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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The Best Way To Help Right Now…

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The very best way to help SURVIVORS (I say survivors because it is a better word than “victims”) of Harvey RIGHT NOW, is stay away, listen, and donate money.  In the arena of Disaster Response I am now a seasoned veteran and speak out of and from my personal experiences.  I am not so dumb as to think everyone has had the same experiences I have had, so I allow room for anyone to disagree with me.  And please feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.

Within every disaster are the disasters that happen after the event, which can be as catastrophic, IF NOT MORE THAN the original event.  Here are the disasters that happen AFTER the natural disaster, and they are caused by human beings, well-meaning human beings, but these add to the problems and do not help:

  • THE ARRIVAL OF SUVs.  No, not the type of vehicle.  Spontaneous Unaffiliated Volunteers.  Some of these have had some type of training but most have not.  These start showing up IMMEDIATELY and do want to help, and get upset when they don’t get to help.  When volunteers show up BEFORE they are requested, you get in the way and hinder First Responders.  The first phase of a disaster is known as the Emergency Phase.  They are the ones who rescue, recover, and prepare a path for volunteers to safely go into the impacted neighbors.  DON’T GO IN UNTIL YOU ARE INVITED!  Do you want visitors simply walking unannounced and uninvited into YOUR home?  Well then, extend the same courtesy to the Emergency workers and SUVIVORS.
  • WATER!  Listen before sending bottled water.  After the April 2011 Tornadoes I sent an 18 wheeler stacked full of water back to our Disaster Warehouse from one location, and had more than that still onsite.  This becomes a logistic nightmare.  A couple of evenings ago I was in a conversation with my counterparts in Texas and one of them said that after the wildfires a couple of years ago they had enough water left over to end their drought.
  • CLOTHES!  Oh, my Lord, what a disaster.  Do not send clothes unless requested.  And…NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER SEND USED CLOTHES!  While working in Waveland, Mississippi after Katrina, we have our own levee built in the parking lot we were working out of from USED CLOTHES!  In Hackleburg, Alabama I filled up 2 dumpsters every other day with used clothes.  Could have filled them up every day but they only emptied those dumpsters every other day.  Their condition was pitiful and many even had 25 cent yard sale stickers still on them.  Don’t use a disaster as a way to clean out your closets.  The survivors had already had too much dumped on them for you to DUMP your used clothes.
  • SHARING MISINFORMATION!  This is perhaps the biggest disaster of all.  After the loss of life and property, the next casualty of a disaster is The Truth.  Please allow those “in-the-know” to share “what-they-know-at-that-moment” to pass along vital information, I said VITAL information.  Just because “somebody told me that somebody told them who was told by somebody else” doesn’t mean it’s actually the truth.  And even if it shows up on Google…well, everything on the internet is NOT true, sorry to burst someone’s bubble.  And understand that information gathered changes constantly.  It’s not that the officials are dumb or trying to mislead the public.  Conditions are very fluid in the aftermath of a disaster, so be patient and understanding.

With that said (and believe me, I could say a lot more!), what IS the Best Way To Help the SURVIVORS of Harvey RIGHT NOW?  Glad you asked me that!  Here’s the Best Way To Help:

  • #1 is PRAY!  Now if you are one of those who are thinking, “Well, I guess that’s the least I can do”, please wait before you start praying.  And if you are one of those who think “Prayer won’t help” then don’t pray.  Prayer isn’t the least you can do, it’s the most you can do.  Prayer is powerful because I’ve seen the results of honest, earnest prayer, powerful results.  You will be surprised what God will do when we get our heads and hands out-of-the-way.
  • GET SOME TRAINING!  Many organizations, especially faith-based groups offer training.  I know because I am a trainer for my Tribe.  “Why?  Just get the stuff out-of-the-way.  It doesn’t take degree to do that.  You’re just making it more complicated.”  Well, did you know that you need the PROPERTY OWNER to sign a “Right of Entry” or “Right of Access” form BEFORE you go to work.  Without that signed form, you are guilty of trespassing.  And…if the survivor has insurance, you could cause the survivor to lose money in the insurance settlement.  Now that’s being real helpful.  And in the case of flooding, do you know how much needs to be disposed of and what can actually be reused?  Speaking of removing debris, what are the local rules for sorting the debris?  You may not be able to just dump everything into one pile if local officials require sorting the different materials.  The result is you have left the SURVIVOR with a mountain of debris in their front yard.
  • CONTACT THOSE OPERATING REFUGEE CENTERS!  See what they are needing to assist the survivors.  OK, so you may not be seen on The Weather Channel, but you will be seen by a SURVIVOR and that may be the very moment that changes them from despair to hope.
  • LISTEN FOR BRIEFINGS AND REPORTS FROM LOCAL AUTHORITIES!  Don’t go by what the Weather Channel or news networks say is needed.  Go the extra mile to find out what supplies are ACTUALLY needed for the SURVIVORS.  Listen to organizations that will be “boots on the ground” for what is needed.  Typically, these are faith-based organizations.  In my Tribe, UMCOR (United Methodist Committee On Relief) has a long history and knows what is needed to help in the clean-up.  Give only what is asked for.
  • DONATE MONEY!  This isn’t the preacher begging for money.  There will be some things that will need to be purchased.  But don’t give to just any organization.  Give to those who will get the most bang from your buck.  In my Tribe, when you give to UMCOR Disaster Response 100% of those funds provide direct aid to the SURVIVORS.  There are absolutely no administrative or operating costs taken from your donations.  I know that other Faith Tribes have a similar group and process.  I know that the Red Cross gets a lot of publicity in times like this.  Remember, I am speaking from my experiences and only mine, but I have noticed that Red Cross gets more news publicity in reports and does less work.  I have a good friend who volunteers for Red Cross.  I know they do a lot of good things.  But know that some of your donations are used for program and administrative costs. (I refer you to this Newsweek report).
  • WHEN THE INVITATION IS GIVEN FOR (TRAINED) VOLUNTEERS TO HELP, IF YOU ARE ABLE, THEN GO.  And please remember in a disaster of this magnitude that clean-up efforts will be going on for weeks, probably months.  Again, speaking out of my experiences, initially there are tons of volunteers.  But when the camera crews go away, the number of volunteers begin to diminish.  Don’t be sad if you can’t go in with the first groups.  Be glad that you may be able to go in later because the job is not finished until the last home is mucked out.  (Don’t know what mucking out a home means?  See, you need training!)
  • FINALLY, BE THERE FOR THE LONG TERM RECOVERY!  This process will take years, not months.  After roofs have had tarps put on and all homes mucked out, then comes the repairs and rebuilding.  Many SURVIVORS will not have adequate insurance, or maybe no insurance at all and will need help, both in volunteer labor and funds.  And this is yet another reason why I encourage you to support faith-based organizations.  I have sat around many long-term recovery tables with some of the finest people ever as together we looked for ways to get the SURVIVORS back into their homes, homes that are safe and sanitary to live in.  My Tribe’s group, UMCOR, is always among the first in, and the last to leave.  I know because I am part of the UMCOR Team.  By the way, if you are in my Tribe, United Methodist, then YOU are part of the UMCOR Team!

And remember to love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the praise and glory goes to Him!  Oh, and stop calling the “victims” and call them who they are:  SURVIVORS!