By Susan Kim
November 27, 2012—For every ounce of pain a disaster causes, there are lessons learned that can ease that pain the next time around. Helping disaster survivors was the goal of nearly 100 people who attended UMCOR's Advanced Training Academy at the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, Louisiana.
The theme was long-term recovery, and participants were offered a combination of workshops and tabletop exercises to learn what it takes to help disaster survivors pave their unique road to long-term recovery—also known as a "new normal."
Vernon Baker, disaster response coordinator for the Northwest Texas Conference, said the tabletop exercises were particularly helpful for him as he joined discussions from responders across the nation, who are in the midst of disaster recovery, whether still in a relief stage in New Jersey or rebuilding homes in Kentucky in the wake of spring tornadoes.
"I listened to people who were dealing with real issues," said Baker, "and as I listened I built my list of contacts and colleagues across the country."
Sharing the best practices—and the ones that didn't work so well—will ultimately help Baker and his colleagues hone their response.
UMCOR consultant Rick Hill, who gave presentations on volunteer management and construction management, said that the energy level at the academy was high because experienced responders were able to share their expertise with people who are new to their positions.
"There was a great information exchange," he said.
Responders were able to share case studies that addressed issues in many states impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Though New York and New Jersey will not enter the long-term recovery phase for many weeks, responders in those states and others are already mapping out a plan for long-term recovery.
"Looking at long-term recovery on the heels of Hurricane Sandy played in perfectly to help people understand what the long haul looks like," Hill said. "When I was teaching my class, responders were able to pull up e-mails they'd received from the areas impacted by Sandy. Then we all went into real-time problem-solving mode."
Another highlight of the week was when responders learned about how, particularly during long-term recovery, they must solidify relationships with other responding partners, including other faith-based groups and nonprofits.
"The best responders are learning how to work in an increasingly complex world," said UMCOR consultant Christy Smith.
Smith said she admired the spirit of the participants and their drive to help as many disaster survivors as possible. "They want to help and they want to learn to offer that help in the best way possible," she said.
Your gift to Hurricanes 2012, UMCOR Advance #3021787, will support UMCOR’s efforts after every disaster to learn the lessons that will speed recovery.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.