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Preparing early for disaster is key

1,300 new Georgia Disaster relief volunteers trained at Oct. 8 session


When the frequency, strength and expanding scope of natural disasters seem to more and more resemble the seven bowls of wrath in Revelation, the need for help is magnified.

Leaders in Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief have witnessed the resulting response by the increase in volunteers since early 2004. That was when disaster relief teams began responding to a Dec. 26, 2003 earthquake that rocked Bam, Iran, measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale and leaving more than 43,000 dead. Four hurricanes making landfall in a 44-day span in Florida, the massive southeast Asia tsunami and Hurricane Katrina and resulting tornados have left disaster relief personnel and resources stretched thin.

Scott Barkley

State disaster relief secretary Kim Cumbie enters information to produce badges for new volunteers. At a recent training session held in Douglasville 1,300 new workers in disaster relief were certified. The need and desire for disaster relief work has particularly grown since scenes of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction became daily images for Americans.

“In early 2005 we averaged about 300-400 people at each of our three statewide training sessions,” said Kim Cumbie, state disaster relief secretary. “In 2004 our numbers were about half that. We attribute [the increase] to the hurricanes and tsunami. Natural catastrophes were at the forefront of people’s minds.”

Katrina’s destruction pushed that need even further. Additionally, medical teams will be sent to areas of Pakistan in early November to help in recovery efforts of the Oct. 8 earthquake that struck that country. To enlist more volunteers an emergency training session was held Oct. 8 at Central Baptist Church in Douglasville, resulting in 1,300 new workers. That’s more than Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief trains in a year.

State task force leaders like David Reynolds can vouch for the need of early training and preparedness. Although having a large number at one training session is good, it’s better to not wait until disaster strikes. An overall larger number of volunteers spread among different sessions will give the individual a better idea of what is expected when their unit is on site.

“The bottom line is we want people to be aware of how things work in a disaster situation,” said Reynolds, a layman at Spring Branch Baptist Church in Baxley and state task force director for feeding. “We don’t want a disaster within a disaster because people are uninformed about how things work.

“People want to help, but we have to have the right people in the right place at the right time.”

Rick Patchin, associate pastor of Shadow Brook Baptist Church in Suwanee and 14-year disaster relief veteran, sees the ministrys’ statewide connection.

As the liaison to the state operations center, Patchin represents Georgia Baptists for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency – the state version of FEMA.

Serving as pastor of a church in Eagle Pass, Texas in 1981, Patchin was first exposed to disaster relief work when a chemical spill resulted in people being evacuated to the church building. He is witness to the importance of cohesiveness between agencies in a disaster event.

“An awareness of how disasters work is needed, or more so, how people work together in a disaster” said Patchin, “Our people work with the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other different denominations and groups.

“You learn that the way to reach people with the love of Christ is often through a disaster. We’ve ministered to individuals who probably wouldn’t ever listen to us otherwise.”

There is no time like the present to prepare for a disaster, even when the skies are blue and the sun is shining, stressed state disaster relief director Jim Richardson.

“Three training sessions a year is a good number. That way we can train 1,500 people annually without a lot of stress on trainers or the facility,” said Richardson.

Three seminars are offered to Georgia Baptists interested in family, church, or association disaster planning and preparation.

The four-hour family planning session is designed to assist in writing a disaster plan and assembling a disaster kit. Questions answered include how to get to safety during a disaster and how to reunite with loved ones.

In the church disaster planning and preparation, five to seven church members are given the responsibility of preparing for a disaster event. Topics covered include identifying possible disasters in the church’s community, what ministries the church will provide in the aftermath and equipment needed to make the disaster plan a reality.

Five to seven members of an association are required for the association disaster planning and preparation training. The four-hour session relates to the same questions as in the church training, but on an associational scale.

Cumbie herself trained in disaster relief and, looking to earn her chainsaw certification at the next such training event, addressed the value of forethought and preparedness.

“It’s important that when we go [to a disaster site] we appear as organized as a relief team can be. We become the face of Christ to those people.”

For more information on joining Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief, contact Jim Richardson at or call (877) RING GBC, ext. 254 or (770) 936-5254.