Emergency Disaster Services

Salvation Army captain goes on search-and-rescue mission after the storm. Ward’s contributions weren’t over once the waters receded.

Salvation Army captain goes on search-and-rescue mission after the storm

The boat already carried great meaning before the storm of Hurricane Harvey.

It had been passed down through three generations of men, a family heirloom bearing cherished memories of father-son fishing trips. Its significance would rise with the rain.

As the commanding officer of the Salvation Army’s Houston Northwest Corps, Capt. Jay Ward was prepared to serve in the relief effort once Harvey passed, but plans changed when his 18-year-old son Christian read messages of despair on the Nextdoor app. The people in distress were less than two miles away.

“Dad, we’ve got a boat,” Christian said. “We have to go help.”

The Salvation Army of Maryland is deploying some of its officers to Texas to help with the relief effort from Hurricane Harvey. The Salvation Army in Maryland is gearing up to send 12 officers to Texas.

Media: WBAL

So, wearing athletic shorts and tennis shoes with no socks, they headed out into the floodwaters.

Ward recalls a man waving from his second-story window with a look of desperation. Inside his home, a flat screen television hung on the wall, framed photographs decorated the mantle. Everything appeared normal, except for the three feet of water and their floating furniture.

“It was a really odd feeling,” Ward said. “If you didn’t look down, you would never know that his house was full of water.”

Ward and his son used the family boat to rescue that man, plus 40 more people and 10 dogs over the next two days last August.

Ward’s contributions weren’t over once the waters receded. His church and community center became the Salvation Army’s first incident command post in Houston. Volunteers from all over the country met there to coordinate canteen, hydration and spiritual counseling services.

In a month’s time, the organization would serve nearly 1 million meals by way of 90 mobile canteens throughout Texas.

“We are not a search-and-rescue organization,” said Alexis Thompson, director of development at the Salvation Army of Greater Houston. “But Captain Ward jumped in and knew that he had to do something.”

“Our mission is to meet human needs without discrimination, and he did that in his own way.”

Friday, June 1, marks the official start of the 2018 Hurricane season. The Salvation Army stands ready to serve if needed. Mobile feeding units

The Salvation Army Prepares for 2018 Hurricane Season

Atlanta, GA – Friday, June 1, marks the official start of the 2018 Hurricane season. The Salvation Army stands ready to serve if needed. Mobile feeding units are in place to respond and serve first responders and disaster survivors at a moment’s notice.  Trained disaster workers and volunteers are prepared to provided physical, emotional and spiritual support.

During the devastating 2017 hurricane season, The Salvation Army responded with one of the largest disaster relief operations in its history, second only to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  In response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, The Salvation Army’s Southern Territory and Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) teams from across the United States and Canada deployed to Texas, Florida and Georgia, providing food, hydration, and emotional and spiritual care to survivors and first responders.

Hurricane Harvey Response

On August 24, 2017, The Salvation Army began deploying resources in response to Hurricane Harvey’s devastation and continued to offer meals, beverages and bulk items such as food boxes and clean-up kits across thirty-five Texas counties effected by the storm and to evacuees across the state and region. At the peak of the disaster response, The Salvation Army served over 900,000 meals from 96 mobile feeding units.

The Salvation Army provided:

  • 929,868 meals to survivors and first responders
  • 997,541 drinks and 977,553 snacks
  • Emotional and spiritual care to 58,318 individuals
  • 58,369 food boxes, 15,828 clean up kits and 108,344 comfort kits
  • 96 mobile feeding units at the peak response
  • Over 2 million hours of employee and volunteer service

Hurricane Harvey Long-Term Recovery Efforts

The Salvation Army continues to support the hardest hit areas of Texas by assisting individuals and families on the long road to recovery.  Through the work of a robust team of caseworkers, The Salvation Army has been able to help more than 16,000 clients and provide over $6 million in direct assistance to date.  Establishing partnerships with local community advocacy groups and churches have extended the reach of The Salvation Army’s ability to give assistance and needed supplies especially to those historically underserved and families in rural communities.

