Non-Government Response Organizations and Faith Based Communities


“The same forces that created vulnerability in a traumatized society prior to disaster continue to affect that community during and after reconstruction.  Disaster should be measured by relief agencies in terms of social, psychological, physical, economic and political disruption.” (Calame, 7) 


Non-Government Response Organizations (NGOs)

As a general rule, Red Cross provides immediate response, but is not the primary source for long term recovery.  The primary recovery components are the Crisis Counseling program and the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) agencies.  (See Mental Health for information on crisis counseling.)

Coordination is imperative.

Creating/identifying coordinated and simplified methods for handling donations coming into the community and providing needed services for victims is of extreme importance to avoid duplication, fraud, and hardship.  Those impacted need a one-stop service point that will access all services available monitored by a viable tracking system that will verify needs and services already provided.

It is important for victims to be able to tell their story as few times as possible.

Promontory around The Survior Tree, Oklahoma City National Memorial Outdoor Symbolic Memorial/Ann Clark
Frequent rotation of care-givers necessitates the victim repeating his/her experience each time a new need is identified.  It also prohibits any level of understanding/empathy with the entire experience, which might provide the insight to better serve.  (OUHSC discussion)  This only reinforces the need for an assigned case worker who serves as the coordinator for one person’s services and needs – a process that better serves those impacted and also helps prevent fraud and duplication.

Initially in Oklahoma City, with the help of IBM and JC Penney’s, a response system was created by which multiple computers, located at the various assistance agencies, were connected to provide a comprehensive response.  Those impacted were assigned a case manager, who could access services from any of the connected agencies.  It was a process that allowed people the most efficient response and prevented violations and misuse of donor funds and services.  The system was established under the United Way in Oklahoma City and functioned not unlike the international Red Cross system that tracks displaced persons.

In the wake of Katrina, Camp Gruber in Oklahoma used a Red Cross coordinator who worked for the duration and who referred to other NGOs for assistance in meeting people’s needs.

Some recovery will be long term.

In Oklahoma City, to provide a safety net for some time after the incident, the Resource Coordinating Committee, made up of representatives from the faith community, emergency management organizations, funding sources, counselors and case managers, remained operational for years to ensure a smooth and consistent approach to address the needs of those most impacted by the bombing.

In 2000, after the Midwest floods of 1993, Iowa formed the Iowa Disaster Human Resource Council, comprised of faith-based and voluntary agency representatives as well as representatives from key government agencies.  The goal of the Council is to address the unmet needs of Iowa’s citizens impacted by disaster events.  A mission statement, by-laws, strategic plan, policies, and procedures have been developed.  Co-chairs lead the group, one elected from faith-based members, the other from voluntary agency representatives.  Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management provided a representative to serve as secretary for the group.  (Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management)

Tracking displaced persons

Red Cross at work in Oklahoma City after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building/City of Oklahoma City

The International Committee of the Red Cross is expert in this capacity.  They put in place in 1999, in response to the Kosovo conflict, the FamilyLinks Website that provides a user-friendly register allowing people to find relatives and to let relatives know that they are alive.  The ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, will send experts to the disaster site to train personnel in using the link and to assist in entering data.  This is exactly the same process that was discussed in Oklahoma City for providing a program to track people’s needs and services rendered.

In spring 2007, The American Red Cross announced the development of a website to assist in the location of displaced persons in the USA.  The website is  Persons living in areas at risk are encouraged to register on this website in advance of any incident.  Should they have to evacuate, once at the new location they can register their temporary contact information, thus assisting family members, friends and aid organizations in keeping track of them.

Registration becomes doubly important for those at risk, such as children on welfare.  As of 2006, only 21 states had Child Welfare Disaster Plans.  In the absence of federal requirements that states develop disaster plans, many states have not done so.  States that have developed disaster plans do not always address the dispersal of child welfare children and families, which may result in confusion at a time when families are under strain and need services most.  Without minimum requirements on what states should include in their child welfare disaster plans, some states may be unable to ensure continuity of services within or across state lines for the children under their care.  For example, of Louisiana’s 5,000 foster children, nearly 2,000 were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.  During that time, child welfare officials did not have current emergency contact information, which made it hard for them to find foster families that had to evacuate.  To ensure continuity of services within or across state lines for the children under state care, Congress should consider requiring that states develop and submit child welfare disaster plans for HHS review. (GAO-06-944 Child Welfare)

General Accounting Office recommendations to HHS in July 2006 were as follows:

To better assist states in developing child welfare disaster plans, we recommend that the Secretary of Health and Human Services

  • Ensure that the department’s disaster planning guidance addresses the dispersion of children and families within and across state lines, including steps for identifying children who may be dispersed, preserving child welfare records, coordinating services and sharing information with other states, placing children from other states, identifying new child welfare cases and providing services
  • Develop and provide training to states on child welfare disaster planning.
    (GAO-06-944 Child Welfare Report) 

Agencies that provide redevelopment support need to consider local culture and need to provide sustainable solutions.

