Disaster Prep, Response, & Recovery

May 13, 2016

By Bishop Mike Rinehart


The recent flooding this past month has been a good reminder to us all that the most important phase of a disaster is the preparation stage. As we near the beginning of hurricane season, beginning on June 1, here are some things for you to consider.

  • If severe weather is going to hit your area, make sure you and your household has all the necessary supplies to be a “72 Hour Lutheran”.
  • If you are planning on evacuating, please let someone know where you are going
  • Once your area has been hit, please notify others of how you are doing, perhaps through social media.
  • Congregations, please check on the elderly and their caregivers to make sure they have a plan to evacuate or shelter in place with food and supplies.
  • Congregations should move to protect their congregational records and equipment by wrapping them in plastic, moving items away from windows, and settling things, if possible, on higher ground.

In this day and age, one of the best ways to stay connected with us, especially in time of crisis, is through social media.

If a disaster does occur, however, it is also important to recognize that there are some naturally occurring stages. Understanding these stages can make the difference between being helpful or hurtful.

1. Search & Rescue (72 Hours or More)

The first 72 hours after a disaster hits is often called “search and rescue”. When a hurricane is in the Gulf, we tell people to be ready to shelter in place for 72 hours. Prepare enough food, water, batteries, etc. for 3 days at least. You could be on your own, if emergency services are unable to get to you or are responding to other calls. During this time emergency services does the lion’s share of the work. Showing up and trying to be helpful can be counterproductive. You could get in the way or even get into trouble yourself, making one more person for emergency services to have to rescue.

Congregations and families can offer shelter and respond to local requests, but best thing you can do at this stage is assess the needs. We want to be helpful, but we usually have to wait. Take care of your family. Walk your neighborhood. Call around and see how your friends and family are doing. There will be time later, during the short-term recovery stage and long-term recovery, to be helpful.

  • Shelter in place. Take care of your immediate family.
  • Afterward, check on your immediate neighbors, family, and friends. Walk your neighborhood.
  • Assess who needs help and what they need: shelter, food, water, and health needs.
  • Determine if local resources are sufficient or if outside help is needed.
  • Appoint a response team.
  • Prioritize needs.

2. Short-Term Recovery (3 months, more or less)

As the emergency is brought under control, the affected population is capable of undertaking a growing number of activities aimed at restoring their lives and the infrastructure that supports them.

  • Work through the needs list on a priority basis. Do people have food, water, shelter, and medical care?
  • Stay in touch with VOAD and other emergency resources like HIDRA, Lutheran Disaster Response, etc.
  • Clear debris.
  • Basic cleanup of homes. People begin leaving temporary shelter and returning home.
  • Restoration of infrastructure: vital life-support to minimum operating standards (power, sewage, and communications)
  • Secure emotional and spiritual care. Disasters are traumatic.
  • Manage finances and donations.
  • Help people apply for assistance.
  • Organization of a long-term recovery group.

Mike Stadie, Director of Lutheran Disaster Response, estimates timing by the rule of ten. If the floodwaters lasted seven days, short-term recovery (clean up) may take 70. Long-term recovery may take 700 days, or two years.

3. Long-Term Recovery (a year or more, depending on the severity of the disaster)
This is the stage where the media moves on and the public loses interest. The shock and awe have worn off, and the world has moved on. Affected people have to rebuild homes and lives. This will take years. This part is not sexy.Lutheran Disaster Response and other such organizations do their best work here, out of the public eye, helping people rebuild their lives. Staying in for the long haul is important.

  • Implementation of case management.
  • Economic stability.
  • Continue emotional and spiritual care. Recovery of mental and spiritual health.
  • Community buildings.
  • Disaster memorialization

Should we dodge future severe weather, consider an offering or some support for those who do not. In times of crisis, we have the opportunity and responsibility to respond.