Effectively Responding to a Disaster Requires Exercising Patience and Process in the Midst of Chaos

by Rev. Laraine Waughtal* and Vance Morton**

The recent (and apparently ongoing) strings of Texas spring storms have delivered needed rain to much of the state. However, they have also brought tornadoes, strong straight-line winds, hail and, in some areas, too much of that good thing we call rain. The news reports, videos and photos from the communities most impacted probably has many of you wondering how and when the conference is going to respond and roll in with assistance. The answer is two-fold: we already are responding and hold your horses, we’ll let you know as soon as help is needed.
Here is what we currently know from the affected areas of our conference. As of this time, no conference-wide response is needed nor has any such action been requested. If you have other details and you are from that community, please email Laraine at laraine@ctcumc.org or call her through the conference office at 817-877-5222.
Mineral Wells - Reportedly there was little to no flooding or tornado damage to homes as the downtown area absorbed the brunt of the storm. Laraine continues to be in contact with local authorities and will provide updates as available/warranted.
Cisco –The needs of all the families are being met and they appreciate your prayers.
Corsicana and Ellis County – The flood waters are being monitored. There are limited needs but the community is able to meet those needs.
Morgan Mill – ERT teams have been working in this community to clean up the debris field and the situation is under control.
Hillsboro – all is well.
Much of the flooding being reported does not involve any homes. Our CTC communities have been quite blessed that the storm damage has not been more extensive.
How the CTC Responds to Disaster
From the time a disaster happens and is made known, the CTC is in response mode. The CTC Disaster Response Coordinator, Laraine Waughtal, and the members of the Disaster Task Force begin monitoring the situations in our communities and across the state and the South Central Jurisdiction for that matter. They are in contact with city, county and state officials, our churches in the affected area and myriad others to learn first hand how we, as United Methodists, can be the hands and feet of Christ. Because the scene of a disaster is just that, a disaster, often times the immediate answer is "We'll let you know what we need as soon as we know."
Sometimes, the hardest part of disaster response is balancing what is being reported by media and what is actually happening on the ground. Watching the TV and reading online reports and Tweets can be deceiving about the scope of a disaster area, because often the details being reported are not complete or accurate. 
However, our trained ERT and Disaster Response team members are in contact with those who do know what’s going on. As such, individuals and churches are reminded to be patient and don’t immediately respond to what you are seeing and hearing in the news. Of course that’s a big ask for compassionate christians living in a 24-hour news cycle society, where reporters too often employ the “we have to be first with the story and we’ll get to the actual facts of the situation much later” method of (ahem) journalism. Just try and remember the following before you head to the nearest big box discount warehouse store to buy pallets of bottled water for those in need. By the time you hear of a disaster, the CTC Disaster Response team is
  • already compiling the most accurate information to share with CTC members and churches and will share it as soon as the local officials are ready to release information;  
  • checking on which victims/survivors are insured versus those who are not;
  • activating the CTC’s Early Response Teams, who have the specialized training to effectively respond and coordinating with UMCOR if a larger scale response seems necessary;
  • determining if help is actually needed or if the local community can and prefers to handle it locally;
  • patiently waiting for the disaster zone to be safe from flood waters, debris, electrical, gas and other issues (yes, they have to exercise patience too!); and
  • holding off on any response outside our conference as the team never crosses the boundaries of another conference unless invited to come help. 
Because these disasters get so much news coverage, and Texans in general are a generous bunch, communities too often end up with the secondary disaster of having an abundance of donated goods that they can’t use and don’t have a place to store. And even the ones that do have storage capabilities probably are in no shape to handle the immediate influx of donations. They have to have time to organize themselves and work things out. We do not want to be a part of the problem by trying to be a too immediate part of the solution.
So, what can you do to help immediately following a disaster? Here are the top 5 actions you can do to immediately assist...
  1. Pray and be patient and let the Disaster Response Team find out the best answer to that question. 
  2. When the event is in our conference, believe that the team is working on it and sometimes answers take time. 
  3. Understand that most often, the greatest help for survivors are gift cards (what type will be shared when that info is available) and monetary donations to get them what they actually need not what we think they need. Remember, 100 percent of what you give through UMCOR or the CTCSC goes to the recovery of that community – no overhead or administrative costs.
  4. Never call the local UMC in the disaster area in the days immediately following the disaster. That church is already overwhelmed and cannot take everyone’s call. That church is busy just trying to care for its own members and locate them and get organized. If you have questions call Laraine at the conference office.  T
  5. Look at the ERT section of the conference website and register for the next ERT training session so you can be more quickly involved in the recovery efforts. . 
None of the above is meant to quell the passion and desire to help so often expressed by Central Texas Conference members and churches. That passion is why our Disaster Response Team works so hard and is so vital to our conference. However, it’s been proven time and time again that the best way to focus our conference call to assist those in need is by working through our connectional system, taking all the time and steps to adequately assess each disaster situation and then going in and providing the assistance needed, when it’s needed, where it’s needed and how it’s needed.
*Laraine is the Disaster Response Coordinator for the CTC.  larainewaughtal@ctcumc.org
**Vance is the director of Communications & IT for the CTC   vance@ctcumc.org