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Training helps Florida churches prepare for storms


Florida United Methodists simulate how to respond if a tornado hits their community during a disaster ministry training session in Moore Haven, Fla. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry.

A UMNS Report
By Steven Skelley*

March 31, 2008


Church disaster relief coordinators prepare as weather researchers predict an active hurricane season along the Atlantic Coast.

With weather researchers predicting an active 2008 hurricane season along the U.S. Atlantic Coast, United Methodists in Florida are preparing to help their neighbors weather whatever storms might strike.

Initial forecasts predict above-average hurricane activity, with 13 named storms and seven hurricanes. Three of those hurricanes are expected to be Category 3 or higher. The official hurricane season is June through November.

"We know we will have disasters eventually," said the Rev. Thom Street, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of Moore Haven.

Moore Haven was one of two locations in 2007 that offered a pilot training program called "Community Arise: Basic Disaster Ministry Training" through the Florida Annual (regional) Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry.

However, disasters don't mean hurricanes only. Churches often are called upon to help in the aftermath of tornadoes, flooding and manmade crises.

"The better prepared we are as a church, the more quickly we’ll be able to reach out to those who are hurting," Street said.

Neighborhood lifeline

Churches wanting to be a lifeline for their neighbors have other opportunities to learn all they need to mobilize. This year, another session was held in March, and two more are planned.

"We have some trainings coming up over the next couple of months in various locations in the conference that are geared toward providing a good overview of disaster for churches," said Pam Garrison, manager of the conference’s disaster recovery ministry and staff liaison to the Florida Conference United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.

The 2007 events were well received by participants from both United Methodist churches and other denominations, according to Garrison.

Annette Reyes-Burnsed attended the first pilot training, held in Lake City. As a staff member of Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Davenport, she said it was great training for office workers, church staff people and volunteers who provide physical works such as clearing branches and other debris.

Beth Long, a member of Vamo United Methodist Church in Sarasota, drove three hours to attend the second training in Moore Haven. She learned where to go to get funds and supplies to help people in distress. The training also offered advice on setting up a phone tree to contact and check on church members who may have been affected.

"The better prepared we are as a church, the more quickly we’ll be able to reach out to those who are hurting."
–The Rev. Thom Street
The one-day training is based in part on "Community Arise: A Disaster Ministry Curriculum," which was developed by Church World Services in collaboration with other faith-based organizations, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Lutheran Disaster Services, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Catholic Charities and other groups providing disaster response.

The training is just one way the conference’s disaster recovery ministry is working to fulfill its mission to effectively manage resources—information, supplies, volunteers and financial assistance—available to churches when disasters occur. Staff and volunteers work closely with district and church disaster coordinators and outside relief agencies to coordinate those resources and make sure lines of communication are open and clear.

UMCOR, in its role as the global humanitarian aid organization of The United Methodist Church, is a partner in those efforts, providing assistance in planning, preparation and disaster response. UMCOR also provides grants that supplement donations from churches and individuals, funding much of the conference’s disaster response work.

Physical, emotional and spiritual care

The goal of upcoming training events is to teach church members "how to identify and address unmet needs of all survivors, particularly people who were vulnerable before a disaster, and how to provide a larger vision of life that includes emotional and spiritual care, as well as physical rebuilding to assist in long-term recovery of those in need," according to the Community Arise training Web site.

It’s designed to give church members a practical foundation for responding to disasters in their community in cooperation with other churches, emergency management officials and the conference’s disaster recovery team. The training also is geared toward helping people understand the importance of communicating and collaborating to meet the needs of disaster survivors and of being the church in the midst of crisis.

Garrison and other disaster recovery staff are quick to note that neither the Florida Conference nor UMCOR are first responders after a storm or disaster.

Trained professionals—firefighters, police, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, and county, state and federal personnel—are responsible for first response. Only after they have secured an area and invited other groups to assist can the conference disaster response team deploy trained volunteers and teams to begin the relief process—cleanup, debris removal, information, referral and spiritual care—and the more challenging phase of long-term recovery.

Upcoming conference-sponsored training sessions are planned for May 17 at Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples and June 7 at Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Margate. There is no cost for the training. To register, go to http://www.flumc2.org/page.asp?PKValue=1377.

*Skelley is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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