Volunteers from a variety of NGO's like Team Rubicon (pictured) and faith-based non-profits help to empower FEMA's disaster response. Much "behind the scenes" work is needed to coordinate those good efforts as well. (Photo by Steve Zumwalt/FEMA)

Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago, 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. He’ll be spending up to four weeks working out of Austin, Texas.

The following was written for his family and Jim as graciously shared it with us.

Well, I’ve got a week under my belt and what a week. I can’t say that I accomplished anything critical but I sure learned a lot. The response to this disaster is huge. The Joint Field Office, FEMA’s headquarters, is in Austin in an abandoned Goldsmith building. There must be a couple thousand people working here. There are people from every branch of the government, AmeriCorps, volunteers like me, members of other State’s Emergency Management Offices, FEMA Corps, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Army Corp of Engineers, Coast Guard, and on and on. I can’t say it runs like a well-oiled machine but I’m amazed at how well it does work. We all have our niche and we are all part of the puzzle.

Jim Truitt speaks to the 2016 PNW Conference about the Rebuild effort, providing homes for those impacted by wildfires in Washington State.

We’re all working at least 12 hour days 6 days a week. I’m not accustomed to that kind of schedule so I get pretty tired by the end of the day. Fortunately, I’ve been able to get a good night’s sleep each night. I over did it last night, I slept for almost 11 hours.

I’m looking forward to next week because I’m headed into the field on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. I’ve been asked to visit with three of the Long Term Recovery Groups that say they are ready to go into recovery/rebuild to assess their strengths and weaknesses. The objective is to find ways to help them be more effective. I always feel more comfortable in the field than sitting at a desk.

Some gee whiz numbers:
• There are over 790,000 people registered with FEMA and requesting assistance
• There are over 60,000 people in transitional housing in 2,600 motels and hotels with no estimate of when they will be able to go home or to some other housing arrangement
• It is estimated that there are over 160 organizations present in Texas with over 18,000 volunteers helping with the muck out/clean up
• Some areas like the Corpus Christi area were hit mainly by wind so a few of them have already started to rebuild. Other areas like Beaumont and Port Arthur are still under water.
• They estimate that over 500,000 cars were totaled by flood water.

It’s really hard to deal with numbers this big so I try to focus on just the area that I’ve been asked to address, i.e. how many potential clients will LTR X have to deal with. Do they have the capacity to handle that? Do they have the structure to effectively manage the recovery in their area, etc.?

Hurricane Irma put a real strain on resources. There just aren’t enough people, equipment and resources to support two huge disasters. A simple example came up yesterday. We use common blue tarps to cover the roofs of homes damaged by the wind. We’ve run out of tarps and we can’t find any anywhere in the US. FEMA is also worried the same thing will occur when we get into reinstalling sheetrock.

Thanks for supporting me in this adventure. I truly believe that God gave me the previous 12 years of experiences so I could be where I am today. Hopefully I can do something meaningful.

Our conference and local churches are blessed by leaders like Jim who are willing to learn and serve as God gives them opportunity. 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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