Understanding the Legal Needs After a Disaster

Devastating natural disasters like Hurricane Florence, which recently plowed through the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, create myriad legal needs for low-income individuals — and they can last for years. To help visualize this, the Texas Access to Justice Commission produced an infographic laying out the expected needs and focus areas for legal aid.

For more perspective, we can pair this with the graphic below, which shows how the legal aid work emerged for Southeast Louisiana Legal Services following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (See the article, “After a Disaster Like Katrina, Water, Food, and Shelter Are Not Enough: Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, residents are still fighting scam contractors and FEMA,” in The Nation.)

After Katrina, housing remained a huge focus area through 2015, though other needs also peaked and plateaued over the 10-year span.

Several resources exist to help legal aid organizations prepare for, and respond to, disasters. Here are a few select relevant and recent ones:

· DisasterLegalAid.org: A national centralized resource on disaster issues for legal aid staff, pro bono attorneys, and disaster victims. It has up-to-date information and resources in several languages.

· Your state’s Free Legal Answers and state bar website: The ABA’s Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic that’s available on a handful of state websites. It allows qualifying users to post questions that can be answered by attorney volunteers. Also check your state bar website for any disaster-related resources (e.g., check out the State Bar of Texas’ or the North Carolina Bar Association’s disaster resources for attorneys).

· Disaster Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Opportunities Guide: A list of opportunities beyond Free Legal Answers.

· Ready.gov: A website of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security designed to educate and empower people to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate emergencies, including natural disasters.

· Iowa Legal Aid’s best practices manual in preparing for and recovering from disasters: This manual includes best practices for organizations pre- and post-disasters. It also links to a number of sample documents.

· The Social Vulnerability Index and OnTheMap for Emergency Management: Two federal resources that provide insight into the social and economic characteristics of communities across the country.