UMCOR responds to disasters in urban areas, rural communities, and every kind of suburb in between.
By Susan Kim*
January 22, 2013—As Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, a young man who had fallen asleep in his bed on the second floor of his home woke up when his hand dropped off the mattress into floodwater. He then climbed onto his dresser and lay back down, only to get back up again when floodwaters lapped at his face.
As the days passed, the water was slow to recede, and he began to forage through the floodwater for food. Eventually, the National Guard escorted him, along with some other survivors, onto airplanes and flew them out of state.
The young man ended up in Iowa. “He wanted to move back,” recalled Catherine Earl, US Disaster Response executive for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). At that time, Earl was serving as lead case management technical supervisor for Katrina Aid Today, a case management program comprised of nine faith-based and voluntary agencies, including UMCOR.
“I told him that, at least for a while, there was nothing to go back to,” she said, “and I suggested he stay in Iowa as an interim place.
He needed some income, so Earl asked what he did for work back in New Orleans. “He pulled some photos out of his back pocket, some of the only possessions he'd managed to save,” she recalled. “They were pictures of these beautiful feather costumes for Mardi Gras. He crafted those. He was an artist.”
There is not much of a market for feathered costumes in Iowa, but Earl and her colleagues were able to help the young man get back on his feet in other ways.
This story of one displaced person, Earl pointed out, illustrates how UMCOR's response, particularly its case management approach, spans urban and rural settings—and all the suburban environments in between. Each case manager carefully takes into consideration a disaster survivor's urban or rural culture as it relates to their recovery.
Urban and rural communities recover differently on a collective level as well, added Earl, because long-term recovery committees are generally formed in diverse ways, she explained. “In a highly urbanized setting, there are often many players, in addition to the church, that supply ongoing social services,” she said. “Recognizing the autonomy of each of those players becomes critically important.”
In a rural setting, often the long-term recovery group has such a strong identity that individuals and organizations work solely through that group. “This happens a lot in the Pacific Northwest,” said Earl.
Occasionally, a rural setting is so challenging that response is delivered in a different way altogether.
“Take a place like Alaska which is so huge geographically and so isolated that there's no way you can have a traditional regional long-term recovery group that touches every family,” said Earl. “So, sometimes case managers are based in a location together and they make phone calls and work with families remotely.”
Whatever the location or crisis, UMCOR is dedicated to working with local communities to provide relief and recovery from natural and human-made disasters. Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, supports those efforts across the United States.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.