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Study Findings to Be Shared at UCF Disaster-Preparedness Conference

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By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala

A University of Central Florida team has created a tool that will help rural communities determine gaps in their disaster preparedness planning before a disaster strikes.

The assessment tool and other findings from a national study about disaster preparedness and resiliency in rural communities will be shared during the "Building Disaster Resiliency and Sustainability" conference on Friday, March 30, at the FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

A team of professors examined disaster preparedness in 11 Central Florida counties to identify best practices that could be models for the nation.  Investigators Naim Kapucu and Chris Hawkins of the UCF School of Public Administration and  Fernando I. Rivera of the Department of Sociology led the team, which included several graduate students. They met regularly for 18 months to complete the USDA-funded study.

"What we found is that while there are some plans that make good use of partnerships with an array of agencies, many communities suffer from a lack of resources to execute them whether it be lack of funding or personnel," Kapucu said.

Some communities have some very good partnerships with nonprofits and other agencies in case of disaster, but sometimes the expectations of partners are not explicit, which could lead to some confusion during an emergency, he added.

The team also created a Community Asset Inventory and Mapping tool, designed to  help rural communities identify  what resources t available and  find where gaps exist so they can be addressed before a disaster.

A series of focus group interviews with citizen groups, faith-based community organizations, business representatives, and emergency management agencies also were held to discuss community resiliency and networks.

The study team is organizing a workshop  a day before the conference on March 30. More preliminary findings will be shared at the conference, which is expected to draw 120 participants. A final report is expected in December.

Frances L. Edwards, the deputy director of the National Transportation Security Center of Excellence at the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, is the conference keynote speaker. She will discuss the "all hazards approach" and how a community can create resiliency despite current fiscal challenges.

Emergency personnel from 11 Florida counties and national experts will participate in panel discussions. Among the panelists: Dave Freeman, emergency manager, Orange County; David Casto, emergency management director, Sumter County; Christine A. Bevc, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill; Ann-Margaret Esnard, Florida Atlantic University; Maureen (Mary) Brown, University of North Carolina Charlotte; Bryan W. Koon, director, Florida Division of Emergency Management; Alan Harris, emergency manager, Seminole County, and Joyce Shanahan, city manager of Ormond Beach and incoming FCCMA president.

UCF professors Rivera, Hawkins and Kapucu will guide the discussions.

Other members of the study team are:  Fatih Demiroz, a Ph.D. student in public affairs;  public affairs; Rebecca Dodson, a graduate student in public administration; and Marc Settembrino, a Ph.D. student in sociology.

The workshop is geared toward scholars and emergency managers, but is open to the public. For information visit click here.

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