Staying calm key to managing disasters

Deadly twisters hit Texas on May 15, killing at least six and damaging homes. (TBM photo)

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DALLAS (ABP)—It’s been a busy year for Baptist disaster-relief coordinators, with tornadoes in Oklahoma, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas, flooding in the Midwest and a fertilizer plant explosion in West.

And that’s while conducting long-term recovery operations from storms Isaac and Sandy and a fast-approaching hurricane season breathing down their necks.

Maintaining their professionalism and sanity can be a challenge while juggling simultaneous catastrophes that produce multiple requests for help, demands for immediate response from over-eager volunteers and strains on operating budgets and manpower.

terry henderson130Terry HendersonOne key is keeping their cool, which means not letting the emotion of the situation get to them.

“Stay calm,” Terry Henderson, state disaster-relief director for Texas Baptist Men, said after a series of tornadoes ravaged a section of North Central Texas May 15, killing at least six people and leaving hundreds homeless.

The twisters struck as TBM was conducting recovery efforts in West, where a fertilizer plant explosion last month killed 14 and destroyed hundreds of homes. Henderson spoke of the two ongoing response efforts as calmly as he would a grocery list.

“I have learned this is not a time to get excited,” he said. “If you stay calm, everybody else stays calm.”

Other Baptist disaster managers concurred, adding that juggling concurrent disaster efforts requires the same approach needed to operate effective businesses or military operations: Delegate tasks while thinking strategically and considering an organization’s limitations.

dean miller120Dean Miller“I think part of it is knowing that you have a good core of volunteer leadership that has your back,” said Dean Miller, disaster-relief coordinator with the Virginia Baptist Missions Board. Virginia Baptists continue multistate efforts to clean up after Super Storm Sandy.

Miller recalled 2011 was another very busy year as the organization responded to monthly domestic disasters while continuing relief efforts in Haiti.

Reliable staff and volunteers freed him to think about the big picture, Miller said. He had to depend on them following Sandy as he considered how he could best meet requests for help in New York and Virginia.

“If I thought I had to do all this by myself, it would drive me crazy,” Miller said.

harry rowland130Harry RowlandThe growing cooperation among Baptist and other relief groups also can help individual disaster managers maintain their sanity, said Harry Rowland, facilitator of the North American Baptist Fellowship’s disaster-response network.

When one region is overwhelmed with catastrophic events, leaders there know they can tap the volunteers, funds and equipment from other states, Rowland said.

Collaboration also helps managers know when to keep their agency out of a situation where their skills aren’t particularly needed.

“It’s about knowing each other’s assets, and everybody fills in for each other,” he said. Miller added he’s benefited from that approach many times.

A speciality of Virginia Baptist Disaster Response is mass feeding, he said, while the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship tends to focus more on recovery.

“So, if I get a call for recovery while I’m feeding, I can ask CBF to take the lead role,” Miller said.

And whatever he does, Miller said, he’s careful to let others do their jobs.

“If you micromanage, you are going to fail,” he said.

Another key to avoiding meltdowns is remembering to take time for self-care, Henderson said.

During any disaster response, Henderson tasks a chaplain with keeping an eye on leaders to make sure they are staying grounded.

He also remembers to turn to God.

“I try every day to have my own devotion time off and away from everybody,” Henderson said. “You can’t let all this get to you mentally and emotionally.”


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