Are You Ready?
2013 presented many challenges within our conference and nation, both natural and human-caused. These challenges included accidents resulting in death and serious injury, wildfires, flooding, and storms of tornado and hurricane force. In each case, individuals, families, churches, and local, state, and national government were presented with disasters of varying magnitude. Examples within the bounds of our jurisdiction included:
- Accidents - In late December 2012, a bus load of Korean tourists had an accident in an isolated area along I-84 that resulted in death and serious injury. As the local community and first responders dealt with this tragedy, could the resources of our Korean UMC churches have assisted with immediate translation challenges?
- Wildfires - Wildfires in Idaho and Oregon required the evacuation and sheltering of numerous families, and threatened many communities. The lives of two firefighters were lost, homes were lost or damaged, and businesses were faced with serious financial challenges. While insurance and government grants may be expected to meet some of the financial needs, the poor and marginalized in those communities can often be overlooked unless the churches are prepared to assist.
- Flooding – The community of Vernonia, OR, ended a five-year “official” recovery period from flooding in 2007, but some work continues. Flooding in Alaska and Colorado resulted in serious damage and loss of homes, and caused serious economic damage. Recovery needs were only partially met before weather prevented further work, and unmet needs will continue to challenge us in the upcoming year.
Situations of this nature require individuals and organizations who have thought through the potential challenges and planned and trained to confront perceived needs. There is no “one size fits all” solution, but there are principles that can be adapted to your local community. Like continuity of business planning, we call this continuity of ministry planning. Those who fail to do this only add to the problem when crises arise.
Our conference is in the process of rebuilding the capability to respond to disasters in an organized manner. We have developed a plan, provided on the Conference Missions Disaster Preparedness web page, which outlines steps you can take to prepare your churches and engage with your local emergency services. As we move forward, some things to consider are:
- UMVIM - The UMVIM (United Methodist Volunteers in Mission) program can provide a basis for your ability to respond to crisis. UMVIM trained leaders know how to organize teams to deploy in mission outside your local church. These teams might work across town, throughout the nation, or even internationally. Imagine the possibilities if each church had at least one member trained as an UMVIM leader.
- ERT - More specialized training is provided to train individuals as ERT (Early Response Team) members. These individuals form specialized UMVIM teams trained to provide a caring Christian presence and deal with stabilizing homes in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Churches in communities located in flood prone areas should seriously consider coming together to train and organize at least one full seven-member ERT in their community.
- Emergency Shelters - Some of our churches have already begun to work with the Red Cross to be evaluated as emergency shelters, and some individuals have volunteered and been trained as ERT members, but much remains to be done.
- Emerging Challenges - The unique challenges presented in Alaska and Colorado have resulted in the need to deploy hybrid UMVIM teams, comprised of both ERT-trained persons and experienced construction workers, who can work in austere environments. We will continue to work closely with the Pacific Northwest Conference in meeting these needs.
Much remains to be accomplished, but training like that offered at the upcoming Western Jurisdiction Disaster Response Academy is critical to success. Presented in the Seattle’s SeaTac area March 3-6, 2014, this training is imperative for those already involved or seeking to be involved in disaster response, including UMVIM leaders, ERT members, and others involved in different aspects of disaster response. Training will be provided by experienced UMCOR and UMVIM trainers, and this will present a unique opportunity to meet face-to-face with these leaders. Information and registration links are provided on the Conference Missions web page.