Hurricane Florence 2018: How Can I Help?
As I sit in Charlotte, North Carolina, I understand the roller coaster of emotions felt by people throughout many states bordering the Atlantic – concern, anxiety, relief, renewed concern – as forecasts and models for Hurricane Florence morphed and cast the Cone of Uncertainty in different directions in the days before it made landfall. Like you, I am now deeply saddened to see the devastation experienced in the Carolinas, which will likely grow worse as rivers and waterways continue to rise.
When we see images of people suffering, we want to do something to help. Of course we do. As Christians, we are called to seek and serve Christ in all people and never more so than in times of crisis.
For those impacted by Hurricane Florence, please follow the advice of your local authorities. Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Otherwise, you won’t be able to help anyone else later on. As the airlines remind us: “Put on your own oxygen mask first before you help others.”
For those of us observing and praying from lesser impacted areas and from areas untouched by Florence, it’s important to remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Equally important to remember, as with many things in life: Timing can be everything. Understanding the phases following a disaster can be useful in determining how you can help.
After most disasters there are three distinct, if sometimes overlapping, phases: Rescue, Relief and Recovery.
Phase 1 – Rescue
The Rescue phase focuses on saving lives and securing property. It is most acute in those parts of a region that are directly flooded or damaged. Police, fire departments and other government agencies are best able to do this work. They have training and expertise, and they have equipment that can clear roads and debris and find people. The Rescue phase can take one to two weeks, sometimes longer.
In the case of Hurricane Florence, the rescue phase is just beginning. It can be heartbreaking to watch, I know. However, I urge all of us to be patient. Please pray for those who are suffering and for the professionals who are risking their lives to save others. Fortunately, many people people evacuated from the coastal and low-lying areas in North and South Carolina, and professionals are rescuing many who became trapped by rapidly rising waters.
Phase 2 – Relief
Next is the Relief phase. We and our partners begin preparing for this phase once we understand the magnitude of an event. During this phase, the local church will be one of the first places people go to seek assistance and shelter. Because they are prepared and experienced in disaster response, we know that our partners in the impacted dioceses will be active in the Relief phase. This is where Episcopal Relief & Development can support our partners.
Phase 3 – Recovery
Eventually, we get to the third and final phase: Recovery. During this period, the emphasis shifts to restoring services, repairing houses and buildings, returning individuals to self-sufficiency and rebuilding communities. Hurricane Florence presents two challenges in this regard. First, the double whammy of Rescue on top of Recovery: many communities that are now being inundated with rain and rising water from Hurricane Florence are still recovering from Hurricane Matthew’s impact in 2016.
The second challenge of the Recovery phase is that most of the television cameras and attention have moved on, but the human suffering has grown. It is a chronic state, not a crisis. However, this is the phase in which the Church excels. Our churches are part of the communities that have been impacted and can best identify needs and work with the community to address them efficiently and effectively.
This may still leave you wondering: How can I help?
Now is the time to offer financial support. Contributing to Episcopal Relief & Development will ensure that we have enough resources to support the work of our church partners as they serve the most vulnerable in their communities. They are best positioned to assess needs and timing for response efforts.
One of the immediate ways Episcopal Relief & Development and our partners help individuals is by handing out gift cards to local stores so that people can choose what they need the most. It not only affords people dignity but it also helps stimulate the local economy, which needs to recover post-disaster.
The best approach is to wait until those affected have indicated what kind of support is most needed and whether they are ready to house and utilize volunteers. Inserting ourselves at the appropriate time alleviates additional stress and complications that can actually make things worse. If you think you would like to volunteer please register with Episcopal Relief & Development’s Ready to Serve database. This list of volunteers will be shared with the impacted dioceses once they are ready to use and support volunteers. They will contact you if and when they need help.
My firm recommendation is don’t do it. Piles of discarded clothing in parking lots after Hurricane Katrina and SuperStorm Sandy teach us not to send clothes or shoes or things. After major disasters, diocesan staff have limited capacity to receive, store or distribute donated goods. Here’s a great article about the challenges of communities receiving donated goods: here.
As a reminder, September is National Preparedness Month. If were not impacted directly by Hurricane Florence, now is a great opportunity for you and your loved ones to prepare for disasters. Check out these helpful resources and tips: here. You can select 1 or 2 things to do each week. By the end of the month, you will feel less anxiety and more prepared to face a sudden disaster or event.
An effective response requires us to discern what is most helpful and appropriate at any given time. Let’s continue to hold those directly impacted in our hearts and prayers throughout their recovery, long after the media images fade.
Josephine Hicks is the Vice President for Episcopal Church Programs at Episcopal Relief & Development.
Donate to the Hurricane Relief Fund
Your generous support will supply critical necessities for communities immediately and for the long-term as they recover and rebuild.