Disaster Information


The evolution or “life cycle” of a disaster is best described as an ebbing and flowing series of disruptions to a community. There are four degrees of magnitude in terms of size/impact (levels I, II, III, and IV) and three commonly recognized stages of disaster response (rescue, relief, recovery). While United Methodists respond at all levels and phases, we are most active during the relief and recovery phases with our greatest strength in the last phase of long term recovery.

Disaster Levels

Four Levels of Disaster Magnitude Geography and amount of devastation determine the extent of response and classification as a disaster “level”. Each level has a direct correlation to whether or not and what type of help will be needed beyond the local community.


Level I Disaster:

A local or localized small disaster affecting one to roughly 30 households, such as a toxic spill, explosion, air crash, tornado, or limited flooding. Determining factor of involvement beyond the local church: Is this within the ability of the local church(es) to respond to with little or no conference and UMCOR assistance? Local pastors advise the District Superintendent when the relief effort exceeds the local congregation’s resources; the District Superintendent requests assistance from the Conference Disaster Response Coordinator.


Level II Disaster:

A medium-sized disaster affecting about 30 to 150 homes, which could be caused by localized flooding, a moderate earthquake or tornado, a small hurricane or tropical storm. . Determining factor for involvement beyond the local church: Is this beyond the ability of the local congregations and community to respond? If conference and UMCOR resources are needed, then the Mountain Sky Conference considers this disaster to be at least a Level II. Local pastors advise the District Superintendent when the relief effort exceeds the local congregation’s resources; the District Superintendent requests assistance from the Conference Disaster Response Coordinator.


Level III Disaster:

A large disaster which could be caused by widespread and/or long-term flooding, severe earthquakes, tornados, or hurricanes with significant damage. Disasters of this size in terms of geography and/or severity are usually eligible to receive a State Declaration of Disaster or a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Disasters at this level require full mobilization of the Mountain Sky Conference Disaster Response Group.


Level IV Disaster:

A Catastrophic Disaster, which is defined by Public Law 93-288, as “An event resulting in a large number of deaths and injuries; extensive damage or destruction of facilities that place an overwhelming demand on state and local response resources and mechanisms; a severe impact on national security facilities and infrastructures that sustain them; a severe long-term effect on general economic activity and severe effects on State, local and private sector initiatives to begin and sustain initial response activities.” Martial law will be declared and access to the impacted area will be severely limited. It would be expected that a number of people in the Mountain Sky Conference leadership positions will probably be victims of this disaster. The entire Mountain Sky Conference Disaster Response would be mobilized. Assistance may be requested from adjoining Conferences and/or Jurisdictions.


Catastrophic Disaster Relief:

UMCOR designees may be necessary to fill slots of those in conference leadership who are victims and unable to function. A conference-wide appeal for funds, appropriate in-kind donations, and volunteers will be made. UMCOR grant money will be required and Volunteer in Mission (VIM) Early Response Teams, along with Information and Referral workers will be needed. The entire Mountain Sky Conference Disaster Response organization must be mobilized. 



Three Phases of Disaster Response

When a disaster happens the response moves through phases with the first being the rescue efforts that provide emergency care and secure the disaster site. That is followed by a relief phase of getting people into short-term housing, clean-up, taking measures to protect what is salvageable, and developing plans to rebuild. The last phase is the long-term recovery when homes and communities are rebuilt.

Each disaster phase is typically 10 times longer than the previous phase, so if the rescue phase lasts 3 days, the relief phase will be 30 days and the long term recovery phase 300 days.


1. RESCUE/EMERGENCY PHASE: Lead by trained and professional state and local emergency management groups, this phase begins at the time of impact, or if there is forewarning from the time of evacuation, until people have been found, accounted for, the danger of continued destruction is over, and some kind of shelter is available to all survivors.

  • State and local Emergency Management, fire departments, and law enforcement groups protect life and property, get people out of harm’s way and take action to stop further destruction.
  • Emergency medical care is provided for the injured.
  • Spiritual counseling is needed for those who grieve.
  • The local community takes action to care for each other, their families and neighbors.
  • American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Seventh Day Adventists open shelters and organize mass feeding, clothe survivors, and provide emergency medical care.

