Pro Bono Texas:
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A story of hope and help

By Hannah Allison

Woman on a Computer Editing Film

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck about 10 miles north of Anchorage on November 30, 2018. On January 31, 2019, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, announced that federal disaster aid had been made available to the state of Alaska to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

On my first morning in Anchorage, my boots crunched into the snow as I walked to meet Krista Scully, the Alaska Bar Association’s pro bono director, for a quick coffee before heading into the bar offices. As the State Bar of Texas’ pro bono programs administrator, I had been asked to consult on efforts surrounding legal disaster response, bar pro bono coordination, and logistics surrounding the Alaska Supreme Court’s special order 7081, authorizing out-of-state attorneys to temporarily practice law in Alaska to provide pro bono legal services to earthquake survivors.

My personal experience with the State Bar of Texas’ post-Hurricane Harvey pro bono response enabled me to contribute in a variety of ways such as building an educational piece for the public on available disaster recovery resources, for-mulating logistics for volunteers to provide onsite legal services at FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers, or DRCs, and organizing registrations of out-of-state attorneys into Alaska’s Free Legal Answers program. I was also given the opportunity to share my presentation Preparing Your Statewide Pro Bono Response for the Disaster You Know Will Come to Alaska Supreme Court Justice Peter Maassen, Acting Anchorage Municipal Attorney Dee Ennis, Alaska Bar Executive Director Deborah O’Regan, members of the Pro Bono Service Committee, and other Alaska Bar Association staff.

During my time in Alaska, I repeatedly heard how homeowners were waiting for “the thaw” to see what sort of damages were hidden beneath the many feet of snow still covering the ground. During our visits to Anchorage’s two DRCs, we learned that they have already heard about common post-disaster issues including landlord-tenant disputes, FEMA appeals, and insurance claims. Along with these common issues surrounding the structural integrity of homes were many testimonials of the emotional experiences and the nonstop anxiety linked to the more than 5,000 aftershocks Alaska has experienced since that alarming Friday morning in November.

Hannah Allison at a Dog Sled Race
Hannah Allison watches the first day of the 2019 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race, which begins in Anchorage and ends more than 900 miles away in Nome. The annual event, which marks the beginning of spring in the area, was especially significant this year as it symbolized surviving a winter of extreme hardship.

Over lunch, locals told me about how they can now tell when an aftershock is about to hit because they “hear that creak.” I heard about how the Nesbett Courthouse rocked back and forth, for what felt like an hour. A mom told me about her teenager and friends, days following the quake, asking her to pull over to sit in her car after school in an “area free of streetlights and trees” to simply feel safe and calm. I felt the acute tenseness still sitting quite heavy in the air, amplified by the cracks in the wall of my 15th floor hotel room, informing me to keep my coat, boots, and wallet in a “go” spot just in case. Even on the flight back to Texas, a woman sitting next to me shared that the vibrations and bit of turbulence we experienced were causing post-traumatic stress disorder for her.

Overall, I learned that the Alaska Bar Association and the Anchorage com-munity as a whole is small but mighty and that the quick and transparent response of local officials has managed to put an entire state more at ease, despite the nonstop anticipation of when the next aftershock will hit. With fewer than 2,400 active Alaska Bar members in the state and more than 5,500 FEMA claims submitted1—the need exceeds the means.

I ask you to consider extending a hand to our northern neighbors by filling out the Alaska Bar Association’s volunteer survey at alaskabar.org/wp-content/uploads/Volunteers-needed_webpage_updated.pdf. TBJ

Note
1. Total number of FEMA claims submitted at COB (March 13, 2019).

 

Headshot of Hannah AllisonHannah Allison is the pro bono programs administrator for the State Bar of Texas and manages Texas Legal Answers. She has been at the bar over nine years in a variety of positions within both the Legal Access Division and the Texas Access to Justice Commission. As pro bono programs administrator, Allison is responsible for shaping and stewarding a statewide culture of pro bono and for cultivating partnerships with law firms, large corporations, and law schools to increase pro bono engagement.

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