Emergency Preparedness Summit in D.C. Focuses on Critical Role of Faith-Based Organizations

March 27th, 2014 by Eric Oddo

On March 26, 2014, I had the pleasure of serving as a guest speaker at a Faith-Based Emergency Preparedness Summit at Trinity Washington University entitled “Faith-in-Action.”

The Summit was organized and facilitated by ServeDC, whose mission is to engage District of Columbia (D.C.) communities by building partnerships and organizational capacity, and serving as the local lead for national volunteer and service initiatives. 

The purpose of “Faith-in-Action” was to provide a forum for representatives from local religious institutions to come and receive information, templates, guidance, and best practices related to emergency planning.  Presentations were delivered by esteemed individuals from organizations such as the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Religious Affairs, D.C. Commission for National and Community Service, Department of Homeland Security, D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques are crucial elements of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s holistic and collaborative “Whole Community Approach” to emergency preparedness.  They often provide critical services to the public such as mass care and sheltering during a severe weather event, as well as psychological and emotional support in the aftermath of a disaster.  It is imperative that their efforts are integrated with those of both the government and the private sector throughout the entire process: prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.

My presentation focused upon the two fundamental elements of disaster planning: emergency response and business continuity.  The former focuses upon what plans, policies, and procedures faith-based organizations will establish to address the immediate aftermath of an event – particularly, maximizing human safety, stabilizing the incident, and preserving property.   Topics discussed included: planning for evacuation, lockdown and shelter-in-place, conducting a comprehensive hazard and threat assessment, and to be mindful of the needs of senior citizens, children, and people with functional needs.

The latter topic, business continuity planning, refers to the ability of a faith-based organization to continue functioning in the event they experience a loss of a facility, a loss of systems, or a loss of personnel.  Topics discussed included: formulating a business impact analysis, identifying functional resource requirements, establishing an alternate facility, and conducting both discussion-based and operations-based exercises.

One of the fundamental action steps of the event was to encourage all attendees to have at least one individual from their place-of-worship to become a member of a local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).  CERT is an organization of volunteer emergency workers who have received specific training in basic disaster response skills, and who agree to supplement existing emergency responders in the event of a major disaster.

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