The Rev. Scott Parrish knows that people mean well when they respond to a natural disaster, but that first response sometimes can cause other problems.
“Everybody sees the news and wants to load up and go right away. Because of the good-heartedness of people, they all show up in droves,” said Parrish, the pastor of outreach and missions at Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church.
If they’re not careful, “they inundate the situation, creating a second crisis.”
“There’s a need for a more coordinated, measured response,” he said.
Over two days in February, the Augusta church will hold a disaster-relief training event for the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. The training is part of a week’s worth of events called Faith in Action, including worship services and a community day of service, when church members volunteer to clean up the Augusta Canal, serve at the Master’s Table Soup Kitchen and build beds with Augusta Urban Ministries, among other projects.
Experienced disaster-relief workers will train volunteers to assess a disaster area, prepare a church facility before disaster strikes, or tend to the spiritual and emotional needs of victims.
The idea is to connect those interested in relief work with the proper training, resources and credentials to be effective, Parrish said.
“We want people to be plugged in, instead of being a lone ranger,” he said. “You don’t want to have a team have a negative impact on a place that’s already been devastated.”
Until recently, this sort of training was only offered in metro Atlanta. That’s changing, said Mike Yoder, the chairman of the disaster-relief team of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“There are a lot of people who are asking for this training,” said Yoder, who is also the president of Georgia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, a coalition of faith-based groups working in disaster relief.
“We need to do this around the whole state,” he said. “We’re bringing it to Augusta because we believe there are a lot of churches willing and able to respond.”
The disaster-relief training is open to members of other churches, and previous experience isn’t required.
Those getting trained will receive a background check and a badge that will certify a person’s training with the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Most of the training will be conducted Feb. 4, but one session begins the previous evening. Volunteers will spend the night at the church in a simulated disaster shelter as they learn to set up and operate a child care center.
They’ll sleep on Red Cross cots and complete more than 20 hours of training through the Church of the Brethren’s Children’s Disaster Services. It aims to teach volunteers how to understand and respond to children who have experienced trauma.
It’s a critical service they’ll provide when disaster strikes, Yoder said.
“We as a church people believe we do this because Christ tells us to do it,” he said. “It is ingrained in us. We want to take care of our fellow man.”