A Stronger Disaster Response System

Five years have passed since April 27, 2011, when more than 60 confirmed tornadoes touched down and tore through Alabama, leaving paths of death, destruction and devastation.

In the days that followed, the death toll reached 254 with more than 16,345 homeowners filed for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) assistance.

While the twister was still moving across the state, United Way of Central Alabama moved its 2-1-1 Information and Referral call center operations to a larger space and set up more than 30 new computer/phone stations to take calls. Just hours later, staff and volunteers were ready to provide a caring voice and vital information to those affected.  The center operated at maximum capacity 24-hours a day for two weeks.  More than five other 2-1-1 centers in the state lost their ability to operate and those calls were routed to the center in Birmingham. More than 30,000 calls for information and assistance were received in 14 days.  The 2-1-1 call center worked with local, county and state governments as an emergency link providing accurate emergency information such as where to get food, clothing, shelter, financial assistance and emergency supplies such as water, ice, fuel and generators from emergency resources.

Hands On Birmingham, the volunteer arm of United Way of Central Alabama organized more than 8,000 volunteers to help in early disaster recovery projects such as debris removal. Other volunteers worked in shelters and distribution centers.

United Way convened more than 50 corporate, faith-based, government and other non-profits to plan for the long-term needs of survivors. The Central Alabama Long Term Recovery Committee (CALTRC) was established to:

  • Provide coordinated case management of the long-term recovery to the disaster survivors. Case managers worked with individuals and families on plans for disaster recovery and brought unmet needs to a subcommittee for funding.
  • Provide additional long-term assistance to individuals affected by the disaster who did not have adequate personal resources for basic needs as a result of the disaster and whose needs were not met by other relief systems.

Funding for needs not addressed by other relief organizations came from United Way’s own Tornado Relief Fund.   United Way raised money separate from its regular campaign to help with long-term recovery needs of survivors. United Way raised more $1.3 million in 24-hour telethon and in the next eight months saw donations to the relief and recovery effort grow to $4.1 million.

Five years later, United Way of Central Alabama is proud of its impact thanks to the generosity of thousands of volunteers and donors:

  • 875 Families have received assistance for repairing or rebuilding homes, rental or mortgage expenses, utility assistance, transportation and medical needs.
  • 15 Home Repairs or Rebuilds were handled in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity
  • 252 Home Repairs or Rebuilds have been completed
  • $88,000 – the average cost of a Home Rebuild
  • $20,000 – $25,000 – the average cost of a Home Repair
  • $1,045,646 –value of new furniture and appliances provided by Salvation Army
  • $4.1 million – total funds provided in assistance to tornado survivors

In the years since the deadly tornado outbreak five years ago, several communities around Central Alabama have experienced destructive weather events and catastrophes and the knowledge gained from the April 27 experience helped provide better disaster response.

UWCA is dedicated to providing leadership in bridging the gap in response, disaster recovery and unmet needs.