The frequency and intensity of natural disasters are on the rise, according to the US Geological Survey, and disaster response teams are preparing to provide increased aid throughout the US.
An experienced crew with the Utah Conservation Corps recently returned from performing such service in Iowa in response to the unprecedented flooding that has inflicted damage and displaced Americans in the Midwest since March.
The nine-person flood response team from the Utah Conservation Corps returned from a two-week deployment in Freemont County, Iowa on May 30. The crew performed over 1,000 hours of community service gutting buildings, clearing debris, organizing donations and performing wellness and safety checks with community members.
Sean Damitz, director of the center for community engagement at USU that oversees the UCC, describes the culture of service that motivates these Utah volunteers.
"We’re really blessed in Utah to have this great community ethic of community service and we’ve been the top volunteer per capita state in the nation for well over a decade," he said.
The UCC also assisted in several immediate relief efforts including hurricane response in 2017. Damitz said his organization among others are preparing to perform more service in what seems to be the new normal of increased disasters.
"We’re trying to gear up to do more of it, to get more young folks the opportunity to serve in that capacity because there’s definitely a need and it definitely pulls on your heartstrings when you see your fellow country people in a tough spot because of weather variability and climate change," he said.
This month, Congress passed a spending bill for long-term disaster aid in the Midwest and other disaster areas. Proponents of the bill argued it was long overdue. Opponents, including Senators Romney and Lee from Utah, argued the bill was “last minute” and “wasteful” and have introduced legislation to require Congress to budget for natural disasters in their annual process.
The Utah State Legislature passed a bill this year to allow cities and counties to apply for state funds after large scale disasters. While Damitz said immediate federal and state efforts to respond to disasters are typically well-coordinated, he thinks there is more to be prepared.
"We know there’s going to more variability in climate… and I think it’s a good move in terms of far-sighted government to be preparing for that, and if we can create the capacity to better respond to these events it’s going to be better for Americans," he said.