A disaster doesn’t end when the lights and sirens go away. Communities are left dealing with clean up and rebuilding for weeks, months, or even years. But we aren’t yet talking about recovery. We are still talking about addressing early impacts of a disaster that have real implications on people’s lives and stability immediately following a disaster.
When a disaster is federally declared FEMA may open a Disaster Recovery Center in or near an impacted community. These centers are helpful in getting survivors registered with FEMA and other agencies which might be able to provide some assistance, depending on the type of declaration in place and the specific impacts suffered by individuals and businesses. While these centers do often integrate state agencies and non-governmental organizations, their primary purpose is to facilitate federal support, and, given the time that can pass before a federal declaration is in place, these centers may not open for days or even weeks following a disaster. Clearly a gap exists.
Enter the concept of the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC). MARC is a more global term, similar to emergency operations center (EOC), which encompasses a variety of facilities which different but related functions, based upon the agencies involved and the needs of communities. MARCs aren’t anything new, but they are under-utilized. Recent work with a client has brought the concept back to the forefront of my mind, thinking that planning for a MARC should be included as an annex to a great many emergency operations plans.
In searching Multi-Agency Resource Center, there are a number of references you will come across on the internet. Fundamentally, a MARC is a facility established in a community in the aftermath of a disaster through which services are made available to individuals and businesses seeking assistance. Absent a federal declaration, assistance can come from local, county, and state agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Of course, don’t count out the private sector, as they may be willing and able to provide material resources and volunteers as well. Also, consider that even if a presidential disaster declaration isn’t in place, some agencies, such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) can declare disasters independently and would likely be willing to send a representative to a MARC, if established.
Certainly, a MARC is convenient, as it offers ‘one stop shopping’ for those seeking assistance, rather than having to contact a multitude of agencies and organizations. Better yet, it brings the agencies and organizations to the people, who, in all likelihood, aren’t aware are the vast amount of resources and services available to them.
What can be provided at a MARC? In actuality, anything. It can be co-located with a commodity point of distribution (CPOD), providing tarps, water, and other items to people. Muck out kits and respiratory protection may be provided. Guidance on removing water or mold, or on safe operations of generators can be obtained. Perhaps people are displaced and need temporary housing, or have a question about the safety of their homes or businesses. People may need food, unemployment assistance, legal aid, or disability services. Even mental health and spiritual counseling can be offered at a MARC. If the disaster involved a lot of green debris, the MARC could be a great location to offer a class on safe chain saw operation, in the hopes of decreasing injuries from the inevitable activity of community members.
As with any activity, a MARC should be planned. Follow the tried and true planning process in CPG 101 and pull together a team of stakeholder agencies and organizations to discuss what assistance might be provided, how it would be organized, and ideal locations to host it. There is some great information available from the National Mass Care Strategy. Of course, once you have a plan in place, don’t forget to train and exercise!
I’ve worked in a variety of MARC-type facilities, but one in particular stands out in my career. Following the Haiti earthquake in early 2010, NYC Mayor Bloomberg and NYS Governor Paterson created a Haitian Earthquake Family Resource center in Brooklyn, which has the largest Haitian population outside of Haiti itself. There were quite a number of members of the NYC Haitian community who were directly impacted by this disaster so many miles away, with family members missing or killed, the loss of income coming from family members in Haiti, and services related to these issues. Through this this facility, we coordinated the efforts of a number of local, state, and federal agencies, as well as NGOs. Services included interpreters, legal information, grief counseling, and facilitated access to certain US and Haitian offices to obtain information and support. This was a unique and meaningful application of the MARC to meet an identified need.
Has your jurisdiction ever used a MARC? Do you have a plan in place?
© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP