EM Forum Presentation — August 28, 2013

Tennessee Baptist Convention
Disaster Relief

David P. Acres
State Disaster Relief Director
Tennessee Baptist Convention

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

This transcript contains references to slides which can be downloaded from http://www.emforum.org/vforum/VOAD/TNBaptistConvention.pdf
A video recording of the live session is available at http://www.emforum.org/pub/eiip/lm130828.wmv
MP3 format at http://www.emforum.org/pub/eiip/lm130828.mp3 or in MP4format at http://www.emforum.org/pub/eiip/lm130828.mp4

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome to EMForum.org. I am Amy Sebring and will serve as your Host and Moderator today and we are very glad you could join us.

Today we are pleased to feature the disaster services provided by the Tennessee Baptist Convention.  The state has more than 11,000 trained volunteers from churches and associations who are ready to deploy with a wide range of response assets.

[Slide 1]

Now it is my pleasure to introduce David Acres, State Disaster Relief Director since 2005. An ordained minister, the Rev. Acres previously held a number of pastoral and administrative positions with churches in Tennessee.

Welcome David and thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


David Acres:  Thank you, Amy.  It is really a privilege to be a part of the webinar this morning and to answer some questions a little bit later on about what we do in Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief.  I want to give you a quick overview of what we do in Disaster Relief Ministry with Tennessee Baptist.

[Slide 2]

In Disaster Relief Ministry in Tennessee, and we do work in other Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, we have 42 state conventions and all our conventions are involved in disaster relief ministry.  We work hand in hand with The American Red Cross and Salvation Army when they are trying to feed people in mass care after a disaster takes place.

I wanted to talk to you about some of the things we do well as far as disaster relief is concerned.  Number one—we are known for feeding.  In Tennessee we have six mass feeding kitchens that are mobile kitchen units that are totally self-contained that we can pull out on a church parking lot.  We have our own gas bottles that we take with us to be able to use on the kitchens.

We can provide our own water supply.  All those things are readily available to us with the mobile kitchens.  We have kitchens that can do anywhere from around 5,000 meals a day and we have one state kitchen that can do up to 50,000 meals a day.  We can combine them all together and feed a large population in a short period of time with our mobile kitchen.

One thing about our feeding unit—we have lead cooks across the state that worked with us on our kitchens.  They have been through a lot of training, especially the Serve Safe, which is required for all restaurants throughout the state of Tennessee. We put them through the Serve Safe training so they can meet the qualifications when the health department comes out to be able to inspect and tell us what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong.

Our volunteers that work on the feeding kitchens have three to six hours of training before we send them out.  We have a Part A class which is a classroom safety class we put them through and give them all the details of what is right and wrong and what temperatures and things like that to use.  We have a Part B which is hands-on where they go out with one of the feeding units and work with someone who has been through the training.

We are well-known for our feeding.  It is well planned out.  We have menus that are planned in advance.  If we are called today and told we need to take 20,000 meals to a certain location we can pick up the phone, call our supplier and tell them we want so many meals of menu number six or menu number ten and we don’t have to do a lot of figuring or anything like that.  It is automatically done for us through the computers.  They send the food supply we need to be able to cook the meals that are needed by Red Cross or Salvation Army.  

We also do a good job with childcare.  This is one of the things we are proud of.  We have a lot of trained volunteers who meet the criteria for the Department of Children Services in almost every state in the United States where they go through background checks and go through training to be qualified to take care of children on a temporary basis when we go out.

We only have one childcare unit as we call it.  We have a large trailer full of equipment we can pull out and we can set up in a fellowship hall, gymnasium or community center.  We have beds, rocking chairs, carpet for the floor and all kinds of things we can use to be able to take care of children while moms and dads are working on getting the house back in order or even before schools open back up where moms and dads can go back to work. We can take care of their kids while they do that.

We also have a lot of recovery units in Tennessee.  Recovery units are what we call the mud-out or flood recovery units where they go in after a flooding has taken place and clean the house out as far as wet couches, chairs, carpet and even when the sheetrock is wet on the wall they can cut it off to where it will keep from seeping up the wall and creating more damage. We also have some of those teams that will come back in and rebuild the house and put the sheetrock down and help it as much as possible.

We have chainsaw teams.  In Tennessee we have 110 chainsaw teams across the state.  Some of these teams are quite well equipped where they have skid steers with grapple buckets on the front to where they can pick up the trash and carry it to the road where it can be hauled off by the city or county after a disaster.

