Florida Baptist Disaster Relief awaits Isaac 20 years after Hurricane Andrew
Aug 26, 2012
By JONI B. HANNIGAN
Managing Editor

JACKSONVILLE (FBW)-Thousands of Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers have been put on standby throughout the state as Tropical Storm Isaac approaches the Miami Keys where it could become a Category 1 hurricane in the next 12 hours.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency early Saturday as forecasters expanded hurricane warnings and watches for parts of Florida as the Republican Party with some 70,000 delegates gather for its national convention in Tampa.

After reaching the Keys on Sunday – the National Hurricane Center’s Aug. 26, 8 a.m. track is projecting Isaac's possible second landfall on the Alabama coast early Wednesday morning as a possible Category 2 Hurricane though the "cone of uncertainty" stretches from Florida's western panhandle to New Orleans.

With 6,500 active, trained volunteers, Florida Baptists have been tracking the storm for over five days and have teams in South Florida ready to check on the Keys as soon as Isaac passes, Fritz Wilson, team strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention said. It’s far more than the 500 volunteers who faced Hurricane Andrew 20 years ago, he said.

Relying on regionally led teams operated across Florida, Wilson said it helps to be ready with two functional kitchens on wheels, more than 80 cleanup and recovery units, 10 shower and laundry combinations, and a childcare unit.

“We are ready to respond,” Wilson told Florida Baptist Witness. “Because our volunteers are committed to responding whenever needed in times of disaster, they’ve always got a watchful eye in peak hurricane season.”

“Preparedness is just a part of being ready to go,” he said.

Florida Baptists have already been busy assessing damage and preparing to distribute rice in Haiti where Isaac swept across its southern Peninsula early Saturday, causing heavy damage according to Dennis Wilbanks, Florida Baptist’s partnership director.

In partnership with Haitian Baptists through the Confratenite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti (CMBH) for the past 15 years, Florida Baptist missionaries there are able to utilize the network of CMBH churches to identify and meet needs.

“Because of the years of experiences with previous cyclone relief, our missionaries are well prepared to gather information quickly and mobilize relief efforts,” Wilbanks said. “Due to lessons learned after the earthquake, they [the missionaries] are prepared to respond in appropriate ways. Each association has a depot (small warehouse or cargo container) that was built or placed after the earthquake. The pre-positioning of rice puts us 5-7 days ahead of schedule from previous relief efforts.”

HURRICANE ANDREW LESSONS

Noting Friday marked the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, the costliest in Florida’s history, Wilson said there has been a tremendous change in the way Southern Baptists are prepared to respond to a disaster.

“Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and Florida Baptist Disaster Relief was just some folks with a couple of mobile kitchens,” Wilson said.

Now there is a “very” formal system in place, he said, and its not only recognized within Southern Baptist circles but by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of Florida. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is generally recognized as the third largest disaster relief organization in the country following the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

The response to Andrew was tremendous, however, Wilson recalled, as were the lessons learned. He noted John Sullivan, Florida Baptist Convention’s executive director-treasurer, has said Andrew changed his perspective of ministry in times of disaster.

“The response to Andrew led to the expansion and development of the Florida Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief and Recovery Ministry as well as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who leaves Florida to become the new executive director of Disaster Relief for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board in October, said there is much more to today’s disaster relief than feeding people—although that remains a key component of the entire operation.

Months ago, before Isaac, Wilson met with officials to discuss security details related to the Republican National Convention. At their request a mobile kitchen was placed on standby, and a couple of churches were identified as possible evacuation centers, he said.

Wilson noted the following in a communication to Florida Baptist Convention churches:

ISAAC PREPAREDNESS ACTION STEPS

• The DR team is has been and will continue monitoring Isaac’s path for several days and will continue to do so through the weekend and into next week if needed.

• The DR team has established initial lines of communication with state/regional DR leadership, the FL State EOC, SBC DR partners.

• The DR team will place units and volunteers on watch as appropriate. Units and volunteers will be notified through their regional leadership.

• The DR team will also begin enlisting and alerting churches & associations that are willing to be used as response sites along the projected path should Isaac impact their community

• The DR team recommends that all Florida Baptists (In the Keys, along the Gulf Coast & in the Panhandle) begin making initial disaster plans in the event the storm comes their way.

• The DR team recommends that all Florida Baptist churches and associations begin to prepare to minister to their communities should Isaac impact their area.

For more information and for updates, please go to the Facebook site of Florida Baptist Disaster Relief at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Florida-Baptist-Disaster-Relief/125877080836931.

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