Prepare for disasters now, respond when storms hit

7/24/2017

In January 2017, devastating storms tore through the small community of Adel, causing death, destruction, and nearly insurmountable loss. The storms claimed seven lives in the town and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes.

In the aftermath of the disaster, Adel United Methodist Church, which was spared major damage and loss of life, offered relief to families in a nearby mobile home community by helping pay for funeral expenses. The church also set up a fund to receive donations to minister to these families. 

“If we are going to be the Church we have to have to have our eyes, ears, and hands on the pulse and needs on the community,” said Rev. John Stephens, pastor of Adel UMC. “Everyone was touched by this, and it was essential to do our part to help the community to heal.”

The congregation saw a critical need and met it, he said, joining several other local churches and organizations that served the community during a tremendous time of loss. Others were providing food, shelter, water, clothing, and further basic needs, so the Adel UMC congregation found another way to show the love of Christ in a needed and tangible way.

There’s a way for everyone to do that in a time of crisis or disaster, Rev. Stephens said.

“Find a need and meet it. Collectively we can do so much more (than we can alone).”

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season – which runs June through November – is forecast to be more active than average with regard to the number of named storms, according to Colorado State University, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and The Weather Company. Churches and individuals in the South Georgia Conference are prone to being impacted by hurricanes, and it’s not just those in the coastal communities who need to be prepared. Those in the southern counties of the conference also need to be aware of the potential for storms to form in the Gulf of Mexico and make their way inland.

Being prepared for storms – whether they’re hurricanes, tornadoes, or wind or rain events – helps protect people and property when disaster does strike. But how do individuals and congregations best prepare?

Prepare now

Don’t wait. The time to prepare is now, when there isn’t a looming disaster or crisis. Individuals, families, businesses, and churches should all have up-to-date emergency plans and communicate it to key players within the organization(s).

“All worship centers should be prepared for any kind of emergency,” said Luis Morales, the South Georgia Conference’s Disaster Coordinator. “The whole idea of planning is to be prepared for any issue.”

Here are a few basic preparedness tips from www.ready.gov, the official website of the Department of Homeland Security:

  • Have an evacuation plan in place and know where to go if you need to evacuate
  • Have a disaster supply kit ready, including flashlights, batteries, cash, first-aid supplies, and copies of important documents
  • Plan for adequate supplies if you do not evacuate
  • Have an emergency communication plan in place
  • Sign up for your county’s emergency alert notification system, if applicable
Morales also suggested that each local congregation identify their hazards, their resources with the church community, and partner with local emergency managers.

“Each worship center should consider developing a committee or work group to address their capacity for dealing with emergencies,” he said.

Be the Church

When disasters do hit, how can Christians best represent Christ, show love, and provide relief?

“The best way we can respond is to provide the Christian presence in the community,” Morales said.

This often looks like cutting tree limbs, hauling debris, making meals, and providing funds to help pay for ongoing relief efforts.

“We often say that there are three Ps in every situation,” Morales said. “There are players, payers, and prayers, and they are all critical.”

Education is key

Through the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s (UMCOR) Connecting Neighbors Leadership Training Program, churches and individuals are trained in a two-day, local church-readiness, train-the-trainer program designed to give volunteer trainers the tools and information they need to guide the development of local church disaster-response ministries.

A three-part training, Connecting Neighbors aims to prepare congregants and churches for disasters so they can be prepared to best respond when they do occur.

Trainings are being planned over the next year throughout the Annual Conference. If you are interested in bringing this training to your area or for more information about UMCOR’s Connecting Neighbors Training Program, contact Allison Lindsey at allison@sgaumc.org.