Then there are clean-up crews that can go in and pick up things from yards and fields.  Some of the other units we have are valuable to us in Tennessee but they are valuable to shelters with Red Cross and others.  We have shower units.  Tennessee is blessed with about sixteen shower trailers.  These are mobile units that are self-contained.  We have our own fuel supplies so we can provide hot water for people to have a hot shower in those shelters.

Also for our volunteers that go out to work—we can provide good showers for them after the jobs are done in the afternoon.  Along with the shower units we have mobile laundry units that can provide laundry for people in the community and volunteers that go out—they can take care of them while they are out.

[Slide 3]

We also have crisis counseling or chaplains that are trained that can work in the community that can go out door to door and help with community counseling or give some hope back to some people who have been through tragic events in their life.  We also use our chaplains or crisis counselors to go with each of our units that go out to keep watch on our volunteers that are out there and kind of a safety officer too—not necessarily for a tree that might fall on them, but for dehydration and tiredness.

Sometimes you have to tell people they are more tired than they feel they really are so we use our counselors or chaplains for that.  We have a pretty good bank of interpreters across the state.  I can’t tell you how many languages they speak but in Tennessee we have a lot of languages that are spoken.

I had a lady tell me that one of the classes in a school in the Nashville area—in a second or third grade classroom they had 16 different languages that were spoken in one particular classroom.  You can see we need a lot of interpreters in Tennessee.  Advocacy—we have people who go out after a disaster and try to work with people and make sure they are getting what they need.  It is like how we would work with the Methodist group in doing case management to make sure we take care of the people, meet their needs and get them back on the road to recovery.

We do have a group we call Rebuild.  We call them Baptist Builders in our ministry.  After a disaster is over with and it is no longer declared a disaster area we have a lot of people from churches in our state who will go in and do rebuild and do reconstruction. After Hurricane Katrina we rebuilt better than seventy houses in Pass Christian, Mississippi from the ground up and helping people get back in their homes. Right now we are involved in Long Island New York, and Staten Island, New York helping people rebuild their homes up there.  We are sending rebuild teams to that area.  

Communications—we have a large communications trailer that has a satellite dish on top of it where we can put a satellite up in the air and send and receive emails and voicemails.  We also have a ham radio. We have citizens band. We have a business band and all kinds of radios on our communications trailer so we can stay in communication with people back here at home when we are doing a disaster but we can also relay messages back and forth when the power is down and especially when communication is down.

[Slide 4]

Our levels of involvement of how we work—when there is a large disaster such as we have seen with Katrina, but some of the other disasters like Oklahoma and disasters that took place back in May—on a national response we are called out by the North American Mission Board to go to these places and help.  Whether it is mass feeding, or may be our recovery teams or even our chaplains or crisis counseling teams—they can go out and help in these areas.

State response—we are in charge of that here at the Tennessee Baptist Convention.  When a large disaster happens here in state of Tennessee we look to our teams that are across the state from Mountain City to Memphis to be able to help us locally.  If they call us and say it is bigger than what we are we put out of call to other associations and other church teams across the state and they can go in and help out.

That sums up our associational response to associations.  We have 65 of those across state of Tennessee and we have a lot of disaster relief volunteers in each of those associations that can respond and be the eyes on the ground to see what the needs are and be able to communicate with us here at the Tennessee Baptist Convention to be able to know how to respond to help out there in their local association.

We are really pushing for disaster prepared churches. Helping churches understand more about what the disasters are in their local communities or what could possibly be a local disaster and help them be prepared when one of those disasters happens.  

[Slide 5]

In Tennessee we look to any interested Tennessee Baptist.  If they call us and say they want to be involved in disaster relief we point them toward one of our trainings in Tennessee.  We do trainings all across the state.  We help people be qualified, be certified and credentialed.  We do a background check on everybody who works with us in the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

They go through a criminal and sexual offender background check so we know when we put a credential or badge on these people we know who is responding and we know that where we are sending them they are going to be the kind of people we want for people out there to associate with us that represent us as Tennessee Baptists out there in the field.

We do training across the state.  We do train them in every one of our units you see listed there—feeding unit, childcare and shower units, chain saws.  I can’t teach someone how to run a chainsaw but we go through a lot of safety precautions as far as the chainsaw is concerned and help them understand what we do.

