Saturday January 12, 2013

NORTHFIELD -- Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin wants to hire 10 short-term workers to oversee the repair or rebuilding of homes damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, officials said Friday.

Outgoing Irene Recovery Officer Sue Minter announced the $260,000 proposal at a daylong conference at Norwich University focusing on the August 2011 storm.

The 10 positions that would last for 5 1/2-months are needed because federal funding for similar positions has begun to expire and there are still hundreds of damaged or destroyed homes that need to be repaired or replaced, Minter said.

"There are national organizations that do disaster response," Minter said. "They come with labor, they come with money, and they actually come and rebuild homes."

She said one recovery organization was ready to bring hundreds of volunteers to Vermont in June if the state can be ready for them.

Friday’s conference drew about 130 officials from across Vermont who have been working to put the state back together after the worst natural disaster in almost a century.

"This announcement today about these 10 positions being funded by the state is golden," said Peter Edlund, a construction analyst for a community action group who has been working on Irene recovery since shortly after the storm. "This buys us the people from here to the finish line and now we can really dig in and finish what we have started."

Minter and Edlund estimate there are about 300 housing projects that still need to be completed. They range from rebuilding homes completely, to minor renovation projects. The construction coordinators could help ensure those projects are ready when volunteer groups, or others, are ready to do the work.

Edlund said he hoped the recovery could be substantially complete by the second anniversary of Irene in August.

The conference had workshops that ranged from coordinating communication among recovery workers to fundraising to a workshop on "compassion fatigue."

The Rev. John Wheeler, a pastor from Warwick, R.I., a member of his state’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, a group that helps coordinate disaster response by volunteer groups, said compassion fatigue is a phenomenon when people who help victims of disasters can suffer variations of post-traumatic stress disorder that victims themselves can suffer.

It’s something first responders, emergency telephone operators, social workers, anyone who deals with disaster victims can suffer from, Wheeler said.

"We all just thought, well, this is just part of the job and you need to just suck it up. Not so, not so at all," Wheeler said.

"When you get involved in other peoples’ lives you will get hurt, because you care. You have empathy. The key is controlling the hurt and dealing with it."