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Responder recalls learnings

One responder learned some helpful lessons during response to the bombing.


"Some people volunteer to do things they are not qualified to do, and because they are willing, and because they are the first to show up, sometimes they are given jobs that they should not be given."

—Julia Davis Reed

One responder said she learned some helpful lessons during response to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Below, Julia Davis Reed, assistant director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, shares her thoughts on learnings.

1. A terrorist attack or some other disaster can happen anytime, anywhere. Reed — a licensed clinical social worker — had been working at Catholic Charities less than a year on that April morning in 1995. She was with a client in her office in the lower level of the three-story building at 1501 NW Classen. Suddenly, she heard a horrendous boom, felt the building shake, and saw the windows that went from the floor to ceiling on two sides of her office blow out.

“I first thought somebody from the probation and parole office next door had shot through my window,” recalls Reed. “It never occurred to me that somebody had blown up the Murrah Federal Building, which was about a mile away downtown.”

She says as a result of that experience, she became more aware that a terrorist attack or some other disaster can happen anytime, anywhere. “Before the Murrah Building bombing, if there was a fire drill, I would mosey out, but I don’t mosey any more. Drills are all real to me now.”

2. People have big hearts and want to help when disasters strike. In the aftermath of the bombing, not only Oklahomans, but people across the nation, and even in other countries, offered their services and sent money to help those who were hurting. Reed says she has seen the same generous response following tornadoes that have devastated central Oklahoma. “It’s wonderful that people have big hearts,” says Reed. “Their generosity helps us minister much more effectively.”

3. Volunteers need more than big hearts to be helpful. Reed has this word of caution: “Some people volunteer to do things they are not qualified to do, and because they are willing, and because they are the first to show up, sometimes they are given jobs that they should not be given. Problems usually result. For the volunteer’s sake, and for the sake of people they are helping, we need to confirm that volunteers are qualified before assigning them a task.”

She explains that when faith groups plan in advance of a disaster, they can enlist, train and deploy volunteers much more effectively.

4. Disaster responders are wise to focus on doing what they do best. During the chaos and confusion that follows a disaster, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all that needs to be done, Reed points out.

“If you start trying to do anything and everything, you end up draining your resources without accomplishing much,” says Reed. “Before a disaster strikes, think through what resources you have and evaluate what you can do best with them in response to a disaster.”

She says, for example, that Catholic Charities in Oklahoma City was not prepared to meet some needs following the bombing. “We were not first responders, we didn’t have a shelter, and we didn’t have stockpiles of water that we could go hand out. But we were very good at long-term care. So long-term care is what we focused on. We did a complete assessment of folks. We didn’t just focus on getting them back to where they were before the tornado. We helped them work though problems they already had. For six or seven years after the bombing, we helped people with mental health, helped them find places to live, and helped them build new normal lives. In fact, we are still helping a few families who suffered losses from the bombing.”

5. People are resilient, but don’t recover from a disaster overnight. Reed has worked with hundreds of people who have lost loved ones or have suffered other losses from the bombing, tornadoes and other disasters. She says she has been amazed at how people whose lives have been devastated pick up the pieces that are left and live again. She’s also amazed by how Oklahoma City has recovered. “To watch our community pull together really makes me proud to be part of it,” she says.

However, Reed points out that recovery for an individual or for a community is a process that takes time — some take years — and life is never exactly the same as it was before the loss.

6. When faith groups work together, people are served more effectively.

Reed says the Oklahoma City bombing helped bring faith groups of the area build a closer working relationship. “We gathered around the table with Baptists, Methodists, Disciples, Jews and many others,” says Reed. “Coming together as a community of faith in a time of disaster helped us realize that despite our theological and other differences, we had so much in common. It not only helped us become more aware of what other faith groups can offer, it helped us identify the unique resources we can offer. By working as a team, we can more effectively minister to the comprehensive needs people have after a disaster strikes.

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