Use of Faith-Based NGOs As Disaster Response Partners

tfcc_pano1For some of the new readers here, not only is Firehouse Zen about enlightened leadership, it is about management issues and creative solutions to ongoing problems in the emergency service industry.  If you are a long-time reader, you may recall our discussions in the past regarding disaster response and credentialing, and in an effort to dip back into some of the issues of disaster management, I’d like to point you all toward the excellent website of the Natural Hazards Research Center at the University of Colorado – Boulder.

In their latest issue of Disaster Research, there is an article regarding government response and recovery and the increase in governmental partnerships with faith- and community-based organizations to assist in cleaning up catastrophes.  In the recent past, we have seen ineffective response from certain portions of government that have assumed responsibility for this service at the local, state and federal levels.  I don’t think anyone who works in our field and  is taken seriously about their views on the subject feels like “government” alone can deliver an entire package of assistance to a disaster-stricken community.  However, there is plenty of debate about how to most effectively coordinate assistance in the wake of a calamity.

Of all things in our industry, our frustration with failure of some politicians to continue to apply heat (and funding) to the problem BEFORE disaster strikes is only compounded by the political “outrage” when disaster occurs and we are accused with not properly preparing in advance (still with limited or no budget or legislative action on our behalf).

In an answer to some of these challenges, some state and local governments are forming coalitions that guide organizations providing emergency response. Missouri, Florida, Texas, and a few others have, according to a recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, begun to develop alliances between emergency managers and NGOs.

There are many discussions regarding the potential for blurred church and state separation which can’t even begin to be adequately addressed in a short blog post.  However, those issues aside, NGOs over the past decade have been efficiently providing disaster recovery assistance and have been successful in finding resources that governmental bodies can’t seem to scare up.

This discussion doesn’t also begin to factor in the entire over-reliance on “outside” help in the event of disaster.  This was a point made by Alan Kirschenbaum in earlier works referring to the growth of the disaster response community that seem to be related to the decline in perception of individual responsibility for preparedness.

While this all has some serious discussion ahead of it, I have less of a problem with this type of assistance than I do with pseudo-qualified responders self deploying to events with little or no capability or self-sufficiency.  I think there are plenty of avenues for a person with altruistic motives to get involved with an organized response; it’s the poseurs and con-men I’m interested in keeping away.

I’m open to some observations on the subject.  I think if managed correctly, these NGOs have access to resources currently limited to those of us charged with response, and we should take advantage of creative partnerships, as the organizations I am affliliated have already done.  Look around your community and identify capability that lies outside of the conventional response.  You’ll be surprised by the resources that lie out there and I think you’ll find that instead of spending essential funds on assets that already exist, you can find better uses for that money in areas that are currently underserved.


  • Mick –

    I had the opportunity to serve as Logistics Section Chief for the first 2-1/2 months after the October-2006 surprise storm that struck the Buffalo and Western New York area, triggering a $150 million dollar federally disaster declaration.

    It was my first experience as a LSC for such a large event and it was my first introduction to faith-based NGOs in that context. Simply put, my experience was tremendous.

    I cannot say enough about the work of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Organization and their leadership. They were great people to work with and we were happy to support their efforts.

    One of the greatest benefits of deploying NGOs in lieu of government agencies is that they can go where no government official will typically tread: over the curb. NGOs can go into front yards and backyards and everywhere in between. They can go on private property to cut down trees and haul the branches to the curb for the municipality to pick up.

    Does that public interaction offer them the opportunity to witness at the same time? Perhaps. But in doing so, the affected party’s spirits are lifted and for a short while, their faith in humanity is restored. Where’s the bad in that?

    NGOs are not just a Godsend in an emergency – they’re a necessity. Government, especially in these strained economic times, will be stretched to reach all of the victims in a timely manner to restore order to the chaos they endured.

    While government is busy focusing on doing things right in a disaster, NGOs are about doing the right thing and for the right reasons. Their value cannot be overstated.

  • truck6alpha says:


    I certainly agree with your comments. Especially in this day and age where any “outside-the-box” effort from governmental responders can result in negative publicity and lawsuits (regardless of good intent), the faith-based NGOs are pretty much teflon coated in these cases. Who’s interested in suing volunteers who are in your neighborhood on a “mission from God”? Nobody sane, that’s who.

    Furthermore, with their ability to reach out to other organizations, these groups often have more resources than you can ever bring to bear on the problem, especially when it comes to sheer manpower.

    As far as witnessing, I’ve never been a fan of people “pushing” their religion on me (I just like to remain open-minded to all faiths and beliefs), in my experience, there has never been a case of anyone trying to do that. In fact, I’ve found the more open someone makes themselves to discussion, that’s where some of the “witnessing” occurs, but it has always been good-natured, non-judgemental, and mostly just helpful.

    I don’t look for NGOs to be replacing me in the rescue field; they are part of the team, just as the military is. We all have our specialties and I think we just need to avoid any turf battles and work together to help others. Whenever that occurs, it always seems to work out for the best.

    Thanks for reading and commenting,


  • C. J. Johnson says:

    Hey Mick,

    Have you had the chance to connect with Randy Shell from the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Team? The local group is based out of Florence and they’re amazing. We did their basic training a few years ago and then helped to evaluate a joint exercise with SC-1 DMAT. It wasn’t a competition or anything, but the SBC team ran circles around SC-1…which I was a member of. ;o)

    Let me know if I can help get you guys together.


  • truck6alpha says:

    I’m pretty sure they’re on our (HHI) resource list; we contracted with them a while back to do some support for us in the event of an evacuation or on re-entry. But it’s groups like that who are exactly who I am referring to. There was a SBC group in St. Tammany who was handling a lot of logs support for the locals and especially the feeding side of things (pretty tasty BBQ).

    If you can get me his contact info, though, I’ll make sure we talk to them and if they aren’t on our list, they will be. Thanks for the heads up.

  • LarryN says:

    FBOs are truly force multipliers. As a retired fire officer and current emergency management professional, I have seen plenty of instances where these ‘talk walkers’ have helped communities and responders. Probably the best balogna and mayo on white I every had was handed to me by an incredibly old looking but energetically young volunteer on a Salvation Army Canteen at a multi alarm, multi operational fuel farm fire. Bless these people who do practice what the believe.

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