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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes September as National Preparedness Month to bring attention to disaster emergency planning. This year’s theme is  “Prepared, Not Scared” – which speaks directly to PWNA’s efforts to better prepare Native American communities when disaster strikes.  

Fires, floods, blizzards, ice storms, hurricanes, tornados, high winds, and extreme heat often impact Native American communities – even more so in recent years with the obvious climate change. Yet, despite the frequency of disaster events, tribes don’t often have the resources, staffing or infrastructure to respond accordingly.

Some tribes – especially those that are geographically isolated – often lack local first responders (e.g. fire and rescue teams, emergency medical technicians, physicians) to assist those affected by disasters. It can sometimes be days before outside relief organizations respond to these communities with critical supplies and much-needed aid.

Considering the difficult realities that affect impoverished tribal communities, every day can feel like a crisis. The historical trauma and daily struggle to survive can take its toll on communities even though Native Americans are resilient. What’s more, tribal communities are proactively implementing emergency preparedness initiatives to equip residents to respond when disaster strikes — and PWNA is helping.

In addition to serving as a first responder, PWNA launched a new capacity building program to specifically help South Dakota tribes better prepare to respond to local disasters. Through the support of the American Red Cross and Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, PWNA worked with several partners and disaster relief organizations to develop a curriculum, recruit expert trainers, and bring outside resources to these tribal communities. The resulting program is endorsed and supported by tribal emergency managers. As a result: 

  • Tribal residents are trained in First Aid, CPR, Automated External Defibrillator (AED) use, weather spotting and sheltering.
  • Individual tribal members (young and old) are specifically trained as Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and equipped with basic disaster response skills, including fire safety, light search, and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations
  • Several CERT trainees are now sharing the training with others in neighboring tribal communities

Disaster preparedness can serve as a gateway for residents to address other community issues and these recent efforts have united and motivated tribal members to tackle other critical issues in Indian Country, such as food insecurity and mental health. For instance, the Wanblee community on the Pine Ridge Reservation worked with Camp Noah – a camp for kids impacted by disaster – to help Native youth who’d been impacted by the recent devastating flood in their community. The camp provided an avenue for coping, healing, and renewed hope.

This National Preparedness Month, it’s reassuring to know we’re implementing a new emergency preparedness model in Indian Country and empowering the tribes to have responders ready and equipped with the skills and tools needed to provide critical relief at a moment’s notice.


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