[Slide 6]

In Tennessee we have a lot of state sanctioned units—a ministry in the church or association that is subject to call for the state or multi-state response.  They have our disaster relief logos on their trailers and trucks when they go out so they represent their local church or association but they also represent the Tennessee Baptist Convention.  They really represent the Southern Baptist Convention because we are working under the umbrella of the Southern Baptist Convention when they go out.

There are some autonomous units in state of Tennessee that will respond when a disaster happens.  They will respond locally.  All of you know that as long as there have been disasters and as long there has been churches, churches have been helping out in disaster.  In Tennessee that is where we get all our volunteers as far as Tennessee Baptist is concerned.  We have a lot of great volunteers that come from our churches.

[Slide 7]

The four-step process that we have fallen under to become state sanctioned as any church or association unit—they have to go through the Introduction to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief which is a three hour course we take them through.  We recertify people every three years and take them back through the introduction class.  

It is not a three hour class after they have been through the first one—it is usually fifty minutes to an hour.  It brings them up to date on what we do in disaster relief and how we work alongside out partners like Red Cross and Salvation Army but also Homeland Security, FEMA and the VOAD groups we work alongside of.

We do have in-depth training that we do for other disciplines out there in the field.  In Southern Baptist life we know the people who are in charge by the color of the hat they wear.  After you have gone through training with the introduction to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the other disciplines we give them a yellow hat that has “disaster relief” on the front.

Some of those who are a little more knowledgeable of what we are doing in disaster relief are put through blue cap training.  Blue cap training helps them understand forms we have to fill out and they understand who they are working with in the field.  They go through the blue cap training.  They also have a letter of agreement they sign that says the disaster team they have is ready and available to use when a disaster happens whether it is in or out of Tennessee.

They also have the ability to say they are not able to go at this time.  Some of our volunteers are people with full-time jobs and it is hard for them to go at the drop of a hat.  That is why in Southern Baptist life we couldn’t do what we do if it wasn’t for the retirees that are out there and willing to go and give their time and talents and abilities to help us in disaster relief ministry.  This is a volunteer ministry so they can go and help out when they can and when they are called on.  

[Slide 8]

The autonomous units—it has a little bit about the guided involvement that is involved there.  There is training available for all the associations and churches. We want to make it available for them so they will be more safe when they go out there so they understand what we are doing and how we are trying to make a difference.

In Southern Baptist Disaster Relief we don’t want 500 people showing up when we only have a position or a place for 150 or 250 to stay or that kind of situation.  We want to make sure they are taken care of on the field.

[Slide 9]

We are trying to do more and more with church preparedness.  We do have courses we teach in the local churches where we do family preparedness which helps them understand how to have a disaster plan and have a disaster kit available to them, not to make it a scare tactic type of thing but to help them understand there are disasters that happen in all of our lives and to be prepared for it when that time happens.

We do a church preparedness class that helps them understand how their local church could be a shelter for people in the community when a disaster takes place.  We have a lot of churches across our state that have crisis closets to where if they have a short supply of food they can make available to those people in the community for the first 24 to 72 hours but they also will have things like clothing, bed supplies, blankets or cots that are made available to people in the community.

It is amazing when we go into some of these churches and help them understand what they can do locally and how much their eyes are opened and thinking that we don’t have to go to another state or country to make a difference in people’s lives.  We can do it right here in the community when disaster happens.  We do state training across the state.  This year we have been involved in eight regional trainings from Memphis to Mountain City.  We have volunteers that come to these different ones where we do classroom as well as hands-on.

We even have training that is available for people who drive forklifts.  We have training for people who use bucket trucks.   Tennessee is blessed with three bucket trucks we can take with us when disasters happen.  Two of those will go about 30 feet in the air and one will go about 60 feet in the air.  We do a hands-on training on those to make sure that people are aware of safety issues and know what they are doing when they get 60 feet in the air.

[Slide 10]

We do a thing with our churchs, a pre-event ministry and outreach tool, to where they can let the people in the community know what is available to them—if something happens in the community this church is available to help them as much as they can.  We have a leadership council that meets with me on a quarterly basis.  Sixteen people across our state that represent sixteen regions here that are building relationships with local emergency management and other agencies—that can help them understand what we are able to do for them.

We have had a few occasions when we have helped some power companies where there have been ice storms to where the power company can concentrate on getting the power back on while we are cutting the right of way for them with our chainsaw and recovery teams getting the brush out of the way so they can build those power lines quicker in those areas.

The EMAs, county mayors, and the county executives—let them know that we have the volunteers to come and help them with shelters as far as laundry and shower facilities are concerned.  We have available for them tractors and trailers so we can help them move resources into these areas to help out there.