The Salvation Army also continues to distribute products donated by individuals and corporations, receiving in-kind gifts at its disaster warehouse in Arlington, Texas. These goods are sorted and disseminated to eight distribution locations in the affected area to make items available to people in need. Nearly $5 million worth of goods have been distributed to date.

Hurricane Irma Response

Preparations for the response to Hurricane Irma began before the storm made landfall by pre-staging mobile feeding units, other resources and aiding evacuees.  Once the storm had passed, 101 mobile feeding units were deployed during the response phase to provide over 375,000 meals to first responders and survivors throughout south and western Florida, including the Florida Keys and the coastal areas of South Georgia.

In Florida and Georgia, The Salvation Army provided:

  • 384,000 meals to survivors and first responders
  • 544,000 drinks and 342,532 snacks
  • Emotional and spiritual care to 28,382 individuals
  • 26,678 food boxes, 4,682 clean up kits and 24,258 comfort kits were distributed
  • 101 mobile feeding units at the peak response
  • Over 1.4 million hours of employee and volunteer service

Hurricane Irma Long-Term Recovery Efforts

The Salvation Army’s long-term recovery efforts continue in Florida where the charity is operating Disaster Assistance Centers in Naples and Ft. Meyers where disaster survivors can receive help navigating local, state, and federal assistance programs available to rebuild homes.  These centers also provide financial assistance, vouchers and various items such as toiletries, household supplies, water, and food to survivors.  Several long-term recovery initiatives are set to begin, including a multi-state partnership with The Home Depot to purchase building materials to provide building assistance.

The Salvation Army of Georgia is committed to sustaining long-term recovery efforts throughout the state in cooperation with partner agencies. Six disaster case workers have been hired and trained to reach out to those in Georgia impacted by the hurricanes. To date, these disaster case workers have closed 63 Hurricane Irma related cases and are working on another 63 cases. In addition, both the Georgia and Florida Division continue to provide support to evacuees from Hurricane Maria who have relocated from Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other areas of the Caribbean.

As the 2018 hurricane season begins, The Salvation Army reminds everyone to be prepared.  A single storm can cause catastrophic damage and even a relatively weak storm can bring tremendous rain and cause life-threatening flooding.  Now is the time for families to develop a family disaster plan, to collect a kit of essential emergency supplies, and if you live in an area likely to be evacuated, to develop an evacuation plan and consider where you will relocate to and how.

Salvation Army Continues Long-term Hurricane Response in the Caribbean

Salvation Army Continues Long-term Hurricane Response in the Caribbean

London, 24 April 2018 – The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the worst in living memory. Major damage was recorded in Mexico and central America, and across the southern states of the USA, but perhaps the most significant devastation was seen on some of the Caribbean islands. The Salvation Army’s Caribbean, Latin America North and USA Eastern Territories, utilising staff and officers from corps (Salvation Army churches) across the region, was on the scene immediately, providing emergency help and aid to those in the greatest need. More than six months later, the response continues.

On the morning of 6 September 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the northern Caribbean. Turks and Caicos, Anguilla, Sint Maarten, the US Virgin Islands, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and St Kitts and Nevis were badly affected and Barbuda was rendered uninhabitable, with most of the population being evacuated for their safety. Hurricane Irma was swiftly followed by Maria, the 10th-strongest hurricane in recorded history, which made landfall in Puerto, Turk and Caicos, and Dominica – where at least 80 per cent of the population was affected.

As the clouds began to clear, the severity of the situation was exposed to the world and The Salvation Army responded with numerous projects, providing food, shelter, non-food items (NFIs), mattresses and beds, and putting in place livelihood recovery programmes.

Working with local governments across the Caribbean, the neediest people were selected as initial beneficiaries for projects made possible by donations from the USA-based Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) and Salvation Army offices in Canada, The Netherlands, Norway and the USA Eastern Territory. Non-Salvation Army donors included EO Metterdaad and Coca-Cola.

Experienced responders were also sent to the region on behalf of The Salvation Army’s International Emergency Services team, based in London. They provided expert assistance to local Salvation Army teams and reported back on some of the life-saving projects they witnessed.

