Lesson 1 – EM Overview

Emergency Management Overview

In responding to God’s call to reduce the vulnerability of people to disasters and meet humanitarian and spiritual needs of disaster survivors, caregivers, and first-responders, the religious community participates in an emergency management system that encompasses government, the private sector — including business and industry — and other voluntary organizations. A church must first be prepared to face its own disaster.

  • Emergency management is the managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters.
  • Emergency management seeks to promote safer, less vulnerable communities with the capacity to cope with hazards and disasters.
  • Emergency Management protects communities by coordinating and integrating all activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the capability to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from threatened or actual natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other man-made disasters.
FEMA Disaster Cycle

FEMA / NIMS Disaster Cycle

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) defines preparedness as “a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluating, and taking corrective action in an effort to ensure effective coordination during incident response.” This ‘preparedness cycle’ is one element of a broader National Preparedness System to prevent, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.

Most businesses and organizations fail to prepare for any type of disaster. Close to 60% of businesses and organizations are unprepared for any disaster. 15 to 40% of businesses and organizations fail following a natural or man-made disaster. Preparedness makes good business sense. However, preparedness cannot be done alone. It requires a lot of different sectors in the church and community helping and working together to create a plan. The planning process should be flexible and allow the church to adapt depending on varying characteristics and situations.

The Partnership Cornerstone


The religious community is part of a domestic emergency management system encompassing individual families, local/state/federal government, business and industry, and other voluntary organizations (CWS photo)

The cornerstone of the emergency management system in the U.S. is partnership. If there were ever a time when an organization – religious or secular – could spontaneously respond to an emergency or disaster, roll in with equipment and personnel, and set up shop on its own without collaborating with others, that day has long since passed. Emergency management in the U.S. is understood as a shared responsibility of all sectors of society.

Effective disaster responders know the roles of their partners, understand how they operate, and speak a common language.

Local congregations are the fundamental disaster response units of the religious community, providing the venue for ministry and effective utilization of volunteer/financial/ material resources. Their effectiveness starts with a basic understanding of how they fit into the domestic emergency management system.

The Scope of Emergency Management

Within this context, emergency management seeks to limit the effects of disasters and hazards, emergencies and disasters.  What is the difference?

  • Hazards include human or natural events or forces that cause disasters. Depending on your location, natural disasters may involve geological and climatic hazards — hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, floods, tidal waves, earthquakes. Technology-caused disasters – fires, explosions, contamination — stem from application or misapplication of human technology in manufacture, transportation, and use of such substances as radioactive materials, chemicals, oil and petroleum products, agricultural pesticides. Civil strife, war, and disease are also hazards. Some hazards such as earthquakes, tornadoes, flash floods, transportation accidents, or volcanoes strike with little or no warning. Other hazards such as hurricanes, river flooding, and windstorms may strike with advance warning.
  • An emergency is an occurrence or set of circumstances – often sudden and unexpected – that demands immediate attention. An emergency exists when a hazard physically strikes a community and damage to property or harm to people is threatened or actually occurs. An emergency may or may not be recognized or acknowledged. It may have existed for a long time or be something new.
  • Disasters occur when a hazard directly affects vulnerable people in such a way as to cause human suffering or create human needs that survivors cannot alleviate without spiritual, monetary, material, or physical assistance. There may be loss of life. People may be injured or missing.

    Disasters occur when a human caused or natural hazard directly affects vulnerable people, creating human needs that require spiritual, monetary, material or physical assistance (CWS photo)

    The economy may be disrupted. Buildings and their contents may be damaged or destroyed. There may be an impact on electricity, telephone, water, other public utilities, and transportation routes. Cultural, social, and environmental factors which create unsafe conditions make people vulnerable to hazards.



Comprehensive all-hazards emergency management starts with mitigation – day-in and day-out efforts to reduce vulnerability of people and communities by lessening the probability of a disaster, or minimizing the effects of unavoidable disaster.

It is ironic that mitigation usually comes at the very end of the disaster cycle – after a disaster when planners are trying to prevent what just happened from happening again. It is sometimes hard for those who have not experienced a disaster to understand how to prevent one.

Mitigation includes improving infrastructure, constructing safe rooms in homes, retro-fitting during rebuilding that considers hazards, enacting and enforcing building codes and zoning laws, teaching people about hazards and disaster preparedness, working to reduce poverty through community social and economic development programs.

