Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve likely read about the recent devastation in the southeast United States due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. A few weeks ago, we had an opportunity to help a fellow Sojourn Network church in Beaumont, TX. That effort prompted John, a member of Sound City, to come forward and offer some additional insights with me on how we as a church can best love and serve people in times of disaster. The conversation was very helpful for me, so I thought it was a good opportunity to share it with our larger church community. Here’s the interview!
Tell us a little bit about what you do for work and why you went down this career path?
I am an emergency manager for Snohomish County. That means I plan for response to disasters and recovery after an event occurs. By nature I am a planner and administratively gifted, so it’s a natural fit. Emergency management is all about thinking through a variety of potential disasters, their impacts and consequences, and then looking for ways to reduce the impacts of those events. For the Puget Sound region, we always think in terms of a big earthquake.
Obviously, disasters aren’t good or to be desired. But, how can these events present an opportunity for good?
In Genesis 46, we see an entire region of the world being devastated by a severe famine. We also see how God used Joseph and his unique gifts and abilities to meet the practical needs of the people and bring relief to a large number of people. So I guess you could say that my job in disaster relief is biblical!
Emergency managers prepare for all types of disasters—from floods to earthquakes to terrorism. Disaster themselves are challenging events! People lose their sense of normalcy, including routines, jobs, physical belongings, friends, family, and emotional connections. Recovery means they are seeking to return to life as they knew it.
There are voids that can be met on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. We, the church have an opportunity to meet those needs through tangible items (donations, finances, physical support) as well as through prayer, love, and mercy.
Whether before or after a disaster, meeting people’s needs shows that we care about them as individuals regardless of their socio-economic status, race, gender, or religion. This is a practical way to live out the gospel! Use your gifts and passions to serve others now while considering how you might do that after a disaster.
What are some practical ways that individuals/families can be prepared for a natural disaster?
Preparedness generally falls into three major categories: building an emergency kit, making a plan, getting informed. All three are important but can be overwhelming if done all at once. Try tackling a piece of each every month for a year and you’ll be much better off.
1. BUILD A KIT
- Do you have food and water on hand? Plan for 1 gallon of water per person per day for (preferably) two weeks.
- How about some extra food? Consider the food in your freezer and pantry as ways to have extra food on hand. `
- What about your pets? Do you have extra food, water, medications, a kennel?
- Here's a list of recommended supplies to build an emergency kit. If your budget is tight, buy one or two items per week for a year. If you have young children, don’t forget infant supplies as well.
2. MAKE A PLAN
- How will you connect with your family? Phones may not be working, so it’s important to have a place to meet-up at and alternative ways to communication (texting, Facebook, etc. are great).
- What plan does your child's school have in place?
- How about your foster children? Where can you take them after a disaster? How should you touch base with your social worker?
3. GET INFORMED
- You’re doing part of it by reading this far down the blog!
- Sign up for emergency alerts from your local emergency management organization.
- Subscribe to weather alerts through the NWS.
- Know the hazards in your area. Are you prone to flood, high winds? These all can impact how you prepare for a disaster.
Maybe more importantly, how can people be prepared to serve their neighbors and communities in the event of a disaster?
Preparing for disasters present a unique opportunity to connect with your neighbors before a disaster occurs. With all the recent news coverage, now is a great time to start a conversation.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Do your neighbors have food and water?
- Is someone a carpenter or a medical professional and can provide a unique service? This becomes helpful in working together to support each other before emergency services and first responders arrive.
- Does a spouse travel long periods of time for work? Can you check in on the other person after an earthquake?
- When you’re working out a plan to pick up your kids after school, can you provide a ride for a child whose parent(s) commute or may be otherwise unable to immediately pick up their child?
Another way to support members in the community is by caring for those most vulnerable. In emergency management we literally call them "vulnerable populations." Jesus told us in Matthew 25:40 to think of the "least of these"—widows and elderly, physical or mental impairments, single people, children and orphans, people without cars, etc. These individuals present a unique opportunity to minister to others. Consider picking up supplies for them when you’re at the store or checking in on them on a regular basis. If they have mobility challenges or a specific medical need, how can you assist them?
Lastly, supporting people and institutions near and far after a disaster—whether big (Hurricanes Harvey and Irma) or small (Lynnwood apartment fire)—is a great way to show Christ’s love. We're all gifted differently (1 Corinthians 12;4), but everyone has a part to play. Support can include prayer, volunteering, financial support, or tangible goods. SCBC just launched an outreach partnerships team that is working on developing resources for aid organizations and volunteer opportunities. Connect with the SCBC Outreach team to find more information and partners who work in the community to support disaster aid and relief.