HOUSTON TX – May 12, 2006 – Somebody Cares America convened a Disaster Response Think Tank/Summit in the Washington D.C. area this week, with representatives from over 30 Christ-centered/church-based organizations. The group included ministry leaders from national and international organizations—such as Operation Blessing International, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and World Blessing Foundation—as well as local pastors and city officials and denominational representatives. All participants had worked in partnership with Somebody Cares in disaster relief efforts during last year’s tsunami and hurricanes.
The goal of the group is to develop and implement a nationwide network of organizations with a strategic plan to respond to future disasters, including a standard manual of procedures, an emergency communication plan, and a common “relief speak” language to communicate efficiently with government agencies.
“Instead of re-creating networks, programs, and organizations, we can instead glean from each other and learn from each other’s giftings as we labor together to facilitate what we’re already doing and what already exists,” said Doug Stringer, founder and president of Somebody Cares America. “We can save the government millions of dollars by identifying and utilizing existing networks of grassroots organizations who already know their communities and who already have systems and resources in place to meet ongoing needs.”
Because the local churches know their communities and are meeting needs daily, Stringer said, they are positioned better than any other entity to be “first responders” when disaster strikes. Churches and ministries also have ongoing and established networks and relationships in place outside their immediate geographic locations through their denominations and other relational affiliations.
“We saw this happen repeatedly last year,” he said, referencing both the tsunami in Indonesia and other countries in the Indian Ocean as well as the hurricanes that struck New Orleans, Picayune, and Southeast Texas while sending over a quarter million evacuees to Houston and thousands more to surrounding cities.
“Because of our existing network of relationships, we were able to be first responders in many situations, by-passing bureaucratic obstacles to connect needs on-site in disaster areas to resources from all over the nation,” Stringer said.
The Somebody Cares office in Houston facilitated gift card distribution to over 21,000 individuals in the first two weeks after Katrina struck. In addition, we worked with our partner ministries to help over 20 Houston churches set up shelters by supplying food, cots, clothing, toiletries, and other items while facilitating the collection and distribution of over $4 million of grants, contributions, and in kind donations to over 165 churches and ministries throughout Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi for Katrina and Rita relief.
The value of the local church has also been noticed by other agencies, such as the Heritage Foundation, which has published reports documenting the effectiveness of grassroots initiatives in times of disaster.
The Somebody Cares Disaster Response Network plans to meet again in the coming weeks after compiling initial input and drafting a plan and manual which will later be introduced nationwide. Specific areas to be addressed will be the ways a church can help with evacuation procedures, setting up incident command centers, back-up communication plans, emergency relief training and certification, transportation and access issues, warehousing and procurement, short-term and long-term work-teams, mobilizing trained crisis counselors, and coordinating efforts with local, state, and federal agencies.
Somebody Cares operates in local communities across the U.S. and internationally, bringing hope by meeting the day-to-day needs of individuals in personal crisis and by mobilizing our existing network of ministries to respond to local tragedies. Based in Houston TX, Somebody Cares is the compassion and outreach arm of Turning Point Ministries International, founded in 1981 by Dr. J. Doug Stringer.
For more information, call 713-621-1498 or visit www.somebodycares.org.