Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

November, 2004

MSBA's Young Lawyers Publish Guide
to Help Public in Times of Disaster
~ABA awards grant of $2,000 for funding~
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

When disaster strikes, MSBA volunteer attorneys act. Whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, train wreck or other catastrophe, MSBA’s Young Lawyers Section (YLS) volunteers help the victims and families of those involved in the tragedy by offering legal assistance and guidance through an emergency legal disaster hotline. Occasionally, these dedicated attorneys actually go to the site of the disaster to provide legal information and assistance. Now, to further support the public in times of crises, the YLS is creating a Disaster Preparedness Guide to provide basic information to the public in the event of a disaster.

With the advent of this public service guide, the YLS will be taking a proactive approach in disaster relief, which complements its response efforts via the hotline. The YLS has long been recognized and applauded for its exemplary public service and community outreach and has excelled in its disaster relief program. Its Disaster Relief Committee was honored with The Daily Record’s “Leadership in Law Award” in November 2003 for its outstanding disaster relief program.

In the last three years, devastating hurricanes, tornadoes and train wrecks have all pummeled our state, in addition to the terrorist travesty of September 11, 2001. Maryland citizens have endured enormous destruction and death wielded by this series of brutal disasters. Every time a disaster hits Maryland, MSBA’s young lawyers immediately take action to support the community.

When MSBA activates its Mass Disaster Plan, the Association’s Young Lawyers Section initiates its emergency legal disaster hotline. These 100+ dedicated attorneys, all trained in disaster relief, help disaster victims and their families by offering legal information and guidance on a variety of legal matters relating to the particular federally-declared disaster. At times, the volunteer attorneys go to the site and personally provide emergency legal assistance to victims of federally-declared disasters. They also help allay the victim and family’s anxiety and fear in times of crisis.

While assisting the victims of these various tragedies, the young lawyers discovered there was a need for a disaster preparedness guide to provide critical information to Maryland citizens about preparing for and responding to disasters. The Section pursued this concept and applied for an American Bar Association (ABA) grant for seed money to create this valuable public service guide. In August, the ABA awarded the YLS $2,000 for this most worthy project. MSBA is also funding this public service project.

Working in conjunction with the Maryland Emergency Management Administration, the Maryland Insurance Commission and the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, YLS will write and produce the guide, which should be available in the spring of 2005. This free public handbook will give Maryland residents the basic steps to take when preparing for a disaster and offer tips for damage recovery when disaster strikes.

Over the course of the last three years, MSBA’s young lawyers have acquired a great deal of experience in disaster relief. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack on this country, they aided the Pentagon victims from Maryland; they supported the victims of the tornado that struck Calvert and Charles Counties in Southern Maryland in April 2002; they helped the victims of a train wreck in Montgomery County in July 2002; and they assisted the victims of Hurricane Isabel in September 2003.

“After handling all of these requests for help, we saw the need for a tangible booklet to give people solid information so they can be prepared for disasters and the recovery of any damages,” YLS Chair Rachel S. Cohen says of the guide, the content of which will be based on actual questions from disaster victims. “We want to leave them with something concrete containing the vital information they need.”

Cohen envisions the guide offering tips on everything from insurance coverage and the storage and documentation of important papers to documenting losses and dealing with the system and all of its paperwork. It will show people how to best protect their families and property in the event of an emergency and will outline some basic and immediate steps people can take to maximize the protection of assets and recovery of damages.

Once published, the YLS will disseminate the free public service guide to community centers, government agencies, libraries and other public entities. Should disaster strike, the guides will be available at the disaster site, emergency relief centers and by contacting the emergency legal disaster hotline. MSBA will also distribute the guides to citizens upon request.

“YLS has traditionally been called upon by MSBA to assist with disaster relief,” reports Cohen. “Now, in addition to responding in times of crises, we want to be proactive in our approach to help disaster victims. YLS has always taken the lead in handling public service outreach, and disaster relief is an area where there is a large unmet need. It requires a concerted effort, and the YLS wholeheartedly gives it.”

YLS’s Disaster Relief Committee is in critical need of new volunteers to join its Disaster Relief Volunteer Attorney Network. The Volunteer Attorney Network, established as part of YLS’s agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provides legal assistance to victims of federally-declared disasters in Maryland. Calls from victims typically address such legal matters as insurance claims, landlord-tenant problems, destroyed or lost document replacement and probate procedures, and most are addressed over the telephone.

When called into action by FEMA, volunteer lawyers are provided with liability protection under a federal Good Samaritan law. To volunteer, contact Disaster Relief Committee Co-Chairs Paul Rouhana (prouhana@fandpnet.com) or Constantine Themelis (themelis.ntte@statefarm.com).

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: November, 2004

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