Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series exploring the growth and cooperation in the area between Guadalupe and Comal counties.
Jeri Burgess got the idea to form the Guada-Comal Disaster Alliance during the 2015 Memorial Day floods.
What has developed is a group that can bring together the resources of churches across both counties when disaster strikes.
The New Braunfels resident volunteered for the Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian nonprofit that aids people in need in times of disease, famine and natural disasters.
She was touched and moved.
“While the people were getting a lot of help at the beginning immediately after a disaster, a lot of people that could barely put food on their tables on a daily basis were being left with shells of homes,” Burgess said.
That meant there was very little to “buy sheet rock and flooring materials and cabinets and all that stuff,” Burgess said.
So, Burgess approached her church, Oakwood Baptist about doing something to prepare their church to respond in times of disaster.
In the course of volunteering with the Samaritan’s Purse, they found an organization called Austin Disaster Relief Network. The Christian nonprofit includes more than 185 churches in the Greater Austin area and trains thousands of volunteers to help in a crisis.
The services they provided include spiritual care and chaplain support, emergency financial support, temporary shelter and clean-up deployments.
“They pretty much pioneered the concept of churches, forming a network or an alliance to organize and respond in times of disaster, to be able to provide emotional, spiritual and physical needs for survivors of disaster,” Burgess said. “So it’s kind of grown out of that.”
They had hoped after the disaster that ADR would be able to expand into the Comal and Guadalupe area, since the nonprofit has expanded to Hays County, but it never materialized.
“So we decided to go ahead and form our own organization and that way we would be able to meet the needs of the community, according to those needs and not have to get approval from somewhere else,” Burgess said.
They received their nonprofit status in April and have already helped one family.
In August, the Lopez family lost their Guadalupe County home to a fire. The group helped them clean up the property and salvaged any metal so the family could sell it.
In the meantime, while all is silent, the GCDA do a lot of training with the Community Emergency Response Team.
“There’s a search team with the volunteer organizations that are active in disaster work, so that we can respond according to how it should be resolved,” Burgess said. “You know, we’re not just going at a blind journey wherever we want to do.”
She said she has learned a lot including how to track storms approaching the area and to monitor social media for reports of damage or disaster.
She found out about the Lopez family on Facebook.
She also learned how to coordinate a large group of spontaneous volunteers, including things such as background checks.
“We’re not just throwing people out there,” Burgess said. “Our goal is to coordinate the churches so that they can respond together.”
She said each church has a stronger set of resources and capabilities, and GCDA’s goal is to prepare those churches, train them and to be aware of times of disasters.
“Because if something happens on a large scale basis, our area from San Antonio to Austin or just New Braunfels itself, our first responders would be overwhelmed and wouldn’t be able to handle the load,” Burgess said. “So, it’s important that people are trained and are ready for times of disaster, to know what to do so they’re not totally dependent upon the first responders.”
Another goal is to work with the churches to ensure their parishioners are ready and prepared.
“We offer classes like first aid, CPR, Stop the Bleed, the active shooter training,” she said.
They also offer a six-week course called Preparedness Peace which guides people from knowing they need to prepare to being prepared.
“And then to be able to have the churches be prepared and stand up the shelters that needed to work with the Red Cross, and just have that training in advance,” Burgess said. “So that we’re not having to take the time during or after a disaster to do the training. They would just be able to say, ‘OK, they need the shelter open, and these people have gone through the chain, they can we can get it open.’ And that reduces a lot of time.”
So far, they have two churches involved: Oakwood and First Protestant Church.
Burgess said expanding beyond Guadalupe and Comal depends on the situation.
“It will be case by case basis,” she said.
Burgess said people who are affected by disasters and lose their homes are in the situation through absolutely no fault of their own.
“It could affect the wealthiest down to the poorest and it doesn’t discriminate,” Burgess said. “Everybody goes through the same traumatizing experience. And to be able to sit down with someone, put an arm around them and say, ‘I’m here for you, I’m going to pray for you,’ that makes a difference in their lives.”
For more information on volunteering, or for churches wanting to join the Guda-Comal Disaster Alliance, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call at (210) 240-7298.