Faith Community Preparedness Blog

Author: Vivian OrlowskiMarch 14, 20143:03 pm
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Emergency Rest Center Partnerships: A Tale of Two Towns

When Hurricane Irene struck New England a few years ago, its impact was quite different in two Berkshire towns.  Sheffield, located in South County, emerged relatively unscathed.  In contrast, Williamstown in North County experienced severe flooding, which displaced 300 residents of The Spruces Mobile Home Park.

Sheffield Town Hall

Despite their different experiences, local leaders in both towns recognize that forming preparedness partnerships will strengthen their responses to future emergencies. Planning for Emergency Rest Centers (ERCs) is a new initiative underway in both towns to advance this effort. In each case, faith leaders play vital roles, but draw on different contexts and resources.

Sheffield Emergency Rest Center Partnership: Inclusive Outreach and Participation

Christ Church Episcopal & Trinity Lutheran Church in Sheffield

In order to encourage collaborative effort, the Faith Community Partnering for Emergency Preparedness Project (FCPEP) recruited 16 local leaders to launch a proactive planning partnership. Participants at the Town Hall meeting included clergy and volunteers from four churches:


Old Parish Church UCC in Sheffield

Other leaders taking part included the Sheffield Town Administrator, the Emergency Management Director, the Senior Center Director, the Southern Berkshire Regional School District Superintendent and representatives of the Board of Health, Berkshire County Boards of Health Association, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Berkshire Medical Reserve Corps and Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.






Trinity United Methodist Church, Ashley Falls/Sheffield

After a presentation by Emergency Management Director Edward McCormick,  the group recognized that they needed to consider a variety of potential scenarios.  Following his advice, a plan developed to prepare several sites as Emergency Rest Centers. To help facilitate the process, Sandra Martin (Senior Planner at Berkshire County Boards of Health Association) highlighted ERC templates, standard operating guidelines and relevant regional resources.



Sheffield Senior Center

As a result of that meeting, Christ Church Episcopal & Trinity Lutheran Church, Old Parish Church UCC and Trinity United Methodist Church along with the Sheffield Senior Center have already launched Emergency Rest Center planning for their respective sites, which are located in different parts of town. This geographic diversity will enable the Emergency Management Director to request activation of one or more sites, depending on circumstances.


Our Lady of the Valley Church in Sheffield

The next step is to provide training for volunteers from each site as well as for members of other faith-based and community-based organizations who can help with ERC staffing. The Berkshire Medical Reserve Corps, in cooperation with FCPEP, will offer the training in Sheffield.





Williamstown Emergency Rest Center Partnership: Engaging the Faith Community and the College

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Williamstown

Williamstown faith community leaders continue to support recovery efforts on behalf of those who lost their homes due to Hurricane Irene flooding in 2011. Along with these endeavors, The Rev. Peter Elvin, Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, who serves on the board of Higher Ground (a FEMA-recognized Long Term Recovery Group) and Chaplain Bilal Ansari (the President of Higher Ground) both see the benefits of developing Emergency Rest Centers.

Higher Ground (FEMA-recognized Long Term Recovery Group), Williamstown

Chaplain Ansari has taken the initiative to engage multi-sector cooperation with outreach to town officials as well as to faculty and students in the Public Health Program at Williams College.  In cooperation with the Williams Center for Learning in Action, public health students plan to research and evaluate potential ERC sites and suggest options for structuring the Emergency Rest Center Partnership in Williamstown. This approach will yield recommendations that can also help formation of ERCs in other towns. The Williams College Medical Reserve Corps can serve as another resource by helping mobilize trained student volunteers, when Emergency Rest Centers are activated.

Linking ERC Partnerships with Local and Regional Resources

Each participating Emergency Rest Center group in the county has been invited to take part in the Berkshire COAD and to attend WRHSAC’s Western Massachusetts COAD Summit.  Such opportunities for learning and networking help establish channels for long-term support and sustainability. In addition, the connection to Berkshire Medical Reserve Corps links volunteer skill development with potential future ERC roles and responsibilities. These efforts will strengthen whole community resilience for towns with Emergency Rest Center Partnerships and create models for other rural towns in the Berkshires and beyond.