Disaster Planning


Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA)
Young Lawyers' Section (YLS)

Prepared by the MSBA-YLS Disaster Relief Committee for use by all Maryland attorneys who volunteer to provide free legal services to victims in the event of a federally declared and/or transportation disaster in Maryland.

    I. Purpose

A. In conjunction with and pursuant to two Agreements which are respectively between the American Bar Association, Young Lawyers Division (ABA/YLD) and the Office of Disaster Assistance Programs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and between the ABA/YLD and the National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB"), the Young Lawyers' Section (YLS) of the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) will form a network of volunteer attorneys to provide free legal services to victims of federally declared disasters and major transportation disasters in the State of Maryland. Should legal services be requested by FEMA or NTSB, the ABA/YLD shall have sole and complete responsibility for coordinating legal efforts with all other State and local bar organizations, affiliates and legal services organizations.
    II. Role of Attorney Volunteers
A. Take Calls/Cases from the Disaster Assistance Helpline (FEMA)- A toll-free 800 number ("Helpline") will be established by FEMA at the MSBA Headquarters, or a local bar association, if legal services are necessary. Victims seeking legal assistance will be able to call the Helpline and leave a voice mail message for the Co-Chairs of the YLS Disaster Relief Committee ("Co-Chairs"). The Disaster Relief Co-Chairs will retrieve the messages periodically (and in any event at least two (2) times in every 24-hour period), from the Helpline and contact victims to answer questions or to notify them that an attorney will be assigned to their matter and will contact them shortly. The Co-Chairs will then contact an attorney from the provided list of volunteer attorneys (Attorney Network, Exhibit B) in the area where the disaster has occurred. The typical case consists of simple questions that can be answered with one telephone call. However, in some instances, a volunteer may be needed to actually take on a particular case. The types of legal services volunteer attorneys are generally asked to provide include: insurance claims, landlord-tenant issues, home repair contracts, consumer protection, mortgage foreclosures, replacement of important papers, estate administration, powers of attorney, guardianship, and referrals to other agencies.
B. Staff Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) - Once a major disaster is declared, FEMA may set up a DRC where victims can obtain information from various agencies and individuals regarding coping with the major disaster, including obtaining free legal advice. Volunteer attorneys may be asked to staff the DRC for certain periods of time to provide legal services to victims.
C. Transportation Disaster Services (NTSB) - If a transportation disaster occurs in Maryland, or outside Maryland but involves Maryland residents and/or related issues, the NTSB, through its Director of Family Support Services, may request assistance from the ABA/YLD in providing general legal advice to disaster victims and/or their families. Generally, the Chair of ABA/YLD's Disaster Legal Services Committee and other designated ABA/YLD members will travel to the disaster site and will contact the Co-Chairs for advice and/or guidance for disaster victims regarding any Maryland issues. However, should it be necessary, volunteer attorney's may be asked to represent transportation disaster victims and/or their facilities on a pro-bono basis, as referred by the ABA/YLD Chair to the Co-Chairs and then to the Attorney Network.
    III. Preparing for a Major Disaster
A. MSBA - At the beginning of each bar year, the Co-Chairs shall contact the Executive Director of the MSBA or the duly appointed disaster relief designee of the Executive Director to arrange for hooking up the Helpline at MSBA Headquarters should it be needed. The Helpline will be a recorded message which the Co-Chairs can retrieve off-site. It is intended that the MSBA Staff should only be responsible for the connection of the Helpline, and FEMA, according to its current policy and agreement with the ABA/YLD will reimburse MSBA for any telephone company costs incurred for the installation, maintenance and long distance charges for the Helpline.
B. Circuit Representatives of MSBA/YLS
1. Every bar year, the then current Co-Chairs of the YLS Disaster Relief Committee will contact the Circuit Representatives of the YLS and require them to submit five (5) names and addresses of attorneys willing to volunteer in the event of a disaster. The Circuit Representatives will report to the Co-Chairs every two months with any revisions to the names and addresses of the attorneys so that the Attorney Network is current. In the event an attorney volunteer is no longer willing to volunteer, the Circuit Representative shall find a substitute attorney. The Co-Chairs will spot check the names and addresses of the attorneys every three months. The names and addresses of the attorneys will be provided to the Chair of the YLS and the ABA District Representative (District 8).
2. Circuit Representatives shall also aid in annually updating the list of local bar association contacts provided in Exhibit D.
3. The Co-Chairs will send a letter to each volunteer attorney along with the Training Manual and attachments.
4. The Circuit Representatives will be invited to ABA/YLD Affiliate Outreach Project Meetings (AOPs) or other ABA/YLD FEMA Training sessions based on budget and availability.
