The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Team gathers this week in Jacksonville, Fla., to consider adding a group of new members. The so-called “Discernment Weekend” is an opportunity for those interested in serving communities impacted by disaster to determine if they are physically, emotionally and spiritually committed to the work.
“It’s not technically a training event. We tell prospects about PDA, what we do and how we are tied to the denomination and our partners,” said Rick Turner, national associate for disaster response with PDA. “We hope to add up to 20 or more new members. That will help with our capacity and availability in the midst of disaster.”
The past year was busy for PDA and its volunteers. Turner and others have described 2015 as a year of “cascading events” meaning the event would start out small like a snow or heavy rain and intensify for days. Severe flooding and heavy snows, coupled with wildfires and human-caused disasters such as shootings, have stretched PDA resources. Turner is hoping they’ll get some good additions to the team.
“We do some boundary training and spend time on personality traits. The key question we ask the PDA coaches to consider is would you be willing to be deployed with this person in a disaster?” asked Turner. “We have exercises to bring out certain personality traits in people. We intentionally make it stressful to see how they react.”
Once the discernment is complete, PDA leaders give the potential volunteers several days to think about whether they wish to continue.
“Then I call them with what we’ve discerned and if they’re interested, the next step is paper work and online material for them to study, including videos and a psychological first-aid course,” said Turner. “If they are still interested and meet our standards, we invite them to the annual meeting in April where they will go through two more days of training before being introduced to the entire team.”
Once approved, The NRT membership is expected to top 105. There are times, according to Turner, they could use twice that number.
PDA volunteers as a whole were very busy in 2015. According to the PDA National Call Center, more than 22,800 volunteers served through 42 PDA-related volunteer hosting sites in 17 states last year. Of these 42 sites, the call center said volunteers donated more than 223,000 hours of labor for disaster recovery. Officials estimate the labor is valued at more than $5 million.