One story that the team said was particularly memorable is that of a man known as Mr Louis, a retired 69-year-old who has lived on Dutch-speaking Sint Maarten since birth. As a child, he experienced Hurricane Donna, a category 5 storm that hit Sint Maarten in 1960, but he told Salvation Army workers that he had never seen anything like Hurricane Irma.

On the night of 5 September, Mr Louis went to bed as usual, only to be woken up in the middle of the night by severe winds and rain hammering his house. Frightened, he huddled with his wife and daughter in the living room, only for the roof of his home to be crushed by a fridge that had been thrown through the air by the storm. The family sought shelter from the rain in their car but, when they saw other cars and even sea containers being lifted and thrown around by the strong winds, they moved to their cellar. They stayed there until the hurricane had passed the island the next day.

Coming out of their shelter, they witnessed absolute devastation. The hurricane had caused major damage to their house – the porch was completely ripped away, windows were broken, doors were gone, the roof was crushed and most of their furniture would be impossible to save due to extreme water damage.

Conducting assessment visits to the Cole Bay area of Sint Maarten, where Mr Louis’s family has lived for more than 100 years, The Salvation Army identified him as a beneficiary of the shelter rebuilding programme. The damage was assessed and Mr Louis was provided with materials to rebuild his home, including hurricane straps that will make his new roof hurricane proof.

Mr Louis was helped to rebuild his house by his neighbours, supported by the Salvation Army team in Sint Maarten. He says that it will take years for Sint Maarten to recover from this devastating disaster, but he feels blessed with the support provided by The Salvation Army. He feels confident that, now the repairs to his house have been completed – especially the new roof – he will be able to protect his family from the hurricanes that he knows will continue to sweep across the Caribbean every year.

The Sint Maarten rebuilding programme is just one of a number of Salvation Army projects still under way across the Caribbean. On Turks and Caicos, for instance, children are being provided with school lunches and uniforms to help them to continue their education. Beds and bedding have been provided on the Bahamas, rebuilding programmes are under way on Dominica and on Barbuda, where households have been provided with basic provisions to see them through the short term and fishermen and a fisherwoman have received new boats and equipment to start replacing everything that was lost when Hurricane Irma struck. The response on St Kitts and Nevis includes providing assistance to the people who lost their homes.

Already, the people of the Caribbean are looking ahead to the 2018 hurricane season and wondering how they will be affected. The Salvation Army is committed to sustainable projects that bolster and enrich communities, enabling people to recover in the short term but also to be better prepared when, not if, the next hurricane arrives – maybe not this year or next year, but at some point in the near future.

  • Donations to support The Salvation Army’s relief efforts across the Caribbean region can be made securely online at sar.my/amappeal 

From reports by Maike Bennema and Samuel Shearer
International Emergency Services

Photos of the rebuilding work on Sint Maarten can be downloaded from the IHQ Flickr stream: sar.my/sintmaartenmar18

New GPS technology helps disaster units offer better service

New GPS technology helps disaster units offer better service

In times of disaster and peril, many rely on The Salvation Army and, with a new initiative, those in need will be better informed and easier to serve. In partnership with US Fleet Tracking, the Army will begin rolling out new GPS tracking technology for monitoring disaster assets including canteens, tractor trailers and a wide variety of emergency vehicles.

Beginning Feb. 1, divisions throughout the Southern Territory began having high-end GPS devices hard-wired into vehicles with ignition starters. Beyond that, the Army will be able to utilize battery-powered technology easily affixed to smaller mobile units.

GPS will tell a disaster command exactly where a vehicle is deployed at any given time. The grand goal is to provide more detailed, precise information to the public.

“The big piece is that, once this system is fully operational, we will be able to share these unit locations with the general public,” said Jeff Jellets, territorial disaster services coordinator. “So, when someone calls and says, ‘My mother is in the disaster area and is in need,’ we’ll be able to point them to a map that says, ‘Here are our feeding locations, and here is where you can get service.’