C. Annual Update of Exhibits B, C and D - Every bar year, the Co-Chairs will update all names, addresses, telephone numbers and other information provided in Exhibits B, C and D.
D. Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) and/or People's Pro Bono Action Center, Inc. ("PPBAC") - The Co-Chairs will contact HPRP and PPBAC for a back-up list of volunteers, if needed and/or assure a contact person from each organization is provided. Copies of the Response Plan, with all appendices, will be provided to HPRP and the PPBAC at the beginning of each bar year once all appendices have been updated. Representatives from HPRP and PPBAC will be invited to attend training sessions.
E. Advertisement on Web Page and in Advocate - The Co-Chairs shall prepare a press release and a Request for Volunteers to be placed on the MSBA/YLS Web page, in the YLS quarterly publication known as the "Advocate", and other publications as required.
F. Training Sessions - Every bar year, the Co-Chairs shall conduct training sessions which shall comply with the following guidelines:
1. MSBA President, Local Bar Association Presidents, their Staff, MSBA YLS Section Council members and all volunteer attorneys shall be invited and encouraged to attend training sessions.
2. Training sessions shall be held throughout the State of Maryland to make them geographically convenient. The Co-Chairs shall attempt to conduct two training sessions per year.
3. Training sessions will be approximately two (2) hours in length and may include a video tape, the ABA/YLD District Representative, the ABA/YLD FEMA Chair, the ABA/YLD NTSB Chair, and FEMA attorneys. Training sessions may be provided in June of every year at the Annual Convention in Ocean City, and in January as part of other planned MSBA or local bar association activities, if possible.
4. Training sessions may also include review of substantive law materials regarding the most commonly asked questions from the victims of disasters.
The MSBA/YLS, in coordination with the ABA-YLD, must ensure that lawyers in Maryland are prepared to respond rapidly in the event of a federally declared and/or transportation disaster to provide effective pro bono legal services to disaster victims. As citizens of Florida learned in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, as Virginia was reminded when Hurricane Emily threatened its Eastern Shore and tornadoes hit the City of Petersburg in 1993, and as Oklahoma City realized when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed in 1995, disaster preparedness is essential and must be an ongoing priority. With this in mind, the MSBA-YLS created the Disaster Relief Committee in 1996 to develop and oversee the annual update of this Training Manual and a Response Plan Manual, which together make up the MSBA/YLS Emergency Plan ("Emergency Plan"). It is the goal to include all interested lawyers, bar organizations and other legal services providers in the execution of this Emergency Plan. The MSBA/YLS has established a statewide network of local attorneys who can handle disasters on the local level, and will implement a statewide training effort.
A. Disasters Declared by the President - Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the executive agency responsible for the administration of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121, et seq. ("the Stafford Act"). The Director of FEMA is responsible for providing a wide range of federal disaster assistance. This responsibility is delegated to and carried out by FEMA Regional Directors, among others.
Once a major disaster is declared by the President, a Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) is appointed to coordinate the administration of relief activities in the affected areas. All relief efforts for declared major disasters, including those authorized by separate statutes and provided by other Federal agencies, as well as relief efforts of volunteer organizations, are coordinated by the FCO and the FEMA Regional Director, and any appropriate State authorities. This is done to provide the most unified and comprehensive service possible, to reduce response time and to eliminate duplication of efforts by Federal, State, local and volunteer organizations. When a federal declaration of disaster occurs, the provision of volunteer legal services may be coordinated primarily by FEMA.
B. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Disasters
The NTSB, pursuant to the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996, is responsible for providing relief services and assistance to victims and their families of transportation disasters. The Director of Family Support Services at NTSB will determine if legal services are needed, and then, through an Agreement between NTSB and ABA/YLD, will contact the ABA/YLD and request assistance. The ABA/YLS will then coordinate efforts through the state bar organizations to help victims and their families of transportation disasters. In Maryland, the services of volunteer attorneys may be needed if the transportation disaster occurs in Maryland and/or if the victims are from Maryland and/or other issues arise relative to the laws of Maryland.
C. Federal Request for Legal Services
The Federal government has the statutory and regulatory authority to make arrangements for the provision of legal services to victims of major and/or transportation disasters. See 42 U.S.C. § 5121 and 49 U.S.C. § 1136. Thus, upon a declaration by the President or other designated official, Maryland lawyers may be called upon to provide free emergency legal services. Lawyers may, in many major disaster situations, be providing volunteer services through a jointly coordinated federal-state effort. If the request for legal services is initiated by FEMA, the relief effort will be guided by the ABA/YLD Agreement with FEMA, which coordinates efforts through the state and local bar organizations in the affected areas. If the request for services is through the NTSB, the activities will be guided by the Agreement between the ABA/YLD and the NTSB. The ABA/YLD acts as a clearinghouse and facilitates the relief efforts by providing advice, materials, and in appropriate cases, acting as the approval mechanism for financial assistance from FEMA.