When disaster strikes, effective emergency management depends on the quality of the preparedness, response, and recovery of all sectors of society.

Preparing for Response & Recovery

 Preparedness empowers response and recovery. It encompasses:

  • Planning. Collecting and analyzing information. Developing policies, practices, procedures, and strategies to perform missions and tasks. Defining required capabilities. This course will go into more detail about emergency planning in later lessons.
  • Organizing. Creating the organizational structure, developing the leadership, and assembling the paid and volunteer staff essential for response and recovery work.
  • Equipping. Identifying and acquiring the necessary equipment, supplies, facilities, and systems required for response and recovery activities.
  • Training. Assuring that disaster response and recovery personnel have the required skills and knowledge, professional qualifications, certifications and meet performance standards.
  • Exercising. Simulating disaster incidents to assess and validate proficiency levels, familiarize personnel with their roles and responsibilities in response and recovery and improve coordination and communication among responding agencies.
  • Evaluating & improving. Comparing results of exercises against capability objectives, identifying deficits, and instituting corrective action plans.

The Stages of Response

The disaster life cycle is an ebbing and flowing series of disruptions to a community. However, disaster response experts have identified six basic stages. Response encompasses those stages that focus first on protecting lives and property and making disaster survivors safe, sanitary, and secure.

Disaster Cycle PDA

  1. Warning/Anticipation covers the time from the first indicators that disaster is going to occur through the time it happens or the danger passes and the warning is lifted. News media and government emergency management agencies communicate with the public about the impending disasters. First responders – police and fire departments – gear up to deploy personnel. Disaster relief organizations, including religious groups, are on alert and preparing to respond if necessary.
  2. Impact/Emergency/Rescue begins when a disaster physically strikes. In an anticipated event such as a hurricane or slow flooding, communities are already braced. In a sudden, unanticipated disaster, local first responders mobilize according to the protocols established in preparedness. Local government assumes primary responsibility for the response under guidelines of an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). Fire, police, rescue squads, and hospital emergency rooms move quickly into action. First responders also include family, friends, and neighbors who provide first aid and shelter and call for needed help. The Red Cross or The Salvation Army may open shelters to house and feed survivors. In many localities in the U.S., Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) with civilian residents specially-trained in first aid, light search and rescue, and crisis intervention assist fire and police in disaster-affected neighborhoods to reduce their work load. If disaster needs outstrip its resources and capacities, local government may request help from neighboring jurisdictions with which it has mutual aid and assistance agreements and/or from the state that, in turn, responds under guidelines of its own EOP.
  3. Aftermath/Assessment begins once the emergency is immediately past. At this time, a spirit of community often prevails among survivors. Strangers become coworkers in continuing rescue efforts. Unsolicited volunteers, eager to help, may begin to arrive at the disaster scene. Assessments of property damage and loss are initiated. In anticipation of heavy damage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may deploy teams to conduct a preliminary damage assessment (PDA) which the Governor of the state can use as a basis for requesting a Federal disaster declaration by the President. Unless there are massive power outages, agencies begin to communicate with one another and situation reports are issued. Initial meetings may be called to share information about needs and assistance. If your congregation intends to participate in response to the disaster in a meaningful way, this is the time to begin connecting with other human services organizations and emergency management officials through state or local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs) and/or Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COADs). Click here for more on VOADs These groups are independently operating organizations that communicate, coordinate, cooperate, and collaborate towards minimizing duplication of services and maximizing assistance to survivors.
  4.  Relief/Remedy. In this stage of the disaster life cycle, the American Red

    In the relief/remedy stage following a disaster, the faith community along with other care-givers helps create safe, sanitary and secure conditions for survivors. (Disaster News Network Photo)

    Cross, The Salvation Army, and other care-giving agencies create safe, sanitary, and secure conditions for disaster survivors by providing food, shelter, medical assistance, and bulk distribution of personal care items. While state and local officials are responsible for rescue, the main actors in the relief stage are local people caring for each other. Money and materials (often unwanted and unneeded) are donated to the most visible relief agencies. People motivated by greed may exploit others — looting homes and businesses, raising prices on basic goods, offering bogus repair contracts. Based on the preliminary disaster assessment and other information about the disaster impact, the governor of the state may request through the regional FEMA office that the President of the United States issue a declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. When the President issues a declaration, state and local governments, certain non-profit organizations, and individuals in affected areas are eligible to receive financial and other assistance for response, recovery, and mitigation effort. With or without a disaster declaration by the President, a variety of Federal agencies may still respond to a disaster depending on the specific needs.

