Forgotten disasters: A year later, Arkansas neighbors still need recovery help

Extensive flooding resulting from March 2016 storms caused damage to many homes in this neighborhood in the southwestern part of McGehee, Arkansas. A significant amount of disaster recovery work is still needed there.

By Amy Forbus

Did you know that in the first quarter of 2017, Arkansas experienced 17 tornadoes? They’ve been smaller than the one that hit Mayflower and Vilonia in 2014, but those who lost a home to such a disaster cannot dismiss the experience as a “small” tornado.

Everyone hears about widespread disaster when it happens, and many people arrive to offer help, but sometimes recovery continues for months and years. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and Arkansas Conference Disaster Response worked for two years in central Arkansas after the April 2014 tornado. In fact, UMCOR is known in the disaster response community as the organization that stays until all recovery work is completed.

But eventually, most volunteers move on and media coverage of a disaster dwindles. And that shift in focus can happen before all of the people who need help with recovery have received it.

In some cases, a disaster barely receives any media coverage. For example, storms caused flooding that devastated parts of southeast Arkansas in March 2016, but because the floods were more severe in parts of Texas and Louisiana, much of the attention went to those situations. Many who needed assistance in Arkansas have yet to receive it.

“The request for teams has been out there, big time, but the response just isn’t there,” said Janice Mann, who with her husband, Byron, serves as co-coordinator of Arkansas Conference Disaster Response Ministries, and who also chairs Arkansas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD). “We still need teams.”

Mann says that regardless of the size of a disaster, those affected by disaster need help, hope and the experience of God’s love as shared through God’s people, the church.

“Communities need local United Methodists to be involved and engaged in disaster response,” she said. “Your individual families, your church family and your community need you as a church to be prepared and to help them prepare for disaster. The Conference Disaster Response staff can help you with that.”

The Manns and other leaders in disaster response can offer training and consultation, and they can facilitate connections with government, faith-based and other disaster response partners for local churches, even before a disaster occurs. To get started, email

“When the call goes out for help after a disaster, there is never enough help,” Mann said. “More often than not, there is no response at all to the call. Yes, the help and funding came after the 2014 tornado, but what about those 17 tornados this year and those affected by them? Volunteers are needed in Disaster Response Ministry. Individuals are great, but the greater need is for local churches to offer teams of volunteers with sound leadership.”

Arkansas Conference Disaster Response would like to see 15 to 20 church- or area-based Early Response Teams (ERTs) strategically located throughout the state, and a Disaster Response Team (DRT) in every county. As part of their work for the Conference, they provide training for such teams; all a church needs to do is assemble a group that will participate in training and pledge to remain equipped and ready to respond when a disaster occurs.

Disaster response ministry has many facets. “It’s so much more than supply kits and Early Response Teams,” Janice Mann said. The Manns are available to share a Disaster 101 course with your congregation or a group within your church, and to help your church determine the most effective ways it can prepare to assist in a disaster situation, both within your community and beyond. Contact them at to inquire about opportunities to learn, to receive training and to deploy that training to provide help when needed.

Disaster response: Where to begin?

Disasters are categorized as follows:

Low-level: a small event, few homes affected, can be handled by the local community; no outside assistance is needed.

Medium-level: may or may not overwhelm the local community; outside assistance may or may not be needed.

High-level: widespread damage involving multiple communities; completely overwhelms the affected area(s); outside assistance is necessary.

A United Methodist local church engaged in disaster response with its community should be able to handle a low-level disaster; a district should be able to handle a medium-level disaster; and in a high-level event, the response would probably be Conference-wide. Sometimes even a jurisdictional (multi-Conference) or denomination-wide response is needed.

Contact Janice and Byron Mann, co-coordinators of Arkansas Conference Disaster Response Ministries, at Now is the time to schedule training, so that when a disaster of any magnitude occurs, your team is prepared to help.

If your church has a Volunteers In Mission (VIM) team that serves domestically and internationally, consider checking with Byron Mann at for in-state recovery needs before scheduling the team’s next trip abroad.

VIDEO: Learn more about the flooding in southeast Arkansas, and the work still needed to help the communities there recover, in the video “100-Year Flood: The Recovery.”