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After a Natural Disaster, Bring in the Lawyers, Says State Bar Ass'n

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

When you think natural disaster response, you don't necessarily think of lawyers. Clean water, medical aid, and even evacuations might seem like more pressing concerns following a major hurricane, wildfire, or earthquake.

But in the aftermath of many natural disasters, lawyers can be an essential resource, helping victims access housing, insurance relief and disaster assistance quickly. Taking disaster preparedness to heart, San Francisco Bay Area bar associations and pro bono organizations have joined together to create a corps of attorneys ready to provide assistance should disaster strike.

Ten Years After Katrina, Disaster Still Looms

Ten years ago, New Orleans and much of Louisiana was devastated by one of the worst natural disasters in recent American history. The response to Hurricane Katrina was, to put it mildly, flawed. A decade later, stronger, more coordinated responses are still needed to make sure that natural disasters don't turn into catastrophes. That's especially true in the face of continued global warming, which will result in stronger, more frequent storms, wildfires, droughts, and other disasters.

Here in the Bay Area, our main worry isn't hurricanes, but earthquakes (and excessive public defecation). Should a major quake hit, the local groups want to make sure lawyers are prepared. The California State Bar, Alameda County Bar Association, S.F. Bar, Bay Area Legal Aid, and Pro Bono Net have joined together to create the Bay Area Resilience Collaborative, the California Bar Journal reports. The purpose of the Collaborative is to educate and organize lawyers to respond, via hotlines and disaster centers, in the case of emergency.

Practicing Natural Disaster Law

Disasters can pose a host of urgent legal issues. For example, disasters raise housing issues for both tenants and property owners. The public will also need help determining eligibility and applying for assistance from groups such as FEMA and programs like Disaster Unemployment Assistance. And of course, there are the insurance claims that inevitably flow from natural disasters. The Bay Area Resilience Collaborative is currently offering a free CLE course on exactly those issues, which concerned attorneys can attend both in person or online.

The Collaborative is also seeking to develop relationships with first responders. Such relationships can be important following a disaster, since first responders are often hesitant "about lawyers barging in," according to Sharon Ngim, program developer at the California Bar.

Of course, California isn't the only state seeking to prepare lawyers for natural disasters. Both New York and New Jersey have similar programs.

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