Disaster relief task force evaluates Harvey response

LUFKIN—“God did it,” Scottie Stice, SBTC disaster relief director, told about 20 disaster relief task force members and spouses at the Unity Baptist Association building in Lufkin Jan. 19.

 “We cut our teeth on the toughest one we’ll ever have,” Stice said of the Hurricane Harvey response, which demanded the unprecedented involvement of trained and untrained volunteers. It also featured the birth of Texas Relief with several hundred participants who added to the ranks of credentialed SBTC DR volunteers.

“Harvey posed challenges, causing us to request outside help, then Irma hit, drawing away much out-of-state help, so the convention responded with Texas Relief,” Stice said.

“Harvey posed challenges, causing us to request outside help, then Irma hit, drawing away much out-of-state help, so the convention responded with Texas Relief.”

Scottie Stice, SBTC disaster relief director

Former SBTC disaster relief director Jim Richardson previously said Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had permanently changed the face of disaster relief. “Harvey just changed it again,” Stice said, adding, “Texas Relief volunteers are part of our future.”

Stice and the task force discussed the challenges of using untrained volunteers, noting issues of safety, supervision and communication. Even in the rush to aid Harvey victims, Texas Relief volunteers underwent basic disaster relief instruction and safety training before going out on the field.

The Texas Relief model reflects SBTC DR’s past policies regarding temporary workers and Oklahoma Disaster Relief’s methods of engaging spontaneous unsolicited volunteers.

Texas Relief emerged alongside the North American Mission Board’s expanded deployment of Send Relief volunteers to disaster relief. While Send Relief encompasses many ministry areas, NAMB specifically recruited individuals 16 and over, including hundreds of college students, for help responding to Harvey.

“If a church calls the SBTC and says they have a group that wants to help [in a major disaster], our answer is yes, through Texas Relief,” Stice said, adding that Texas Relief does not use minors but will redirect volunteer groups with underage helpers to other churches or organizations. Groups with minors ages 16-17 are directed to Send Relief. The same rules apply for Texas Rebuild, the SBTC’s initiative for helping churches rebuild.

Stice praised Texas Relief and Send Relief and said he expected many Texas Relief workers to obtain further training and join the ranks of SBTC DR. 

“Texas Relief is going to grow our DR volunteer ranks,” Stice said. “Already this has happened. It is a huge recruiting tool.”

When asked about the differences between a Texas Relief volunteer and a traditionally trained SBTC DR yellow shirt volunteer, Stice replied, “Credentials. Level of training. Security clearance to enter disaster zones. Insurance. Reimbursements for some expenses.”

Experienced SBTC DR volunteers provide guidance to Texas Relief teams, Stice said.

While Harvey’s massive scale caused logistical challenges in communications, accurate deployment of equipment and workers, housing and feeding, the overwhelming event saw thousands assisted and around 180 salvations, many from Champion Forest in Houston.

Gordon Knight, SBTC director of chaplains, credited the chaplain teams deployed to Hurricane Harvey and also the involvement of churches in helping others during the crisis for adding to the number of salvations.

On the heels of Harvey came the Nov. 5 shootings in Sutherland Springs, which also involved the deployment of SBTC DR chaplains. Knight commended the assistance of Oklahoma DR in providing its command center and a half-dozen DR chaplains to join five SBTC DR chaplains in ministering to the families of the victims, distributing toys and Bibles at the community prayer service and providing counseling after the service.

The future of disaster relief will involve the increased use of technology to coordinate work orders with teams of volunteers, streamline communications, back up data and deploy mass feeding units, Stice and the task force said.

It will also involve Texas Rebuild, initially focusing on churches, pastors’ homes and staff members’ homes. 

“Texas Relief and Texas Rebuild are with us to stay,” SBTC DR associate Wally Leyerle told the TEXAN. Leyerle serves as the SBTC point person for Texas Relief and Texas Rebuild, helping coordinate volunteer groups.

In his expanded role, Leyerle works with SBTC consultants Kyle Sadler and Brandon Reed, who continue to scout sites affected by Harvey and coordinate volunteer efforts.

Leyerle said a massive influx of student volunteers is expected during the first three weeks of March as student volunteers on spring break will work on Harvey rebuilding.

Texas Relief and Rebuild and the SBTC’s Adopt-a-Church program make for an “organic” and “effective” process of assisting those in need, Leyerle said.

For more information on Texas Relief, Texas Rebuild, Adopt-a-Church or SBTC DR related to Hurricane Harvey, click here.

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