UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2008 / 1022-Recent Disaster Responses Highlight UMCOR, UMVIM Working Relationship

Recent Disaster Responses Highlight UMCOR, UMVIM Working Relationship

By Susan J. Meister*

October 22, 2008—When the Louisiana and Texas Conferences invited UMCOR to consult in response to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in September, the domestic disaster response ministry dovetailed with a well-established volunteer network.

Recent responses reflect deliberate efforts by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) over the past two years to strengthen their relationship and supply better training and support services to conferences facing natural disasters.

“An Excellent Relationship”

“This is evolving into a very excellent relationship,” explained Lorna Jost, UMVIM Coordinator for the North Central Jurisdiction. “UMCOR trains conference leadership in how to prepare for a disaster, and consults on the execution of a recovery plan after the disaster hits. UMVIM steers volunteers to where they are needed,” she continued.

UMCOR and UMVIM are two program areas of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) of The United Methodist Church. UMCOR maintains a corps of trained disaster response specialists to assist with relief and recovery work throughout the US. UMVIM has a coordinator in each of the five jurisdictions. Each annual conference identifies disaster response and volunteers in mission coordinators who work cooperatively on training and response with local churches and the denomination.

Emergency Response Teams Stand in the Gap

Early Response Teams (ERTs) occupy a unique position in the response to a disaster. While ERTs are neither a first group of responders nor a recovery/rebuild/repair team, they establish the presence of the church in the early days of a response.

Kathie Mann, Texas Partners in Mission director (UMVIM coordinator), reports that more than 40 UMCOR-trained ERTs worked in the conference after Hurricane Ike’s landfall, mucking out homes affected by the high storm surge. In the southwest part of Louisiana, teams dealt with surge-related damage from Ike, but in Baton Rouge and other parts of the conference, teams tackled roof damage and tree removal, the effects of the winds of Hurricane Gustav.

“ERTs were first created in the 1990s as a cooperative effort between UMCOR and UMVIM,” explains UMCOR consultant Barbara Tripp, who is one of the authors of a comprehensive ERT manual. Under a 2007 covenant arrangement between the two program areas, UMCOR agreed to equip certified trainers in each local conference, who then train team members. When a disaster occurs, these trained volunteers are ready to make an appropriate early response.

Paulette West, North Alabama VIM Coordinator, has been actively involved in training and certification of ERT members in her conference. “It’s important to be proactive and have teams trained and ready,” she said. “They need to be self-contained and self-sufficient, with credentialing in place.” UMCOR encourages conferences to have clear requirements for members, including background checks, up-to-date ERT and safe sanctuary training, medical forms, t-shirts and photo badges.

Once the emergency phase of a disaster has passed, the conference disaster response organization and UMVIM remain closely allied to bring volunteers to the community for the long-term rebuilding effort.

Jurisdiction Offers Ongoing Coordination and Support

At a recent training event in Colorado, UMVIM representatives from all five jurisdictions met with UMCOR representatives to refine a response protocol laying out how the two groups would work together and properly use volunteer resources. Mann was in place in her home conference to coordinate after Ike and applied the recommended approach.

“After Ike, Bishop Huie toured the affected areas with the conference communicator and UMVIM representative, accompanied by UMCOR,” said Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR executive. “Plans were put in place for emergency response, and the ground work was laid for the long-term response.”

Already-existing disaster response organizations set up in both conferences from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were extended for Gustav and Ike immediate response. Plans are still evolving for the long-term recovery and rebuilding phase.

Ministries Learn and Grow for Effective Response

“In every disaster, we learn more about the best ways to be in ministry,” said Hazelwood. “UMCOR and UMVIM learn from each other so that we can be more effective in our ministry.”

Kathie Mann reports that the Texas Conference has trained over 300 individuals for early response. “The interesting thing is that (after Ike) now churches understand the need to be organized at their church and district level,” she said. “We are scheduling (ERT) trainings each weekend as people understand the role of ER Teams.”

“There needs to be a good balance in our mission response,” said West. “We are called to be in missions in our local church, our communities, our conferences, our nation, and the world. Jesus called us to take His message to the ends of the earth.”

You Can Help

Volunteers are needed in Texas, Louisiana, and throughout the Midwest. Contact your Jurisdictional Volunteer in Mission Coordinator for information about volunteering.

You can help with the recovery from the 2008 Hurricanes with a donation to Advance No. 3019695, online or by check to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. 100% of your gifts to this and other UMCOR Advance Specials will be used to help survivors of natural disasters.

*Meister is UMCOR’s Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent.