Ready with a response

Teams of volunteers should prepare in advance and be ready to respond in a coordinated way when disaster strikes.

Conference leaders help churches plan and prepare for effective disaster response

Is your local church prepared to help others in the event of a disaster, either natural or manmade? Does your local church have a plan in place to ensure its facilities will be operational and church staff knows what to do when faced with an emergency situation?

These are important questions, ones that need to be asked – and answered – before a disaster or emergency happens.

Janice and Byron Mann of Jasper serve as Disaster Response Coordinators for the Arkansas Conference. The Manns want to make sure Arkansas churches are ready and well prepared … for whatever disaster may be ahead.

Janice sat down recently with United Methodist communications specialist Martha Taylor to discussion topics related to disaster plans and preparations. Here are some highlights of their conversation:

Q: What can we as individuals and local churches do to respond in case of an emergency or disaster?

Mann: I recommend starting with a good Disaster 101 training for the church. It’s important to look at how disaster response works and how the local church response fits in to the big picture. Our conference “Connecting Neighbors” training is a good overview for any local church to have.

Q: Talk about what an Early Response Team (ERT) does.

Mann: ERT is not an emergency response. It is after all the emergency responders are finished and things are safe and the community is ready for volunteers to come in. The ERT goes in with the primary goal of offering a caring, Christian presence. They do that while they’re safely cleaning up and securing disaster-damaged homes and properties. ERTs have to be protective and caring while causing no further harm, or without being a burden to that affected community or the family they’re working with.

Q: What other training would you recommend for an individual or church?

Mann: There are resources both on the FEMA website and the Red Cross website for individual and family preparedness. FEMA has all kinds of things for responders, for churches and businesses … But sometimes it is hard to weed through everything there and find what applies to you. So that’s where the training that we offer through the conference came from. Our training is more focused on what we know our churches and our church members need.

Q: How do local communities know when to ask for help?

Mann: A lot of people don’t realize … a disaster begins and ends in the local community. It’s that local community’s responsibility to first offer assistance with the resources they have, and then if it grows beyond their capacity and capabilities, they have to reach out.

So our connectional system in the Methodist church fits perfectly with that. … We have local churches, then districts, then the conference. Beyond that we have jurisdictions and the global church. So our denominational structure really fits in with being able to help.

When something big happens, there are often expectations that the Red Cross or even FEMA or UMCOR will come fix everything. Well, that doesn’t happen. There are gaps that we all need to work together to make sure are filled.

Q: With the disasters Arkansas has had in the last few years, and with tornado season soon upon us, what do you most want to see happen next in the Conference?

Mann: I want people to be thinking about being organized and what they can do locally. Then I want them to get the training that’s available to them. Then when something happens, they’re going to be better prepared.

Byron and I are a resource for local churches and districts. And UMCOR is a resource for us, for both consulting and training. Keep us on speed-dial.

The Manns can be reached at disaster@arumc.org, or (870) 703-8359 (Janice) or (501) 870-826-0268 (Byron).

More details on this topic are posted on the Conference web site at: http://arumc.org/disaster-preparedness-response.