By Rick Burnette
Last year, who could have imagined the prospect of an active hurricane season on top of a global pandemic?
With roughly one-third of CBF churches located in regions with significant risk from hurricanes, we must come to terms with COVID-19 and hurricane forecasts for the remainder of 2020 and move forward with appropriate disaster response plans.
The Impact of COVID-19 on CBF Disaster Domestic Disaster Response: March – June 2020
In March, with the rapid global spread of COVID-19, the CBF office transitioned to a remote operating approach. Additionally, CBF Global Missions field personnel were advised to adopt a “shelter in place” stance and curtail face-to-face ministry activities accordingly.
At the same time, CBF announced that it would be suspending all short-term mission teams, both international and domestic. As a result, planned CBF volunteer disaster response efforts for the Bahamas, the Florida Panhandle, Puerto Rico and southeastern North Carolina were cancelled.
COVID-19 Forecast Considerations for Summer and Fall 2020: The likelihood of continued infections and an active hurricane season
Short-term COVID-19 forecast
In its June 4, 2020 update, The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted between 118,000 and 143,000 cumulative COVID-19 deaths by June 27 with the rate of newly-reported deaths varying among states. In some states, cumulative deaths are expected to increase at roughly the same rate as they have in recent weeks, while other states are likely to experience only a small number of additional deaths from COVID-19.
Long-term COVID-19 threat
Although neither the CDC nor the World Health Organization have offered detailed, long-term forecasts for COVID-19 beyond June, a March 2020 study by the Imperial College London (University of Oxford) released forecast models related to country-based mitigation efforts (e.g., isolation and social distancing measures).
The researchers warned that if measures are relaxed after a few months to avoid severe economic impact, a further peak is likely to occur in the autumn. Unfortunately, many U.S. states have prematurely abandoned recommended mitigation protocols, raising concerns that the impact of 2020 hurricanes may coincide with COVID-19 spiking once again across parts of the U.S.
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season predicted to be more active than usual
The 2020 forecast of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center – a division of the National Weather Service – calls for 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes – one that is Category 3 or higher (115-plus-mph winds).
This forecast is above the 30-year (1981-2010) average of 13 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. As of June 8, eight days into the official 2020 hurricane season, there have already been three named storms; Arthur, Bertha and Cristobal.
Recommendations for CBF Disaster Response Engagement with the Risk of COVID-19
Even with the persistence of COVID-19, CBF anticipates that some degree of response will be needed during the 2020 hurricane season and beyond. Whether related to ongoing recovery work or engagement in new emergencies, CBF will make every effort to minimize opportunities for COVID-19 to spread due to our disaster response efforts.
Vetting, minimizing/modifying travel, symptom checks and social distancing
To minimize risk, volunteer teams will need to vet members based on the criteria of age, physical condition and health status. Additionally, daily symptom checks (temperature, etc.) will be required for the duration of service.
We should also eliminate the need for volunteer teams to travel by air or in crowded vehicles such as busses or vans. Unfortunately, this will affect ongoing recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
This also means avoiding crowded meal and sleeping arrangements. Alternatives may include teams making day trips to response areas or seeking adequately isolated lodging arrangements in hotels or suitable church/agency facilities. Overnight stays in individual tents or campers might be another option.
Therefore, to minimize COVID-19 risks during disaster response, CBF congregations, state/regional organizations (SROs) and CBF Disaster Response should collaborate—not only to establish disaster recovery sites and strategies, but also to implement shared protocols related to the logistics of travel, lodging and meals.
Prioritizing CBF’s Grassroots Response Strategy
When disasters strike, decisions concerning where and how to respond will be based on established CBF Disaster Response engagement protocol in which disaster-affected CBF congregations and/or local partner agencies, and their SROs, decide whether or not to engage—either with or without direct CBF Disaster Response involvement.
If congregations/partners and SROs choose to engage without the involvement of CBF Disaster Response volunteer services, they can still request funding assistance as well as stocked equipment trailers organized by CBF Disaster response and our SRO partners.
Additionally, if SROs request CBF Disaster Response volunteer assistance for emergencies during the COVID-19 pandemic, the following must be addressed:
- Who will serve as the Local Response Coordinator (an unpaid CBF role) or the Local Response Contractor (a paid CBF position)?
- If lodging is needed for CBF Disaster Response volunteers, where might they safely stay (i.e., hotels within a 30 minute to 1.5-hour drive, local churches)?
- If lodging and kitchen facilities are provided by local churches or partner agencies, can recommended social distancing and disinfection protocols be applied to minimize opportunities for COVID-19 spread?
Following FEMA/CDC guidelines
Based on FEMA/CDC recommendations, CBF Disaster Response has developed Guidelines for CBF Disaster Response Volunteers during the COVID-19 Pandemic which consist of various preventative measures, including the following:
- Incorporate social distancing measures for volunteer teams that would include limiting building/transportation capacities, minimizing team size to fewer than six and limiting non-essential travel.
- Minimize sharing of tools and equipment and incorporate frequent disinfecting of such with disinfectant wipes and/or sprays.
- Acquire cleaning supplies, masks/face coverings and gloves, and implement personal protective policies or measures (handwashing, hand sanitizer, etc.) to limit the spread of the virus to protect volunteers, disaster-impacted communities, response partners and others.
- Conduct daily health screenings (e.g., temperature checks, symptom checklist) to monitor volunteer wellness and prevent further infections.
- Prepare isolation space in case anyone displays symptoms. Be ready to help persons showing symptoms to receive medical attention and/or return home.
- CBF Disaster Response will be ready to provide supplemental masks and thermometers for volunteer teams.
- CBF SROs – particularly the SRO Disaster Response Coordinators – will attempt to identify individuals/teams who meet necessary health criteria and would possibly be available to serve impacted locations within their own states or neighboring areas.
- Particularly in high risk coastal locations, CBF SRO Disaster Response Coordinators have been asked to consider travel and lodging options that would help prevent crowded conditions for possible volunteer teams.
- The CBF Disaster Response specialist is assisting SRO Disaster Response coordinators with preparing and restocking shower and equipment trailers for possible deployment.
Feedback and participation invited
CBF Disaster Response welcomes additional feedback from our church and SRO partners related to planning for engagement during this time of COVID-19.
Also, we are making two documents available to our network:
- Guidelines for CBF Disaster Response Volunteers during the COVID-19 Pandemic
- CBF Disaster Response: Our Approach, Roles, and Procedures for Engagement
To provide feedback or to request PDF copies of these documents, please contact me at email@example.com.
As we prepare to respond over the coming months, keep in mind that our focus is to equip Christians and churches to serve communities affected by disaster, particularly the underserved.
Finally, when it is time to engage, please remember that CBF Disaster response does not:
- Organize search and rescue efforts
- Mobilize disaster relief supplies, food and water
- Set up mass feeding operations for those affected by disasters or disaster response workers.
However, we will need prayers and funding as well as healthy volunteers who are willing and able to assist select communities in need of response and recovery, even during this time of COVID-19.
Rick Burnette serves as manager for CBF’s domestic Disaster Response work.