By Kara Witherow, Editor
The South Georgia Conference is no stranger to storms.
And folks throughout the Conference – not just those on the coast – need to be aware and prepared for what may lie ahead.
The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season – which runs June 1 through November 30 – is forecast to be “above average” in regard to the number of named storms and major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher) according to Colorado State University hurricane researchers.
Whether this season is average or above, being prepared for storms – no matter if they’re hurricanes, tornadoes, or wind and rain events – helps protect people and properties when disasters do strike. But how do individuals and congregations best prepare?
Prepare now so you don’t panic later, said Luis Morales, South Georgia’s Disaster Response Coordinator.
“Prepare for the worst and pray for the best,” he said. “If you’re prepared in advance you won’t panic when you’re closer to a calamity like a hurricane or tornado.”
Morales recommends everyone check their preparedness via the American Red Cross’ online tutorial or the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s checklist.
Here are a few basic preparedness tips from www.ready.gov, the official website of the Department of Homeland Security:
Respond when needed
When a need arises, be ready to respond, Morales said.
All six of the Conference’s District disaster coordinators are actively engaged in their districts, training, preparing, and responding.
“They’re working with their people trying to get them in an awareness mode, prepared for the season,” he said.
Early Response Team Trainings were postponed last year due to the pandemic, but they’ve now resumed and South Georgia United Methodists are again being certified and recertified so they can be ready to serve when a disaster strikes. Through the ERT training, volunteers can be trained and badged in the Basic Early Response Training or choose advanced courses to acquire new skills. Training in chainsaw operation is also available.
One important way South Georgia and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) help in the aftermath of disasters is by supplying disaster kits, hygiene kits, school kits, and supplies. The Conference is able to distribute the kits at a moment’s notice because of its partnership with Crossroads United Methodist Church in Perry, which is letting the Conference use a portion of its Family Life Center as a centralized storehouse.
“The collection of items and the assembly of the relief kits are a great way to involve all ages in a mission project within your local church,” said Allison Lindsey, director of Connectional Ministries. “I am thankful for Crossroads UMC in providing a central location for churches to bring the kits. This is key to staging the supplies to be used through the UMCOR network or within our Conference if needed immediately following an event.”
Education and partnerships are crucial
Through the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s (UMCOR) Connecting Neighbors Leadership Training Program, churches and individuals are trained in a 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.
Connecting Neighbors aims to prepare congregants and churches for disasters so they can be prepared to best respond when they do occur. This includes a training for the navigators program which equips and empowers volunteers to go out into their neighborhoods and communities when it is deemed safe to evaluate and needs and where the church can offer assistance.
“With each Early Response Team and Connecting Neighbors training we continue to strengthen our capacity as a Conference to respond in the event of a disaster through our local churches,” Lindsey said. “With hurricanes, we are able to track and have advance notice to prepare, but this is not the case with tornados which require more readiness and preparedness to be in ministry to those impacted in the path of a storm and do no harm.”
The Conference is also connected to local and state agencies to more effectively render aid and resources when needed.
“We are members of the state VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster). We partner with them and have a network of state agencies, private agencies, and non profits that come to bear when something happens,” Morales said.
For more information about UMCOR’s Connecting Neighbors Training Program, contact Luis Morales at firstname.lastname@example.org.