How To Respond To Hurricane Florence–And Other Disasters

For the last few days, most of us have been glued to The Weather Channel for the latest exploits of Hurricane Florence.  So, I must put on another one of my many hats:  DISASTER RESPONSE COORDINATOR for my Tribe in North Alabama.  This work (for which I am not paid monetarily, but paid in far better ways) requires my attention whenever and wherever a Disaster occurs, not just North Alabama.

With all the flaws and faults of my culture (in the U.S.), I am proud that when something like this happens, the vast majority of people step up and want to help.  Serving in Disasters that happen in my territory, and in talking with others in my position, it restores our hope for humanity.  But….(you know a preacher, which I am first and foremost, must speak up)….sometimes good-hearted, well-meaning, and caring people who want to help, create another Disaster, for which those who are leading the response, only adds to the chaos and burden of Disaster Response–both non-profits and Emergency Responders.  I teach the Early Response Team training, and in every class I remind them that in every disaster there are 2 disasters:  the one nature produced and the other one produced by well-meaning people who show up (without training) too early and people who send unneeded supplies.  The latter disaster slows up helping survivors.

So, let me give you this Randy’s-Handy-Dandy-Guide-To-Disaster-Response:

  1. First thing:  Pray!  Pray for the survivors.  Pray for the emergency responders–including utility crews and local government crews–working to help survivors and restore some calm to the chaos.
  2. Call them SURVIVORS!  Avoid use of the word “victim” when talking about those impacted by the disaster.  Calling them SURVIVORS says to them that they are going to overcome this disaster–that power is available for them to overcome this adversity.  “Victim” means they are powerless–they aren’t!
  3. Plan Before You Act!  Based on potential conditions and needs, decide ahead of time how you want to respond.  Will you go to physically help?  Get training to know what to do, and more importantly, what not to do.  If you are going to collect supplies to send, determine drop-off locations and how you will get those supplies there.  Wait for the authorities to say what they need BEFORE you start collecting.
  4. (This one is VERY, VERY, VERY, IMPORTANT)  DON’T SEND USED CLOTHES!  When I was in Waveland, Mississippi after Katrina, we had built our own levee should another hurricane hit–with used clothes.  We have neither the time nor people to sort through used clothes.  In 2011, while helping Hackleburg, Alabama, I filled up 2 dumpsters every other day with used clothes.  The reason it was every other day was because that’s when they were emptied.  The Survivors have been dumped on by nature, don’t dump on them with your used clothes.
  5. Listen to Local Officials For What Is Needed!  Don’t send anything unless it is specifically needed.  You may think they need what you have, but trust the Boots-On-The-Ground folks who are in the middle of the chaos.
  6. When the door is opened for Volunteers, go wherever they need you.  Some folks want to be where the cameras are.  Others want chainsaws and “real” work.  No task in Relief Operations is minor–though you might think sorting supplies isn’t what you signed up for.  How can those supplies get dispersed if we don’t know what we have?
  7. Donate Green!  I’m not talking about recycled materials, but cash.  BUT.…NOT JUST ANY GROUP!  Faith-Based groups are where you get the most bang for the buck.  In my Tribe, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (called UMCOR) spends 100% of your gifts directly for the disaster.  NO administrative funds are ever taken from these donations.  Give $10 for relief of Hurricane Florence, $10 goes for relief and recovery.  Click Here for more information.  Check with your local houses of worship to see how they are helping financially.
  8. Finally, KEEP HELPING EVEN AFTER JIM CANTORE AND THE CAMERA CREWS LEAVE.  Clean-up continues long after The Weather Channel folks leave.  And after the clean-up is over, there’s the repairs and rebuilding phase, we call The Recovery Phase.  Recovery takes typically 3 times longer than the clean-up.  And in the Recovery Phase is where we find the survivors who need help.

Well, there’s more I could say….and if you would like to continue the conversation or have questions, please respond in the Comments Section.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

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2 thoughts on “How To Respond To Hurricane Florence–And Other Disasters

  1. This is such helpful information. My biggest hurdle in helping is the “how.” As you point out, people often try to help, but inadvertently end up creating more headaches. Thank you so much for such a timely article—links and all! 😊 Praying for you, your efforts and the survivors!

    Liked by 1 person

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