Written by Carol Fouke-Mpoyo
United Church of Christ Disaster Ministries is developing an ecumenical pilot project to more quickly and effectively support the formation of long-term recovery groups in communities affected by disaster. It is developing the new Disaster Recovery Support Initiative in partnership with the disaster programs of the Church of the Brethren and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
“Our goal is to engage local community leaders much earlier in the long-term recovery process,” said UCC Disaster Ministries Executive Zach Wolgemuth. “This will help capitalize on the energy and resources that are brought into the community in the early stages of response, including volunteers and financial support. As a result, it will provide some early success stories.”
FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance team member James Mason walks through a Lexington, S.C., neighborhood hit hard by severe flooding in October. FEMA photo by Bill Koplitz.
The UCC and its two partners are exploring the opportunities for implementing the new initiative in South Carolina, where severe flooding in October killed 19 people and damaged or destroyed thousands of homes.
Wolgemuth spent Oct. 30-Nov. 1 in Columbia, S.C., at flood recovery meetings to discuss how to identify unmet needs and respond appropriately. Participants included federal and state disaster response agencies along with leaders in the local and regional voluntary sector – not least the UCC’s Southeast Conference and Garden of Grace UCC in Columbia, to help them “plug in to the long-term recovery process.”
In the new Disaster Recovery Support Initiative, a three-person Disaster Recovery Support Team of response specialists will be deployed within 2-6 weeks of an event and will remain with the community for a period of several months, serving as a resource to the local recovery effort.
The team will offer training, mentoring, and assistance to local leaders engaged in the development of the local long-term recovery group. The Disaster Recovery Support Team will support long-term recovery group staff, volunteers and partners in order to facilitate early identification of unmet needs, develop case management, and engage construction and volunteer management earlier in the recovery process in order to more effectively and efficiently address unmet repair and rebuild needs of affected individuals.
“Not only will this team be able to support and mentor local leaders, it also will be able to model, on a micro scale, how long-term recovery functions in relation to unmet repair and rebuild needs,” Wolgemuth said.
“We currently have two team members in the community doing assessment work, connecting with local and state leaders and helping us identify the best location to engage the Disaster Recovery Support Initiative,” he said.
Long-term recovery begins and ends locally. The goal of the Disaster Recovery Support Initiative, Wolgemuth said, is not to take control or ownership of the recovery process but instead to provide the appropriate level of support and expertise that allow the community to take local ownership, make informed decisions, and engage local resources that allow for a holistic community recovery.
“We also want to help ensure that the long-term recovery group reflects the diversity within the community and will be seeking to encourage engagement at all levels,” Wolgemuth said. “Success will come when the Disaster Recovery Support Team has worked itself out of a job and the long-term recovery group is fully functional and able to respond to any unmet needs in its community.”