[Sayma-Discuss] Action in support of disaster victims

Charles Schade c.vmbra at frontier.com
Fri Nov 9 20:02:05 EST 2012

I have often struggled with finding the "best" way of helping people
affected by natural disaster.  One of my friends in Charleston whom I know
through his work in support of rail passenger service, had some thoughts
about how best to render practical assistance from afar.  Chuck is also a
Methodist minister, hence his scriptural references.  He reminds us
elegantly that we need to hold both the primary victims and those who are
working hard to help them in the Light.

To my Friends in the Passenger Rail Community:

 First off, this is not about Passenger Rail, so be warned ahead of time.
Secondly, if you feel moved to forward the message to others fine.

 In the book of Genesis 1:2, there is the notion that ". . .the earth was
without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. . ."
Most folks who comment on this passage note that the concept here is that
part of God's creation act was to come into a chaotic mess, and bring form
to it.  (For those not Biblically inclined the same notion is rampant in
early Greek Philosophy.)  Thus it was, and is, that traditionally Chaos has
been seen as an evil to be overcome (most often with the aid of God).

 As a former Disaster Worker in more than a few Major Disaster Operations, I
can testify to the fact that this passage of scripture creeps into the
thoughts of many a tired Disaster Worker after a week or more of 18 hours
days broken only by fitful bouts of drowsiness on couches or cots, if you
are lucky, bleacher seats or floors if you are not.  You may have come in to
"fight" the hurricane, the flood, the fire, the earthquake, whatever.  What
you soon realize is that your real enemy is the Chaos that ensues ("The
Disaster after the Disaster").

 Part of the Chaos that ensues is not the result of the action of wind,
water or whatever, but rather because of steps taken by well-meaning, but
unfortunately mis-guided individuals who see a need, feel perhaps at tinge
of guilt ("there but for the grace of God go I," or "I must do something or
people will think I don't care") and then act, often without regard to the

 The reality today is that Disaster Work is exceedingly complex, difficult,
and dangerous.  And what becomes most difficult and dangerous is managing
the "Disaster After the Disaster."  For it is there, in the overwhelming
"flood of aid pouring in" that Chaos often rears its ugly head.  And Chaos
is seen, both in "olden times" and now, as the real evil to be overcome.

 There are a lot of agencies, FEMA, CWS, UMCOR, Red Cross, HUD, Salvation
Army and so forth and so on.  Each has a "part to play," albeit sometimes
neither they, nor we, quite understand what part that is until just before
the final curtain.  But they are there, and have been there before (and
often have curious elements of hared combat experience just as old soldiers
who have fought many battles together).  They may not seem an elegant batch
of organizations to those whose political notions tend toward the overly
rational/fastidious frame of reference.  But without them, Chaos would
prevail.  This is not about order and future acts, this is about averting
Chaos in the present.  These groups have been created out of past
realizations of major mistakes in past disasters.  Just as it is said about
many of the "operational regulations" associated with America's railroads,
"They are written in the blood of victims of past mistakes" the same can be
said for many of these helpers and their various forms, procedures and

 Those on the scene know you want to help, indeed they need your help, for
without you, they cannot be there.  They just ask that you stop a moment and
consider what they are up against, Chaos.

 A food drive for canned goods for "disaster victims" is a fine PR idea, it
may meet the need of a political campaign, but it is a lousy idea in the
world of Disaster Relief.  Folks living in shelters, or "bunking" with
friends or relatives, who may or may not have electricity, potable water,
and utensils, probably are going to have difficulty with that type of aid.
Now donations of money to the Red Cross Feeding Program, the Salvation Army,
the Southern Baptist Disaster Team, or several other national/local groups
that are on the scene is another story.  The truth is, these agencies go
into these disasters with enough reserve to normally carry them about a
week.  But it is during the second week that these reserves start to
disappear, and the real need arises.

 If you want to have a drive to "collect canned goods for disaster victims"
fine, but send your cans to your local food pantry.  There is a long hard
winter coming up and surely there will be folks who will need it (note, I
recognize that doing this might put you afoul of certain laws regarding
fraudulent fund-raising).  Food is best handled through agencies in the
affected areas that are concerned about issues such as nutrition, public
health and other considerations beside "hungry stomachs."

 In like manner, those clothes you are collecting, give them to the local
clothing distribution center.  Again, there is a long hard winter just
around the corner.  Instead, see about donating to the program "Tide" has
started to provide "mobile Laundromats" in Disaster Areas.

 And, above all, if you feel moved to "go and help" yourself, stop and
think, "can this overstressed area take another mouth, regardless of how
helpful it may be, to feed clothe and house?"  Many of you are affiliated
with various religious organizations.  Many of them have "volunteer"
programs that work with the Disaster Agency folks in the areas effected.
Let them determine when and where you can help, even if it will be next
summer before you will be "on the scene."  

 Lastly, if it is part of your spiritual life/habit to pray, either as a
regular daily ritual, or "in situ" as the need may arise throughout the day,
and you decide to pray for "the Disaster Victims" also remember those who
are working in the Disaster.

 Remember the National Guard Staff Sergeant who spends her/his days with
his/her squad driving a Hummvee around the Disaster Area, distributing food,
protecting the property of folks forced away, or trying to figure out where
to put that next load of sand, now that the currently designated "landfill"
has reached the point of overflowing.  And then goes "home" to be with
his/her family in a shelter because they too have lost their home, but they
cannot begin to recover until her/his call to service has been ended.

 Remember the local church congregation who has turned their main room of
worship over to a group of disaster workers to use as a "crash pad" while
they are in the area.  While this is going on, they will have struggle to
find a place to center upon their worship duties.

 And lastly remember the County Emergency Services Director/City Disaster
Coordinator/State Homeland Security Officer.   They have just worked their
6th 18 hour day in a row and there is a knock at the door.  A "Church team"
from the "3rd Church of Eyewash Iowa" has just showed up, unannounced, and
not requested, and needs a place to stay, has canned goods and used clothes
to hand out, and by the way, our vans are just about out of gas, "can you
get us some fuel please?"  And though she/he is bone tired, and even though
his/her inner person seeks to cry out again in anger at the Chaos all
around, once again he/she pulls out the lists of places, already filled with
checks and erasures and hastily scribbled notes ("1st church does not have
facilities suitable for children under the age of 12") and tries to meet the
needs of this latest group of "disaster victims."

 Remember everyone effected as they work, with your help, in the struggle
against the Chaos that threatens to engulf them and the areas they care so
much about.

 J. Charles (Chuck) Riecks, (retired) Disaster Worker

>From 1974, 1977, 1985, 1995, 2010 (and numerous other "minor" ones)

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