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How preparing for disaster can keep your family safe, and serve your community

At Catholic Charities, we understand that disaster preparation, response, and recovery isn’t just a safety issue — it’s also a poverty issue. Unfortunately, disaster doesn’t discriminate between the financially stable or those struggling.

“You never think it’ll happen to you — but disaster is a reality; in our state it’s not usually ‘if’ but ‘when’ something hits that affects your home, car or health,” shared Catholic Charities’ Mobile Resources Coordinator, John Doyle.

John’s work with Catholic Charities mobilizes resources to areas and communities with greater need — often including long-term disaster recovery case management. Last fall John began working with survivors of the Baring tornado, and throughout his time at Catholic Charities has helped individuals and families in our service area recover after flooding, house fires, severe weather and more.

“Most clients we work with at Catholic Charities within long-term disaster recovery find themselves severely underprepared,” John shared, “it might surprise you how many people don’t have a plan — or access to the things they need to recoup and recover after a disaster.”

That’s why preparing ahead of severe weather, or a disaster event is so crucial. Not only does having a plan and preparing your family ensure their safety, it also enables individuals and communities to respond effectively in the care of their neighbors.

The Catholic Disaster Preparedness Program, a training provided by Catholic Charities USA and facilitated in Catholic parishes begins by helping individuals plan for their own safety, and that of their homes and families. The training then moves into preparing the parish to withstand and recover after disasters. Lastly, having established that individuals and parishes are well prepared, together the faithful can plan to serve their community after a disaster occurs.

“If disaster response isn’t your full-time focus, it can feel intimidating to prepare for,” John continued, “But creating an evacuation plan, setting up a communication plan, and having a kit on hand with copies of insurance paperwork, essential healthcare and safety items can be simple — everyone can do this.”

John concluded, “You have the ability to take this preparation piece into your own hands, to help protect your family and your livelihood, then grow outward to your parish, and even into helping your community — we hope you take up the opportunity to do so.”

Practical Preparation:

10 things parishes can do ahead of disaster

Connect with Catholic Charities

Our agency is a resource for parishes in both disaster preparation and recovery. We can provide training, case management services, and Charity and Mercy grants to help fund preparation initiatives. If you are a parishioner in charge of facilities, a parish staff member, or a parish council member, you can always reach us at 573-635-7719 or connect with us online to learn more.

Identify volunteers

Your parish may choose to appoint members to a committee or delegate the responsibility of recruiting volunteers to a Parish Disaster Coordinator. You may have a committee in existence that could recruit volunteers and survey them on what types of services they could provide — examples include meal preparation, hospitality, clean-up, repair, etc.

Establish partnerships

Get connected and involved with your local community organizations, emergency responders and non-profit social service providers. The work of responding to and recovering from a disaster is truly an all-hands-on-deck effort. The scene of a disaster is the last place you want to exchange business cards — identifying key partners and outlining expectations ahead of time is critical and will help you determine what services and resources are available in your community.

Know who is most vulnerable in times of disaster

Be aware of those who are most vulnerable in the aftermath of a disaster event and have a game plan for who will check in on these individuals. You may enlist the aid of parish staff, Eucharistic ministers, visitation volunteers, or others who regularly visit the homebound. You might create a “buddy system” in which parishioners check-in on vulnerable and homebound individuals after a disaster event.

Consider parish facilities for shelter, housing & distribution of goods

One common need post-disaster is temporary shelter, housing, and facilities to prepare food or distribute commodities. If your parish has space that might serve one of these functions, consider the following questions: What is the best use of our community space in the wake of a disaster? Is the space compliant with the ADA? Does it meet all code requirements for proposed usage? Will someone need to monitor the space if it is used by outside groups?

Prepare for spiritual care in times of disaster

The value of making the sacraments available to the faithful during and after a disaster can never be overstated. In the wake of loss, many people (religious or non) seek support from clergy or religious counselors. Providing spiritual care can be a beacon of light amidst recovery, and your parish may be able to become that Center of Charity and Mercy if you prepare well.

Establish communication strategies

Consider how communication with parishioners will happen during a disaster. How will you notify volunteers that ministries have been activated or disseminate information about parish, FEMA or other disaster assistance? Remember that mobile phones and computers can be unreliable during disasters. Planning in advance will help ensure that all the members of your parish know how to contact each other. 

Explore options for parish disaster funding

You may want to speak with your priest, finance council or the diocese about disaster funding. As a parish establishes funding for disaster events, they should be familiar with what assistance might be available through local agencies/community action organizations and state and federal programs for disaster assistance.

Plan for disaster

Once you have organized volunteers, identified community partners, appointed facility space to be used in times of disaster, you can start crafting a plan for what your parish will do when a disaster occurs. It is important that everyone understands their roles, knows the channels of communication and the scope of services the parish will provide in times of disaster. A parish plan may include details such as how Church documents or valuable relics should be protected in a specific disaster event. Parish involvement in disaster preparedness planning may help to encourage parishioners and community members take steps toward disaster preparedness. Tips to start can be found at ready.gov/plan.

March is Missouri Severe Weather Preparedness Month — and this week is Severe Weather Preparedness Week. At Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri, disaster preparation, response, and recovery case management services are available to all 38 counties we serve. To learn more about how we can help you and your parish prepare, visit cccnmo.diojeffcity.org/programs/disaster-services or call us at 573-635-7719.