United Methodist Committee on Relief

Sandy Recovery Shifts to Preparedness

After Hurricane Sandy, UMCOR helps keep communities in disaster preparedness.
Volunteers teams helped repair and rebuild hundreds of homes, including this one in Long Island. Photo: Long Island Recovery Effort

After Hurricane Sandy, UMCOR helps keep communities in disaster preparedness

By Susan Kim*

July 5, 2016  — “Not if … but when.” That’s the phrase Tom Vencuss and other disaster responders use when they talk about how to keep communities engaged in disaster preparedness. In other words, there will always be another disaster. Instead of interpreting this in a fatalistic way, Vencuss uses it as an incentive to form relationships and prepare.

“None of us is exempt from a disaster; while we may not be directly impacted by an event, we may be called upon to assist others in their relief and recovery efforts,” said Vencuss, who will serve as the new disaster response coordinator for the New York conference.

Since 2012, Vencuss has taken a lead role in Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in the conference. Super Storm Sandy affected 24 states, with the most severe damage in New York and New Jersey. In Cuba, Sandy was the strongest hurricane to hit the eastern region of the country in half a century.

In most of the communities worst hit by Sandy, recovery is shifting into preparedness. That doesn’t mean disaster-related work is over, said Vencuss. “One key to an expedient and effective response is proper prior planning during ‘in-between’ times,” he said.

Local churches are using an UMCOR-supported resource, “Connecting Neighbors,” to help them develop response plans for the church and the wider community. On a district or conference-based level, there is training for early response teams, long-term recovery teams, and disaster emotional and spiritual care teams. At the same time, faith-based responders are making connections with National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster as well as state and local groups.

A facet of disaster response that has become very important to Wendy Vencuss, an UMCOR consultant, is emotional and spiritual care. “It is important for local houses of worship to create local ‘care teams’ between disasters,” she said, noting that it is a very positive way for them to be an ongoing presence in the community before, during, and after disasters or any crisis.

In Cuba, though in a far different context, United Methodist disaster response has a parallel movement into disaster resilience.

There, UMCOR is helping to support three areas, explained Greg Forrester, executive in charge of U.S. and Cuba disaster response for UMCOR: “Building resilient family homes; adding capacity to house churches to enable them to become part of the community sheltering program under Cuban civil defense standards; and repairing three of the larger official churches that were damaged in the storm and bringing them up to shelter standards. All of this will enhance community members’ survivability in the next storm.”

Whether in New York, Cuba, or one of the many other areas damaged by Hurricane Sandy, Forrester said, “UMCOR is increasing the capacity of people and structures to survive the next storm. We are equipping the community for their response. It is vital ministry!”

You can support UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response with your gifts to Advance #901670.

*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to

Related News

Churches have been working alongside government agencies to help people in Flint get clean water.  Photo: Peter Plum
Filtering Lead-Contaminated Waters in Michigan
After water in Flint, Michigan, became contaminated with lead, UMCOR aids the church in its response to the water crisis.
Hope for the Long Haul
As solutions for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, are being explored, relief for its residents continue.
Caption: Through a partnership, UMCOR helped bring service dogs to visit children who live in a Florida community recovering from tornadoes.  Photo: Camp Fire Century Youth Learning Center
How UMCOR Stretches Your “Disaster Dollar”
What is a “low-attention” disaster?
Several communities in Virginia are still recovering from tornadoes that struck five months ago.   PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy Virginia UMVIM
In Virginia, Churches Rally for Tornado Recovery
Congregations help boost recovery after tornadoes last February caused widespread destruction.
As U.S. storms strike many states, UMCOR brings immediate relief and supports long-term recovery.
No Small Disasters: UMCOR Helps Many
As U.S. storms strike many states, UMCOR brings immediate relief and supports long-term recovery.
You can support UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response with your gifts to Advance #901670.