Leaders from the Legal and Emergency Management Communities Gather for Release of LSC’s Disaster Task Force Report

WASHINGTON – The Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) Disaster Task Force will release its report on Tuesday, September 17, offering recommendations on how legal aid providers can collaborate with federal, state, and local emergency managers, private attorneys, businesses, non-profit organizations, and social services providers to help communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. The event, to be held in the Hart Senate Office Building, is sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (TX).

Legal aid providers are key to addressing the legal issues that arise following disasters like Hurricane Dorian. The Disaster Task Force’s report, which is being issued in September during National Preparedness Month, recommends concrete steps to build a systematic, coordinated, and sustainable approach to helping low-income individuals, families, and communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from a disaster.

LSC Board Chair John G. Levi and ABA President Judy Perry Martinez will deliver welcoming remarks at the event marking the release of the report. Disaster Task Force Co-Chairs Jonathan Lippman, former Chief Judge of New York and currently of counsel for Latham & Watkins LLP, and LSC Board member Father Pius Pietrzyk will also speak. The third Co-Chair, LSC Vice Chair and Harvard’s 300th Anniversary University Professor Martha Minow, will provide recorded remarks.

Experts on post-disaster legal issues will take part in a panel, “The Importance of Relationships to Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.” The panelists include Paul Furrh, Chief Executive Officer, Lone Star Legal Aid; George Hausen, Executive Director, Legal Aid of North Carolina; Ellyn Josef, Pro Bono Counsel, Vinson & Elkins LLP; and Will Polk, Deputy General Counsel, North Carolina Department of Public Safety. LSC President Jim Sandman will moderate the discussion on how legal services providers can partner with representatives from government, the private bar, and community services to better prepare for and respond to disasters.

Following that discussion, Michael Byrne, Specialist Executive at Deloitte and former Senior Executive with Federal Emergency Management Agency, will share insights into the importance of disaster preparedness.

LSC’s Disaster Task Force is made up of more than 60 emergency management experts, representatives from LSC-funded legal aid programs, members of the judiciary, and other leading stakeholders working to highlight and address the legal aid component of disaster response and recovery. Launched last year, the task force has conducted interviews and field hearings across the country with relevant experts and reviewed existing manuals and research on disaster preparedness and response. Latham & Watkins has generously supported the task force’s work. Led by partner Robert Malionek, the firm serves as pro bono counsel to the task force, including conducting thousands of hours of research and helping to draft the final report.

Low-income survivors are typically the hardest hit by a disaster and frequently have pressing legal needs. They may require help obtaining copies of important documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and Social Security cards to apply for or restore benefits and support. Low-income and other vulnerable people who need housing after an emergency are more susceptible to scams and price-gouging. Disasters also increase needs in the core areas of practice for legal aid, such as public benefits, domestic violence prevention, consumer law, and fraud prevention.

The report organizes its recommendations around the work of the task force’s four working groups. The recommendations are related to building relationships and providing coordinated legal services to disaster survivors; training pro bono lawyers and legal services providers before a disaster strikes; ensuring continuity of operations planning for courts and legal services providers; and preparing individuals, families, and communities for disasters.

Among the report’s most significant findings was the need for legal services organizations to have a seat at the table during disaster preparation planning discussions. Several of the recommendations highlight the importance of building partnerships in both preparing for and responding to disasters. The report also stresses the need for greater preparedness on every level, including the courts and legal aid organizations who cannot provide legal services if they are not operational themselves. The report encourages organizations to maintain comprehensive, up-to-date disaster plans and urges states to adopt model court reforms to facilitate post-disaster recovery. 

The Disaster Task Force report release will begin at 12:30 p.m. E.D.T. in Room 902 of the Hart Senate Office Building, 120 Constitution Avenue NE. To view a livestream of the briefing, visit LSC’s Facebook page during the event or follow the conversation on Twitter at #LSCdisaster.

Visit LSC’s Disaster Task Force page for membership information, videos, and other material relevant to the Disaster Task Force’s work. 

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 132 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

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