Preparedness, training: key to tornado response

May 05, 2014

By Linda Unger

United Methodist annual conference disaster response personnel are at work providing damage and needs assessments and spiritual and emotional care with residents in states hit hard by two straight days of powerful tornadoes and severe weather.

Greg Forrester, US Disaster Response executive for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), praised the work of the conferences during the emergency phase of relief operations after dozens of tornadoes rampaged across a total of twelve states on Sunday and Monday.

“We’re fortunate,” Forrester said, “that the annual conferences affected by these storms have very good, highly trained disaster response ministries.”

He recalled that in recent months, disaster response coordinators and Early Response Team (ERT) members had undergone a new round of UMCOR disaster preparedness and response training in their United Methodist jurisdictions.

In addition, he said, because the tornadoes were anticipated, he was in contact with the targeted conferences before the events to review disaster response plans. The conferences had ERTs ready to deploy within their own areas, once the situation was stable enough.

“It’s this kind of training and advance preparation for disasters that make an effective, local response possible,” he said.

The current bout of severe weather actually started on Friday, April 25, when a series of tornadoes lumbered through North Carolina. Then, between Sunday and Monday dozens more tornadoes, high-wind storms, and large hail storms assailed another 11 states.

In total, 31 people are known to have died, numerous people have been injured, and homes and business have been damaged or destroyed across Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Louisiana, Iowa, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.

More severe weather is anticipated today, with Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina in the crosshairs again.

UMCOR already has supplied emergency grants to the North Carolina Conference, North Alabama Conference, and the Great Plains Conference (which was formed as of January 1, 2014, and covers Kansas and Nebraska). Forrester anticipated that UMCOR funds will be needed during the long recovery to come.

He reminded all people of goodwill with an inclination to help who are outside the affected areas not to self-deploy to those areas. He reiterated that the best ways to help now are to give to UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response, Advance #901670, and to mobilize your church community to assemble and ship UMCOR relief kits, especially health kits.  

*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.