Relief Agencies Ready as New Storm Season Begins

Hurricane forecasters have called for 17 named storms for the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season which begins today. And although record storm activity last year exhausted sizeable amounts of relief aid, disaster relief organizations have reported a still large or even larger pool of volunteers as another active year begins.

This year’s Atlantic Hurricane season is predicted to produce some four to six major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico and the National Hurricane Center indicated a season less active than 2005's record storms.

Still, "one hurricane hitting where you live is enough to make it a bad season," said Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Center director, according to The Associated Press.

The Salvation Army spokesperson Melissa Temme agreed, saying it just takes one hurricane to cause catastrophic damages like Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina.

"Hope for the best, plan for the worst," she said.

The Army's preparation for disasters goes all year long, but this year the evangelical organization is placing more emphasis on training the volunteers. No volunteer is sent onsite at the break of a disaster unless trained, Temme stressed. Volunteers in the past year have numbered more than 3.5 million in all of the Army's operations and Temme reported a large pool of them prepared to meet emergency needs.

New this year to the evangelical body's response is a corporate partnership with Wal-Mart, which provided The Salvation Army's first million dollars the day after Katrina made landfall. The major retailer will help facilitate a more quick and effective emergency response of goods through their very own Emergency Operating Center in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

Pulled out just early this year from the Katrina-ravaged areas, The Salvation Army's emergency mobile units – canteens – have been under maintenance to be equipped with the GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking system that the Army recently began utilizing during relief efforts in the Gulf Coast. When BlackBerry cell phones and Internet systems were down during Katrina aid work, communication blockages made it difficult for the Army to locate mobile units and disaster teams. Now meeting the new hurricane season, the non-profit is ready with its tracking system in place to dispatch their emergency units wherever there is need.

"Katrina: Lessons Learned" was a common theme picked up by government emergency agencies and relief organizations. Although there were plenty of lessons to be learned after much response failures, last year's devastating hurricane season fostered strengthened partnerships between federal, non-profit and evangelical organizations.

Jim Burton, director of volunteer mobilization for North American Mission Board, noted stronger relations with the Army and the Red Cross after a year of unprecedented disasters and aid efforts.

Largely as a result of Katrina, NAMB volunteers have increased from 30,000 to 50,000 in the past year. Burton pointed to a tremendous interest in disaster relief as a community service and how Katrina "captured America's heart." The Southern Baptist Convention's disaster relief arm has also seen a growth in mobile units from approximately 500 to 800.

"We are a missional people. That's our heart," said Burton. "Disaster relief has become a great way for us to be on mission in our own nation."

The mission board launched a new project in recent months called Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Home) Rebuild, partnering with one of the largest men's ministries Promise Keepers for the more than $5-million effort. The goal is to rebuild 1,000 homes and 20 Southern Baptist churches while challenging evangelical "men to take their faith to the streets and do something very tangible there," as Burton stated.

Both the Army and the NAMB are strengthening their leadership base with a more efficient communication system. Leaders in both organizations are training under the Incident Command System, a management system for a more organized emergency multi-agency response and better coordination in the field.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.