The images splashed across television screens and newspapers after deadly tornadoes ripped across the Southeast in April can’t begin to depict the devastation and grief as survivors begin to grapple with their losses.
It’s a scene that many Floridians have experienced for themselves in the wake of hurricanes and other natural disasters.
If a storm is forecast for your area, there are procedures to have in place to steer local churches when things appear to be spinning out of control. The Disaster Recovery Ministry of the Florida Annual Conference, which was formed after Hurricane Charley hit the state in 2004, has set those procedures in place.
|Pam Garrison, right, of the Florida Conference Disaster Ministry, talks to Markae Rupp, left, a member of First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, and Claudia Willoughby, a staff member at St. John's United Methodist Church, Winter Haven, during a break at a Disaster Ministry training event at Beymer Memorial United Methodist Church in Winter Haven. (Photo by J.A. Buchholz)|
With hurricane season looming on June 1, Disaster Recovery Ministry held a training session April 30 at Beymer Memorial United Methodist Church in Winter Haven, designed to familiarize people with the ministry as well as to get people thinking about the importance of having a current disaster plan in place before catastrophe strikes.
Other training sessions will be held later in the year (see box).
Even before a storm makes land, Disaster Recovery is gathering information from local churches and district disaster coordinators in the area and staying in touch with emergency management and other responding agencies that will provide services after a disaster.
Ministry team members are also evaluating opportunities for ministry so that at the appropriate time local churches can arrive and minister to those in need.
The opportunities for ministries after a storm are limitless. Disaster Recovery Ministry Manager Pam Garrison said the ministry represents God’s compassion, love and mercy to a lost and hurting world.
Garrison told the attendees that the most important things when preparing for a disaster are process, partnership and planning.
“We are part of a big emergency management process. We don’t serve alone or in a vacuum, there is a process we plug into,” she said.
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Disaster Response Ministry partners with other agencies providing services following a disaster to get resources where they are needed most. The primary partners are the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) but also include governmental agencies such as Federal Emergency Management (FEMA), non-governmental organizations such as the American Red Cross and other faith-based organizations and groups in the private sector.
While acknowledging that process and partnership are huge pieces of disaster recovery, Garrison couldn’t emphasize planning enough.
“The best response is to have a plan – personal (or) family plan, church plan,” Garrison said. “Everyone needs a plan.”
Before relief can be administered following a disaster, there are other stages that must come first, Garrison explained – anticipation and warning, impact, aftermath and assessment, relief and remedy, short-term recovery and finally long-term recovery and reconstruction.
When people are hurting, the natural response is to help, but Garrison cautioned trainees to be cautious and prayerful and not operate on emotion.
“We need to realize that we don’t have to be the white knight and save the day. We don’t have to be the first ones on the scene,” Garrison said. “We need a plan so we know what we’re doing, what others are doing, how we’re going to get information and share information. In short, we need to be part of the process. If we are not, we can cause more harm than good – we can become a part of the disaster instead of providing relief.”
|From left, Tom Tanerbaum, a member of First United Methodist Church, Orlando, Robb Innanen, Ralph Legarreta and Bill and Nancy Worrell, all of the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders in Orlando listen at the Florida Conference Disaster Ministry training at Beymer Memorial United Methodist Church in Winter Haven. (Photo by J.A. Buchholz)|
Local churches can’t go into a disaster area on their own even with the best intentions, Garrison said.
“We have to wait and be told what is needed to avoid duplication, waste and for safety reasons,” she said. “Communication is so important, and information during and after a disaster changes every minute. So it’s important that we respect the process so that we can get the right resources to the right people at the right time.”
Garrison spent some time asking those in attendance to gather in small groups and talk about how their individual churches are already ministering in their communities. As people began to respond, a running list of various ministries was displayed around the room.
While a local church may need to create a disaster recovery plan, it may find a unique way to serve in the days following a storm. Garrison mentioned one local church that provided a towel ministry of washing towels so storm survivors could have clean towels when utility services may be disrupted.
Another ministry that local church members could implement may be as simple as members opening their homes so that storm survivors could take a hot shower.
“Think about ministries that your church already has that could be useful during a disaster,” Garrison said.
Once a local church has decided on a specific service to use to minister to the community, it is vital that a representative of the ministry stay in contact with the Conference Disaster Recover Ministry because of the overall process.
During a break Jodie Whitney said learning about the different stages of a disaster, as well as how Disaster Recovery Ministry operates had been eye-opening.
“I have been on mission trips such as to help after Hurricane Katrina, but I wanted to learn more about disaster response,” said Whitney who has been a member of Beymer Memorial since 1967. “This is really good.”
Richard and Nancy Be were also inspired. The members of Ridge Manor Community United Methodist Church said they would return home and revive their church’s disaster ministry plan. They have the background for it – Richard is a retired deputy sheriff and Nancy is a retired dispatcher for Pinellas County 911.
“We are very excited about this ministry and hope to do more with it,” Nancy Be said.