By Susan Kim*
May 21, 2013–The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1. For many, preparation seems like a complex, even daunting, process. It doesn't have to be this way, said Greg Forrester, UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for US Disaster Response.
“In all disasters—not just hurricanes—I wish people would establish community connections prior to the disaster,” he said. “For example, a church could communicate with other faith organizations in the community, and with the fire and police departments.”
Sometimes it's as simple as deciding, if communication lines are down, who will open the church building. “Simple steps can make all the difference in showing hospitality in times of disaster,” pointed out Forrester.
Within your community, find out which UM churches are designated American Red Cross shelters, he suggested. “Then ask how your church can operate in support of them.”
Forrester suggested that UMCOR's Early Response Teams, which move into action shortly after a disaster occurs, cross-train with the Red Cross. “I have found that having a number of people from a church cross-trained in facilities management and mass care is beneficial in times of disaster.”
Taking some simple preparation steps is the best way to start, agreed Pam Garrison, disaster response manager for the Florida Conference.
Ask your church a few basic questions, she suggested: “Where will we meet if this building is blown away? Are the trees over the roof? Are our membership records backed up and stored offsite or online? Is there a large vulnerable population in the church family?”
Garrison is quick to acknowledge that every church has different priorities but she believes that disaster preparation is something churches need to do to be in a better position to help others in the wake of a disaster. “I wish churches had more of an understanding of the ‘airplane-mask mentality.’ You put it on yourself so you can help others,” she said.
Even those who live outside of hurricane zones can prepare for hurricane season, said Marji Bishir, disaster response coordinator for the North Texas Conference.
“It would be so great if churches in evacuation zones would find churches they could partner with in another part of the state,” suggested Bishir. “They could make an agreement in which all evacuees from a certain church would all go to this partner church to be sheltered. If everybody had a location that was pre-planned, and then that church was already set up and defined as a Red Cross shelter, that would alleviate a lot of stress.”
Help UMCOR assist United Methodist conferences and congregations to develop disaster preparedness. Give to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.