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.
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
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:
- Christ Church Episcopal & Trinity Lutheran Church
- Old Parish Church UCC
- Our Lady of the Valley Roman Catholic Church
- Trinity United Methodist Church.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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. http://wrhsac.org/news/