TIOGA COUNTY, N.Y. - Tropical Storm Lee and its aftermath led to federal disaster declarations in almost 30 counties across New York State. In response, the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) submitted a FEMA Crisis Counseling Program and Training Program (CCP) grant application seeking funding for an Immediate Services Program (ISP) to provide 45 days of emergency crisis counseling services for the victims of Tropical Storm Lee. On September 29, 2011, FEMA approved OMH's ISP application in the amount of $346,103. The emergency crisis counseling program is called Project RENEW.

The mission of the CCP is to assist individuals and communities in recovering from the effects of natural and human-caused disasters through the provision of community-based outreach and psycho-educational services. The ISP application was submitted on behalf of the disaster-declared counties of Broome and Tioga which chose to participate in the program.

NYS OMH has recently submitted a Regular Services Program (RSP) application to FEMA for an additional nine months of crisis counseling program funding for Project RENEW. Based on the experience of past crisis counseling programs in New York State, the crisis counseling services of Project RENEW are anticipated to last for about one year from the date of the storms.

The size of the impact population

As a part of the application process, OMH conducted a detailed assessment of the needs of individuals and groups adversely affected by the disaster. This assessment estimated that more than 9,000 people across the participating counties would benefit from emergency crisis counseling services. At the direction of FEMA and the federal Center for Mental Health Services, the estimate was based on the number of FEMA Individuals and Households Program registrations that had occurred in these counties as of October 30, 2011.

Assessment of need in Broome and Tioga counties

Disaster recovery workers in Broome County have reported that there are not enough volunteers to assist with recovery efforts. Because school is in session they do not have the number of student volunteers that they had in past disasters. In addition, because of the faltering economy there are fewer financial resources available.

The Twin Orchards community in Vestal was flooded and afterwards raw sewage was pumped into basements in the area due to malfunctions at the sewage treatment plant. Residents were not allowed into the neighborhood for over more than two weeks after the flood waters receded. Many homes in this area have been condemned. Westover, a neighborhood in Johnson City, had significant flood damage with many homes getting water higher than the first floor windows. Many homes in this area are also condemned and residents are displaced. Disaster recovery workers have had a hard time reaching residents of these areas because they are displaced all over the county. Many homes in Vestal, Johnson City, Binghamton, Endicott, Endwell, and Conklin have experienced severe damage (water in the basement and first floor) twice in the past five years. Many of the residents in these homes are despondent.

During the Tropical Storm Lee flooding, roughly 10,000 individuals in Tioga County were evacuated without serious incident. Since then, however, it has been more challenging to find individuals who were displaced. Due to the lack of available housing in the area individuals and families have moved to neighboring counties, without leaving a forwarding address. In some situations, it is unknown whether their intent is to return and repair their homes or abandon them. In addition, many families are living away from their homes and only return to work on repairs/rebuilding after work and/or on weekends.

Crisis counseling services

Crisis counseling is a strengths-based, outreach-oriented approach to helping disaster survivors access and identify personal and community resources that will aid the recovery process. It consists primarily of supportive, educational, face-to-face interventions with individuals and communities in their natural environments. The CCP seeks to empower survivors through educating them about disaster reactions, teaching them coping skills, assessing them for individual needs, and linking them to appropriate community resources.

Crisis counseling is considered "strengths based" because it assumes most disaster survivors are naturally resilient. By providing support, education, and linkage to needed community resources, survivors will be better equipped to recover from the negative consequences of disaster.

While crisis counseling assumes a natural resilience in the majority, it also includes screening and assessing for severe reactions in the minority. Crisis counselors know that few people will develop diagnosable conditions. They are trained to identify disaster survivors experiencing severe reactions and refer these individuals to appropriate treatment services and community resources.

Project RENEW has recently begun operations in both Broome and Tioga Counties. Information about Project RENEW can be obtained by calling (607) 595-9376, or by email to renew@yourmha.com.

Submitted by Project RENEW