Prepare now, respond when storms hit

8/5/2019

By Kara Witherow, Editor

Last fall, Hurricane Michael slammed into Southwest Georgia as a Category 3 hurricane after making landfall in the Florida Panhandle as a Category 5. 

Michael brought 115 mph winds and downed trees and power lines throughout the region. Homes, churches, and businesses were damaged and destroyed. Cotton, peanut, and pecan crops, which were not yet fully harvested, were decimated.

The damage - widespread and far-reaching - is still being felt.

The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season – which runs June 1 through November 30 – is forecast to be “near normal” 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 the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

Churches and individuals in the South Georgia Conference are prone to being impacted by hurricanes, and as folks in Donalsonville, Colquitt, Bainbridge, and surrounding areas can attest, 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 and rain events – helps protect people and properties when disasters do 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).

“Everyone needs to be prepared,” said Luis Morales, the South Georgia Conference’s Disaster Coordinator. “Since 2016 when Hurricane Matthew first affected our coast, South Georgia has been hit by one storm or another every year.”

Worship centers and families need to be prepared for all types of emergencies, he said. 

“Families need to have a plan for if they are together when a storm happens and also, now that schools are beginning soon, for when they’re apart. The plan needs to include how to communicate and where to meet when it’s safe to do so.”

Churches also need to have plans in place before a disaster strikes. 

“Congregations need to know their safe areas within their church campus if a storm hits while they are there,” Morales said. 

A few ways churches can be prepared include mounting floor plans, depicting in-place sheltering locations, in visible areas and keeping basic first aid kits and an AED (automated external defibrillator) on hand.

“Our conference can present Connecting Neighbors training which addresses how individuals and churches can better prepare themselves prior to a disaster.”

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
“Preparedness is key,” Morales said. “Your best is to stay in a safe place, even if the power is out. Driving in bad weather is more dangerous than not having electricity.” 

His number one tip for storms and disasters is to never drive in standing water.

“You cannot see if the road has been washed away. Turn around so you don't drown.”

Be the Church

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

Simply being present is often the best way to show the love of Christ, said Rev. Aimee Baxter, the South Georgia Conference’s disaster case manager for Chatham County.

“Oftentimes the best way for us to show the love of Christ is by simply being there,” she said. “There is power in listening to someone's story and walking with them through the process of recovery. Many people feel so alone after a storm, which makes our presence the best gift. Once we have listened and learned, then we can roll up our sleeves and help them do the physical work or connect them to the right resources to cover needs beyond our skills and capacity."

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.

“The South Georgia Conference has built a tremendous amount of capacity over the past few years as we have experienced consecutive catastrophic events,” said Allison Lindsey, associate director of Connectional Ministries. “Being proactive, by being prepared and having a vision and plan for the outreach each local church can have in their community, is the key to our Christian response around disaster response, both in relief and recovery.”

If you are interested in bringing this training to your area or for more information about UMCOR’s Connecting Neighbors Training Program, contact Luis Morales at morhilll@gmail.com.

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