There are limitations on the extent to which services may be provided, and there are limitations on lawyers' activities in providing such legal services. Generally, free legal services are provided to low-income and other qualifying victims as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 5182. Legal services include legal advice, counseling, and representation in non-fee-generating cases. Lawyers may not solicit fee-generating business or refer cases to their own firms.
D. Coordinating the Bar's Response
The MSBA/YLS, along with other appropriate bar organizations, will locate lawyers willing to render services on a volunteer basis should a federally declared or transportation disaster strike Maryland. The Emergency Plan depends upon Disaster Relief Co-Chairs who are familiar with the Emergency Plan, and who can train and mobilize attorneys on a moment's notice when necessary. The Volunteer Attorneys throughout Maryland make up the "Attorney Network" and are those attorneys who are called upon before a disaster strikes to be trained and prepared for disaster relief efforts, and who will be asked to staff Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs), transportation disaster sites (NTSB sites) and the telephone Helpline once a disaster occurs.
One of the most important objectives of the Federal, State and local governments following a disaster is to inform individuals of the assistance available to them and to assist them in obtaining the aid to which they are entitled. These objectives are usually accomplished in DRCs and NTSB sites. DRCs are set up as temporary aid stations in which victims of disasters can obtain state and federal assistance, as well as free legal advice. Representatives of Federal and State agencies and local governments, as well as some private relief agencies, staff tables inside the DRCs to advise disaster victims. These "one-stop" centers remain in operation as long as required by the emergency situation -- in some cases, for days, in others, for months. The NTSB sites provide victims and their families with information regarding the transportation disaster, the status of recovery operations, and legal advice if needed.
The Co-Chairs are responsible for training participating attorneys before a disaster occurs, conducting training sessions immediately following a disaster, and coordinating all disaster legal services efforts within the eight judicial circuits, with the help of the Circuit Representatives and the Attorney Network.
E. Participation by the Homeless Persons Representation Project, Inc. (HPRP) and the People's Pro Bono Action Center, Inc. (PPBAC)
Although it is the goal of the Emergency Plan to have sufficient numbers of attorneys in the Attorney Network to adequately provide legal services in the event of a major disaster; should additional services be needed, the HPRP and the PPBAC have agreed to help field telephone calls and refer cases through their own volunteer network.
The contacts for these organizations are as follows: HPRP - Francine Hahn 410-685-6589 PPBAC - Sharon Goldsmith 410-837-9379
A. In Preparation for a Major Disaster
1. Provide updated name, address, telephone, facsimile numbers and e-mail addresses to Circuit Representative. If any of this information changes, contact Circuit Representative so that the Attorney Network can be updated.
2. Review Training Manual and other materials provided by Co-Chairs of the YLS Disaster Relief Committee. (This review should take 15-20 minutes.)
3. If possible, attend training session at MSBA Annual Meeting or other location.
B. Once a Major Disaster Occurs
1. Accept cases referred from Co-Chairs.
2. Contact clients within 24 hours of receiving referral.
3. Complete case status/closing form at conclusion of representation or every 2 months as needed, and forward to Co-Chairs.
4. If problems arise in representation, i.e., substantive matters, uncooperative client, etc., volunteers are to contact Co-Chairs immediately for resolution. This includes any issues as to a client's eligibility for services, which eligibility will be determined by the Co-Chairs and is not the responsibility of the Volunteer.
The following series of short explanations, questions and answers are designed to prepare the volunteer for the types of advice that she/he may be asked to give. The explanations and questions are based on actual victim and volunteer interviews at DRCs. Excluded are frequent questions about federal or state assistance programs, taxation or other similar issues which should be directed to representatives of those agencies at the DRC. The answers provided herein are necessarily very general.
A. Consumer Law Issues in a Major Disaster
During recent disasters all sorts of scams have emerged, including charging as much as ten times more for essentials such as food and batteries; doubling and tripling rent; failing to make promised home repairs or doing them in a slip-shod manner; converting personal property that they promised to move and store; and charging commissions as independent insurance adjusters for negotiating with insurance companies which resulted in homeowners' net loss. Major disasters also trigger financial crises as people fall behind in their bills and miss payments resulting in collection actions.
Lawyers can assist clients by:
1. Educating consumers about avoiding scams and choosing reputable people to do needed repairs and services;
