‘Tis the season that no one wants to talk about: hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—pronounced “Noah,” ironically enough—issued its 2019 major storm forecast. It calls for an average year, which means 2-4 major hurricanes. Of course, we’re praying that none of those of major storms make landfall in our beloved Houston area, but if they do, we want to capitalize on some of the lessons we learned from Harvey.
WE WEREN’T PREPARED
One of the painful lessons we learned at UBA was that we didn’t have enough mechanisms built ahead of time to react fast enough. We learned that lesson alongside many other agencies and networks. Part of the problem was simply that Harvey brought more damage to a larger area than anyone was prepared for. And it is with that in mind, that we begin a new level of preparation.
We also hope that your church is playing a proactive role in helping everyone in your sphere of influence prepare themselves for the next storm event. Once the storm is over, however the clock for assessing who needs help is ticking.
THE FIRST 48 HOURS IS CRITICAL: “CHECK-IN”
During the first 48 hours of a storm event, the UBA website will direct all traffic to www.ubahouston.org/disaster. On that page, you will find only 2 buttons: one for UBA churches to “check-in” and one for potential partners outside of Houston.
In the event of a city-wide disaster, the UBA website will be the fastest way for your church to tell us if you need assistance or that you are in a position to provide assistance. And by using the website, you’ll be helping us steward our resources to better make contact with our entire UBA family.
UBA staff has already been communicating with churches, asking for early commitments to be emergency shelters, distribution centers, and volunteer housing hubs. Disaster relief agencies will be calling UBA in the early hours of a storm to find churches that might be willing to host them; these early commitments combined with the “check-in” system will streamline that process.
To those outside of Houston wanting to send help, they can click the “Partner Here” button, which will take them to a page of resources helping them determine the most effective ways to help and what people to contact.
I have family members who watched the events of Harvey unfold on the news, and I spent a lot of time giving updates of my status to them on Facebook and via text message. It was important for them to know I was safe, but it was also important for each of the churches they represent to know how they could help Houston. Many of my contacts outside Houston did help, as I’m sure yours did too.
Next time, we’re going to make it easier for those outside Houston to be productively involved.
RESPONDING TO A STORM EVENT
After the first 48 hours, and for however long is necessary, the UBA website will direct all traffic to www.ubahouston.org/response. That page will have the answers to many of the questions that we answered via telephone, text, and email in the days and weeks after Harvey.
Where can people donate money to disaster relief?
I’m ready to send a semi-truck full of supplies—where do I send it, and what do you need?
What disaster relief agencies and organizations have established locations where volunteers can be trained and fed?
If my church wants to bring a team to do work in the city, which agencies could we partner with?
Are there churches in Houston willing to host teams in their gyms or other facilities?
This page will also host an assortment of helpful links such videos that can be used to train volunteers to muck-out homes. The page won’t be the only one you need in the wake of a storm, but hopefully, it will make life a little better.
WE ARE BETTER TOGETHER
Hurricane Harvey was a devastating event for the greater Houston area. But as was said at the time and bears repeating, the story of Harvey was about how quickly the people of Houston—and specifically the churches of Houston—jumped at the opportunity to help their fellow Houstonians. Churches came together in unprecedented ways to meet the needs presented by an unprecedented storm. We shouldn’t be surprised—that’s exactly what is supposed to happen.
If your church wasn’t involved in the recovery effort with other churches in your local community, I invite you to seek out the closest coalition for disaster response through Houston Responds. These groups help coordinate the needs of our communities so that people get help and so that multiple agencies or churches don’t respond to the same need, wasting time and resources. Seeking out these coalitions now will help us be prepared in the future.
Sometimes, it takes a major disaster to force us into asking for help, but it can also force us into opening our eyes just a little wider to see the people that are truly around us. Harvey gave us as an association the opportunity to create new partnerships, start new friendships, and bring the hope of Christ to many in the city whose faith faded with every falling raindrop. No one church could respond to Harvey alone, nor should they because the task was too vast and too important. We are still faced with vast and important tasks today, and we are better together.
The work from Harvey continues. There are still homes and churches that need repairing. There are still systems that need to be put in place to ensure better responses to the next storm, even while the work from the last one continues. The work continues, and we will do it. But we will do it together.
Josh Ellis is Executive Director of Union Baptist Association. He has a PhD in Leadership Studies and has served on the UBA staff since 2005. With both practical and scholarly knowledge, he leads the association into innovative collaboration for the sake of strategic gospel advancement.