Who knew Extension did disaster work?

Who knew Extension did disaster work?

Oct 22
Rick Atterberry, ACES Media Communications Specialist

In what is known as “The Great Flood,” the Mississippi River and its tributaries experienced severe flooding in 1993. That flooding impacted no fewer than 7 states and what was then commonly called the Co-operative Extension Service at the Land Grant Universities in those states was called on to provide information about cleanup, restoration of flooded fields, drinking water wells, financial matters, family anxiety and more.

Those states quickly realized they were duplicating efforts and, in the best tradition of Extension, started to share resources. Recognizing that a more formal relationship would benefit Extension Educators around the country, representatives of those founding states, including Illinois, met in 1994 to establish the Extension Disaster Education Network, often referred to as EDEN.

From this modest ad hoc start, EDEN has grown to include Extension organizations in all 50 states including the 1862 Land Grants, the 1890 historically African American colleges, the 1994 Tribal colleges, Sea Grant (a cooperative venture of USDA and NOAA), institutions in the territories and a growing international relationship with the Philippines. EDEN’s organizational efforts are supported by modest funding from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the current incarnation of the Co-operative Extension Service. Some funding for specific initiatives is also provided by NIFA Special Interest Grants.

Each participating institution has complete autonomy as to if and how it participates in disaster preparedness, response, recovery and/or mitigation. In most instances Extension educators are NOT first responders but provide education and information to help people prepare for and recover from disasters in their communities. Extension personnel may facilitate organizing faith-based and other organizations active in disasters. Subject matter specialists provide research based information on the issues mentioned above.  EDEN has its own focus in each institution.  

University of Illinois Extension is fairly typical in that EDEN delegates (the institutions are technically the members) represent a variety of subject matter expertise in the core program areas supported. We may be asked for information on removing tornado debris from farm fields, restoring garden plots flooded by an overflowing creek, helping underinsured families recover from a disaster, assisting children traumatized by an event, preparing small businesses and non-profits to remain in operation after a disaster, assisting county government in preparing mitigation plans and in many more areas.

Even though Illinois was a founding member of EDEN, we’ve never hosted the annual meeting until now. That will be corrected in 2017 when 70 or 80 EDEN delegates gather in the Quad Cities. The conference is being organized by Carrie McKillip, an Extension Community and Economic Development educator in West-central Illinois, and also by your author.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am the immediate past chair of EDEN and am immensely proud of that organization. In only one or two cases around the country is an educator doing disaster work full time. Nearly all of the other delegates have volunteered their special knowledge and skills out of a passion for this work. It’s the Extension network of people at its best.

Gifford Damage