Disaster Legal Assistance in Mississippi
Whenever the President declares a “major disaster” in any part of the country, federal assistance is made available to supplement the efforts and resources of state and local governments and voluntary relief organizations. Federal assistance, including legal assistance, is coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
On December 15, 1972, the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association signed an agreement with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to mobilize local attorneys to render volunteer legal assistance to disaster victims when requested. This Agreement was renewed in 2007 between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Bar Association regarding Disaster Leal Services. The responsibility for performance of the ABA/YLD obligations is vested in the various state young lawyer organizations. In Mississippi, the Disaster Legal Assistance Committee of the Young Lawyers Division coordinates the disaster legal assistance efforts The Mississippi Bar.
Once a major disaster is declared, a federal coordinating officer (FCO) is appointed to coordinate the administration of relief activities. All relief efforts for declared major disasters, including those authorized by separate statutes provided by other federal agencies and volunteer organizations (such as the Young Lawyers Division) are coordinated by the FCO to provide as unified and comprehensive a service as possible to reduce response time and to eliminate duplication of efforts.
To make it easier for individuals to obtain information and help from the various relief agencies, FEMA, in conjunction with the State of Mississippi, usually establishes one or more Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) in the county where the disaster occurred. Representatives of federal agencies, state and local governments, private relief agencies and other organizations which can provide assistance or counseling are available to advise the disaster victims. These “one-stop” centers are kept in operation as long as the situation requires.
A lawyer participates by voluntarily providing legal assistance at a DRC or over the phone. Lawyer volunteers are generally required to spend several hours at a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) providing legal guidance to individual victims, or if the population of a county is not sufficient to warrant “in-person” manning of the DRC by volunteer lawyers, then lawyer volunteers may be requested to provide telephone counseling. Typical legal assistance which may be requested includes: assistance with insurance claims; replacement of wills and other important legal documents; assistance with home repair contractors; and counseling on landlord/tenant problems.