The Stages of Recovery

In disaster recovery, the focus shifts from protecting property, saving lives, and emergency care to restoring critical infrastructure and assisting individuals and households, and businesses in returning to self-sufficiency.

  1.  Short-term recovery is immediate and overlaps with response activities. In this stage of the disaster life cycle, people start returning to normal living patterns as essential services are restored, transportation routes are reestablished, temporary repairs are made on homes and businesses, and assistance programs are launched.

    During the short-term recovery following a disaster, survivors learn about assistance programs of various agencies and apply for aid at Disaster Assistance Centers (FEMA photo)

    People who have been evacuated from homes have the opportunity to see them again, assimilate damages and losses, and move from shelters to more comfortable temporary housing. At Disaster Assistance Centers (DACs), survivors can learn about programs of multiple agencies and apply for aid. If the President declares the disaster-affected area eligible for federal assistance, FEMA activates a variety of assistance programs by calling up varied federal agency-managed Emergency Response Functions (ESFs) such as the Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human Service functions to address disaster needs. In partnership with the state, it establishes a Joint Field Office (JFO) where Federal and state ESFs are administered. Federal assistance encompasses grants and loans to individuals for housing and other needs resulting from disaster losses, technical assistance for human services, infrastructure support (or public assistance) for some private and non-profit entities for emergency services as well as to government to repair or replace damaged public facilities, and hazard mitigation funding for measures that will reduce future disaster losses to public and private property.

  1. Long-term recovery. This stage of the disaster life cycle may include complete redevelopment of damaged areas with long-term reconstruction projects and rebuilding of infrastructure. This is where the principles and goals of Mitigation, described earlier in this lesson, come into play. The cycle starts over. At the same time, people continue to rebuild their lives, gradually adjusting to losses and changes often with the help of mental health and spiritual care workers. In the process, needs and goals of families and communities may be reassessed. Because resources become more limited even as unmet needs surface, local and regional organizations begin working together formally and informally. Non-profit agencies, community organizations, churches of different denominations, and ministerial alliances try to organize a collaborative response. In some circumstances, church-based disaster response agencies may advocate for social justice and development concerns of vulnerable populations.

How Do You Fit In?

An event itself may only last a few minutes – a tornado or a fire – but the emergency stage may last anywhere from a day or up to two weeks. This is the stage of events where a helping hand from the untrained but well-meaning populace may just be a hindrance to the trained professionals. Unless you have serious training and organizational tasking, you are best staying out of the way and letting the pros do their thing.

The major role of faith-based groups such as yours most likely will be the support and healing you can provide to victims after the wind stops blowing and the water stops rising. How well you and your congregation fit into the emergency management process depends on a number of on a number of factors, such as:

  • The type and extent of the disaster or emergency.  Some are small – within your own neighborhood. Some are really large – encompassing many counties or even states.
  • The resources needed for relief and recovery and the resources you can supply.  One large congregation may be able to supply most or all of the resources for some efforts. Several small congregations can collectively provide significant resources as well.
  • The level of planning and training you have done before an event will have a lot to do with how well you can react and serve.

That is why it is important to learn, organize, plan and prepare. That is what the following lessons are about.

Information & Resources:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency Independent Study Program (www.training.fema.gov/IS/crslist.asp) offers a variety of courses on basic emergency management and the U.S. response system such as Principles of Emergency Management, The Role of Voluntary Agencies in Emergency Management, Disaster Basics, National Incident Command Systems (NIMS): An Introduction, National Response Framework: An Introduction.

Towards assuring consistent, effective emergency management throughout the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security sets forth standards and describes best practices in two documents written for other Federal agencies which oversee varied emergency management functions and its public and private sector partners:

  •  National Response Framework (NRF) lays out key emergency management principles applicable to all disaster responders and describes Federal response in detail.
  • National Incident Management System (NIMS) presents a template for managing response to emergencies and disasters, coordinating multiple agencies, training and exercising, managing resources, developing mutual aid and assistance agreements, certifying personnel, managing information, and crisis planning.

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