Partners in Response Assist with Disaster Recovery Planning

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September 14, 2011

Three weeks have passed since Hurricane Irene swept up the eastern coast of the US, causing severe flooding in the Northeast. Episcopal Relief & Development continues to be in touch with some of the dioceses worst hit by the storm, working with them to assess needs and identify ways that churches in impacted areas can respond. So far, programs are in development at the diocesan level in Vermont, and at a parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York. Members of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Partners in Response team will be traveling to the dioceses of Vermont and Albany to assist there. Both the Diocesan Disaster Coordinators and Partners in Response receive training and support from Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program.

In the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, Episcopal Relief & Development is working through St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the town of Endicott, near Binghamton, in Broome County. Broome County experienced severe flooding as rains from the weather system that was Tropical Storm Lee overloaded the Susquehanna River, which was already running high due to the system that became Tropical Storm Irene. In Endicott, parishioners at St. Paul’s will be involved with the effort to assist the Broome County Council of Churches in filling the gap in services caused by flooding at the group’s food warehouse. This is especially important, as local food pantries – which would normally be supplied by the warehouse – are experiencing increased demand from residents who have lost homes or livelihoods as a result of the flood.

“This is a great example of how it’s important to look to preexisting ministries after disasters,” said Katie Mears, Program Manager for Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program. “In this case, the warehouse itself was damaged by the disaster, and the church is able to help fill the gap until the warehouse is able to resume normal operations.”

Episcopal Relief & Development will be providing additional support to St. Paul’s for the purchase of heaters and other necessary appliances for uninsured homeowners, in preparation for winter.

Thoughts of winter also loom large in the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, where rains from Tropical Storm Irene caused widespread flooding and mudslides, damaging property and rendering roads impassable. In some rural areas, restoration of utility services has been delayed due to limited access.

In response to the situation in Vermont, three members of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Partners in Response team will travel to the area at the end of September. They will be present at the diocesan clergy conference, and one will stay to visit with impacted congregations. At the clergy conference, attendees are invited to share experiences, questions and needs, and learn about the support and information offered by Episcopal Relief & Development. One of the Partners in Response, Deacon Elaine Clements of the Diocese of Louisiana, will remain in Vermont for the week following the clergy conference, in order to travel to parishes around the diocese with Lynn Bates, Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Vermont. The other two team members, the Rev. Karl Lusk, Rector of the Church of the Ascension in Bardstown, Kentucky, and the Rev. Bill Livingston, formerly the Canon Pastor-Missioner for the Diocese of Mississippi, will be traveling to the Episcopal Diocese of Albany for their clergy conference and to meet with leaders of flood-impacted congregations.

“The Partners in Response are an amazing resource to be able to send to dioceses that need someone to answer questions, and help guide diocesan and parish leaders through the stages of recovery. I’m grateful to Elaine, Karl and Bill for sharing their wealth of knowledge and experience with us, and with dioceses in need.”

The Partners in Response meet once a year for training with Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program staff. Along with the Diocesan Disaster Coordinators and the Circle of Support (a larger group of experienced disaster responders who are available in an advisory capacity), they are part of the US Disaster Program’s strategy to help dioceses and congregations plan for and respond to crisis situations. Also included in this strategy are the Ready to Serve database, which allows volunteers to enter their information and be called on to respond to disasters in their area, and the Resource Library, which contains tips, “how-to”s and preparedness planning guides for congregations and families/individuals. The US Disaster Program also publishes a regular e-newsletter called Lamplight, the latest issue of which is available online.

For more information about Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program, please visit

The United States government has declared September to be National Disaster Preparedness Month. For more information, please visit

Episcopal Relief & Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church and an independent 501(c)(3) organization. The agency takes its mandate from Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25. Its programs work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Episcopal Relief & Development works closely with the worldwide Church and ecumenical partners to help rebuild after disasters and to empower local communities to find lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Photos: top left, JoAnn Lumley/the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem; middle right, Sandra Major/the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem.