Preparedness: Foundation of Effective Response
Here in the northeastern United States, whenever a blizzard or bad storm is predicted, people tend to rush to the grocery store to buy milk, bread and eggs. Apparently, french toast is a bad weather staple … but does anyone remember to buy syrup? (Ken Lott, HRP)
Business Dictionary.com defines Disaster Preparedness as the process of ensuring that an organization:
- has complied with the (obvious or recommended) preventive measures,
- is in a state of readiness to contain the effects of a predicted disastrous event to minimize loss of life, injury, and damage to property,
- can provide rescue, relief, rehabilitation and other services in the aftermath of the disaster, and
- has the capability and resources to continue to sustain its essential functions without being overwhelmed by demand placed on them
Preparedness for the first and immediate response is called emergency preparedness.
There is precedent ….
Beyond milk and bread … and syrup
Being ready to deal with a disaster requires planning – and we will get into that later in this lesson – but it also requires some positive actions that you and your congregation should take while things are calm and there is no disaster to deal with … yet.
Here are some suggestions. Hopefully, you have already taken some of these actions as good business practices. If you have, great. If you have not, put them on your “to do” list.
- Make sure your buildings are safe by adhering to construction codes, installing smoke detectors and fire alarms, and taking other appropriate measures
- Obtain adequate insurance for your buildings and their contents
- Complete an inventory of all the physical assets you have. This will help with insurance planning as well as claims after a disaster.
- Encourage your members and people in your community to seek training from the American Red Cross and other agencies in first-aid, fire suppression, light search and rescue, disaster management, crisis intervention, spiritual/emotional care, etc.
- Map existing and potential hazards — possible sources of explosion, contamination, and radiation — and identify possible exposure during natural disasters
- Learn the history of natural disasters in their area
- Develop and cultivate working relationships with community groups, public officials and civil servants, government agencies, and business concerned about environmental, technological, and public violence
- Foster understanding among community and service organizations about the human-caused component in disasters and what people can do to lessen the impact of a potential disaster or prevent a disaster altogether
- Participate with others in identifying and advocating for the needs of the most vulnerable and working for a just, disaster-resilient, sustainable community
- Visit local agencies and corporations, express concerns, ask questions about public safety, and plans to respond to emergencies
- Advocate for adoption and enforcement of structural measures that assure soundly constructed residential housing schools, hospitals, churches and other critical facilities to withstand the effects of hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes
- Capitalize on enhanced awareness following a disaster to advance hazard reduction policies and practices
- Support programs aimed at eliminating hunger and poverty and advancing human rights
- Advocate for the environment — recycling programs, water and energy conservation, etc.
Effective response to and recovery from disasters depends on prior planning by individuals, families, businesses, religious organizations, voluntary agencies, and all levels of government.
Federal, state and local governments all have emergency response plans that are tested regularly and revised as needed. Their plans detail the actions those entities are expected to take in a wide range of circumstances, all within their authority to do so. There are limits to their authority so some actions may not be taken by the government.
The Hudson River Presbytery has its own Emergency and Disaster Preparedness and Response Plans, which outline the activities and actions that can be taken by the Presbytery in support of the local congregations. It is not meant to take the place of the congregational plans – there are 82 churches in the Hudson River Presbytery and the resources and authority of the Disaster Preparedness Team are limited.
Congregations have a two-fold responsibility in disaster preparedness:
- Planning so the congregation can provide continuing or expanding service to its members and community after disaster strikes
- Educating member families about the need to prepare for disasters
Disaster plans match emergency response resources to potential disaster needs. Formal plans normally include:
- A statement of purpose
- Likely emergency situations & assumptions
- Assignment of responsibilities
- A concept of operations
- Details on resource support and administration
- A process for modifying the plan
- Authorities and references
- Definition of terms
Congregational disaster planning revolves around seven considerations:
- Hazards — what exists today and threats that are on the horizon – natural hazards and sources of explosions, contamination, and radiation.
- Facilities protection — cutting off utilities, covering windows, taking down or securing exterior fixtures such as signs or lights, securing other loose items around the facility.
- Continuing operations through arrangements to relocate in suitable alternative space where the congregation can resume business quickly if facilities are severely damaged or destroyed and contingency plans for carrying on the work of the congregation if clergy and staff are affected. The survival of the congregation after the disaster and its potential to serve as a community resource will depend on how quickly it can meet as an organized unit. One of the highest priorities must be resumption of worship.
- Church records protection — in an adequately-sized watertight, fireproof safe for those frequently used or in a safety deposit box for documents such as deeds, insurance papers, mortgages. Plans should call for regular back up of any computer records – financial, membership, etc. – and securing them safely.
- Emergency communications — a telephone tree or system to check on member needs; contact information for out-of-town family members, judicatory staff, key support people, agencies.
- Disaster plans related to congregational work – those of families in the congregation, the community (with description of the congregation’s role in disasters), the wider religious community and organizations in which the congregation may participate in cooperative, collaborative, and coordinated programs.
- Use of resources and facilities in meeting disaster-related needs of members and the wider community – making facilities available to care-giving agencies or for use as a shelter, volunteer housing or distribution point for material resources; employing specials skills of clergy, staff, and members in wider community service; donating material resources for wider community recovery efforts; expanding existing program/services for the wider effort.
Relevant and useful congregational plans are:
- Developed by a congregational team including people with special concern about property protection, continuing service, membership care, repairing/rebuilding damaged property, and service to the wider community.
- Informed by networking with other community groups to locate those who are most vulnerable and learn from them
- Tailored to the specific geographical situations and needs of members and the wider community – especially those who are most vulnerable
- Implemented and tested to the fullest extent possible before disaster strikes
- Developed to include training for persons responsible for emergency procedures
- Reviewed and updated regularly
Lesson 9 of this training provides a detailed description of the disaster planning process. There are also links to other resources such as a “boilerplate” congregational plan, planning checklists and some intelligence gathering aids. But first, take the time to read the following lessons on Response (5 and 6) and Recovery (7 and 8) so you have a better idea of the mechanics of what you need to cover in your planning and training.
ON WE GO!