We are blessed that someone has donated eighteen acres of land in the Mount Juliet area.  We have built a warehouse in Mount Juliet that is about 20,000 square feet so we can store a lot of our equipment and also some supplies we need to take with us.  We are so very thankful that God has provided us this piece of material to be right here in the center of the state to move rapidly and go in any direction to help out in disaster occurrences.

[Slide 11]

Some of the benefits of church preparedness are to be prepared and organized to minister in a post event and knowing what to expect after a disaster takes place and to move in and make a difference in people’s lives until even some of the emergency responders show up and also to participate in the community recovery.  

A lot of our local churches will help people get back into their homes and be able to do drives to help them get furniture that has been destroyed.  There are a lot of ways a community can participate. They also help them understand and be involved in the State Convention Disaster Relief plan and to know we are working hand in hand with not just with other Tennessee Baptists but with other agencies as well to cross the denominational lines and make a difference in people’s lives.

[Slide 12]

As Amy said from the very beginning it is one of those things where we have grown quite a bit in the last four to five years.  Especially after Hurricane Katrina we have had more and more people who have become more aware of disaster relief ministry.  We ask ourselves a lot of times—where do we go from here?  

We just continue to plan and prepare and pray really hard that we never have to use our ministry but when we do have to use our ministry we want to be prepared to go out and make a difference in people’s lives.  Amy that is my side of the story and if anybody has questions I’ll be glad to speak to those.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much David.  That is really amazing capabilities that you have. I expect those hot showers are very much appreciated.

David Acres:  They are, and those people who sleep beside those people who work all day they appreciate them too.

Amy Sebring: Folks if you have a question or care to make a comment we are now at the Question & Answer portion of the session.

Please keep your question or comment related to today’s topic and reasonably concise.  We are ready to begin now, so please enter your comment or question at any time.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Avagene Moore: David, thank you. I was fortunate to see first-hand your warehouse and was impressed with your resources.   Would you please tell us about the program and who is involved in putting together the buckets of special items for children in disaster?

David Acres:  We had a group from upper East Tennessee that actually came up with the idea of doing ‘buckets for babies’.  In the ‘buckets for babies’ there are items that will help young parents—diapers, baby wipes, lotions and things like that—each one of those things has a new outfit.  On the outside of the bucket it is labeled whether it is for a boy or girl, what size or age group that bucket fits in.  

We make those available after a disaster takes place where it is at a shelter and some will go to hospitals when children are coming in they can present the buckets to the families and take them back home.  Each bucket represents about $50 worth of supplies.  Those have been provided by churches across Tennessee. Some of the people who are not involved in disaster relief ministries want to make a difference in people’s lives.

Michael Farinacci: Where does your funding come from?  

David Acres:  We have a small budget here at the Tennessee Baptist Convention that helps with upkeep.  When a disaster happens, donations come in to help us work with disasters.  I must add that when we work with Red Cross or Salvation Army all the meals we cook—the money comes from Red Cross or Salvation Army. They pay for the meals and we provide the equipment and volunteers.  They take care of the food we cook on the field.

Dominick Urso: Where did you get your shower units and how many people are needed to support them?

David Acres:  We have people in Tennessee that build shower units.  They take it on as one of their responsibilities.  I told someone one time that somebody asked me if we had a plan for a shower trailer and I said yes.  They asked if they could have it and I said not really.  They asked how to build it.  I said that what usually happens is someone looks at one of the units and says they can do better.

They use that kind of design to bring about a shower unit.  We have shower units with two showers and one with as many as eight in it.  We do have some very capable people who are able to do that.  There are companies out there that are building shower units and you can Google that online.  In Tennessee the American Red Cross has brought on two shower units that are ADA approved.  They bought those from a supplier in North Carolina.

Usually two to four people can take care of the shower units.  We specify that we want someone to stay with the shower units to make sure it is functional and make sure it stays clean.  We have some senior adult Sunday school classes that have taken on the responsibility of providing soap, shampoo and towels for the shower units they send out from their church.

Bill Stevenson: During response there is a frequent need for your remarkable resources. But we typically are unaware of what is or is not available. Do you send a representative to the State or local EOC to help connect your resources with requirements?

David Acres:  There is a person who sits in the pit at the EOC and when a disaster happens there is a representative with the state VOAD and they are very much familiar with what we have available.  You can make the request to the state EOC and they will get back to us and let us know the need is out there.

