United Methodist Committee on Relief

UMCOR Hones Case Management Expertise

UMCOR offers a holistic approach for each person
UMCOR offers a holistic approach for each person's unique recovery from disaster.

By Susan Kim*

August 21, 2012--Nearly 15 years ago, Liz Gibson, senior program manager for disaster case management at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), listened to UMCOR staff at the Sager Brown Depot in Louisiana as they talked about their goals for helping disaster survivors.

“Way back then, we talked about how important case management was, but also about how, many times, it ended up being offered on an 'ad hoc' basis for disaster survivors,” Gibson recalled. Following that initial discussion, she helped UMCOR write its first case management training manual.

To the layperson, the phrase “case management” may have a bureaucratic ring, but, during the past two decades, UMCOR has honed an underlying philosophy of care that moves disaster survivors beyond file folders and into a holistic plan for recovery that addresses physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

When Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, UMCOR's ability to offer case management evolved even more quickly. UMCOR led an effort that coalesced nine faith-based and voluntary agencies into a case management program, Katrina Aid Today (KAT), which received a $66 million grant administered by FEMA. In the months following Katrina, KAT affiliates sometimes found themselves opening 200 new cases in a single day.

In total, KAT helped more than 300,000 Katrina survivors, not only in Louisiana but across the nation. In addition, UMCOR raised nearly $70 million more in post-Hurricane Katrina donations, which helped hundreds of thousands more people affected by the deadly hurricane.

Now, because of the training and tools developed during the response to Katrina, disaster survivors nationwide will receive even better case management in the future, said Gibson. “UMCOR's effort was the primary reason that disaster case management made it into the Stafford Act,” she said, referring to the law that governs FEMA's authority and activities.

Cathy Earl, now an UMCOR executive for US Disaster Response, served as lead case management technical supervisor for KAT. She looks back on those years and, like Gibson, sees a rapid evolution of an approach to case management that survived the test of a large-scale disaster.

“Katrina Aid Today provided some unique opportunities for learning,” she said. “The collaborative learned what it meant to holistically engage with a family and walk with them through their recovery.”

Under pressure to rapidly help survivors, Earl said she is proud that UMCOR and the other KAT partners stayed true to their mission of helping people handle their whole recovery, not just muck out a home or fill out FEMA paperwork. “We really uplifted our priority, which has to do with the quality of disaster ministry we provide,” she said.

Earl believes the legacy of KAT not only helped Hurricane Katrina survivors but will help future disaster survivors who are touched by UMCOR's care. “In those years following Hurricane Katrina, we stuck to our resolve to do our job very, very well,” she said. “Certainly we helped as many people as we could, but even more than the numbers, we are about giving a disaster survivor the very best care possible.”

Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, will help UMCOR continue its holistic care for disaster survivors.

*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to

Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, will help UMCOR continue its holistic care for disaster survivors.