2. Negotiating with creditors, financial institutions and collection agencies about moratoriums and extensions of loan and bill payments; and
3. Advising consumers on their rights regarding consumer contracts and collection agency activities.
The best resource for answering particular consumer questions is the Maryland Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General (Tel. 410-528-8662, Fax 410-576-6955).
The most important information that legal advocates can give consumers is preventive - warning people to beware of deceptive practices that can befall them in a disaster situation and giving them advice on how to get competent help.
Some clients may find their way to you, documents in hand, before they have signed any binding agreements or approached creditors. You can assist them by interpreting convoluted and complex terms and language, filling out forms and maybe even helping them find a better deal elsewhere.
Clients may have just signed binding agreements which are not in their best interests or they are being hassled by creditors or collectors, usually arising from debts incurred before the disaster.
In the event that clients have signed an unfavorable agreement for repairs or other services, one option is to rescind or cancel the contract. Other clients may have gotten behind in their bills and now are facing collection actions or repossession. A two-pronged approach is appropriate here. One is to deal with any irregularities in the collection or repossession actions as a way to reduce or avoid liability. The second is to attack the underlying transaction and attempt to rescind or cancel it.
    Federal Laws
Most of the federal consumer laws are part of the Consumer Credit Protection Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 1601 et seq.). Some of its key provisions include the: Equal Credit Opportunity Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 1691-1691f) Makes it illegal to discriminate in any credit transaction on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status, age, that all or part of the applicant's income is from a public assistance program and the applicant's good faith exercise of a right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act. Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 1681-16811t) Establishes the permissible content and use of credit reports by credit reporting agencies and provides for consumer access to such reports. Truth in Lending Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 1601-1667e) Requires creditors in extending consumer credit to disclose in advertising and person-to-person transactions essential credit terms before credit is extended. Restrictions on Garnishment (15 U.S.C. §§ 1671) Limits the earning amount subject to garnishment and the employer's right to fire an employee because of garnishment. Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 2301-2312) Requires minimum disclosure standards for written consumer product warranties and remedies for breach. Fair Debt Collection Practices (15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692o)
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act covers persons or organizations who collect debts on behalf of a third party including attorneys who collect debts for the federal government. The Act does not apply to organizations who attempt to collect their own debts, except if they use another name which might indicate that a third person is collecting the debt.
The collector cannot contact consumers or their families in these situations:
1) Any time and place which is unusual or which the collector should have known to be inconvenient to the consumer. Absent knowledge to the contrary, communication before 8:00 a.m. and after 9:00 p.m. is presumed to be inconvenient.
2) If the consumer is represented by an attorney whose name and address are ascertainable by the collector.
3) At the consumer's work place, if the collector knows or has reason to know that the employer prohibits such communications.
4) If the debtor has told the creditor to cease communication (some limited exceptions).
Third Party Communications - The Act flatly prohibits communications with all third parties in collecting the debt unless the consumer consents, the court orders it, or communication is reasonably necessary to effect a post judgment judicial remedy for requiring location information (skip-tracing). In skip-tracing, the collector cannot state the consumer owes a debt and cannot with some exceptions communicate more than once. Skip-tracing cannot be done at all if the consumer is represented by an attorney.
Harassment or Abuse - Collectors cannot engage in conduct "a natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt." This provision specifically includes threats of violent or criminal means, using obscene or profane language, and publishing lists of alleged debtors, except to a credit reporting bureau.
False or Misleading Representations - False, deceptive, or misleading representations or means in collecting debts are prohibited. A collection agency must give its true name, although the individual caller can use an alias provided that the same alias is consistently used. (Many states require collection agents to register their aliases with the agency that regulates collection agencies.)
    Affirmative Rights
1) Validation - The collector must send with the initial communication or within five days thereafter, written notice containing the debt amount, creditor's name and invitation to the debtor to notify the creditor within thirty days if any dispute exists as to the validity of the debt. If the debt's validity is disputed, collection activity must cease until verification of the debt has been mailed to the consumer.

