USDA grant will direct Extension disaster efforts

A specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service surveys agricultural damage with a Winston County resident following the April 28 tornado. A grant will enable Extension to re-evaluate disaster efforts in communities across the state. PHOTO: Linda Breazeale | MSU Ag Communications

A new grant will enable Mississippi State University Extension Service leaders to refine the organization’s efforts to help communities prepare for and recover from disasters.

With offices in all 82 Mississippi counties, Extension agents and specialists provide “boots on the ground” assistance in communities following disasters. They receive training in advance to complete tasks such as agricultural damage assessment, shelter assistance and distribution of educational recovery materials.

Paula Threadgill, associate Extension director, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is funding part of a study that will enable Extension to conduct assessments across the state. MSU Extension is matching the $115,500 grant.

“Mississippi has experienced multiple natural and man-made disasters in the last decade,” Threadgill said. “A community’s ability to prepare for and respond after disasters are the keys to survival -- physically, emotionally and economically.”

Threadgill said the project will investigate the needs of communities still recovering from past disasters and redesign the Incident Command System curriculum to address needs specific to the state. The new curriculum would be called ICS-Rebuild and Renew.

“The three goals of the project are to assess postdisaster needs in communities, revise our Incident Command System curriculum and provide new training on the ICS-Rebuild and Renew material,” she said.

Basic ICS is a set of protocols established within the National Incident Management System to provide a standardized, on-scene management strategy for all hazards. The system organizes tasks and responsibilities into emergency support functions, emphasizing teamwork across jurisdictions.

“MSU Extension has offices in all 82 counties and is a trusted source of science-based information as well as a point of collaboration between citizens and governmental resources,” Threadgill said.

David Buys, health specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said the goal is to conduct sessions at eight sites starting in January, two in each of Extension’s four regions. A pilot focus group will convene this fall in Winston County, which was hit hard by an F4 tornado last spring.

“This grant will enable us to expand or eliminate existing efforts based on individual community needs,” Buys said. “After the 2014 tornadoes, we learned that the needs can be very different from one area to another. One county might need assistance with feeding volunteers or victims, and another county might need help coordinating the points of distribution.”

All sites will need publications addressing stress, mental health, food safety and other needs that are common following a disaster. Buys said part of the grant will involve updating and expanding the existing Extension publications.

Buys said the first year will focus on identifying stakeholders and community needs along with redesigning the ICS curriculum. The second year will involve training Extension agents on the new material and creating new educational publications related to disasters.

“When the grant is finished, MSU Extension will have helped communities identify needs before and after disasters strike, and our Extension personnel will be better trained to continue the process, regardless of the type of disaster that strikes in the future,” he said.

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Linda Breazeale | MSU Ag Communications

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