During and after a natural disaster, people are left to navigate confusing and difficult human-made systems: Emergency management. FEMA. Public assistance grants. HUD. CDBG-DR. Transitional sheltering. Small Business Administration.

These systems are even more complex for renters, low-income people, tribal nations, and others often excluded from traditional aid processes. Information is scattered between dozens of local, state and federal government agencies; there’s an alphabet soup of acronyms for programs and grants. Many simply don’t have time to search for information that can be life-saving prior to a disaster, or make navigating the aid process less of a nightmare afterwards. 

That’s why we’ve put together a disaster glossary—a comprehensive guide to disaster preparation, response and recovery. Our hope is that by making information more accessible, communities can better prepare themselves for the natural disasters that climate change is making more frequent and severe. 

Here’s how we organized it: The preparation section has information about severe weather risks and how to put together a disaster kit with essential supplies and key documents. In the response section, we explain which government agencies manage shelters and other services. And in the recovery guide, we’ve detailed types of aid offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and legal organizations that can assist low income residents and tenants. 

This glossary is intended to be a living document: We’ll update and expand it over the next few months. It is part of a project to make disaster preparation and recovery information across the South more accessible and participatory. 

If you’d like to send us feedback or ask about specific terms and programs we might have missed, drop us a note at community@southerlymag.org, or fill out the contact form here. If you’re part of a community organization interested in partnering to print and distribute the glossary in your community, please reach out.

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