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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Secondary damage

Posted Wednesday, March 14, 2012, at 5:59 PM

I had coffee with Dave Powell last Wednesday. He is an old college friend, ordained pastor in my denomination, and also serves as the denomination's Disaster Response Coordinator for the State of Indiana. His last 10 days had been rather busy in response to Tuesday's tornadoes and Friday's killing tornadoes, all in Southern Indiana.

I had been pastor in Ellettsville when it was hit by an F-4 tornado in 2002. I know that each morning there is a meeting to give assignments to all volunteer workers. The Disaster Response Coordinator or their assistants try to align each worker's strengths and abilities with the needs at each property damaged or destroyed.

Dave shared that all the assignments had been given out that morning. And, there were over 2,000 volunteers left over. Over 2,000! These were people who didn't come by way of the Red Cross, churches or organizations with a history of helping with such disasters. These were the "lone rangers" for the most part. I asked what can be done with those who aren't there by way of a network providing help and assistance. His reply startled me. You watch them so that they don't do more harm.

He described two kinds of people who suddenly show up to offer assistance. The first have hearts of gold but not many skills for this type of situation. One may show up unexpectedly at a property, start working, get injured and demand that the property owner cover all medical expenses. Or, several may go to a property without the owner being there, go through that person's belongings, getting rid of what a "do-gooder" believes is now worthless, and traumatize the property owner for a second time. He told me of incidents where unskilled people were cutting down damaged trees only to have the trees fall upon other rooms of tornado-damaged homes.

The second kind of person is the kind we ran into with the Ellettsville tornado. These skilled volunteers unexpectedly show up, ask the property owner if he or she would like help in cleaning up debris, and send a bill for their "verbally authorized" services several months later. A team of volunteers might unexpectedly show up and ask the property owner if they would like a new roof; you guessed it, months later an astronomical bill arrives for a service that has no guarantee. These scam artist travel from tragedy to tragedy making a living from the suffering of others.

Dave described how an authorized team works with those who have lost so much. They carry photo IDs identifying what organization they represent. They have property owners sign documents that outline insurance the volunteer is providing and release of liability on the property owner's part; the property owner gets a copy of this information for his or her protection. Part of their team will take 20 to 30 photos of the property before cleanup and provide these on a disc that the property owner can then use for insurance purposes. They take instructions from the property owner on what needs to be done. The team's food and water is provided by their organization; they make no demands upon what few resources the property owner has. And they come back when the property owner wishes or schedule another team to take their place. Relationships are built, trust established, and help is given that doesn't complicate the lives of those already traumatized.

Dave glows when he talks about his work as a Disaster Coordinator. In our denomination it is expected that a pastor will be involved in ministry opportunities away from the local parish to which one is appointed. We usually have about two weeks each year where our ministry is to "the world" and Dave does his service in this manner. He has led over 12 mission work teams to Haiti before and after the earthquake of 2010. He's led mission work teams in Appalachia. But his eyes light up when he talks about his experiences as the Disaster Response Coordinator. "These are my neighbors, my friends, my family," he explains about people who are complete strangers. "We'll be in relationship for months if not years to come. I get to see how we make a long-term difference in their daily lives. I get to see them recover as best they can."

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Sunshine for the Soul
Rev. P.T. Wilson
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P.T. Wilson is the senior pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle, and is also the University Chaplain at DePauw University.
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