Many agencies have a relatively unsophisticated view of relief operations, and many feel that because they are trying to do good work, the impact cannot be negative.  In most cases, the greatest cause of this is the failure of the agency to look beyond what appears to be self-evident and to explore in-depth the impact of their programs.  (Calame, 15)

NGOs and Faith Based Organizations need to be cognizant of treating all media personnel equally.

When an incident happens of national/international report, celebrity media appear on the scene.  It is easy to gravitate toward giving these celebrities access that might not be given to the local media.  However, keep in mind that the local media is your long term friend and supporter, while the celebrities are only short term visitors.  The best policy is to treat all media equally, using the same set of regulations for all.  (Collective Reflection)

The Biggest Players

  • American Red Cross
    The 2004 National Response Plan (which replaced the 1992 NRP under which Oklahoma City and New York City functioned) tasks the Red Cross with providing relief services to the public in the event of a disaster and with coordinating federal mass care assistance.  All other responding volunteer agencies have signed on to the plan under the umbrella organization of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD).  However, implementation of the plan as structured faced problems in the response to the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes.  Red Cross and FEMA disagreed on the route for referral of needs.  Red Cross' policy of 2-3 week rotations led to limited knowledge pertaining to individual needs and process procedures.  FEMA’s lack of tracking mechanisms led to delays and sometimes failure to meet needs.  The Red Cross and FEMA are attempting to solve the first major problem and FEMA is presently working on an improved tracking system for use in referrals from the Red Cross.  The issue of rotating workers is more problematic and one that The Red Cross hopes to solve by adding some staff members rather than relying totally on volunteers.  (GAO-06-712)  However, this still may not meet the significant need to tell the story as few times as possible and coordinate the response. 
  • National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD)
    NVOAD coordinates planning efforts by many voluntary organizations responding to disaster. Member organizations provide more effective and less duplicated service by getting together before disasters strike. Once disasters occur, NVOAD or an affiliated state VOAD encourages members and other voluntary agencies to convene on site. This cooperative effort has proven to be the most effective way for a wide variety of volunteers and organizations to work together in a crisis.

The limitations of such an informal system were demonstrated by a disaster the size of Katrina.  In evaluating the response to Katrina, NVOAD proposes that the lack of a formal model assuring that recovery work following a disaster proceeds effectively and efficiently is causing increasing frustration among disaster responders, and imperils the prospects of disaster survivors and their communities to experience the fullest possible restoration of their losses.

According to NVOAD, "although several disaster responders assume responsibilities in organizing the recovery, no protocols or standards guide their activities or coordination of efforts, nor does any one organization take responsibility for making sure effective recovery gets under way."  A model that clearly defines agency roles and responsibilities in organizing and coordinating community-based recovery committees is badly needed.  Church World Service has focused primarily on facilitating a cooperative response by the faith community (Interfaiths).  FEMA and the American Red Cross seek to bring representatives of the wider community together to organize “Unmet Needs” or “Resource Coordination Committees” (Recovery Coordination Committees), with actual organizational tasks assigned to no one organization.  In some areas, local VOAD-like community organizations that meet on an on-going basis have moved into operational roles in the recovery period following disasters.”  (Organizing Protocols for Community Disaster Recovery Mechanisms)

In Oklahoma City, people’s immediate and long term needs were met through an effort coordinated by the local United Way office.  Later, the United Way coordination was replaced by a Resource Coordination Committee.  Initially, people were assigned one case agent who could access services from any of approximately 25 agencies.  Resources were pooled under one computer system with a terminal in each of the individual agencies.  A person was given a case number and all services were provided under that case number, no matter which agency provided the service.  This provided maximum access for services, required the person to tell his/her story only once, and prevented duplication and fraud. Once the initial demands were met and the case load declined, these services were provided through a Resource Coordination Committee composed of the local NGOs and Faith Based community organizations, who met to consider requested needs.

Such a system has not been tried on a larger incident and it did not involve rehabilitation of damaged buildings.  However, it worked very effectively for personal needs in an incident similar to the Oklahoma City bombing.

In Greensburg, KS, the Crisis Counseling program (KARE) and the VOAD agencies have developed a coordinated structure that is working very efficiently in the wake of the 2007 tornado.  Given the loss of structures in the community and the need to work from trailers, the Crisis Counseling program and the VOAD agencies have located their trailers adjacent to each other and meet on a regular basis.  KARE makes the initial outreach contact, provides brief counseling and distributes a flyer that provides information on the contact point for the VOAD organization in Greensburg.  VOAD does the case management with assistance in housing, home rebuilding and/or repair resources, available volunteer labor, donated goods and financial planning.  (Harmon interview) 

The method for coordination of information and services in Greensburg is not dissimilar to the joint meetings held by representatives from these agencies in Oklahoma City.  In both instances, a version of the Multi-Agency Command Center (MACC) used under the National Incident Management System (NIMS) has proven to work well for coordinating the long-term recovery for individuals.

NVOAD has proposed a set of protocols to coordinate larger incidents based on the lessons learned from Katrina and Rita.  Their module is based on three primary units:  FEMA, American Red Cross and Church World Services.

