By Dan Steska
Dan Steska serves as the disaster response coordinator (DRC) for the Missouri Annual Conference. His role is to train ERT’s (Early Response Team), coordinate the responses, and be the key communication liaison between local and state emergency management and the state VOAD (Volunteers Active in Disaster). This includes a number of agencies like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Division of Mental Health, and many more. The national UMCOR office is also a participant and stands ready to help with resources and training. With the recent flooding across the State of Missouri the United Methodist response was activated.
So what happens? Several things happen concurrently, and an extensive network of communication unfolds.
Our first concern is the welfare of our church members and the church buildings. Pastors in the affected areas are contacted to determine the status of damage affecting their congregation and the vicinity. The district superintendent is also contacted. Our DRC is also in contact with the local emergency management director and finds where the Red Cross shelters are set up, as well as the Emergency Operations Center. Very soon after the crisis, information from many volunteer and state organizations is shared in daily conference calls providing status updates so all resources can be effectively used, and there is less duplication of services.
It is important to remember that our mission focus is not primarily ‘task oriented’, but ‘relational oriented’. That is to provide Christian care to the most vulnerable, such as the elderly, disabled, or those without insurance. We always keep in mind during disasters that our UMC role is not that of first responders. However, after the area is secure and a plan for early response is designed by local leadership such as United Way or AmeriCorps, then our teams spring into action to help the local community remove debris, clean out flooded homes, remove saturated sheet rock and remediate mold growth. At other times, our ERTs do chainsaw work, removing trees and broken limbs.
When disaster strikes, our connectional relations are most obvious. Immediately the flood clean up buckets and health kits, prepared by our ministries in advance, are provided to those in harm’s way. We have access to our UMCOR depots and some local churches that store these. This allows us to offer comfort very quickly. It has been stated that the United Methodists are not the first on the scene, but we are there long after most organizations have left, still rebuilding and caring. An example is that we helped repair and rebuild homes in Joplin for two and a half years after the tornado. We have also partnered with other faiths in building homes after flooding and tornadoes in Piedmont, Orrick, Marshall, Baxter Springs, and many other locations.
When called upon to help in other Conferences we respond. In 2015 our teams deployed to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, and Mississippi. This can happen because over 250 people have been trained in Early Response and others in Spiritual and Emotional Care. These ERTs serve on approximately 20 teams located in various churches throughout the Conference.
In summary, our Responders are so very much appreciated for doing the ‘dirty work’ while showing the love of Jesus Christ to unfortunate survivors. Remember that there is a role for everyone, every talent, every skill, every age. What a privilege to serve in this way!