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SPDR 101: Is it an Emergency or a Disaster?

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

I am officially one-month into serving full-time as the Director for the Synod Partnership for Disaster Response, a long name that I hope you will soon recognize as SPDR. Over these recent weeks, I have developed goals for this partnership with presbytery leaders, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance staff, and the Synod of the Sun staff. I have traveled to sites within our Synod still recovering from disasters, and I am meeting people across the Synod and beyond who are quickly becoming the community of resources we hope to cultivate as part of the vision of this shared ministry.

Nanette Cagney and Faye Cooper are standing in front of the Pauline Hurst Mercy Center, a resource distribution site developed out of a multi-congregation effort to receive and distribute necessities in the north side of Lake Charles after Hurricanes Laura & Delta. Donations and volunteers are still needed.

One of those people is Mark McCain, a retired engineer who once worked with the Department of Homeland Security and now oversees a network of the five presbyteries in South Carolina to coordinate disaster preparedness and assistance. One of the questions he asked me was, “Do you know the difference between an emergency and a disaster?” My stomach suddenly turned into a bowling ball and I ended up grimacing like that emoji baring their teeth.

Mark very kindly gave me the defining line between a disaster and emergency that makes me feel a hundred times wiser now. He said, “In an emergency, you have the resources and capabilities to handle the event yourself. In a disaster, you do not have the capacity to take care of things by yourself and you need outside resources to help overcome the problem.”

In the catalog of my mind, I can now sort through the times I have faced an emergency, like discovering I have COVID just a few hours before having to lead an Ash Wednesday service, and the times when I have experienced disasters, like those early days of the pandemic and during Hurricane Katrina. And I am going to include parenting as a disaster because God knows I cannot handle that alone!

The roof of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana was lifted off of the building during Hurricane Laura, creating a structurally unsound building. The estimated cost of damage to the building is $2.5 million and the congregation, along with many other congregations, are currently in a lawsuit against their insurance company.

Last week, I toured areas of Southwest Louisiana still recovering from Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta. Church sanctuaries and neighborhood homes remain uninhabitable. Two years later, Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas continues to deliver fresh produce once a month to feed the residents of north Lake Charles. Pastor Nanette Cagney shared with me that one of the surprising outcomes of this disaster were the relationships that formed as a result of the enormity of needs across their city – needs that one congregation could not address alone. They needed each other, and so they found a way to work together to love and serve their neighbors. The needs are still there, and so here we are as SPDR to join them.

I want to know: What disasters have you faced in your communities and how did resources come together to help people rebuild their sense of safety and the structures damaged in your community? Please share in the comment section below or reach out to me directly:

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