Disaster Operations COVID-19 report

If responding to natural disasters wasn’t complicated enough, COVID-19 places new challenges in the disaster response work Catholic Charities accomplishes.  As agencies try to navigate an already complicated disaster process, it becomes even more challenging when the process includes new terms like “social distancing,” new equipment such as masks, shields, and gloves, and new strategies of meeting clients through electronic means.

At the onset of COVID-19, CCUSA disaster operations staff and public health and disaster experts conducted a readiness training for Catholic Charities agencies that garnered 600 participants.   That was the start, and it didn’t take long for the action to increase with countless information sources, guidance, directions, and updates. 

Since COVID-19 is a disaster that affects EVERY Catholic Charities agency, the diocesan director listserv soon became overwhelmed with all types of information, data, questions, etc.   As a result, Disaster Operations quickly established the COVID-19 Resource page to help organize information that would be helpful to agencies in a one-stop location.  Information flow on this page is continually monitored and updated with new articles and guidance being added every week.  We encourage agencies to continue using the COVID-19 resource page to assist them in their work. 

Disaster Operations’ work with Catholic Charities Nashville opened the door to the reality that approaching a response to disasters must be different under COVID-19.  Our team immediately began working on what the new reality would look like and promptly developed a planning tool:  “What Happens during a Disaster Chart” helps agencies plan for disasters through a COVID-19 lens.  Each agency should create its own plan with the provided worksheet – the key is to PLAN BEFORE THE CHAOS of a disaster happens.   Kudos to Catholic Charities in the Gulf States who used this resource to plan their response and prepare for the landfall of Tropical Storm Cristobal.  Agencies were ready to meet challenges but, thankfully, the storm did not cause the damage anticipated.

At the national office, CCUSA distributed $6.1 million to agencies for COVID-19 programming by way of short-term disaster grants and foundation funding.  Additionally, working alongside CCUSA’s Development team, and in response to the dire need agencies expressed for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), CCUSA partnered with both FEMA, Health and Human Services (HHS), Mennonite Disaster Services, and others to help address the PPE shortfall, procuring and delivering almost 2 million face masks, 650 gallons of hand sanitizer, as well as gloves, masks, shields and gowns.

Photo: Elias Kontogiannis

CCUSA also deployed its mobile laundry trailer to Catholic Charities Tampa/St. Petersburg.  The agency partnered with the City of Tampa to open an emergency shelter for the homeless that would help those on the margins of society stay safe from the coronavirus and receive much-needed services. Soon after arriving, six washers and six dryers were running nonstop while the laundry was open. With over 100 clients and the summer’s heat already intense in Florida, a schedule was created to ensure everyone had equal access. CCDOSP Executive Director Maggie Rogers said, “It contributed greatly to the success of the shelter and the comfort of our clients.” The multi-agency collaboration was so successful that the City of Tampa is seeking a new, 250-person shelter site to be operated by CCDOSP. Finally, Disaster Operations continues to make available information from FEMA on operational procedures during COVID-19, which can be access from the COVID-19 Resource Page link above.