“That’s the game-changer. And that’s where we want to be so we can better serve the public.”

The GPS technology, fully equipped with comprehensive customer service support from US Fleet Tracking, also provides the Army with a modern way to pinpoint maintenance needs, monitor overall fleet usage and generally improve oversight.

While the plan to upgrade the technology was in the works for several months last year, the Army had the opportunity for on-the-ground testing. Some of the new GPS-enabled units were used during disaster relief efforts after two devastating hurricanes.

“That real-time live disaster event during Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma showed what we had known all along, as far as the necessity in providing service to those impacted by the disaster,” said Steven Hartsook, director of Emergency Disaster Services for the Arkansas-Oklahoma Division.

Positional information is transmitted via satellite and cellular networks. Under the new initiative, that provides upgraded accessibility and increased coverage.

The goal is to have each division completely outfitted with GPS by the June 1 beginning of Atlantic hurricane season.

New GPS technology helps disaster units offer better service

The Salvation Army Continues to Serve Following Tragic Parkland Shooting

Broward County, FL – The Salvation Army of Broward and Palm Beach Counties continue to serve in the aftermath of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Immediately following the shooting, Majors Keath and Candice Biggers, Fort Lauderdale Area Commanders, reported to the Broward County’s Emergency Operations Center to help assess community needs and offer The Salvation Army’s assistance.  Mobile feeding units from Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach were deployed to serve water, coffee, and emotional and spiritual care to first responders last evening.

The Salvation Army met this morning with community officials at the Parkland Recreation and Enrichment Center to coordinate efforts to be offered throughout the day. A prayer vigil to honor the victims is scheduled this evening at the same location.  The Salvation Army mobile feeding units will be on hand prior to the vigil to deliver meals, drinks and snacks.  Additionally, Salvation Army Officers, staff  and volunteers from Ft. Lauderdale Area Command will be available during and after the vigil offering emotional and spiritual care.

Major Keath Biggers is coordinating with local officials to address the needs of the community as they arise.

“We have seen first hand the pain and sorrow in the community, and we grieve with them,” said Major Keath Biggers. “We are ready to help the community in whatever capacity needed.”

In 2016, only a few hours away from Parkland, The Salvation Army supported families and responders following the tragedy at The Pulse Nighclub.  Over the course of three weeks volunteers, staff and emotional and spiritual care specialists provided financial assistance as well as food and beverages to survivors, families and emergency responders.  The foundation of The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services is to provide hope in times of crisis and right now The Salvation Army world-wide is surrounding Parkland and all of Broward County with thoughts and prayers.  The Salvation Army will continue to serve survivors and families as they seek to recover from this senseless tragedy.

For additional information on The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services, log on to www.disaster.salvationarmyusa.org.


Emergency Feeding Service Continues in Puerto Rico

The Salvation Army is continuing its lifesaving work across the Island of Puerto Rico, actively seeking out and serving individuals following the devastating hurricane two months ago.  Its continued mission has it working hand in hand with government and other no-governmental organizations to reach those missed by previous food distributions.

The Salvation Army has utilized innovative methods to reach the most remote parts of the island.  With a few staff members and dedicated disaster volunteers, The Salvation Army is continuing to push large numbers of meals out to untouched portions of the island.  This past Saturday the team delivered over 20,000 meals and 16,000 bottles of water to those still in desperate need of assistance.  The Salvation Army’s Operations Chief, Mike Shiffler added, “I have learned that team work, will power, improvisation, and boldness make an explosive combination and any set-backs should be linked to that specific mindset.”

The Salvation Army’s work includes the delivery of food and water, with emotional care to those experiencing the psychological and spiritual impacts of surviving a devastating Hurricane.  The Salvation Army was on the island long before the hurricane and rode the storm out with their communities.  According to the mission of The Salvation Army, they are not going anywhere, and will remain serving long after the damages are cleaned up.