• United Methodist get involved at this phase to begin planning for the relief and long term recovery phases, provide congregational and neighbor-to-neighbor care, and serve as trained volunteers with the American Red Cross and Salvation Army.

• Those local United Methodist Churches who, prior to the disaster have a written agreement with the American Red Cross, can use their facilities as American Red Cross shelters during this phase.


2. RELIEF PHASE: This phase is characterized by the need for cleanup, temporary repairs, and securing valuables. Short-term solutions are put in place to help survivors re-establish their lives until longer term recovery strategies are available. The local community always leads this phase which integrates federal, state, and local governmental agencies, plus the many organizations who are members of Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD).

  • If the disaster is large, the governor may issue a State Disaster Declaration; the governor may request and receive a partial or full Presidential Declaration of Disaster and activate the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate the application and damage assessment process for those who register within 60 days following the date of declaration. Partial declarations are usually made to enable Public Assistance, for use of federal money to repair infrastructure: roads, bridges, water systems, streetlights, etc. If the disaster is large some Presidential Declarations include Individual Assistance which provides aid to families and individuals, usually in the form of low-interest disaster loans to homeowners, rental assistance, limited financial grants to certain eligible persons, disaster unemployment compensation, agriculture crop and livestock assistance, and other help. Most U.S. disasters do not warrant federal intervention and do not have a Presidential Declaration made; funding and assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is then not available to the local community and disaster survivors, leaving them to rely exclusively on state and charitable groups for help.
  • American Red Cross opens its assistance centers and along with other agencies, work to get families reunited and functioning by distributing vouchers to help with urgent needs.
  • Survivors begin to return to their homes to determine the extent of their losses and the damage to their property, and begin to plan for their long term recovery.
  • Disaster survivors begin seeking longer term shelter and begin applying for assistance through insurance companies and if available from FEMA, and other charitable volunteer organizations active in disasters.
  • Trained volunteer Early (Disaster) Response Teams are dispatched to help with debris cleanup, protecting roofs with tarps, providing food, water, bedding, clean-up kits, tools, and other supporting roles.
  • Ecumenical efforts that enable recovery and reconstruction for the long term are organized. As a member of VOAD, United Methodists volunteer at the assistance centers to meet with survivors, do early assessment intake, and begin coordinating volunteers to help meet needs.


3. RECOVERY PHASE: The Long Term Recovery stage is a time when permanent repairs and rebuilding take place. Most of the long-term recovery work is done by community-based social service recovery groups. Often faith-based groups represent a number of the religious bodies. United Methodists remain active in the long term recovery, bringing our resources of volunteers, financial aid, materials, and expertise to assist in the recovery. The lead actors in this stage are again local, the local people and the local church, aided by others when the local community cannot recover on its own.

  • As survivors begin to find things that cannot be repaired or replaced they begin the process of making adjustments and dealing with grief from permanent losses and changes. At this stage, deep emotional and spiritual scars begin to appear that often manifest as depression and loss of energy. Additional emotional and spiritual support is needed for them to work through anger, isolation, loneliness, and loss.
  • In Level II and higher disasters, United Methodists stay active for the long haul because rarely is recovery work completed within a year.
  • Most disaster survivors recover without complications, having sufficient insurance and the support of finances, family, and community, however, about 10 to 15 percent of households in a community, there is a substantial struggle, even if they received a full FEMA “maximum grant”. This group of people are those with genuine needs that can only be resolved by agencies specializing in latter phases of disaster response. People who are typically fall into this category of “at risk” include:
    • Elderly, children and youth;
    • Middle-class persons who have resources but never lost anything or had to ask for help;
    • Minorities in predominately majority non-inclusive communities;
    • The poor;
    • Single parent households;
    • Those whose relatives lost their lives in the disaster;
    • Persons who have poor coping skills and those without adequate support systems;
    • Non-English speaking residents;
    • Secondary victims whose work places do not reopen after the disaster and become jobless; community leaders, government employees, and disaster response workers who become over-stressed from trying to restore their communities including bankers, public works employees, and utility workers among others.
  • Catastrophic Disaster Recovery: Staff for leadership positions along with Information and Referral workers will be necessary. Numerous short-term volunteers will be required.