By Don Remick, Associate Conference Minister
Disaster Resource Committee Chair
Massachusetts Conference, UCC
Disaster recovery has a life of its own. It’s predictable even as it is never the same.
There is the disaster itself that sweeps through in its own time frame.
Then there is the time it takes for the initial rescue and recovery and cleanup work.
Assessment of damage and assignment of tasks happens as agencies and organizations arrive on scene. Emergency response blends into crisis response.
Right now federal and state officials are assessing the damage to determine resources that can be applied. In the meantime, our pastors and churches in the affected area have been busy offering meals to volunteers, respite to workers, and compassion to the community. They have also coordinated times for prayer and conversation to minister to the soul of the community and all the souls within it. At the same time, Conference staff have been ministering to clergy and church members, visiting damaged areas, working on site, meeting with agencies and officials and connecting resources to needs.
Then there is the long term effort to help people get back to as close to normal as is possible in the new post-disaster reality. Experience gathered over the years tells us that it will take a few months for rescue, recovery, initial cleanup and assessment. And long term recovery takes 18 months to three years.
Nationally, each different agency and denomination has been given assignments and roles in the disaster recovery process in a coordinated effort to help things move along as smoothly as disaster response allows. That concerted effort has already emerged in central Mass despite the dissonance that disaster creates.
Experience also tells us that in the long haul marathon, 5% of those impacted will not be able to recover by themselves. Their needs will go beyond insurance and federal and state aid. These are often the most vulnerable of our neighbors; folks with chronic health issues, the elderly, the financially challenged. That is where long term recovery groups step in to fill in the gap.
Experience has also shown over and over that once the spotlight dims and other stories take up the headlines and consciousness of our culture, it has often been the faith community that is the primary group offering ongoing aid….we care for the least of these. As the state and federal workers assess the damage and determine what resources can be applied and offered, volunteers will be needed for the long term recovery effort of case work, determining unmet needs, preventing missed or duplicated efforts, walking clients through the sometimes confusing process of paperwork and applications, seeking financial and material and supplies resources, managing volunteers, and offering spiritual and emotional support.
In the spring flood 2010 disaster, over 38,000 families sought federal aid. Nearly 1,000 needed more physical help than they could muster. Nearly 5,000 needed ongoing mental health support. And they continue to receive that help through long term recovery groups. The United Church of Christ, through your OCWM support, has provided nearly $20,000 in support to those long term recovery efforts. The UCC and other denominations constantly offered help in activating volunteer groups who would be available to work in the region.
That help will gear up again as this sprint of initial aid and compassion moves into that long haul marathon. We have already been in contact with the UCC National Disaster Response ministries and begun to lay the groundwork for the long term recovery phase. We will need individuals and groups at some point down the not too distant road to help in rebuilding, rehab and repair. We have no doubt that our churches will rise to the occasion as they have in these days following the rush of a mighty wind.