News Articles

Churches, families encouraged to be ready when disaster strikes

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) – Churches have always excelled at meeting needs and ministering to victims when disaster strikes. Now Southern Baptist disaster relief officials are hoping to make their efforts more intentional through a new training initiative broadly known as the Disaster-Prepared Church.
Through comprehensive disaster preparedness and planning by both families in the church and the congregation as a whole, disasters can become opportunities for effective ministry and evangelistic witness.
“What we want is for churches to be able to respond and not react,” said Mickey Caison, Southern Baptist disaster relief coordinator and an adult volunteer mobilization associate for the North American Mission Board. “Typically, we react to situations, and we want to respond where we’ve got a process to go through.”
The initiative was one of the topics discussed by 93 leaders from across the country recently at Disaster Relief Roundtable ’98, held at NAMB offices in Alpharetta, Ga.
The disaster-preparedness training for both churches and individuals already has been piloted in several states, and training seminars in churches and associations soon will be offered nationally.
On the family level, Caison said the goal is to encourage each family to examine the possible disasters they might face in their area, and make detailed plans for how they will respond — including escape routes, shelter locations and a post-disaster meeting place. Another component is a “disaster kit” containing food, water and supplies for the entire family for three days. During a major disaster, Caison said it often takes three to seven days for a family to have resources available.
“We’re trying to help families look at that period of time and develop a strategy of how they would survive,” he said. “In addition, we want families to minister during those times. We want believers to understand that there is a process in which not only can they survive, but they can minister to neighbors and friends around them.”
A family preparedness seminar also allows churches to meet a community need while drawing people to church in a non-threatening environment, Caison said.
The church-preparedness training, which probably will involve key leaders on an association-wide basis, will take the same concept of preparedness to the church level. Included will be assistance in developing response plans to disasters in the community — from a single-home fire to a catastrophic earthquake — and in the church itself.
When a tornado threatens to strike during a worship service, for instance, it is important that leaders have a predefined plan for getting people to shelter quickly. And churches will be more effective in mobilizing for possible relief responses if thorough plans already are in place.
Disaster-preparedness training has been offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross, Caison said, “but none of them are looking at the aspect of ministry during that period of time.”
The training would include a certification process for churches that have implemented both family and church preparedness.
A comprehensive system for coordinating long-term rebuilding efforts is another new initiative for Southern Baptist disaster relief. Such efforts, which typically last a year or more, involve prioritizing rebuilding projects and coordinating volunteer construction teams.
In the past, other agencies — most notably United Methodist and Mennonite groups — have led in coordination of long-term rebuilding while Southern Baptists have taken the lead in meeting immediate needs such as meal preparation and cleanup. Southern Baptists have done some rebuilding coordination, but Caison said the goal is to have a network of 100 trained coordinators to help Baptists maintain a long-term ministry to disaster victims.
“We want to develop a leadership base … so that when a state’s resources are overwhelmed, we can bring in additional leadership from neighboring states to help provide that continuity,” he said.
The Disaster Relief Roundtable also provided an opportunity for debriefing, analyzing responses of the past year for lessons learned and areas of improvement.
Overall, Southern Baptist disaster relief units reported 69 responses during 1997, involving 4,504 volunteers. More than 1.22 million meals were prepared, 1,175 children cared for and 1,496 buildings repaired.
There were 192 disaster relief units in 23 state conventions as of April 15, involving 14,848 trained volunteers. Disaster relief units, some operated by state conventions and some by local associations, specialize in such areas as feeding, cleanup and recovery, child care and communications. Major responses during the past year — those which involve units from multiple states — included flooding in the North Dakota/Minnesota Red River valley and the Ohio River valley. Earlier this year large responses included winter ice storms in the Northeast and flooding and ice storms in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. Most responses — including recent tornadoes in Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been handled by the state convention where the disasters occur.
Although units have been especially active this winter in response to the ice storm, flooding and tornadoes, Caison said the overall number and size of the responses is not significantly different from last year. He noted that while tornadoes often bring large loss of life, their impact is relatively localized. Larger-scale disasters like flooding and hurricanes typically require a larger and longer-term response.

    About the Author

  • James Dotson