By Carolyn H. Bluhm and Rudy Bluhm
Imagine having a force of thousands of trained Christian Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) members that are ready to help with your community emergency response efforts. Think it’s not possible? Think again!
By following God’s lead, training and actively building partnerships, it can be done one congregation at a time. No matter if your congregation has 40, 400 or in the thousands of people, you can make a difference.
There are many jobs that need to be filled before, during and after a disaster. By identifying partnerships on who is going to do what, more lives will be saved.
The Whole Community Approach to Disaster Response repeatedly emphasizes the importance of involving all organizations in order to more effectively coordinate and mobilize existing resources to respond to crises, emergencies and disasters of all sizes. This specifically identifies faith-based communities as a set of organizations that should be recruited and trained to achieve survival of the whole community.
Whole Community is a philosophical approach:
- Shared understanding of community needs and capabilities
- Greater empowerment of resources and organizations across the community
- Stronger social infrastructure
- Establishment of relationships that facilitate more successful response
- Increased individual and collective preparedness
- Greater resiliency of the church and community
Understand a community’s “DNA” is learning how communities social activity is organized and how needs are met under normal conditions. A better understanding of how segments of the community resolve issues and make decisions (both with and without government as a player) helps uncover ways to better meet the actual needs of the whole community in times of crisis/emergency/disaster.
DNA partners to consider engaging in the community:
- Volunteer organizations
- Faith-based organizations
- Community leaders
- Church leaders
- Disability services
- Elderly services
- Higher education institutions
- Animal welfare organizations
- Surplus/thrift stores
- Hardware stores
- Medical facilities
- Government agencies
- Local emergency planning committees
- Chambers of Commerce
- Nonprofit organizations
- Advocacy groups
- Media outlets
- Community Emergency Response Teams
Most faith-based communities possess brick-and-mortar facilities that could provide resources. These include auditoriums where large groups of people can gather, kitchen and food preparation areas, classrooms, parking lots, and potential storage areas. Some of the larger churches may own or operate additional facilities, such as athletic centers and schools that may be able to provide day care for children during the response. Any or all of these might be well-utilized in the event of a disaster. Since many faith-based facilities are only lightly utilized during the week, using them would cause less disruption than involving business facilities would.
There are many faith-based organizations scattered throughout a community. Indeed, it would be almost impossible to find any community that is not within easy reach of such a faith-based organization. This offers two advantages: dispersion and accessibility.
The first means that even in large disasters that cover large areas, it is likely that many faith-based organizations will not be directly affected and will thus be able to provide support and disaster relief and response. Accessibility reflects the fact that most people live and work near faith-based centers so that even if transportation systems are paralyzed, they will never be too far from a facility and the support that it may offer.
Like any organization, faith-based communities are made up of people. An advantage of faith-based communities is that they have a mindset of helping others and reaching out to the community around them. Additionally, large portions of any city’s population are involved in such organizations, and those people have their own networks inside and outside the church. As a result, involving only one faith-based organization touches on multiple networks that crisscross a city geographically, socioeconomically, demographically and logistically.
In addition, the people in these organizations come from all walks of life with many different skills and abilities. Instead of being grouped by a single talent, profession, or interest, the people in faith-based organizations may be doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, communications experts, counselors, retailers, kitchen help, restaurant owner, logisticians, truck drivers, building trades, teachers, etc.
Faith-based organizations permeate all corners of the population. Some churches serve multiple cultures and language groups, and some are dedicated to specific groups, but it is likely that there are no groups that faith-based organizations are not able to help.
Therefore, the knowledge and experience of all these people can be leveraged more easily to develop response like:
- Christian Emergency Readiness Team (CERT)
- Teen CERT Team
- Shelter Management Team
- Animal Care Team
- Mass Feeding (Food Preparation) Team
- Mental First Aid/Spiritual Care Team
- Debris Removal Team
- Child Care Team
- Search and Rescue Teams
- Traffic Control Team
- Food and Water Distribution Team
- Volunteer Management
- Donation Management
- Safety Team
- Training Team
There are numerous components associated with this aspect of these programs. As a church leader, you may want to identify one or two of the above activities to start and find the correct person to run the team.
Response teams and individuals should be trained for their roles and capabilities. There is training and education in-person and online at www.training.fema.gov/emicourses free of charge. There are also many government services and non-profits who offer training services like local and state emergency management offices, police departments, fire department, Southern Baptists, Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), National CERT Association, Red Cross, Salvation Army and many more in-person and online for the asking.
The church leader may want to develop their own training team and may want to invite the community members to join in. Faith-based organizations where several organizations working in concert can provide more help, more efficiently and effectively than the organizations working independently.
Remember, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: Two are better than one, when one falls, the other is there to raise them up.
Carolyn H. Bluhm and Rudolph (Rudy) Bluhm are co-founders of Christian Emergency Readiness Training (CERT) Ministry, which offers free emergency/disaster preparedness training to all of God’s children as individuals and the churches, organizations, and business they build, www.CERTMinistry.com.