About The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army, established in London in 1865, has been supporting those in need without discrimination for more than 135 years in the U.S. More than 25 million Americans receive assistance from The Salvation Army each year through a range of social services: food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter to the homeless, and opportunities for underprivileged children. The Salvation Army tracks the level of need across the country with the Human Needs Index (HumanNeedsIndex.org). The Salvation Army has served survivors of every major national disaster since 1900. The Salvation Army does not place an administrative fee on disaster donations. During emergency disasters, 100 percent of designated gifts are used to support specific relief efforts. For more information, go towww.SalvationArmyUSA.org or follow on Twitter @SalvationArmyUS.


After disaster strikes, The Salvation Army has learned, people certainly need food, water, shelter and supplies, but also something more: a caring listener and the assurance God loves them.

Janeen Johnally of the Central Maryland Area Command, deployed to Texas for Hurricane Harvey, reported that retirees Bonnie Schmolbach and her husband were preparing to move from Port Aransas to Florida when the storm struck, flooding their recently remodeled home. The couple lost their furniture, appliances, everything.

“We lived there 17 years,” Schmolbach told Johnally. “It’s so hard to take it all in, and my husband breaks down every day. We lost pictures and so many other things that can’t be replaced.”

While waiting in line for a hot meal from a Salvation Army feeding unit, Schmolbach met disaster volunteer Francesco Llanas. He comforted her after learning her story. “He asked if he could pray with me, and he did. Francesco really made my day,” she said. He also gave her a Bible.

As a token of her appreciation, Schmolbach gave each canteen worker a wristband that read, “Port A Strong – #Harvey 2017.” “The Salvation Army folks were good to us here in Port Aransas, and the wristband is just a little memento for them so they can remember us,” she said. “We are surely going to remember them for a lifetime.”

The Salvation Army’s disaster services ministry in the United States began with the Galveston Hurricane of Sept. 8, 1900. The deadliest cyclone in U.S. history, it killed 6,000 to 12,000 people. In the first response of its kind for the Army, Salvationists rushed to Texas, setting up a relief tent across the channel from the stricken city to feed and shelter the homeless.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and others of 2017 likewise brought an outpouring from the Army– material, in the form of food, supplies and shelter; and emotional, with individuals and teams providing words, prayers and hugs of comfort. About 400 officers, soldiers and volunteers made 28,000 contacts during the Irma response, while upwards of 1,000 Salvationists made 55,000 contacts during Harvey.

In 1900, when Salvationists handed out emergency food and supplies, it was assumed they’d take time to talk and pray with people. That’s still the case, of course, but today it’s a formal part of the mission, and there’s special training for it.

Jeff Jellets, Southern Territory emergency disaster services coordinator, calls it psychological first aid. “Most faith organizations provide emotional and spiritual care – the Southern Baptists, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Samaritan’s Purse – but the Army is uniquely situated to do this in the response phase because we’re usually there early in the disaster,” Jellets said. “The mobile canteens become a natural platform for providing this care.”

Also, he said, “Because of our reputation for disaster work, people trust us to provide that emotional and spiritual care connection.”

Jellets spoke of a young Salvation Army officer delivering liquids to first responders in New York after Sept. 11, 2001. “A firefighter grabbed him and said, ‘We need you to come with us.’

“They walked him into the debris field around the pit and pointed to the body of a fallen firefighter. They said, before we take him out of here, we need you to give him last rites.

“The Salvation Army officer said, ‘Well, I’m not a Catholic priest; I don’t know how to do that.’ The firefighter said, ‘That’s OK, do your best. It’s not for him. It’s for us.’”

The Southern Territory has 17,499 people in its disaster responder database. All can avail themselves of the classes listed under training at the website,

To ensure emotional and spiritual caregivers are properly trained, The Salvation Army offers a four-hour ministry of presence course, followed by an eight-hour introduction to spiritual and emotional care class. For more advanced training, the Army partners with the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF), which offers a curriculum of two-day crisis intervention classes on topics ranging from individual intervention strategies to debriefing services to suicide intervention. Some Salvation Army officers have pursued clinical pastoral education courses toward chaplaincy certifications.

