As we all continue to respond to the needs of those victimized by Hurricane Katrina, it is helpful to remember that this will be a long process which goes through several distinct but overlapping stage. Having worked with UMCOR (our United Methodist Committee on Relief) several times in previous years, I can share with you that UMCOR has studied this process, and they have defined three stages which can be called Rescue, Relief, and Recovery.
The Rescue phase is a time of helping people get out of the way of a storm or disaster, plus rescuing and removing them to safety. The key words for this phase are: safe, sanitary, and secure. Most of this phase, by federal law, is to be accomplished by police, firefighters, and the Red Cross, with National Guard and other military called upon if the local rescuers cannot handle the situation. We have all witnessed the bravery of those doing such rescues, and we have also seen and heard the frustration that rescue was delayed by a variety of causes.
The Relief phase begins once people have been rescued, and it includes helping those persons have enough supplies and shelter to survive until they can return home and (hopefully) rebuild or make a permanent relocation. UMCOR and other church groups get involved in this phase, and UMCOR estimates that the Relief Phase last 10 times the length of the Rescue phase. Since many people are still being rescued from Hurricane Katrina, we are beginning to see how long this relief phase may last. During this phase it is helpful to keep the victims of a disaster near to familiar surroundings, family, and other support systems, which is why FEMA and other officials are not recommending that we remove people too far from their surroundings and thus further disorient them. I know that there is a natural tendency to want to run down to the affected areas and to bring those persons to safety here in Indiana where we would welcome them with great hospitality, but many of those affected by the disaster do not want to leave their familiar surroundings -- and that is understandable. I urge any local churches or groups who want to be involved with providing housing for displaced persons to work through FEMA and the Office of Homeland Security.
The Recovery Phase is the longest, and UMCOR usually estimates that it will last ten times the length of the Relief Phase (which is itself ten times the length of the Rescue Phase). This is the phase where we in the church are usually at our best, providing long-term assistance to help persons begin to put their lives back together. Flood buckets, health kits, work teams, and other resources will be needed for many, many months to help such a large number of persons recover. It is during this phase that we often hear persons victimized by a disaster begin to refer to themselves not as "victims" but as "survivors" as they begin to put their lives back together into some semblance of normalcy. It was my experience with the floods and other disasters in the Dakotas that UMCOR and related church efforts were the main agencies for helping with recovery -- long after Red Cross, Salvation Army, and FEMA were gone, our church groups were still helping people through Recovery.
I share all of this to make a point: we United Methodists in Indiana need to be persistent in our faith, our support, our caring, and our generous sharing of resources. I am impressed by how much our UMC is already doing to help with those affected by Hurricane Katrina, and we are just barely into the Relief Phase. There will be many more opportunities to help, so let's all hang in there for the long run. As Scripture says, "Let us not grow weary in well-doing" (Galatians 6:9).
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner