Disciples News Service

FEMA and Disciples Collaborate in Alaska

by Josh Baird, director, Disciples Volunteering

In response to significant flooding that took place in Alaska in May, FEMA is coordinating the logistics to support mission teams aiding in the recovery. Many communities were affected when a late spring thaw led to a 30-mile ice jam on the Yukon River and a similar event on the Koyukuk River. Because of the Disciples’ growing presence in responding to large domestic disasters and our response in Eagle, Ak., four years ago, Disciples Volunteering was contacted to assist with the recovery. Disciples are responding in two separate communities, Galena and Hughes. Three of Disciples Volunteering‘s Long Term Volunteers recently spent two weeks in Galena repairing and rebuilding homes that were damaged in the flooding. They worked in teams with ecumenical partners to get the work done.

Because of our willingness to put that small team together, the FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaison coordinating faith-based team responses was back in touch to see if we could help in Hughes. Galena was among the most heavily damaged, which is why it received early attention and has been the focus of a broad ecumenical response. The major damage in Hughes is limited to about a half-dozen homes, so it was FEMA’s desire to utilize one team for the recovery. In addition, responding in Hughes required an even more specific skill set: a person was needed who could first travel to Hughes, a Native American community, to assess the homes in need of repair, and then lead a crew to complete the work.

This has been a unique opportunity for Disciples Volunteering. Much is different from the “normal” disaster response process, yet it has been worth the effort. This particular response has been enabled with support from Week of Compassion and in cooperation with the Northwest Region. I am grateful for the whole church’s support of on-going and emerging disaster response initiatives as we strive, together, to offer hope, healing, and a helping hand to our neighbors. The invitation to participate in this level of partnership in Alaska affirms the increasing visibility and respect Disciples disaster response efforts have earned the church among faith-based, non-profit, and government responders – and this is something that we all can celebrate and take pride in.

Disciples Volunteering contacted David Bell,director of the Yakama Christian Mission, and afew days later, Bell completed the assessment.He described the work as appropriate for skilled or semi-skilled people and that the living logistics would be rough (cramped sleeping space, limited food, and COLD temperatures). A work team was quickly lined up to respond.Ten additional persons were identified to perform the repairs with the people of Hughes. After receiving official authorization from FEMA to make their travel arrangements, a team of seven departed for Alaska on Monday, Sept. 16, for two weeks of work in Hughes. On Monday, Sept. 23, a team of four set out to join them for the final week of repairs.

In this remarkable partnership, FEMA is procuring tools, coordinating material deliveries, and providing invitational travel (arranging for commercial flights through Fairbanks and for charter plane travel in and out of Hughes and Galena). In Galena, a housing camp was established that can accommodate up to 60 people at a time and meals are being provided by the community. In Hughes, the conditions are rougher; but a small community hall was designated for folks to sleep in and, while the team is cooking its own meals, food was purchased and transported to Hughes by the State of Alaska.