2) Multiple Debts - The consumer may control the way that a payment is applied in the event that the collector is responsible for more than one of the consumer's debts. Specifically, the collector cannot credit a payment to any debt which is disputed and must allow the consumer to select which debts will be paid first.

3) Damages - Consumers can sue for actual damages, including loss of employment, physical injury or other immediate harm, mental suffering, inconvenience, and harassment. The court can award additional damages of up to $1,000 for each person as well as punitive damages above these amounts, attorney's fees, and costs. Collectors can defend by showing that the violation was "not intentional and resulted from a bona-fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid such error."

4) Garnishment - One method which creditors may use to collect judgments is to garnish the debtor's wages. As a result of a garnishment, the employer must pay part of the debtor's wages directly to the creditor rather than the employee. Garnishment causes two major problems: Debtors often are left without enough money to meet basic needs, and they risk losing their jobs because employers tend to dislike the trouble involved in garnishment. Federal law provides that no employer can discharge an employee because of garnishment if it resulted from a single indebtedness. It does not prevent a firing if the debtor is garnished by two different creditors. Violators are subject to a fine up to $1,000, imprisonment or both.

    State Laws
Question: Is the damage to my home covered under my insurance policy?

Answer: If this damage is going to be covered, it is probably going to be covered under a fire insurance policy or homeowners insurance policy. Homeowner's policies generally cover losses due to accident or specific causes such as fire or theft. This usually includes accidental damage to the residence, loss of personal property belonging to the insured, bodily injury to the insured or guests, or increased living expenses if the residence is uninhabitable. The volunteer will need to review the specific policy in order to determine whether there is coverage for the specific loss. The first page of the policy is referred to as the declarations page. This page will indicate whether the policy is in effect at the time of the loss.

Fire insurance policies are governed by the Maryland Insurance Article and the Commercial Article which set forth the minimal provisions which must be contained in all fire insurance policies issued in Maryland. A policy of fire insurance may provide a broader scope of insurance than required by the statutory minimum. Volunteer attorneys should review the actual contract of insurance to confirm coverage.

When reviewing an insurance policy, keep in mind that the policy is a contact and general contract law applies.

