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Early Response Teams going with UMCOR to Puerto Rico

posted on January 03

A photo by CNN of a resident in San Juan, Puerto Rico, looking at the damage to his house.
Damage in Puerto Rico
A photo by CNN of a resident in San Juan, Puerto Rico, looking at the damage to his house.

UMCOR has begun coordinating Early Response Teams to Puerto Rico in cooperation with the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico. If you are interested and meet the following criteria, please call me and I will connect you with the ERT interim coordinator for this stage of the project. UMCOR has asked that the Conference Disaster Response Coordinators serve as the “gatekeepers” for the identification and recommendation of these initial volunteers and teams.
The first teams to be deployed will be called Specialized Early Response Teams. These teams will be oriented to address circumstances unique to this location and situation, and beyond the general scope of work for our more traditional ERTs. This may include replacing or reinforcing trusses prior to tarping a home, the replacement or reinforcement of existing tarps, the installation of temporary hinged plywood doors and windows, and other concerns which will allow residents to “shelter in place” safely. An expanded ERT Manual, including one in Spanish, has been developed for this very purpose.

Early teams may be asked to do significant debris removal. The work of the Specialized Early Response Teams will also allow the MCPR to establish their base camps, develop their volunteer program, and begin to assemble the larger plan.
These initial teams may also require certain skills and physical capabilities. Early sites may, or may not, have clean running water or electricity – or access to generators. Working conditions may be difficult.

It is strongly recommended that only those volunteers free of health issues consider traveling to Puerto Rico. Due to the environmental and technological challenges facing the island, including access to, and availability of, definitive medical care, volunteers should not be dealing with any mobility, respiratory or general health issues. They should also not rely on health assists powered by electricity or use medication requiring refrigeration.
The response will soon be opened to more traditional ERTs and then eventually volunteer reconstruction teams. UMCOR has established a centralized volunteer coordination mechanism in cooperation with UMVIM for this purpose. In the meantime, please affirm the willingness of the volunteers to await invitation from the community in a coordinated manner as we work together to support our brothers and sisters in their ministry in Puerto Rico.
While we may see reports of power being restored to a significant part of the population, it does not mean that it is restored to a significant part of the island in terms of geography.  Land wise, only about a quarter of the island has power restored.  Conditions are going to be difficult for the initial teams going in and much different than we have experienced for previous responses for the “lower 48”. 
I will continue to pass along information as it develops.
Blessings to all,
Jim Morse
502-653-9253 (cell)