Should you jump in your car and speed to the disaster scene? Not when emergency responders are still clearing the first rubble.
By Susan Kim*
Oct. 23, 2012—Disasters aren't always what they appear to be on TV. In fact, disaster responders in UMCOR and other organizations sometimes find themselves working against a wave of misconceptions that wash into communities in the wake of an actual disaster.
Below are three common myths—and truths—about disasters that come from firsthand experience in the field with disaster survivors.
MYTH #1: When you see footage of a disaster on TV news, it's time to jump in your car and go to the scene.
THE TRUTH: Not necessarily. In the large majority of cases, immediate response is under the purview of local emergency response professionals, including firefighters and police. Even UMCOR's Early Response Teams are specially trained to assess and wait for the right moment.
Volunteers who travel to a disaster scene too soon may endanger themselves, crowd already-clogged roadways, and impede search-and-rescue operations.
“All too often, I hear people saying, 'The spirit called me to go, so I jumped in my truck with a load of supplies and hit the disaster scene right away,' ” reflected Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's assistant general secretary for US Disaster Response. “I wish people felt more called to enroll in training so they can learn when it's really appropriate for them to travel to the scene.”
MYTH #2: You can't say “no” to a volunteer.
THE TRUTH: There are ways of telling eager volunteers that the time just isn't right, said Julie Pohl, disaster response coordinator for the Kansas East Conference. “You tell them: I may not need you today but I will need you a month from today,” she said. “You defer them to another time when their services will be needed.”
During long-term recovery, when news coverage of a disaster fades, volunteer efforts often take a plunge. If local churches educate their volunteers about long-term needs, disaster survivors will get help in the long run when they need it most.
MYTH #3: That disaster won't happen here.
THE TRUTH: It can and it does. "That's the most dangerous myth of all, and I hear it everywhere I go," said UMCOR consultant Christy Smith. Being prepared is about rationally—and prayerfully—considering possible scenarios. Imagining a disaster striking isn't being pessimistic--it's being realistic and even optimistic about your ability to respond.
Help people across the nation become educated, hopeful, and prepared when it comes to disasters. Please donate to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and regular contributor to www.umcor.org.