- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) - Nonprofits proved in Colorado’s most recent disasters that they’re becoming more adept at responding to community crisis, but when disaster strikes a nonprofit - not just the community it serves - things can take a turn for the worst.

Around 80 percent of businesses, including nonprofits, that are not up and running within a month of an emergency situation fail, according to the American Red Cross.

For nonprofits fulfilling crucial roles in the communities they serve, that failure affects not only staff members, but an entire population.

Reflections for Youth, a nonprofit that works with children and families in crisis through a variety of community programs, became acutely aware of the need for preparedness when the organization’s Loveland day school was severely damaged during September’s flooding.

Development Director Karen Farley said the organization wasn’t prepared to be a disaster victim. Farley said Reflections for Youth missed some crucial preparedness steps in September. Staff calmly evacuated students and employees as advised, but failed to elevate important documents, supplies and technology.

“The river didn’t look that bad,” she said. “We assumed we’d be back on Monday. We were not prepared, even mentally, for the scope of what happened.”

To help nonprofits keep on their feet and continue serving others, the Northern Colorado American Red Cross recently offered a disaster preparedness workshop through the Northern Colorado Nonprofit Resource Center. And the American Red Cross is offering a new tool called Ready Rating to help nonprofits develop a specific readiness plan of their own.

Erin Mounsey, executive director of Northern Colorado American Red Cross, said nonprofits often don’t plan for their own disasters.

“We all have these amazing plans for providing relief during disaster, but we also have to remember the plans for if something happens to you,” Mounsey said.

Reflections for Youth spent the following months mucking out the building, gouging out damaged walls and carpet and salvaging any usable supplies.

Day school programs were relocated to the organization’s residential facilities, hobbled without needed documents and supplies, including Free and Reduced Lunch items. All of Reflections’ clients are on the Free and Reduced program, Farley said. Community members and businesses donated some supplies and Reflections staff frequented donation centers to fill the gaps.

“We were just like any other family who lost their home and didn’t have food for their kids,” she said. “The kids we work with are difficult. It’s already stressful on staff to deal with kids at this level of crisis and trauma all the time, but to add that extra dimension of a disaster and not having your supplies or their supplies was really hard.”

The school reopened in late February with a reduced caseload. Prior to the flood, Reflections’ Loveland day school accommodated up to 25 students. The school currently has just under 15 students.

Without the help of volunteer organizations, emergency grants and community members, Farley is not sure the nonprofit would have survived.

The Red Cross says nonprofit plans should accommodate for all resources, including technology, documentation and people, in the event of a disaster or crisis situation.

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