Floods in the Midwest, fires in the west, and coastal storms with names like Ida, Harvey, Florence, and Irma, threaten lives, property, and local economies on a regular basis. 

These disasters make national headlines, but the effects are local. That’s why Cooperative Extension, with its local presence and its history of working with community groups and sharing research-based information, has a role to play in helping the people and communities who face disasters and must deal with their consequences. 

EDEN—the Extension Disaster Education Network—is Extension’s collaborative, multistate effort to improve the delivery of services to those affected by disasters. EDEN’s mission is to reduce the impact of disasters through research-based education. At the EDEN annual meeting, held virtually Sept. 21 – 24 and hosted by North Carolina Cooperative Extension, about 60 Extension professionals came together to discuss disaster education strategies. 

“This was an opportunity for Extension professionals across specialties, geographic regions, and Extension systems to come together and discuss disaster topics,” said Michelle Eley, Ph.D., community and economic development specialist with Extension at N.C. A&T. “Participants had the chance to learn from one another, identify mutual needs, and establish connections that they can use in disaster education programming.” 

Eley served on the planning committee for the conference and Extension at N.C. A&T helped organize pre-conference tours of areas in Eastern North Carolina that have felt the impacts of devastating floods caused by hurricanes and tropical storms. The tour visited Princeville—the first town in the U.S. founded by freed slaves—and Kinston. These towns were seriously impacted by Hurricanes Fran (1996) Floyd (1999), and Matthew (2016). 

Eley also served on the 1890 EDEN Advisory Group, which included 16 partner institutions and hosted the post-conference session called Religious and Cultural Literacy and Competency in Disasters.

“Disasters usually result in disproportionate impacts on limited resource audiences and other marginalized groups in communities,” she said. “Religious and cultural communities are critical partners in any effort to build disaster capacity and it is important for Extension to engage these groups through established relationships and evidence-based programming.”

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