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5 Steps (& only 5 days) to an Emergency Response Program (and how your organization can do it too!)

One of my fellow community development professionals asked me the other day how working from home has changed my workload. After hearing their testimony on how their workdays are shortened, I thought to myself am I doing something wrong? My workdays have become longer and more intense. No complaints here, though… I have grown exponentially as a community development professional over the last few weeks because of this crisis.


I know that every community across the globe is frantically working like I am… trying to take care of our local community and its people and quickly jumping on financial opportunities to support their efforts in response to COVID-19. Sometimes it seems there is no time to take a break… our communities need us and they need us NOW!


You may be wondering where this is going. I wanted to use this blog post to talk about how this pandemic is resulting in rapid community emergency response programs and to give other community development professionals a roadmap to start developing their emergency response programming for their local communities. I am not saying I am all of the sudden an expert in emergency response, but I feel that my experience may help inspire others to take action.


***It should be noted, I could not have achieved this much professional growth in this area without the help of my supervisor, our community partners, and my staff that support our community to the highest level. I am so proud to be a part of this community!***


Here is my story of developing an emergency response program in (under) 5 days, depicted through 5 action steps your organization can take.


1. Basic needs are the highest “demand”


Yes, it is just like it sounds. The community (and funders) are focused on addressing basic needs at the moment… food security, housing, health (including mental health), and emergency financial relief. But you probably already caught on to this. The Regional Planning Commission programming I oversee includes assisting individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. This perfectly aligned with the needs in my local community and our mission as an organization.


ACTION: Consider these basic needs and take a good hard look at your mission and current programming. This is where the basis of your emergency response program begins to develop.


2. Bring on the partnerships


If there is one thing I have noticed through this pandemic, community partnerships are essential to make things happen. Your organization may be used to getting by without these partnerships, but “it takes a village” is no longer a figure of speech, it is our new reality these days. My org already partners with the local townships to provide rent assistance, so it was a no-brainer to reach out to these partners and really get a game plan going.


ACTION: Start the communication chain. Email, call, Zoom, whatever you have to do to get the right constituents on the phone and suggest a partnership and viable program to address your local community’s emergency needs.


3. Don’t forget the data


I know, I know, you are probably thinking, “How can anyone think about data in a time like this?” I am here to tell you that you can still come up with a wholesome program, including means of data collection and analysis, in under 5 days. When we considered offering a tele-rent assistance program, we clearly outlined what data sets we wanted to collect. This was important for a couple reasons, 1- we wanted to quickly implement the program to start providing assistance ASAP and 2- we knew we needed to collect data to use as a means for program improvement. There was no time to do a complete program analysis and identify the “what ifs” to weed out potential quality issues. We had to make quick decisions and move on.


**Don't know where to start with data? We help with that!


ACTION: Make sure to include a few data sets to collect so you can monitor your program’s progress. Although you can launch your program in under 5 days, that is not the end all be all. Be prepared for your program to change as rapidly as the CDC guidelines are changing (yes, by the hour)! This data will allow you to manage that change and increase the quality of your program as you go along.


4. Get the proper plans in place


We all know planning is essential. Although there seems to be no time for it, it is a must to get your emergency response program up and running. I made sure to have a clear change management plan, communication plan, and program processes ready to go. (BONUS for you: contact me and I will send you a free emergency response plan template).


ACTION: Start writing out these plans ASAP. You will be surprised how quickly these come together! It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be clear, concise, and ready for implementation!


5. Just Ask


In my previous blog post, I discussed how to leverage funding in your local community to develop emergency response programs to support your community through this crisis. In that post I mentioned my local United Way and Community Foundation implementing the COVID-19 Relief Fund. Since that post, many other communities have followed suit and are now offering this relief fund. Hopefully you, your board, your best friend have already established a relationship with these local funding entities.


ACTION: The final step is to JUST ASK. Talk with your connections, pitch your emergency response program and how it is going to positively affect your community in this difficult time. In my experience, my local United Way and Community Foundation didn’t even require a formal grant proposal, they simply wanted to work with their established community partners to take on the hard work of addressing basic needs of the individuals in their community. Seriously- just ask!



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