Disaster response transitions to “blue sky time”
By Jeremy Bassett, Director of Office of Mission
Some five years ago, together with multiple partners, our Annual Conference’s Disaster Response ministry geared up for the work needed following another devastating storm centered on Moore, Oklahoma. Two years later, another series of storms left even more work to be done, this time spread over 49 counties.
During this time, some 2,160 homeowners accessed disaster services; we were able to complete over 670 projects, utilizing around 6,500 volunteers for over 125,000 volunteer hours, valued at approximately $2.7m in labor value alone!
In these five or so years, we saw our United Methodist support staff grow to 30 temporary workers, itself just one part of the total staff deployed through our other partner agencies. Now, however, we alone remain on the field, completing the last of the assigned tasks.
But, it is time for us to declare this extended task “completed!” So, we are transitioning out of our active work in this disaster response effort to what we are aptly calling “blue sky time.” The Oklahoma Annual Conference will continue to respond to future disaster events as it has in the past, but there is simply no workable way to keep staff in place when the grant money that funded our effort the past five years has run out.
The last few staff are working on establishing an independent effort, to be called “Recovering Oklahomans After Disaster, Inc.,” to continue the work, focusing on disaster response, recovery, preparation and mitigation. We applaud this effort, and wish them well, but are not able to be a part of it in any formal way. Those on our Disaster Response mailing list will receive a separate communication about this effort, to which you are free to respond as you feel led.
Rev. Richard Norman, for so many years the key person heading up our various responses, will be taking retirement at the end of the year, but will be kept on retainer, to be available to us when needed. The Office of Mission will remain actively engaged in monitoring every future event for possible response – and will ramp up our team and our work as is needed and as funds allow.
We are deeply grateful to Richard, to his dedicated team of workers over the past five years, to the vast army of volunteers, donors and partners in the field in this vital work (especially to UMCOR and the churches and people of the United Methodist Church of Oklahoma!).
Sadly, there is always the likelihood of another event that will need our response. And, we will seek to be available then as we have been in the past, assuring that everyone gets a chance to go home again, safe and secure in their dwellings. Please be assured we will be there to respond, if and when that occurs.