A Mission of Mercy: Disaster Advanced Response Team


by Mike Cloy
Elder, Reformation OPC,
Gastonia, NC
In 2017, the Presbytery of the Southeast (PSE) Diaconal Committee committed itself to develop a way in which to respond to disasters so that churches could resume worshipping together after the impact of natural disasters. Providentially, the Lord provided proof of principle for a coordinated and trained disaster response team through Hurricane Florence.
     Six Dorr brothers contacted David Nakhla, OPC Disaster Response Coordinator, who referred them to me. They were able to assist the Presbytery of the Southeast during Hurricane Florence and provide mercy ministry to the OP churches in New Bern and Wilmington, NC. 
     This experience enabled the PSE to select qualified men from within the PSE to serve on their organic D.A.R.T. (Disaster Advanced Response Team), to train them, and to purchase the necessary equipment and tools to perform their duties.
    Teams are equipped with a skid steer (Bobcat), fuel transport tanks, chainsaws (extra bars, chains, and service tools), protective gear, many other tools needed for immediate response aid, food and water for the number of days they intend to be deployed, as well as the ability to sleep in the trailer if needed. 
     There are currently 13 certified members of the DART. Members of the DART are required to attend a FEMA CERT class within their local county Emergency Management Services system. This gives them some credentials to be allowed into disaster areas sooner than a regular volunteer, although they are not attached to FEMA in any way. They are currently working on getting a forestry certificate for storm-damaged tree removal to further their credentials in disaster zones.
     Unlike regular disaster response efforts, where the Committee on Disaster Response asks for volunteers, the DART does not receive volunteers. It is an organization of its own with 13 men on the list of approved and vetted volunteers. A minimum of four and a maximum of six men are required to drive the two trucks that pull the two trailers. As little as a twelve-hour notice is given to deploy each group on call. We try to schedule at least three times as many as needed in order to ensure 4-6 team members are available. These men must be members in good standing of a local church.
     When a disaster strikes one of the churches within the presbytery footprint, I (as the PSE DR Coordinator) make contact with the impacted church’s leadership to make them aware of the DART’s capabilities, as well as to obtain an initial assessment of the damage and research lodging accommodations.
     The deployment comes after the DART leader alerts the team with an imminent notice of deployment. The impacted church will then provide a more detailed assessment to determine the extent of damages to the property of the church, the property of church members, their extended families, and also their neighbors. The church will send proof of the damage in the form of pictures and a priority of work. The men on the DART receive the church assessment with these pictures in order to refine the equipment they might need to perform their mission of tree removal, tarping roofs, and water removal from flooded areas. Once the DART arrives at the impacted church, the church will assume the lead for directing the DART in service to the church. 
     The DART records all of its actions and creates daily reports. Updates are sent to David Nakhla, so he can begin to shape follow-up support for the long-term mission of helping the church minister mercy through a site and volunteer coordinator. 
     Since Hurricane Laura, the PSE is seeking to come alongside the Presbytery of the South (PSO) and assist them with DART capabilities. When the DART deployed to Pineville, LA, they were able to help seven families avoid the cost of tree removal in a total amount of $40,000.In the wake of Hurricane Laura, which hit the gulf coast of Louisiana and Texas just a couple of weeks ago, the DART was deployed to help churches and families affected by the storm.