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FEMA council adds Baptist DR leader

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — Fritz Wilson, executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, is one of 12 new appointees to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Advisory Council.

Wilson was selected for a three-year term from among 200 leaders recommended from across the U.S., including elected officials, first responders, scientists, emergency management specialists and cyber security professionals.

The 35-member advisory council, established following Hurricane Katrina, studies service gaps and recommends possible solutions to the FEMA administrator in the areas of disaster preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation.

“It’s a high honor to represent Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief,” Wilson said. “I am humbled to serve. Southern Baptists are willing to do whatever it takes to bring help, healing and hope to communities in need.”

Wilson, a staff member of the North American Mission Board, said he believes Southern Baptist Disaster Relief’s reputation caught the attention of senior FEMA officials who chose him to bring experience and expertise in the areas of “standards setting and accrediting” for response groups. He follows Mickey Caison, NAMB’s previous disaster relief team leader, who served on the advisory council in a dual role with another organization.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) reported more than 65,000 credentialed volunteers at the end of 2013, making it one of the largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief workers in the U.S., not counting people in thousands of Southern Baptist churches who each day respond to crisis events in their communities.

SBDR equipment, primarily supported and staffed by state Baptist conventions, encompasses well over 100 feeding units (some of which can prepare 30,000 hot meals per day), 75 shower and laundry units and 600-plus recovery and cleanup units. In addition, communication centers, generators, tractor-trailers and bucket trucks are dispatched around the nation to provide response support.

Most recently, Wilson said SBDR units have served at the U.S. border with Mexico where illegal immigrant children are being processed. They currently are providing “practical” help via mud-out assistance and food to homeowners after floods in the Detroit area and have stayed the course rebuilding in New York and New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy.

“Our continued commitment to people who experience any kind of disaster, whether it is a large one like Katrina or a small one, is what we are recognized for,” Wilson said. “We have volunteers who are willing to give of themselves and serve, and Southern Baptists who are willing to support this. Southern Baptists are a group that brings a lot to the table.”

An Alabama native, Wilson has led SBDR at NAMB since 2012. He had been with the Florida Baptist Convention since 1996 leading disaster relief and serving in other roles. He holds a master of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and an undergraduate degree from the University of Mobile.

Wilson and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate met in the midst of the 2004-05 historic hurricane seasons when Fugate directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management. In 2007, Florida’s then-Gov. Jeb Bush honored Wilson with the Governor’s Distinguished Service Award.

In 2010 Wilson served in Haiti for 10 months directing Southern Baptists’ earthquake response. He played a key role during the 9/11 response in New York City, helping establish a partnership between the SBC and The Salvation Army. He has led in more than 150 disaster responses, including the 2011 massive tornado outbreak in Alabama.

The Alabama tornadoes took him close to home in Jasper, Ala., where as a teenager in 1974 Wilson and his father assisted friends and neighbors with what was then considered the worst tornado outbreak in U.S. history. Back then, Wilson said he didn’t yet understand what people meant when they said, “God has a plan for your life.”

“When I look back at the tapestry of what God was doing in my life and the people who influenced it, I can now understand how each event was part of God’s plan that brought me to this point right now. It’s pretty amazing and pretty humbling,” Wilson said. “You have to be obedient and walk through the door and appreciate that He’s shaping you for something. I get it now.”

NAMB President Kevin Ezell noted Wilson’s appointment.

“Fritz will be a great resource to the FEMA council,” Ezell said. “He will also be a voice for faith groups who have so much to offer in times of need. His appointment demonstrates the level of credibility Southern Baptist volunteers have earned over the years by serving so tirelessly and so effectively.”
Joni B. Hannigan is a writer based in Houston.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan