A day of disaster preparedness with Episcopal Relief & Development

Posted on March 31, 2014

The real work of disaster preparedness needs to be done in community, and that ambition was realized on Saturday, March 29, as 80 clergy and lay church leaders from more than 40 DioCal congregations gathered for an Episcopal Relief & Development workshop. Led by guest disaster preparedness trainers Katie Mears and Barb Ballenger, the workshop was designed to help equip and inspire congregational leaders to take the disaster preparedness process back to their congregations.

The training was in response to the Disaster Preparedness resolution passed at the 164th Diocesan Convention last October. The resolution directs all DioCal congregations to have current disaster preparedness plans.

During the morning session, participants were asked to take on the role of a disaster team for the contrived congregation, St. Swithen’s. Using the principles of asset-based community development, the groups forsook the scarcity-model of church-think and worked to identify and pair congregational resources with community needs. In the afternoon, Katie and Barb led the group through the typical timeline of a disaster — from the first few hours post-event through the early stages of rescue and relief as well as the months further down the line looking at short- and long-term recovery.

The workshop exercises presented the challenges, and questions were raised by the participants. What if the power goes out and phones don’t work? What if texts won’t go through? What can we do for our senior congregants? Can we really rely on the government or first responder services? What if our non-congregational neighbors show up to the church looking for help?

For many, Saturday’s workshop was their first experience with disaster preparedness (whether it be an earthquake, refinery fire, or mass shooting). Recognizing their congregation’s vulnerability was overwhelming. Often more questions were illuminated than solutions identified, yet everyone maintained focus and community spirit through the five-hour training.

DioCal intern and Disaster Preparedness team coordinator, Ethan Lowery stated, “I can’t help but feel so humbled and inspired in the warm afterglow of Saturday’s training. What a tremendous gesture of commitment to this work to see half of the congregations represented for a conversation about broadening the scope of ministry, exploring community relationship, and engaging in meaningful neighborhood outreach, all under the guise of disaster preparedness. My heart is so full, not only to feel such support for this initiative that I feel so passionately about, but also to begin to see our team’s vision for this work resonating and finding traction with a larger audience.”

Katie and Barb weren’t just here for the Saturday training — they spent three days with the diocese. On Thursday, March 27, the diocesan Disaster Preparedness Team — Tommy Dillon, chair; Ethan Lowery, team coordinator; several DioHouse staff; and representatives from each deanery — met with the ERD team at DioHouse for a day-long diocesan team training.

The morning session was spent envisioning how the diocesan team will be prepared to respond to an emergency, reflecting on the duties of the team and how they will be divided, and looking at the strengths and weaknesses (“stretch areas”) in the existing team. The afternoon was spent imagining the team’s response to a large earthquake where Bay Area bridges are down, there is no electricity, communications are spotty, and Bishop Marc is out of the country. The scenario presented an opportunity for an exciting conversation about developing a diocesan communications plan, providing pastoral care, identifying resources, and strenghtening the diocesan Disaster Preparedness Team.

There is much work ahead, yet the ERD team calmly reminded everyone that disaster plans are never completely done. A healthy plan is a living document, always being challenged, reviewed, and revised. Two familiar refrains in disaster preparedness worth keeping in mind are: “anything is better than nothing” and “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” The important thing is to continue moving forward, even if those steps are tiny.

For more information and resources, please visit the Disaster Preparedness web page www.diocal.org/disaster. For assistance to help your church get started contact Ethan Lowery, telowery22@gmail.com, or the Rev. Tommy Dillon, tommy@saintaidan.org.