The Legal Services Corp. (LSC) of Washington D.C. has selected Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) to take the lead in updating a national disaster-response website, says Lewis Kinard (pictured), a directing attorney of the Houston-based LSLA.
The LSLA has experience dealing with various types of disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes, wild fires and oil spills, Kinard notes.
“We’ll take what we’ve learned and help revamp this resource and then build a sort of a site-management consortium to make sure that it stays fresh,” he says.
LSLA will head the project, funded by a $130,000 LSC technology grant, to revamp the National Disaster Legal Aid website, which was created after Hurricane Katrina, he says.
“There was a rush to find some way to use technology to coordinate volunteers in a wide range of legal service organizations to service Katrina victims,” he says.
The goal of the LSC-funded project is to have a one-stop resource with legal information to help victims in any type of disaster anywhere in the country, he explains.
“We’re talking about: Once you’re stable, how do you get back on your feet?” Kinard says. “Some of it’s going to be federal and apply to everybody, such as replacing Social Security cards or passports, and some will be state-specific, such as replacing birth certificates or property deeds,” he says.
When a new disaster occurs, the goal is to update the website content to address the specific legal needs of the new disaster’s victims, he says.
Organizations that will be working with the LSLA on the project include the American Bar Association’s Center for Pro Bono in Chicago, the Texas Legal Services Center in Austin, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association in Washington, D.C., and Pro Bono Net in New York, according to an LSC Sept. 26 announcement. The $130,000 grant is one of 43 grants, totaling more than $3.4 million, that are part of the LSC’s Technology Initiative Grants Program, the announcement said.
Legal matters arise in the wake of a disaster that can be new to a lawyer, such as who pays to remove a fence or a house that has been moved by a storm to another person’s property, Kinard says.
“There are so many things not in the typical repertoire of the average practitioner or specialist,” Kinard says. “We want to have the information there, to help them quickly get up to speed, so they can go out to a disaster relief center and steer people in the right direction.”
— Jeanne Graham