(ABPNews)—Texas Baptist Men plans to dispatch an incident command team to Shawnee, Okla., Wednesday to relieve Oklahoma Baptists who had been responding to a previous tornado there, according to the group’s latest website posting. The team they are relieving is going to Moore, Okla., to help in recovery from an even larger tornado that struck there.
The TBM team will be using a bus given by the Salvation Army as the command center. TBM also will be providing chaplains. Recovery units have been place on alert, and Oklahoma Baptists have asked that the feeding unit be placed on alert.
Most Baptist churches and individuals eager to help the victims of Monday’s deadly Oklahoma twister are being told to get ready — and to wait.
While some faith-based disaster-response agencies are cleared by authorities to respond immediately, most are not and generally take long-term recovery roles in such disasters.
The reason: first-responders and even most victims of the massive tornado that killed at least 24 people in Moore, Okla., are not ready for an influx of out-of-towners bearing chainsaws and shovels, law enforcement and relief agency officials said.
Volunteers: sit tight
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma commented on Facebook that it’s too early to know what all the local needs are.
“Many of you have expressed interest in responding to the devastation in Moore,” the post said. But first-responders have yet to complete their work, and neither they nor many churches have shared their needs.
“When they start letting volunteers in, we will give you information on how to volunteer,” CBF Oklahoma said.
Mid-Atlantic region preparing
Disaster-response teams in the Mid-Atlantic have been placed on alert as they monitor devastation in Oklahoma.
“We have been asked to place all volunteers on alert status for the Oklahoma tornados,” Dean Miller, disaster-response coordinator for the Virginia Baptist Missions Board, said in an e-mail to volunteers. “Obviously [it’s] too early to tell, but Sam Porter (the disaster-response director for Oklahoma) thinks there could be a significant response in the coming days.”
North Carolina Baptist Men and Women has “equipment and team leaders on alert for a possible response,” the disaster-relief group posted on its Facebook page. “We are maintaining situational awareness and in contact with national leadership. Pray for the survivors as they face the challenges of today.”
The District of Columbia Baptist Convention’s emergency-response team also is on alert, said Ricky Creech, the convention’s executive director/minister.
“We are awaiting requests for mutual aid assistance from Incident Command, which is set up in First Baptist Church of Moore, Okla.,” Creech said in an e-mail. “Once the mutual aid request is sent out, we will then determine if the closer state response teams can handle the resources and capacity needed to fill the request. If not then D.C. Baptist emergency response team will deploy. We would most likely send our chainsaw and debris removal units along with any available chaplains and assessors.”
At least 80 Oklahoma Baptist volunteers began work in several locations in the state, said Sam Porter, disaster-relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
“Within moments of hearing of the destruction in Moore, we put together a rapid-response volunteer team to help with the clean-up and recovery efforts,” Porter wrote on the BGCO’s web page. “Our teams are on the ground now surveying the area and helping where we can be of most assistance.”
Early estimates rate the tornado as an EF4, meaning it had winds between 166 and 200 mph. CNN reported May 21 that the twister was at least two miles wide and that at least nine children were among those killed.
Churches taking steps
Individuals and churches across the country are already taking steps to help — many of them by urging financial contributions to relief agencies, including CBF disaster response.
In Atlanta, members of Second-Ponce de leon Baptist Church were told that pastors, churches and families in the impacted areas “appear to be mostly safe” and are themselves helping in the relief and recovery efforts. It urges financial contributions to CBF online or via the church.
Tommy Deal, CBF’s national disaster-response coordinator, said CBF’s specialty is long-term recovery and is already communicating with CBF Oklahoma to begin mapping out plans to help victims get back on their feet.