Mickie Kayline: I am really astounded by the depth of your organization's missions, services and assets. In particular I was surprised by how you work with the power company. How did that relationship come about? Were there any union issues or other barriers?

David Acres:  Again that is relationships built at a local level.  I’m not going to say that will work in every county or power company.  This was a cooperative over in East Tennessee.  We were trying to help out.  They were undermanned and we stepped in and tried to help them.  It is building a relationship before a disaster happens.

Jim Bass: Could you please talk a bit about the relationship between the Baptist Convention and the local emergency managers. How formal are your partnerships, do you meet regularly to discuss operations and exercises, etc?  

David Acres:  I can’t say we meet regularly.  We try to keep our names in front of local emergency management.  I am a part of the EMA in the state of Tennessee.  I go to their meetings and state convention that is coming up in September in Jackson, Tennessee and let them know who we are as Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief.  I wish there was a time we could meet regularly with emergency management people and be able to help them as much as possible.

Michael Farinacci: Are you indemnified?  Are there insurances in place in terms of liability for your volunteers and those they serve during an emergency?

David Acres:  Liability is covered under the Good Samaritans Act to a certain extent.  All our people are required to have insurance before we go out.  We do not take people out there on the field who do not have insurance to be able to cover them.  That is put back in their hands.

Amy Sebring:  What kind of technology do you use to manage your resources?

David Acres:  We have a database.  We call it “DREW” (Disaster Relief Electronic Workspace).  Everybody who goes through our training is a part of our database.  Even the call out processes where we can email or text our team leaders and they can get their teams together through the DREW system and be able to get back with us and help us understand and know who is going when a disaster happens.

Isabel McCurdy: David, attendance/ memberships in churches are down globally, how do you maintain your volunteers?
David Acres:  I don’t say where it has affected our volunteers.  Those people who are a part of our disaster relief ministry are some of the most committed of church people out there.  They see what the need is in their community and see the need worldwide and they want to get involved and make a difference.

Avagene Moore: Do you have a good number of churches asking for disaster preparedness training?  Is the training for the congregation and its facility as well as how they can help in their respective community?

David Acres:  We don’t have a lot of churches calling on that.  I think there will be more because we are pushing preparedness—not just from Tennessee Baptist but also from the North American Mission Board which is the agency we work under as far as disaster relief is concerned.  It does go in and helps the church understand what the needs could possibly be in the local community and help them be prepared for it.

Amy Sebring:  I wanted to mention your website and some of the resources there.  We linked to the section on the disaster relief programs.  There is good guidance there if people want to take a look at that.  [http://www.tnbaptist.org/page.asp?cat=miss&subcat=relief]

David Acres:  Our website is tndisasterrelief.org and that is very easy to go to and it helps you understand more about what we do.  It even gives a history of everything we have ever responded to in disaster relief.

Isabel McCurdy: Are people afraid to receive your help because you are a church?

David Acres:  We have had some situations where at first they are afraid we are going to get out there and proselyte and try to get people into our church but that is not what we are about. We are about helping people build relationships and loving them out of the love of Jesus Christ.  We have had a lot of people who have come around when we get in communities to work and see what we are trying to do and know what we are about.

Lori Wieber: To what extent are your volunteers trained within the ICS aspect of response?  Do leaders receive higher levels of Incident Command training or formal IMT (Incident Management Team) certification?

David Acres:  Our team leaders all go through Incident Command training.  We have a Southern Baptist Incident Command training we do.  We ask regular volunteers who go out if they have the opportunity to go to the FEMA website and take the ICS 100 and 200 classes just so they understand more about what ICS is about.

Amy Sebring:  You mentioned you do respond on the national level and not just Tennessee.

David Acres:  We do.  We’ll go wherever we are needed in the United States.  Several of our teams have been out of the country.  We went to Japan after the tsunami and Southeast Asia and to Haiti quite a bit after the earthquake.  We respond wherever we are needed.


Amy Sebring: We know you are a busy man so we will wrap it up for today. On behalf of Avagene, myself, and all our participants, thank you very much for being with us today and sharing this information with us, and for all you and your volunteers do. It is quite amazing.

David Acres: Thank you very much.  I appreciate the opportunity to share about Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief. If we can ever be a help to any of you don’t hesitate to give me a call.

Amy Sebring:  Great, there is contact information on your website. Thanks to everyone for participating today and have a great afternoon! We are adjourned.