A fully equipped motor home with about a dozen members of New Covenant United Methodist Church of The Villages approached a roadblock four years ago on its way to Lake City, where they hoped to help with disaster recovery after a tornado.
The team showed authorities their United Methodist badges and were allowed to drive on through to the scene.
Ours is a reputation for helping.
For most people, Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew are distant memories. But the two devastating hurricanes of 2016, Hermine on the west coast of Florida in September 2016 and Matthew on the east coast in October, are still very much on the minds of disaster recovery experts and volunteers in the Florida Conference.
“We're in the throes of it,” said Pam Garrison, disaster response coordinator in the Office of Missional Engagement. “We're (still) doing recovery. “People don't think about that.”
But while the conference and some of its churches are still involved in disaster recovery on both coasts, how can United Methodist churches become better prepared for the 2017 hurricane season, which begins June 1 every year and runs through Nov. 30?
|Hurricane season began June 1 and continues through Nov. 30. It's vital to educate members of individual churches on the importance of hurricane preparedness.|
Importantly, each church pays insurance premiums to the conference, which is self-insured. Now is a good time for churches to check the conference website to make sure they are properly insured, said LaNita Battles, director of the Department of Ministry Protection (risk management).
Meanwhile, churches, some more than others, educate their members about the importance of hurricane preparedness. Such action usually is taken when members of the church recognize disasters present an important ministry opportunity and have the passion for helping their church get the word out.
Many organizations, from local and county governments to local television news and regional newspapers, dedicate time and space this time each year to similar educational efforts. But the conference's efforts recognize that people often turn to their church during times of crisis.
“My goal is to help our churches to recognize that…if they don't plan to protect their church property, and they are busy trying to pick up the pieces after the (storm) event, they've got their back turned to the community and that's the last thing they should do in a time of crisis,” Garrison said.
Instead, the conference wants churches to help vulnerable members prepare before a storm and to welcome storm victims afterward, regardless of the impact the storm had on the church's structures. Checking in on members and their neighbors through “shepherd groups” going door-to-door after a storm enables churches to systematically ensure the safety of vulnerable populations and reduces the burden on local emergency management professionals.
“The other thing that we hope is that the church, if they've made all those kinds of preparations, then their next thought process will be, ‘What are the things we can do to help in the community after the disaster happens?’” Garrison said. “What makes sense that the church members can do to help each other?”
New Covenant, Garrison said, prepares extremely well for disasters. The large church, with many members interested in hurricanes, has a robust disaster plan online.
Larry Frum, a retired insurance claims manager who is a member of New Covenant, where he serves as volunteer disaster coordinator, said the church has a two-year agreement with the American Red Cross to provide up to 100 meals per day during disasters. The church also has a program that allows for the emergency repair of storm-damaged homes in the community when their owners—many of them Snowbirds—are up North. They typically repair broken windows and leaking roofs to prevent further damage by upcoming storms. Frum also is training ushers regarding emergency services.
Before disasters strike, churches should determine whether they are in a good location to serve as a point of distribution of disaster supplies for the county government, according to Garrison. Those that are should talk to the county in advance of storms and ask how they can create a partnership, making suggestions based on the church's knowledge of its resources and the geographic community it serves, without getting in the way of emergency management.
Disaster preparedness and recovery are about two things, Garrison said. It's about neighbors helping neighbors and awareness of the resources in a community and how do you access them, before and after a storm.
“If you have those two things, then you have a jump-start on how to respond to a disaster,” she said.
The Florida Conference has received more than $1 million in grants from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to set up recovery operations for Matthew and Hermine. Garrison says the conference needs volunteers to help repair damaged structures for needy residents through 2018.
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Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice