Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Ready? Set. Pack!: Learning the Skill of Disaster Preparedness

Ready? Set. Pack! Learning the Skill of Disaster Preparedness

story by Daniel Granderson, photograph by Robert Booker

Twisted metal, flooded streets and a displaced populace in need of a helping hand. These are the memories many Americans will forever carry after Superstorm Sandy terrorized the New Jersey coastline in October 2012 and brought with it the most destructive natural disaster to ever decimate the Garden State.

“Sandy was a wake-up call,” says Robert Smith, pastor of Allegheny East Conference’s (AEC) Newtonville First, Seashore and Boardwalk Community Fellowship churches in South Jersey. Indeed, nearly two years after the storm, repairs of the damage are still being undertaken.

Joe Luste served as the government liaison officer during Superstorm Sandy and is the southern area coordinator for New Jersey Conference’s Adventist Community Services Disaster Response (ACS/DR). He spearheaded the distribution of food, clothing and personal care products to victims immediately after the storm. He also continues to play an integral role in the post-Sandy cleanup and in raising community awareness about disaster preparedness.

Luste anticipates it will require at least two or three more years before New Jersey is returned to its pre-Sandy condition, as the state government deals with bureaucratic “red tape” to secure funding for ongoing renovations. “Cleanup is a real issue, and costly—very, very costly,” he says.

Christian Duty in End Times

Seventh-day Adventists see connections between disasters and signs of the end times. The realization of this only further underscores the importance of disaster preparedness. “As a church that knows a lot of the ecological events that will occur according to prophecy, every family needs to have supplies in their homes and churches to help people. There is a need to be proactive—not reactive—to disaster relief,” says Smith.

Minnie McNeil, ACS/DR coordinator for the Columbia Union and director for Allegheny East, sees disaster relief as a ministry that Adventists are called upon to share with the world. “When we are personally prepared and trained to respond in times of disaster, we become the hands, feet and heart of Jesus. We reach out to help community members, often far distances away, recover from disaster when they cannot help themselves,” says McNeil.

Members of the Boardwalk Seahawks Pathfinder Club at Smith’s Boardwalk Community Fellowship church in Atlantic City lived that charge when they opted not to attend the “Forever Faithful” International Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wis., this summer. Instead they raised money to aid with Sandy recovery. “They are on the disaster relief agenda, putting the community back into community service,” notes Smith.

Taking a Proactive Approach

ACS leaders and volunteers respond to disasters wherever they happen in North America. Leaders also provide disaster response training to local volunteers. Their ministry is supported by an annual offering collected each May by the North American Division (NAD) ACS office, based in Silver Spring, Md., and through financial donations given during a crisis.

This year the NAD ACS office proactively purchased 3,120 empty, five-gallon buckets that they are making available to conferences to provide to their local churches. The churches then fill the buckets with a list of suggested cleaning supplies (see the sidebar).

McNeil notes that there was a rationale for being proactive. “Typically when disasters happen, we make an appeal to our churches, they respond generously and then the buckets still have to be disseminated,” she explains. “Prepared buckets already strategically placed will be a more efficient use of resources and will enhance response time.”

Because the bucket supplies will be used in homes most likely affected by fire, wind or water, the ability to mobilize relief quickly can often mean less long-term property damage and deterioration from mold and similar nuisances. A quick cleanup also aids in a healthier post-disaster environment, preventing illness and the invasion of rodents.

The Columbia Union Conference is working with the Allegheny East, New Jersey, Potomac and Pennsylvania conferences to ship the buckets during the first round of their manufacturing this fall. McNeil expects the Chesapeake Conference to join the effort at the next opportunity. The only expense to the conferences is the shipping cost of the buckets from the factory, while the NAD ACS office pays for the actual buckets. McNeil reports that the NAD is also channeling funds through the conferences to help churches purchase the contents for each bucket.

Ultimately, the NAD’s effort to better prepare conferences and churches in handling disaster relief is one of the more prudent ways to live in these uncertain times. “I’m a believer in Murphy’s law, that things will eventually go wrong somewhere in the world,” says Luste. “However, the antithesis of Murphy’s law is [to] be prepared. Can the worst happen? Yes, but if we’re prepared, it won’t matter.”

Read more about the buckets on the next page!


 Robert Booker Photo credit: Robert Booker

A Bucket of Fundamentals


To be prepared to help community members clean up quickly after a disaster, the NAD suggests that each church fill 10 or so buckets with the following supplies, then store them in a cool, dry location:


  • bleach
  • scouring pads
  • sponges
  • a scrub brush
  • cleaning towels/reusable wipes
  • liquid laundry detergent
  • household cleaner
  • disinfectant dishwashing soap
  • a clothesline
  • clothes pins
  • dust masks
  • latex or non-latex gloves
  • work gloves
  • heavy-duty trash bags
  • insect repellant spray
  • air freshener

For more specific instructions (like sizing and quantity), click here for a PDF download.


Daniel Granderson is a member of Potomac Conference’s Sligo church in Takoma Park, Md.


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There is certainly a great deal to know about this subject.
I love all the points you have made.

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