UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2008 / 0317 - Conference Build on Training

Annual Conferences Build on Training and Experience in "Super Tuesday" Tornado Response

By Susan J. Meister*

NEW YORK, NY, March 17, 2008—Preparedness, training, experience, and ongoing relationships enabled United Methodists to be in the forefront of the response to the recent “Super Tuesday” tornadoes that cut a destructive swath through Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama on February 5.

“With every disaster, we not only see the value of preparation and training,” said Tom Hazelwood, director of domestic disaster relief for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), “we also build on our past experiences and the relationships we’ve made both within and outside the denomination. In this way, we are able to meet the needs of those most affected in the emergency, relief and recovery phases.”

After the February 5 tornadoes, Episcopal leaders in each of the affected conferences contacted the Emergency Services Office at UMCOR to request assistance. UMCOR responded with emergency grants, a call for relief supplies, Advance gifts, and on-site consulting experience. Hazelwood, a native of Arkansas, and other UMCOR consultants traveled to the area to offer support.

Capacity built during Hurricane Katrina helps Arkansas effort get on track quickly

Disaster Response Coordinator Maxine Allen, who also serves the Minister of Mission and Ethnic Ministries for the Arkansas Annual Conference, praised the Early Response teams who helped with the clean up. The North Central District response trailer was delivered to Atkins; teams worked from the Conference retreat center, Mount Eagle Christian Center, Clinton; and trained Volunteers in Mission teams provided assistance across the nine county area.

Allen is now working with other agencies and faith-based groups to organize the response through county-based Long Term Recovery Committees. One of her colleagues, Sister Mary Lou Stubbs of Catholic Charities in Little Rock, Ark., is taking a lead in early case management and assessment.

While Arkansas is grappling with tornadoes and not hurricane winds, capacity built during the UMCOR response to Hurricane Katrina is playing a role in the response. “Without UMCOR and Katrina Aid Today, we would not have been so quick to respond to this disaster,” explained Stubbs. “Trained teams in the parishes can ‘pop right in’ to start assessments at the local level.”

Catholic Charities was one of nine national consortium partners in Katrina Aid Today, a nationwide coalition of agencies funded by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security, and overseen by UMCOR. Hurricane survivors in 34 states, including Arkansas, were assisted. Case managers, trained to help individuals and families navigate the maze of paperwork for FEMA and insurance, also helped with recovery plans, and finding resources to help those with unmet needs.

“We experience wonderful cooperation among denominations in disaster response,” Stubbs continued. “On the stuff that counts, we work together.”

Memphis Conference builds on training and experience

“We feel like we’ve ‘grown up’ with UMCOR,” said Cathy Farmer, Director of Communications, Memphis Annual Conference. “When we first dealt with tornadoes like this in 1999, we weren’t prepared—we had no organization. But with UMCOR, we got the help we needed: the emergency grant funds, help with setting up, training in all aspects, helping start case management.”

Four trained Area Early Response Teams mobilized quickly to start clean up efforts. Bill Carr, Disaster Response Coordinator, Memphis Annual Conference, has been busy speaking to homeowners in neighborhoods and surrounding rural areas—especially where debris threatens to ruin farm equipment that’s ready to roll in for row cropping. “Volunteer groups have been walking the fields, picking up shingles, metal and more,” Carr remarked.

As in Arkansas, the Memphis Conference response is turning toward recovery. Brenda Kerns, who worked on tornado recovery in 2003, is readying for case management, and will be training volunteer case workers shortly. “Experience from the 2003 tornado has decreased our response time for long-term recovery efforts from months to weeks,” she said. “UMCOR’s continued support gives us the ability to fulfill needs, especially for the uninsured or under-insured.”

North Alabama faces special challenges

John Hassell, Disaster Response Coordinator for North Alabama Annual Conference, faces special challenges, since the affected area did not receive a federal declaration. “Of all 106 homes destroyed, two-thirds were under-insured and the remaining one-third uninsured,” he said. “We need funds to help find materials so that volunteers can come and help with rebuilding.

“In some cases, families aren’t even able to help other family members,” Hassell continued. “In Upper Sand Mountain Parish, all the homes of one extended family—18 houses—were destroyed.”

Storms scatter destruction across five states

In all, the system of storms claimed more than 50 lives and destroyed property across Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. In Arkansas, two twisters cut a path of destruction nearly 125 miles long and half a mile wide through the Ozarks. Tennessee suffered the highest number of fatalities, recording 34 confirmed deaths.

Some areas in Alabama and Mississippi have suffered additional tornado damage from other winterstorms, and are gearing up for response.

How to Help

"Areas were totally devastated by the Super Tuesday storms-the landscape itself has been turned upside down," explained Carr. "I urge people to pray that those affected can find peace and serenity, and that we can work together as the church to help the survivors find a sense of normalcy."

Disaster response coordinators are gearing up the long-term response and expect to need volunteers for rebuilding efforts in the near future. "We need to do the assessments,"commented Allen, "so that we can match the repairs to the right team." Farmer,echoed that approach. "The UMCOR framework provides such important guidance,"she said. "We want to use people as appropriate." Persons interested in helping can contact their jurisdictional Volunteers in Mission coordinator for more information.

Please give to Advance #901670 and write "Super Tuesday Tornadoes" on the memo line of your check. You can give through your local United Methodist church or mail checks to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Contributions may be placed in the offering plate of any United Methodist congregation. Click the button to give now online

*Meister is the Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent for UMCOR