The main body of the policy sets forth the insurance coverage and exclusions from coverage. Conditions control whether claims will be defended, losses paid, or the policy canceled. Volunteers should especially be aware of the condition that the insured report the loss promptly to his or her insurance company. The policy may include endorsements which add coverage that would otherwise be excluded by the policy. Additionally, endorsements may delete or modify coverage provided in the body of the policy.

When reviewing an insurance policy, it is important to keep the following in mind:

1. Any vagueness, uncertainty or ambiguity in the policy must be interpreted in favor of the policyholder and against the insurance carrier (which wrote the policy).

2. In close situations, policies will be interpreted in a way which favors coverage.

3. "Coverage" sections must be broadly interpreted, while "exclusions" must be read narrowly.

4. Phrases or words not defined within the policy will be given any reasonable interpretation which favors coverage.

Question: Does my automobile insurance cover the damage to my car resulting from the disaster?

Answer: As a threshold issue, the volunteer must determine whether the victim has comprehensive policy coverage which covers damage to the vehicle. The volunteer will need to consult the declarations page of the policy covering the time period of the loss to confirm this coverage. If there is comprehensive coverage, the volunteer will need to consult the particular language and exclusions of the policy.

Question: My house has been substantially damaged and is uninhabitable -- must I continue paying my mortgage?

Answer: The mortgage company is usually entitled to payment even if a house is destroyed. Regardless of a legal theory, if any, upon which a disaster victim might avoid making payment, volunteer lawyers should look at the mortgage documents, negotiate with the mortgage company for a moratorium, and look to insurance documents for possible coverage. In many disaster situations, mortgage companies have agreed to negotiate directly with insurance companies, or have voluntarily imposed moratoriums on payments owed. The volunteer attorney's role is to investigate all possible avenues so that the victim's credit and financial future are not jeopardized.

Question: My landlord has been sending collection notices for rent, and refuses to refund my security deposit, even though my apartment building has been condemned since the disaster. What should I do?

Answer: Volunteer lawyers should become familiar with the landlord-tenant provisions of the Maryland Code. Specifically, Real Property Article, Titles 8 and 8A, address various issues that may arise in the landlord-tenant context following a disaster.

As a general rule, a residential tenant is not required to pay rent for destroyed premises, assuming the tenant is without fault or negligence in causing the destruction. If, however, a lease provides otherwise, a tenant may be liable. Thus, volunteer attorneys must review lease provisions to determine the obligations of a tenant. Unless otherwise provided by contract, the landlord is under no obligation to rebuild leased premises.

During disasters, the following documents may be lost:

  1. Bank accounts (checkbook, savings)
  2. Birth, death, marriage certificates, divorce decrees
  3. Court documents (deeds)
  4. Driver's license, registration
  5. Food stamps
  6. Immigration documents
  7. Insurance documents
  8. Medicare card
  9. Social security card
  10. Vehicle ownership record
  11. Will
Question: How do I replace a lost birth, death, marriage certificate, or divorce decree?

Answer: Write to the Division of Vital Records, Metro Executive Building, 4201 Patterson Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21215 (410-764-3038). This office has records from August 1898 forward.

When writing for records, please provide the following:

1. Full name of person whose record is being requested;
2. Sex;
3. Parents' names, including maiden name of mother;
4. Month, day and year of birth or death;
5. Place of birth or death (city or town, county and state and name of hospital if known);
6. Purpose for which copy is needed; and
7. Relationship to person whose record is being requested.

When writing for marriage records, please give the following information:

1. Full names of bride and groom;
2. Month, day and year of marriage;
3. Place of marriage (city or town, county and state);
4. Purpose for which copy is needed; and
5. Relationship to persons whose record is being requested.

When writing for divorce records, give the following information:

1. Full name of husband and wife;
2. Date of divorce or Annulment;
3. Place of divorce or Annulment;
4. Type of final decree;
5. Purpose for which copy is needed; and
6. Relationship to person whose record is being requested.


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