  • If the incident is declared a national disaster, FEMA is identified as the lead coordinating agency, if applicable, with the American Red Cross responsible for contacting and coordinating the secular NGOs and Church World Services responsible for contacting and coordinating the religious community.
  • If the incident is not declared a national disaster, the American Red Cross becomes the lead coordinating agency.
  • NVOAD envisions FEMA, American Red Cross and Church World Services being contacted and moving into place within 24 hours, and having set up their networks within 48 hours.
  • The module assumes that these coordinating agencies will continue to monitor and assist as needed throughout the long-term recovery, although local activity may be transferred to local divisions of the lead coordinating agencies.  Details and a diagram of the module can be found at

Faith Based Community

Role of Faith Community

The religious community plays a key role in providing support and fostering tolerance as people struggle with loss.

Chaplain's Corner, Command Center Oklahoma City/City of Oklahoma City

In the wake of a disaster, people struggle with sorrow, anger and the question “why.”  Research indicates people all over the United States tend to increase attendance at their place of worship after disasters.  Shared religious services to which the general public was invited were very helpful in Oklahoma City.  The value of creating a document addressing a theological response to tragedy was discussed in Oklahoma City but not implemented.

Implement a debriefing program for self-care of clergy and faith volunteers.

Clergy and faith volunteers, in the wake of a disaster, work in a world of tragedy.  They, like mental health workers, need support persons who can assist them in debriefing.  Otherwise, they risk becoming an additional layer of victims. 

The religious community is frequently a primary provider of funding and personal services for victims.

St. Paul's in New York City served as a rest center for rescue workers, as a spiritual center following 9/11 and continues to be a symbol of hope for locals and visitors alike/Jo Wolf

The religious community should be included and recognized as significant players in the assistance pool being provided by the traditional NGOs.  In Oklahoma City, St. Luke’s Methodist Church provided the initial information location for family members and the First Christian Church provided the location for the Family Assistance Center that functioned throughout the rescue and recovery operation. After the September 11, 2001, attack, St. Paul’s Chapel, just across the street from Ground Zero, served as a place of rest and refuge for recovery workers.  For eight months, hundreds of volunteers from all over America worked 12 hour shifts around the clock, serving meals, making beds, counseling and praying with fire fighters, construction workers, police and others.  Massage therapists, chiropractors, podiatrists and musicians also tended to their needs. (Bulletin: St. Paul’s Chapel, Parish of Trinity Church)  At Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, in 2005, the Ministerial Alliance played the lead role in relocating Katrina evacuees into more permanent lodging and assisted in finding local employment.  (Gary Weeks report for ARC)

Church families often play a primary role in providing temporary care/shelter for children without their parents or those who have been in foster care and are temporarily displaced.  Individuals and organizations assuming temporary care/shelter for a child without his/her parents or a child that has been in foster care should report the location of that child to the Department of Health and Human Services immediately.

Resources for Help

American Red Cross
American Red Cross National Headquarters
2025 E. Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20006
Phone     202.303.4498

Tracking website for displaced persons

Catholic Charities USA
1731 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone     703.549.1390
Fax         703.549.1656

Founded in 1910, Catholic Charities USA is one of the nation’s largest social service networks.  Catholic Charities agencies provide vital social services to people in need, regardless of their religious, social, or economic backgrounds.

Church World Services
Building Box 45
110 Maryland Ave., N.E., Suite 108
Washington, D.C. 20002
Phone     202.544.2350
Fax         202.546.6232

Founded in 1946, Church World Service is the relief, development, and refugee assistance ministry of 35 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations in the U.S.  Working in partnership with indigenous organizations in more than 80 countries, CWS works worldwide to meet human needs and foster self-reliance for all whose way is hard.  In the U.S., the Church World Service assists communities in responding to disasters, resettles refugees, promotes fair national and international policies, provides educational resources, and offers opportunities to join a people-to-people network of local and global caring.

For a list of participating organizations see

International Committee of the Red Cross
19 Avenue de la Paix
CH 1202 Geneva
Phone     ++41 (22) 734-6001
Locating displaced persons

National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD)
1720 I Street, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC  20006
Phone  202.955.8396
Fax      202.955.5079

NVOAD is a partnership in disaster response.  The primary purpose of NVOAD is to respond to the information needs of its members and to inform the public of the cooperative efforts of disaster response organizations in the U.S.

North American Mission Board, SBC
4200 North Point Parkway
Alpharetta, Georgia 30022-4176
Phone     770.410.6000
Fax         770.410.6082

North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention provided over 1,000 volunteers and 100 mobile disaster relief units in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia in 2005. (Baptist Press News online)

Salvation Army National Headquarters
615 Slaters Lane
P.O. Box 269
Alexandria, VA 22313

Salvation Army disaster response teams, coordinated and directed by commissioned officers and trained personnel, supported by volunteers, are on call to serve at all disasters and civil disorders which place a community or its populace at risk or which may disrupt or destroy family security and well-being.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Room 509F HHH Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20201

For a list of regional offices and contact information see

Terrorism & Disaster Center (TDC)
OU Health Sciences Center
Brian Houston
Phone     405.271.5251, ext. 47633 

TDC is a Category II Center of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN).  TDC focuses on achieving an effective, nationwide mental health response to the impact of terrorism and disasters on children, families, and communities.

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