Disaster Response

When a disaster is imminent or has occurred, local authorities take immediate steps to warn and evacuate its citizens, alleviate suffering, and protect life and property.  The disaster authority and responsibility is a function of state and local governments, usually centered in the state Emergency Management Agency and local counterparts.  The local Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will call upon the American Red Cross (ARC), Salvation Army and other government recognized disaster response agencies for support.  After the initial emergency response, the member organizations of Volunteers Organizations Active in Response (VOAD) and similar volunteer groups respond.  If the situation exceeds local relief resources, regional, state and federal assistance can be asked for.  When federal assistance is requested and the United States President declares a “federal disaster,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will bring support.

In the event of a disaster, existing local resources of our church (i.e. volunteers, money, expertise, etc.) are oftentimes limited.  This is where the connectional system of the United Methodist Church can provide support and resources to our church to respond effectively and appropriately. The following individuals and teams may be active in disaster response in the California-Nevada Conference as a positive force, independent of the nature, size and location of the disaster:

· The Bishop, UMVIM Director and District Superintendents

· Conference and District Disaster Response Coordinators

· The Conference Disaster Response Committee

· The Conference Disaster Response Advisory Board

· Disaster Response Center staff (DRC)

· Volunteers in Mission

· Local Church Pastors and Disaster Response Coordinators

The objective of the FUMC/SR Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan is to help our church learn about disaster response needs and resources in the areas, evaluate the disaster response capabilities and develop plans and protocols to assist in responding to the community following a disaster through preparing the facilities, training members, securing supplies, and responding to the needs of the congregation and community.

This plan outlines the roles and responsibilities of those involved in disaster response as well as outlining processes to ensure the seamless flow of information and assistance to those affected by disaster.

Disaster Ministry Function of the Church

The point of contact at the community level for all United Methodist assistance in a disaster is the local United Methodist Church. However, local churches are not expected to respond alone or in a vacuum as there are many resources available to assist. Working together with a church disaster team and the district and conference Disaster Response Coordinators, many connections are easily made that will ease the process.

A disaster may take considerable time (years) to resolve. Our church should recognize and acknowledge its limitations in the response and recovery effort. The district Disaster Response Coordinator and the conference Disaster Response Coordinator should work with our church to identify its role in long-term recovery, should that be necessary in the community.

As a local church we do not work directly with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), a resource agency of the general church.  When invited by the Bishop, UMCOR may provide resources and assistance to the California-Nevada Conference through the Bishop, who will delegate day-to-day operations.

Our church Disaster Response Coordinator is the point person for ensuring fulfillment of the disaster management roles and responsibilities of our church, of course working closely with the church staff.

The actions the church should take in fulfillment of its’ disaster ministry role are best seen when broken down into the stages of disaster response.


Stage 1: Planning and Preparation – Before Disaster Strikes

Working with the pastor or designated church leadership, identify a Disaster Response Coordinator and recruit a disaster team.  The pastor should not be our church disaster team leader, though the pastor is encouraged to be an active part of the team.  If the pastor is not part of the team, ensure that the pastor is informed and updated regarding activities before, during and after a disaster.

Support the development of a church plan that includes:

· Caring for people

· Caring for church facilities

· Caring for community

· Caring for others in the conference and beyond

The senior pastor, the Board of Trustees and the finance manager should review insurance coverage annually.

1. The Board of Trustees should make an annual inventory of church property and contents and provide a safe repository of valuable records.

1. Communicate with the District Disaster Response Coordinator regularly to ensure knowledge of the church plans in the event of a disaster.

2. Send a copy of the plan to the Conference and District Disaster Response Coordinators .

3. Set up a Disaster Response Center and disaster team work area and, in the event that the disaster has a severe adverse impact on that location, identify an alternative location to work from.

4. Make full use of resources from other disaster-related organizations, such as Sonoma County Office of Emergency Services or Santa Rosa Police and Fire Departments, the American Red Cross, and others.  First Aid and CPR training, shelter management and certification of facilities are available from your local chapter of the American Red Cross, and should be taken advantage of prior to any disaster.

5. Encourage the congregation to support the efforts of the UMVIM teams and other groups actively participating in disaster response, whether here or elsewhere.

6. Encourage the congregation to support the Bishop’s appeals regarding disaster relief (supplies, collections, food drives, aid to other conferences, etc.)

7. Encourage the congregation to support the annual “One Great Hour of Sharing” offering.  This is UMCOR’s primary source of funding for their work in disasters and other endeavors.  In the event of a disaster we will turn to UMCOR for help, so we should support their annual fund drive during the good times.


Stage 2: Warning – Disaster is Imminent

1. Working with the church disaster team, confirm communication channels and review response plans within the church, the district and the conference.

2. Check for updates from the district and the conference web sites.


Stage 3: Emergency Response – After Disaster Strikes

Implement the church Disaster Plan including:

1. Checking on the safety of the pastors, the staff  and their families;

2. Assessing damage to church property;

3. Using information from local emergency service organizations, assess the overall damage to the community you serve.  Then develop a general assessment of the safety of members of the congregation and property damage within the congregation;

4. Report your assessment to the District Disaster Response Coordinator and/or the District Superintendant.  If they are not yet functional, report your findings to the conference Disaster Response Coordinator or the Office of the Bishop.

Stage 4: Relief

1. Determine if telephone communications are functioning.

2. Continue to implement the church Disaster Plan.

3. Establish the immediate needs for food and shelter to the community.

4. If buildings are damaged prepare to file a claim with the insurance carrier.

5. Keep strict and separate accounting of disaster funding and document all expenditures and receipts of money.

6. Concentrate on making folks safe, sanitary and secure by meeting the basic needs of food, water, sanitation and shelter.

