The Four Phases of Disaster
Our students are NOW people. When they see a disaster on the news, many of them want to go there right now. For us in Pleasant Grove, Al., the disaster came to us. Tornadoes ripped through our state and destroyed our church. We became the mission.
All disasters have phases of help and our students experienced all of them. What can you do to prepare your youth ministry to minister in a disaster area?
I witnessed four phases of disaster in our town and I hope it will help your youth ministry prepare to minister during a time of crisis.
1. The Rescue Phase
Most youth ministries, like I said earlier, want to respond when the disaster hits immediately. The rescue phase happens in the first 48-72 hours. Whatever city that disaster happens in has an emergency management system. Neighbors are helping neighbors. They are looking for those who are missing. They are listening for voices under rubble. Disaster is very personal and help is local. The community is not ready for outsiders, yet.
What your youth ministry could do during this phase: Pray. When you see a disaster of mammoth proportions, use your next youth meeting, or a portion of it, as a prayer service for those affected. Put up pictures of the area hit and let kids pray that there would be people rescued. Prayer works.
2. The Recovery Phase
Once the initial shock is over, their is realization that not everyone has made it. Our city deployed the police, and in our case the national guard, to block every road. There were many people, even local people who could not get into the city because of all the road blocks. This being my first disaster up close, and being a pastor in the community, I was very frustrated that I could not get in to help. Now I understand. The city needs time to assess the damage, the needs, and the missing and death toll before they can let people into an area. In other words, they have to have a grip on the situation before opening the doors for others to help.
What your youth ministry could do during this phase: Stay glued to the t.v and begin to collect supplies such as water, garbage bags, plastic storage containers for survivors to put their belongings in, towels, and non perishable food such as energy or granola bars.
3. The Relief Phase
Once the city has gotten a grip, which may take about a five to six days, they can begin to establish a plan. With us, relief agencies such as Convoy of Hope and Samaritan’s purse were set up and waiting for the o.k to move in. It is at this point where your youth group can move in and provide boots on the ground.
In large disasters, the national government will step in with organizations like FEMA. FEMA will help with the clean up by supplying trucks to pick up debris from the side of the road. Your group can assist with debris removal by cutting up fallen trees and dragging them to the side of the road. This phase is the feel good phase. This is the phase where a lot of work gets done and people feel fulfilled, but don’t stop there, consider the long term.
What your youth ministry can do during this phase: If you round up a group to bring to a site, check Twitter feeds and Facebook for where the most help is needed. Also, consider bringing a grill to cook food for hungry relief workers and a tent to provide shade. If you are coming from the outside, always look for permission to help or ask how you can help, don’t assume you know.
4. The Rebuilding Phase
This is where I planted myself. I knew, based on the magnitude of the storm, that rebuilding would be a very long process, probably years. I started Rebuild Alabama three days after the storm because I knew this was a long term deal.
This phase is the frustrating phase for youth ministries or churches who want to continue to help. The challenge here is finding projects. The speed at which people want to get back to normal is kinetic. This is the phase where we must all be the most patient. Survivors are busy relocating or sorting out their insurance which can be a challenging process.
Your youth ministry is needed at every phase during a disaster. We, who are going through it, need your prayers right from the start. We also need those who are interested in helping over the long haul, who want to make an investment in a city and a community. Wherever disaster strikes, I hope your youth ministries will be fruitful at every phase.
What your youth ministry can do during this phase: Find a local person or church who is continuing to organize relief and rebuilding efforts. Pray about helping a family you may have met during the relief phase long term.
If you would like more information on Rebuild Alabama, you can check out Paul’s blog at www.thediscipleproject.net or search Rebuild Alabama on Facebook.