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The Salvation Army's Role in Emergency Disaster Services

Overview: The Salvation Army is officially recognized by federal, state and local governments across the country as a sanctioned disaster relief and assistance organization. As a relief organization within the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD). The Salvation Army was involved in the development of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) recently released National Response Framework. The Army is recognized within this framework.  The Army provides relief services to communities impacted by both natural and man-made disasters until the service is no longer needed by the community. When initiating a disaster relief operation, the first aim is to meet the basic needs of those who have been affected, both survivors and first responders. Even at this level, The Salvation Army's workers are ministering in that they serve as a means of expressing God's love to those in need. The Salvation Army's primary goals are to offer:

  • Material comfort
  • Physical comfort
  • Spiritual and Emotional comfort

Phase 1 - Emergency Preparedness: As one of the nation's major emergency relief organizations, The Salvation Army recognizes the critical importance of being prepared for natural and man-made disasters. Therefore, the Army takes steps to ensure its own ability to respond quickly and efficiently to a disaster while also working to educate other disaster professionals and the public at large about how to prepare for and respond to an emergency situation. Preparedness activities include:

  • Maintaining Internal Infrastructure: The Salvation Army maintains a fleet of emergency response vehicles, including mobile canteen and kitchen units, throughout the country, allowing for a speedy mobilization in response to a disaster. Additionally, the Army operates hundreds of warehouse facilities nationwide, stockpiling food, water and medical supplies for use in a major disaster.
  • Disaster Training: The Salvation Army routinely sponsors events to educate first responders and the public about emergency preparedness and response. For example, in May 2005, the Army hosted the North American Disaster Training Conference, guiding over 750 participants from dozens of relief organizations in how to better respond to man-made and natural disasters.  Smaller, more regular training is performed for Salvation Army staff and partners throughout the country  and throughout the year.

Phase 2 - Immediate Emergency Response: The Salvation Army provides numerous disaster relief services. Each disaster creates its own unique circumstances and the Army's response therefore varies from place to place based upon the community's situation and the magnitude of the disaster. Emergency response services are activated on short notice according to an agreed-upon notification procedure coordinated with federal, state and local governments. Typically, Salvation Army personnel and resources will congregate at predetermined staging areas, entering the impacted area only once government first-responders have indicated that it is safe and constructive to do so. These immediate response activities include:

  • Food/Hydration service: The most visible of The Salvation Army's disaster services is the delivery of meals and drinks to disaster victims and emergency workers. Food and drink may be prepared and served at communal feeding sites or from one of the Army's mobile feeding units/canteens.
  • Emergency shelter: The Salvation Army may provide shelter in a facility identified by the local emergency management personnel, including municipal shelters or Salvation Army buildings.
  • Cleanup: Distribution of cleanup supplies such as mops, brooms, buckets, shovels, detergents, and tarps and participation in clean-up efforts.
  • Emergency communications: Through The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (www.SATERN.org) and other amateur radio groups, The Salvation Army helps provide emergency communications when more traditional networks, such as telephones, are not operating. This system is used to relay critical information about the disaster and enable victims to transmit and receive information about their loved ones.

Phase 3 - Long-Term Disaster Recovery: Depending on the magnitude of the disaster, The Salvation Army may continue providing immediate response services, like emergency shelter and food service well into the recovery process. Additionally, the Army will often coordinate with local, state and federal entities to develop and execute long-term strategic disaster recovery plans. These activities include:

  • Restoration and rebuilding: Coordination of volunteer rebuilding teams and establishment of warehouses to distribute reconstruction supplies such as lumber and sheetrock.
  • Disaster social services: The Salvation Army provides direct financial assistance to disaster victims through a system of trained caseworkers. This assistance is provided for essential living supplies, emergency household needs and disaster-related medical or funeral expenses.
  • In-kind donations management: The Salvation Army is one of the nation's leaders in collecting, sorting, and distributing donated goods. During a disaster, the Army may establish warehouse and distribution centers to deliver donated goods directly to disaster victims.

Spiritual and Emotional Care: Throughout the duration and aftermath of a major disaster, The Salvation Army provides spiritual comfort and emotional support upon request to victims and emergency workers coping with the stress of a catastrophe. Salvation Army counselors, who are often ordained as clergy (officers), may simply offer a "ministry of presence," but often people who know about The Salvation Army as representatives of God may ask for prayer or help from the Bible. Other activities may include comforting the injured and bereaved, conducting funeral and memorial services or providing chaplaincy service to disaster workers and emergency management personnel. Disaster relief and recovery services are provided to all in need without discrimination.