Early Response Team: What Can We Do When Disaster Strikes?

Over the last few years, the United States has experienced it’s share of major hurricanes. In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey became the first major hurricane to make landfall in the US since Wilma in 2005. Harvey was then followed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria – making 2017 the fifth most active hurricane season since records began. This year, we have seen similar levels of devastation with Hurricanes Florence and Michael, the third most intense hurricane to make landfall in the United States.

How do those of us not physically affected by these disasters help those we can only see in the news? How do we as Methodists react and help?

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is the humanitarian relief and development sector of The United Methodist Church. Part of what they do is disaster response and relief. Together with the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), the official “short term” mission agency of the United Methodist Church, they provide training and support to missions teams deployed into these areas of disaster. These teams are brought in to assist local residents in rebuilding after the devastation and to provide relief supplies to areas in need.

Churches and their members are able to assist by participating in UMCOR’s Relief Kit Ministry by building cleaning kits, hygiene kits, and school kits all of which are used to address the immediate needs of those affected in areas of disaster. However, some churches want to have a more tangible and direct impact. They are able to do so by creating an Early Response Team, who at the invitation of local emergency management officials, are able to enter an area of disaster to provide repairs and assistance. United Methodist Early Response Teams are trained to provide physical, emotional and spiritual assistance to those surviving disasters under the coordination of UMVIM and UMCOR.

Last year, in response to the need created by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, Sterling UMC put together 50 Flood Buckets and Hygiene Kits that were then forwarded to UMCOR’s Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, Louisiana for distribution. We also have a seasoned Early Response Team that has been to deployed to Virginia Beach in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew; to Edentown, North Carolina in 2016 for clean up after a tornado; and to Crisfield, Maryland following Hurricane Sandy.

Last week, our team was deployed to New Bern and Bridgeton, North Carolina in the wake of damage from Hurricane Florence. Our team of three left on November 1st with the SUMC Early Response Team Trailer, which contains equipment and supplies, and met up with ERT members from Centreville UMC and Ebenezer UMC in Fredericksburg, VA.

The team was able to take out all the flooring from a house in Bridgeton which included four layers of flooring in the kitchen alone; mold and decay were rampant. They also removed two intertwined trees that had fallen on top of a homeowners boat, boat trailer and utility trailer. While a lot was accomplished, there is still a great deal of work to be done.

About this trip, team leader Steve Barham says, “With ERT, work flexibility is the key and things are never as easy as they appear. It has been more than fifty days since the storm, but full recovery is still months away.”

Sterling UMC is a community church and all are welcome to be our guest, attend our services and support our mission efforts. For more information about our ERT program and updates on future events, activities and services subscribe to our email newsletter. 

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