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Baptist relief teams practice for preparedness

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — When a major disaster strikes in North America, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief responds to provide help, healing and hope to survivors of the disaster. But what happens when there isn’t a major disaster? Occasionally, SBDR engages in a disaster simulation.

SBDR’s most recent exercise occurred May 19 when SBDR staff and volunteer leaders simulated a hurricane hitting Charleston, S.C.

“We simulated the hurricane to show the volunteers what they would have to do to support a large operation like that,” said Fritz Wilson, executive director of disaster relief for the North American Mission Board, of the May 19 exercise involving four SBDR staff members and 12 volunteers.

“We even sent emails to everyone over the weekend giving updates about landfall to make it seem as real as possible — as if it was live.”

The response team came into the simulation as if it were 24 hours after landfall. At this point, SBDR would begin to move in, learn of specific needs and put teams into place to start ministering.

SBDR participates in such simulations about four times a year. In mid-June, they additionally were slated to be part of a national mass care exercise, simulating a massive hurricane hitting Texas. This simulation entail a multi-agency response involving SBDR, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and others.

In addition to these simulation exercises, SBDR currently has several other recovery efforts and projects underway.

“A lot of people think that we only deal with the giant disasters. But SBDR teams are doing something across North America every single day,” Wilson said.

SBDR divides its work into four different areas: response, recovery, Baptist Global Response (BGR) and non-disaster events.


Response teams perform the initial work after a disaster and typically are the “first responders” of SBDR. As of June 11, SBDR response teams were active in four states – flood response teams in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas and storm response teams in various parts of Arkansas.


After the initial help from the response teams, recovery teams settle in to help affected individuals get back to normal through the long-term recovery process.

SBDR currently has recovery efforts active in Colorado, New York and Texas. In addition, recovery and rebuilding is taking place in Detroit after major flooding swept through the city in 2014.

“The Detroit flood was the largest disaster event last year, affecting 130,000 families, but it did not receive a lot of news coverage because it happened around the same time that the uproar in Ferguson took place,” Wilson said.

SBDR sent more than 200 volunteers to respond to the floods and minister to the survivors, the majority of whom were either senior citizens, immigrants or members of unreached people groups identified by the International Mission Board.

While in Detroit, SBDR volunteers developed a relationship with the town of Warren, Mich. So when the initial response ended, city officials said they would provide a school to house more volunteers if SBDR would come back and help with long-term recovery.

Baptist Global Response

BGR, the development and disaster group for the IMB, and SBDR work closely together during responses to major international disasters.

“We usually send our teams in the initial stages of a response. Like in the last four weeks, we have been sending initial response teams and assessment teams to Nepal,” Wilson said.

Non-disaster events

When there are no major disasters occurring across the country, SBDR makes an intentional effort to find other uses for its equipment through non-disaster events. For instance, during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in in Columbus, Ohio, in June, SBCR is sending shower trailers from three different states for students who are attending the convention and being housed in churches. A non-disaster response also took place in early June at a church in South Carolina that experienced non-weather-related flooding.

Shower trailers also are used throughout the year for various church mission projects, World Changers camps and other events. SBDR sent shower and laundry units for used by the National Guard in Baltimore earlier this year, for example.

“We have the equipment. So instead of just waiting on disasters, we are continuously using it,” Wilson said. “Hardly a day goes by where we don’t have volunteers doing something to provide help, healing and hope — whether they are in the midst of a disaster or not.”

Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit https://donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state Disaster Relief ministries.

Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers — including chaplains — and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

    About the Author

  • Kristen Camp