June 1 marks the onset of hurricane season in the Atlantic basin, where storms brew annually and pound the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and U.S. Atlantic coastlines.
While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts 2014 to be an average or below-average year for hurricane-force storms, “there’s always the potential for a significant, damaging hurricane,” says World Vision’s Phyllis Freeman.
To prepare for that possibility, Phyllis, the organization’s director of domestic disaster response, says her team has been “working hard to be ready” for the storm season, which extends from June to the end of November.
“We’ve done training, prepared our domestic rapid response team, and brought in volunteers to build relief kits that we are pre-positioning at nine locations to be near seasonal weather hotspots,” she says.
Phyllis declares the team to be prepared for whatever the season can throw at them: “Vehicles ready, go-bags packed.”
The team has already had a workout since tornado season began in March. In three months they’ve delivered relief goods to tornado-affected communities in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Oklahoma as well as continued support for Superstorm Sandy survivors that amount to about half of the total distributions (799 pallets) in all of 2013.
Local partner groups, many of them churches, depend on World Vision to supply personal hygiene kits, cleaning supplies, and other household items that families need to tide them over after a disaster. Later, during the recovery period, World Vision teams often bring toys, school supplies, and building materials.
This year, responders will introduce child activity kits for pre-kindergarten through elementary-age children. The kits contain a stuffed animal, lightweight blanket, crayons and activity book, as well as hygiene items like a toothbrush and toothpaste in a reusable, hands-free bag.
“We’ve wanted something to give kids that they can have for their own when they’ve lost everything,” Phyllis says. “We’re working with the author of 'Fearless the Lion' books to include one of those, too.” The books help children overcome their fears.
For the first time, World Vision is also stocking “power-out” kits with meals, lights, a fan, and a small generator for locations where power may be out for an extended period.
Goods are housed in World Vision’s north Texas warehouse to supply emergency disaster response efforts, which support national partner locations in Jackson, Mississippi, Gretna, Louisiana; Albany, Georgia; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as four World Vision warehouses in other states.
Phyllis sees World Vision’s role as a support to local recovery efforts.
“It will be churches and faith-based organizations that carry their communities through a disaster,” she says. “Not only are they local first responders, but they will stay with the recovery after outside organizations have left.”
She cites Vilonia, Arkansas, about 30 miles north of Little Rock, as a case in point. A tornado devastated the 4,000-person community at the end of April, part of the most damaging tornado system so far this year. It occurred almost three years to the day after a severe tornado hit the same place.
“Churches organized to rebuild Vilonia; the second time disaster struck they were better prepared. That’s the kind of resilience you want to see,” Phyllis says.
Phyllis and her team are ready to make a major push to provide readiness training to churches. She plans to offer training to several churches together — “as many as we can across the country, but particularly in the Gulf Coast and states that are prone to tornadoes.”