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Church’s role in disaster situations

by Carolyn Kaberline

Approximately 35 people took part in basic disaster training held at the Perry United Methodist Church June 26. Conducted by Robilea Swindell, trainer with the Kansas East Conference of the United Methodist Church, the class focused both on the disaster response ministry of the church as well as steps that could be taken by anyone in a disaster situation.

Defined as an event that disrupts normal life and causes physical or mental trauma with damage to property and/or community infrastructure, disasters can occur to just an individual or to a whole community.

Defined as an event that disrupts normal life and causes physical or mental trauma with damage to property and/or community infrastructure, disasters can occur to just an individual or to a whole community.

Defined as an event that disrupts normal life and causes physical or mental trauma with damage to property and/or community infrastructure, disasters can occur to just an individual or to a whole community. Those disasters common to Kansas include tornadoes, floods, ice storms, droughts, fires, hail and straight line winds. Although not common, national security emergencies and hazardous material incidents could also lead to disasters. Swindell noted that these events could easily outstrip the ability of local entities to cope with the situation.

Swindell then divided disasters into four levels: A Level 1 designation is given to small local disasters; a Level 2 listing goes to medium sized disasters such as those affecting Reading or Harveyville; and a Level 3 classification is given to large disasters such as Joplin and the areas outside of New Orleans affected by Katrina and Rita. A Level 4 designation is given to those areas that face catastrophic disaster such as New Orleans which faced Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and also flooding due to broken levies.

In addition, she explained that there were several stages of a disaster with numerous groups helping at each stage. During the first stage of a disaster, rescue occurs. This stage could last one to three days and is followed by relief efforts. This is in turn followed by recovery, mitigation and preparedness to determine any necessary changes in procedures. She also noted that the Methodist mission is to aid in the relief and recovery stages.

After providing information on UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the services it offers, Swindell said that all communities, groups and families should have a disaster plan in place. That plan could be as simple as where family members should meet following a disaster to how communities should respond to disaster, such as who would be responsible for debris removal and temporary repairs or determining the needs of survivors. Not only should community disaster plans take care of the physical needs of disaster victims, Swindell said, they should also meet the emotional and spiritual needs as well.

Swindell noted that while many people want to help following a disaster they should not send items that haven’t been requested.

“Often people use disasters as an opportunity to get rid of their old clothes and items they haven’t used for years,” Swindell said. Instead of using a disaster as an excuse to clean out their closets and houses, they should “stick with sending money, cleaning supplies and anything requested.”

Prospective rescue and recovery volunteers should also make sure they have taken care of themselves and their families before helping others. “You can’t take care of others, if you are worried about yourself or your family,” she explained.

Swindell also asked those in attendance to complete a survey that took stock of their talents and abilities and noted that even those who listed being good listeners as one of their talents had a place in recovery efforts as disaster victims needed to tell their stories as part of the coping process.

Those helping with disaster relief efforts also needed to be flexible, she said. While every attempt is usually made to utilize the specific skills and talents of volunteers, that isn’t always possible.

“God has a way of providing the people and skills that are required at any given time,” she said.

Swindell also noted that disasters tended to bring out numerous scam artists. Because of this, people need to be on the lookout for construction scams, illegal debris collectors, and “volunteers” wanting pay as well as looters. She also explained some of the legal considerations of recovery efforts, such as liability and access to property releases.

All attendees will receive a certificate for their billfolds showing they have taken basic disaster training; certification is good for three years from date of issue. Attendees also had the opportunity to sign up for future volunteer relief and recovery work with United Methodist Disaster Response teams.

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