The terrible aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti has reminded us once again of the wonderful capacity of humanity to respond to the needs of others. It also reminds us that we need to be clear about the various ways we can help, along with the “phases” of assistance which will be required.

What I learned from working with UMCOR during the floods and emergencies in the Dakotas was that there are three distinct phases to Disaster Response, each one usually taking about ten times as long as the preceding phase.  As I best understand it, these are the phases:

  1. Rescue – this is the time when emergency response focuses upon finding survivors, getting them to emergency help, and assessing the size and scope of the tragedy.  This Rescue phase is best done by police, fire departments, EMS teams, and in the case of large-scale emergencies, the National Guard and other military.  This Rescue phase is what is happening right now in Haiti, and it is limited by the absence of a support system to provide even the most basic of human needs.
  2.  Relief – this phase begins during the later part of the Rescue phase, and it usually lasts about 10 times as long as the Rescue phase.  This phase is all about helping people to be “safe, secure, and sanitary.”  In the US, by federal law, this task is given primarily to the Red Cross, and that is also true in international situations with the International Red Cross.  We can already see this phase beginning as the Rescue phase continues in Haiti, and the military is helping since the infrastructure is so damaged in Haiti. We can expect this Relief phase to last at least 10 times as long as the Rescue phase (which is itself still on-going, so I imagine that the Relief phase will last many months).
  3. Recovery – this phase, which often lasts 10 times as long as the Relief phase, is the longest and most demanding phase of Disaster Response. It often is led by church groups, faith groups, and other NGO’s (non-governmental organizations).  UMCOR, our United Methodist Committee on Relief, often begins its work during the Relief phase and continues through the Recovery phase long after the Red Cross and other emergency and relief groups have left the disaster.  In the Dakotas, for example, our recovery response to the flood of 1996 continued well into 1998, and the last VIM team (Volunteer in Mission) worked the recovery about 2 ½ years after the original flood.  The goal of Recovery is simply to help people get back to somewhere near their original condition before the disaster.

I share this understanding of the phases of Disaster Response to remind us that the situation in Haiti will require years of relief and recovery.  Long after CNN and other news groups have grown weary of reporting the situation, we will need lots of faith groups and other caring persons to help Haiti return to normalcy, or perhaps even to improve its prior situation.

I also share this understanding of Disaster Response as a tribute to the two UMCOR staff persons (Sam Dixon and Clinton Rabb) who died in the recent earthquake.  They were in Haiti supervising the on-going Recovery from the floods and hurricanes of two years ago.  Their presence is a testimony to how long, hard, and faithfully UMCOR works on these long-term recovery issues.  We can be proud of our part in their work, since we all support the basic underlying structures of UMCOR and our other mission work through our United Methodist apportionments, which in Indiana are included in the Tithe budget of the Annual Conference.

Please join me in praying for all who were victims of the Haiti earthquake, and please join me in honoring the memory of Sam Dixon and Clinton Rabb by continuing to support the work of UMCOR.

There are lots of ways to give and help in Haiti, including the immediate ways of supporting the Red Cross.  For the long-term recovery, our support of UMCOR will be essential, and it will be a fitting tribute to those who died serving in our name. Thank you.