Faith Community Preparedness Blog

December 12, 201210:12 pm
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Houses of Worship Embrace New Role in Disaster Relief

Children run the “coat check” station for Occupy Sandy volunteers at the
Episcopal Church  of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn, NY.
Courtesey: Episcopal News Service. Photo/Rev. Michael Sniffen

“This was the church at its best,” was the sentiment voiced by Episcopalians commenting on how their churches became relief distribution centers and safe havens for Hurricane Sandy survivors in fall 2012. As the Episcopal News Service reported:

Churches responded by opening their doors as warming, charging and feeding stations; collecting and distributing emergency supplies and meals; and dispatching volunteers to visit and inventory the needs of those most affected by the storm…”The community-building is amazing,” said the Rev. Michael Sniffen, rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn, New York, in the Diocese of Long Island. “A lot of the volunteers have been coming back day after day, so we’re all getting to know one another.”

The vital roles of volunteers, donations and facilities offered by the faith community were implemented in diverse ways. While some larger houses of worship became major response hubs, other congregations and organizations focused on serving as an Emergency Rest Center (ERC) for the community.

Emergency Rest Centers provide a welcoming part-time refuge offering helpful, but limited, services such as: warming station in winter, cooling station in summer, charging station for cell phones and/or vital equipment, providing clean drinking water, snacks, bathroom access, information, reassurance and referrals. Emergency Rest Centers do not serve as overnight shelters and don’t provide those facilities.

This model was pioneered in New York City after 9/11 by a partnership of the Office of Emergency Management with the faith community. Training is currently provided by the National Disaster Interfaiths Network. Houses of worship that joined the ERC network have self-activated as Emergency Rest Centers during crises caused by power outages, flooding, extreme weather and evacuations.

In order to help develop Emergency Rest Centers in western Massachusetts, the Faith Community Partnering for Emergency Preparedness Project is surveying faith-based institutions in Berkshire and Franklin Counties. So far three congregations in Franklin County and 11 in Berkshire County have indicated that they would like to learn more about the option of serving as an Emergency Rest Center. Early in 2013, we will provide more information and meet with those congregations that want to move forward with planning to host an Emergency Rest Center.

Looking to the future, might your congregation or faith-based organization serve as an Emergency Rest Center if a disaster struck our area? For more information, contact: info(at)