A group of unidentified emergency personnel move a body recovered among the devastation in Smithville, Mississippi after a tornado destroyed much of the small town on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. AP Photo | The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, C. Todd Sherman

We’ve all heard the stories of terrible destruction and lives lost in the tornado-ravaged southern states. While our hearts are heavy for all of those affected, efforts are being made to help those who help others. Travis Yates is a Captain at Tulsa, Oklahoma PD and also runs Ten Four Ministries. Yates told me “multiple” law enforcement officers have experienced devastating losses of property and yet are tending to the needs of others before those of their own families. “So often we obviously think of the families and the people who have lost lives.. but what we don’t’ often think about are the first responders who are tending to those people. They’re also victims. They don’t have time to tend to their own families. They don’t have time to take it all in.”

Three towns: “What do you have to police with?”

Yates’ organization has a facility in the area from which he distributes ballistic vests to law enforcement officers. So he learned of local damage first-hand. Even though his organization is small, he’s taking on a big project to help law enforcement officers and their families affected by the tornadoes in three small communities nearby including Phil Cambell and Hackleburg in Alabama and Smithville in Mississippi.

Yates said the police department facilities in all three towns have been destroyed as well as the emergency equipment of first responder agencies. “With the massive destruction we’re hearing about in these towns, and to these police departments, you can image, what would you have left to police with?”

In Hackleburg, where the entire town was demolished the Police Chief also lost the roof to his house. “..and he hasn’t been able to deal with his own issues,” said Yates. Hackleburg is a town of approximately 1,500. Eighteen people died.

Immediate need: How can we help law officers in the affected areas?

One law enforcement officer died in the tornadoes. Louisiana Police Lieutenant Wade Sharp was camping with his nine-year-old daughter when a falling tree killed him after he threw himself on top of her in order to protect her.

Yates is offering an opportunity to donate money that will go directly to law enforcement personnel affected in those three towns. He has identified dozens of officers who would benefit. Realizing that there are many organizations accepting donations for people in need, Yates said “If people want to be sure that their donation ends up in the hands of a first responder, we’re going to make sure that that happens. There will be no bureaucracy. We’re going to hand it right to them in the form of gift cards.”

The long haul

Over the next few weeks, when the attention from traditional media fades, he hopes efforts from the rest of us in social media will keep the situation on people’s mind. Yates’ group will also be coordinating efforts for volunteers to step in to offer relief to local law enforcement where permitted to do so. “One thing I don’t want to do is go down there and get in the way. In the next few weeks there’s going to be a lot of tension in these areas. This is going to be a long term recovery.,.. we hope to be able to provide them with officers to go down there and help, if not certified officers to help do the policing, then maybe they need a porch rebuilt.”

To make a tax deductible donation that will go directly to first responders, please click this link. If anyone knows of a first responder who needs help, please contact Yates via email at info@tenfourministries.org.