new community "resilience-building" concept to approach potential funders that would normally not be interested in funding general disaster services, but may be interested in using a measured and strategic approach to building the capacity and resiliency of local communities, especially the most vulnerable communities. The network is currently working with officials at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to develop a national Volunteer In Service to America (VISTA) program which would provide funding to support the placement of VISTA service members at member organization sites in geographic locations across the U.S. to develop community resilience-building programs that leverage the existing social services offered by LSA organizations. We are hopeful that a national program will be accepted and begin in the very near future.
But as you know, it is never wise to put all your eggs in one basket. Therefore, the LSA Disaster Network is approaching other potential funders with this concept and continuing to work together collaboratively on new innovative approaches that will support the disaster services vital to their local communities.

We are excited about the progress the LSA Disaster Network has already made and even more energized about the potential for the future. Here are a couple thoughts from LSA members on the accomplishments of the LSA Disaster Network so far and hopes for its future.
"Finding funding for disaster services is something all organizations are struggling with including local and national Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) members. The community resilience-building concept offers an innovative approach to getting support for maintaining and growing disaster services within nonprofit organizations in between disasters. If we can figure out how to solve this problem in the LSA Disaster Network it will be a great accomplishment and something we can share with other nonprofit organizations". – Ron Drews, President & CEO, Lutheran Social Services of New York

"The LSA Disaster Network provides a collaborative national forum through which Lutheran disaster service providers can develop innovative new programmatic and funding streams, share best practices, and maximize the impact of existing lines of service. I am excited to be a partner in the Disaster Network and look forward to continuing to explore strategies by which we can collectively build our organizational capacity and strengthen sustainability practices for disaster services".

John Pyron, Director, Disaster and Emergency Services, Lutheran Family and Children's Services of Missouri

As the staff liaison to LSA Disaster Network I can't tell you how proud I am to be working for a network of dedicated professionals who not only help others when all seems lost, but also have the forethought to consider what needs to be done to better prepare their communities before a disaster strikes.

I invite you to join the LSA Disaster Network and learn more about its activities on the LSA website or by contacting me at

Members of the LSA Disaster Network:

  • Diakon
  • Liberty Lutheran Services
  • Lutheran Family and Children's Services of Missouri
  • Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains
  • Lutheran Family Services of Virginia
  • Lutheran Services Carolinas
  • Lutheran Services Florida
  • Lutheran Social Services of New York
  • Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota
  • Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota
  • Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota
  • Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan
  • Upbring Disaster Response, the new LSSDR
  • Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) Disaster Response Ministry
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Lutheran Disaster Response

TJ Cantwell

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