| Maryland Bar Bulletin
MSBA's Young Lawyers Publish
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
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or Constantine Themelis (email@example.com).