Leaving Texas: Lessons learned and the work ahead

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First United Methodist Church of Rockport, Texas was one of a number of churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey. As of the middle of October, the congregation was still unable to worship in their building due to safety concerns. Photo by Jim Truitt.

Editor’s Note: Jim Truitt was invited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist in the formation of a Long Term Recovery Taskforce for Hurricane Harvey. Truitt, who serves our PNW Conference as the UMVIM Disaster Response Coordinator, had previous worked alongside FEMA during the Galena, AK recovery effort. 

The following is Jim’s fourth and final update written for friends and family upon his return home. You can find the the first three installations here: Week OneWeek Two – Week Three.


I finished my tour in Texas last Thursday. It was kind of bitter sweet. I was anxious to get back home and resume my “normal” life and at the same time I wanted to stay and do more to help those affected by the hurricane. Even though great progress has been made in the past seven weeks, there is so much more to be done before they can earnestly begin to rebuild. The local response groups are still finding pockets of people who have not registered and have not received any volunteer support. In the greater Beaumont area there are over 6,000 open unclaimed work orders waiting for some volunteer group(s) to claim them … and that’s just the ones who have registered. Unfortunately that does not include those who are reluctant to register for fear of a visit from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

As is typical, the number of volunteers is dropping dramatically. There is always a surge of support in the early weeks of a disaster. As time goes by, the volunteers get tired, they have to go back to work and their sponsoring organizations run out of money. In this instance, the Texans also suffered the impact of two other major disasters drawing from the volunteer pool. The challenge for them will be how to compete with Florida and Puerto Rico for the limited resources.

One of the side benefits of my tour with FEMA and the State of Texas is the lessons learned that I can bring back to strengthen our ability to respond when the “big one” hits. As an outsider sitting in the middle of the chaos I found it easy to look at situations and assess how we would/could respond in the PNW. In some cases, I think we would make out fine. In others I think we have some work to do to strengthen and expand our capacity. After I catch my breath, I guess that will be my next challenge.


What you can do

Be sure to check out some of the upcoming training opportunities if you are available to volunteer your sweat equity toward efforts to respond to natural disasters in our conference and beyond.

If you want to help United Methodist Early Response Teams (ERT) get to and from Texas, you can contribute to the Conference Advance #353 through your church or send a check to the Conference Treasurer at PO Box 13650, Des Moines, WA 98198. Put Advance #353 on the memo line.

To financially support relief and recovery efforts in U.S. states and territories, give to U.S. Disaster Response Advance #901670. To give to non-U.S. territories in the Caribbean, and to empower other efforts around the globe, please donate to International Disaster Response Advance #982450.

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