UMCOR Facilitates Largest Ever Jurisdictional Disaster Academy
By Susan Kim*
March 6, 2012—Even as thousands of people within the southeastern US were still recovering from 2011 storms, many of them drew encouragement and spiritual refreshment when UMCOR helped facilitate the largest ever jurisdictional Disaster Academy in late February.
Within a matter of days of the academy’s conclusion, its significance was underscored when a new round of powerful tornadoes and storms swept through the South and Midwest.
The attendance at the event of more than 110 people from eight states reflects one of UMCOR's highest priorities within the US disaster realm: local church preparation, said Tom Hazelwood, assistant general secretary for US disaster response.
“The United Methodist Church's first response to disaster rests with the people in the local church,” he said. “It always begins and always ends with neighbors helping neighbors.”
As participants discussed topics ranging from basic disaster ministry to coordinating volunteers, they found both a practical and a spiritual connection with one another.
The Southeastern Jurisdiction Disaster Academy, held in Norcross, GA, drew representation from 14 of that jurisdiction's 15 Annual Conferences.
Church disaster team leaders, volunteers, and other church members from Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia networked with their counterparts to exchange ideas and “best practices” related to disaster response and recovery.
UMCOR helped fund the academy, and provided training that included updated response and recovery information, tips on evaluating a community's need, ways to understand the church's role and capacity to respond, and the process for making decisions in the transition from immediate response to long-term recovery.
“Our conferences are all so unique, which means our approach to the work is also unique, allowing us to tailor our work in a way that will best meet the needs of those we serve,” said Pam Garrison, disaster response manager for the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church. “Learning from others outside our respective conferences -- especially this year when nearly every conference in the southeastern jurisdiction has been affected by disaster -- is especially helpful and provides a rich and meaningful learning experience.”
Churches in the jurisdiction should be commended for their participation and for recognizing that they are in a particularly disaster-vulnerable region of the country, reflected Christy Smith, a consultant for UMCOR who helped develop and implement the training.
“This large attendance illustrates that United Methodists realize we need to be prepared,” she said, “and the results will be evident in better coordination and enhanced skills for conference responders.”
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to UMCOR.org