7. When permitted, send out care teams to check on the most vulnerable church members and prepare early response teams to go into neighborhoods; contact the District Disaster Response Coordinator to request Early Response Teams and Care Teams from outside areas when appropriate.  Report what level of support you can provide incoming disaster workers, particularly if you cannot support them and they need to be self-sufficient and self-supporting.

8. Prepare to receive work teams that may show up to help.

Contact other faith based operations through the local VOAD and coordinate your efforts.


Stage 5: Long-Term Recovery

1. Working with your conference and district Disaster Response Coordinators, determine the level of involvement appropriate for your church in long-term recovery.

2. Develop a procedure for referrals of people who contact the church asking for assistance.

3. Develop a procedure for managing volunteers who contact the church.

4. Develop a procedure for handling supplies offered to the church.

5. If our church is not in the impacted area, determine the level of involvement our congregation can make in long-term recovery by providing work teams, supplies, funds, etc.

Staff Personal Disaster Preparedness

It is normal human behavior that one of the first mental responses following any major emergency is concern for the welfare of the individual’s family and home.  Staff persons who are worried about their family’s well-being will not be effective until they have reassurance that their family is all right.  Knowing that their family has planned, prepared and rehearsed what to do in a disaster will go a long ways in providing such reassurance.  We encourage all congregants and especially the staff to develop their own, personal, family/home emergency plan.  At a minimum, individual/family disaster preparedness requires the following:

· Enough emergency supplies to last 3-5 days to function without the normal utility, supply and transportation infrastructure, i.e. without phones, trips to the stores, electricity or an outside source of water.

· Preparations for taking care of the children if the event happens while the parents are at work.

· The identification of an out-of-area telephone number or e-mail address and person to be contacted for family check-in and to serve as the point of communication between family members until they can rejoin.  Connecting out-of-area calls often happens quicker than local calls after a disaster.   However, remember that the telephone and internet communications may be unusable for a period of time after a disaster.

· Evacuation and reassembly instructions if evacuating your home.  Identify the new spot where the family will gather and determine what will each person needs to take.  Be sure to plan for your pets.

After your plan is worked out and your family members know what to do, review your disaster plan with some or all of your co-workers.  Then be prepared to help each other out.


· Know how & when to shut off utilities both at home and at work.

· Know how to use fire extinguishers and where they are located.

· Pre-assign immediate response tasks at work.

· Make a realistic plan for staff coverage in emergencies.

The Disaster Response Center

The role of the DisasterResponseMinistry following a local disaster is to effectively manage the response efforts and resources available to our church including information, supplies, volunteers and financial assistance. This resource management is coordinated in the Disaster ResponseCenter (DRC) where volunteers work closely with church staff, the district, conference and outside relief agencies to ensure clear lines of communication and effective coordination of resources.  The size and nature of the disaster dictate the nature of the DRC.   In a small event it could be a single desk and telephone such as the volunteer desk in the Susanna Wesley House, while a catastrophic event could require a large room, several tables with multiple phone lines, maps, charts, displays and other facilities accommodating 15 to 20 workers, such as the Worship Center at Stony Point..


The staff of the Disaster Response Center runs the initial relief phase of the church’s response operation.  For planning purposes, we will plan for a catastrophic event, the worst case scenario.  Lesser events would require lesser actions and a smaller organization.  The relief phase is fast-paced.  Its work is done on a broad scale, providing only a temporary fix to as many survivors as possible in a short amount of time.  More permanent fixes which require longer time to accomplish are a function of long-term recovery.    Figuratively speaking, the DRC could be viewed as the first aid station of disaster response, putting on bandages and stopping bleeding to provide safety, sanitation and security to the vulnerable effected by the disaster.  Other functions of the Disaster Response Center in a major disaster include:

· Determining the status of the pastors, staff; and physical facilities;

· Determining immediate needs and coordinating outside resources to provide help;

· Coordinating with local emergency service providers;

· Informing the conference through the district of details and needs.  


Disaster operations are organized differently in the relief and long-term recovery phases.  The DRC is utilized only in the relief phase, when the disaster seems to have a life of its own.  The situation and reactions to it are very fluid and almost chaotic at times.  Consequently, a  deliberate and structured management system is required.  The Incident Command System (ICS), or as the national United Methodist Church prefers to call it: The Incident Coordination System, is the structure of choice for United Methodist churches.  In California, the ICS is required of all governmental agencies under the state’s Standardized Emergency Management System.

ICS breaks disaster response management into manageable segments, specifically the five functions of leadership, planning, logistics, operations, and administration/finance.  Each function does not necessarily require independent staffing.  Initially, or in a small event, a single person may perform several functional roles.  As the complexity of the response increases, so does the size of the staff.  When things calm down and workload diminishes, the ICS structure can scale back and reduce its size to one or two people to perform all the functions.

A short version of the function of the five main ICS positions is:

· Incident Commander - the person who will lead and make decisions. This function manages the overall response and recovery to an emergency and directs the other functions.

· Operations - the person who will do the work. Has responsibility for whatever the church does to respond to disaster needs.

· Planning - the person who keeps everyone in the know. Monitors the news; comes up with short (i.e., what are we going to do in the next 24-hours), and long-term plans for the congregation’s recovery.  Records lessons learned and suggestions for improvement.

· Logistics - the person to get the resources. Responsible for getting everything  operations needs to ensure the health and safety of staff, congregants and other persons.

· Administration/Finance - the person who will track all activities and costs. This person must also ensure there are safe backup copies for the following documents:  1. Articles of Incorporation (e.g., verification of tax exempt status); 2. Recent photographs documenting the interior and exterior of your facility; 3. Insurance documentation; 4. Licensing documentation for the Child Care Center.

Figure 1-ICS structure for small disaster

Figure 2-ICS structure for large or catastrophic disaster