“It is as much about teaching you the boundaries of what you shouldn’t do as it is about what you should do,” Jellets said. “You have to make sure you recognize your limitations and boundaries; otherwise, you can do as much damage as good. You want to avoid pat answers or deep theological discussions. You have to be respectful of the faith the person comes from, or the lack thereof. If a person is an atheist, a disaster is probably not the best time to force a conversion on them.”

Major Susan Dewan, an emotional and spiritual care officer with the Muskogee, Oklahoma, Corps, was at the Pentagon after 9/11 and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She recently returned from Hurricane Irma deployment to Naples, Florida.

“When Salvation Army officers and staff go out to serve, they have always done that with love and the human touch, to bring the presence of God into a situation … helping people feel they’re not sitting in the dark alone,” she said.

“If you go all the way back to the Galveston Hurricane and Evangeline Booth, when all the Salvationists descended on Galveston, Texas, they went not only with food and water, but to put their arms around the survivors and to be present with them. That’s what spiritual and emotional care is: the incarnational ministry of presence, bringing the presence of God through the body of Christ.”

Major David Dalberg, director of disaster services for the Chicago Metropolitan Division, former national disaster services coordinator and a veteran of 9/11, Midwest floods and Hurricane Katrina, said spiritual care “has always been a part of us.” It became a formal component of The Salvation Army’s disaster response strategy as the incident command model was developed in the 1990s.

A response team now includes an emotional and spiritual care officer. The Army also developed Project Lasting Hope for long-term recovery, with local corps and commands continuing to comfort people after the disaster teams pull out.

“It was an overt expression of faith on our part as an organization – to treat emotional care not as a sidebar, but as a primary part of what we do,” Major Dalberg said.

This year in Naples, where Major Dalberg was incident commander, The Salvation Army deployed nine emotional care officers and specialists as its
canteens served 73,000 meals in the city.

“Our team alone made more than 5,000 contacts with people who were hurting, who were in crisis, who didn’t have answers – who just needed to have somebody listen to their woes and challenges and loss and pain,” he said. “People want answers. They want someone to care about them.”

Salvation Army Volunteers Awarded Florida Governor’s Champion of Service

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services team is honored to recognize volunteers, Gene Kelley and Steve Rocca,  who have both been awarded the Governor Scott and Volunteer Florida’s Champion of Service Award.   The Champion of Service Award was established in 2013 by Volunteer Florida to honor individuals and groups for their outstanding efforts in volunteerism and service.

Gene Kelley, volunteer with the Tallahassee Corps since 1985, deployed to Texas following Hurricane Harvey and upon return, stepped up to serve his own community for Hurricane Irma.  According to his Corps Officer, Lt. Ryan Meo, “Gene is the heart and soul of what The Salvation Army embodies- servant leadership and a willingness to think outside the box to help meet community needs.”

Volunteer with the Orlando Area Command, Steve Rocca, was also presented with the Champion of Service award in October.  Following the Pulse shooting tragedy, Steve, who was the Advisory Board Chair at the time, discovered his passion for serving on a canteen.   “Deployed to both Houston during Hurricane Harvey and multiple locations in Florida during Hurricane Irma, we can always count on Steve to tell the story of the good work of The Salvation Army”  states Major Ted Morris, Orlando Area Commander.

Awards were presented during a meeting at the Florida Cabinet by Governor Rick Scott and Volunteer Florida Chief Executive Officer Vivian Myrtetus.

About The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army, established in London in 1865, has been supporting those in need without discrimination for more than 135 years in the U.S. More than 25 million Americans receive assistance from The Salvation Army each year through a range of social services: food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter to the homeless, and opportunities for underprivileged children. The Salvation Army tracks the level of need across the country with the Human Needs Index (HumanNeedsIndex.org). The Salvation Army has served survivors of every major national disaster since 1900. The Salvation Army does not place an administrative fee on disaster donations. During emergency disasters, 100 percent of designated gifts are used to support specific relief efforts. For more information, go towww.SalvationArmyUSA.org or follow on Twitter @SalvationArmyUS.