Faith Community Preparedness Blog

Author: Vivian OrlowskiAugust 8, 20135:08 pm
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New Partnerships for Emergency Rest Centers

Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano meets with Pastor Kevin Clarkson at the First Baptist Church, which helped residents impacted by the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. The Rev. David L. Myers, Director of the DHS Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships, looks on.  Photo: Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA.

With our region experiencing more severe weather emergencies, what can we do to prepare locally? The vital role of the faith community partnering with emergency responders to advance whole community resilience is highlighted in a new initiative on Emergency Rest Centers (ERCs).

The Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council recently initiated outreach on Emergency Rest Centers as the third phase of Faith Community Partnering for Emergency Preparedness (FCPEP) started in 2011.  This project will provide assistance to faith-based and community organizations to help develop ERCs in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire Counties.

ERC Experience in NYC
Emergency Rest Centers were developed in New York City after September 11 in partnership between the city’s Office of Emergency Management and the faith community.  They are self-activating and usually staffed by volunteers.  Emergency Rest Centers once again served as community resources for those impacted by Hurricane Sandy. How can we learn from these experiences and adapt the ERC model to our regional needs?

Part-time Refuge from Extreme Weather or Disasters
Emergency Rest Center s (ERCs), provide a welcoming part-time refuge offering helpful, but limited, services. For example, during this summer’s heat waves, some towns in western Massachusetts opened cooling centers as emergency precautions.  This service to the community helped mitigate the negative health effects of the intense heat, which especially impacts those most vulnerable–infants and the elderly. A cooling center is one type of ERC, but not all communities have public spaces suitable to meet this need.  In each county, Faith Community Partnering for Emergency Preparedness is working to address this deficit by recruiting faith groups to offer their spaces and the help of their members to operate ERCs.

A charging station for phones and computers opened up at St. Peter and Paul Church after Hurricane Sandy. Residents were invited to come in, charge up, and get warm. Photo by Liz Roll/FEMA

Other Helpful Services
Along with cooling stations in summer, other services that the ERC can offer include warming station in winter, charging station for cell phones and/or vital equipment, providing clean drinking water, snacks, bathroom access, emergency-related information and referrals. While they give safe haven to the public during emergencies and evacuations, Emergency Rest Centers do not serve as shelters and do not provide overnight accommodations.

ERCs in Rural Towns
Smaller, more rural towns in western Massachusetts may have special challenges in finding an appropriate space for an ERC.  Often town offices are cramped and the nearest school gymnasium may be several towns away, due to regionalization.  These factors and other difficulties, such as a small staffing pool, can mean well-intentioned town officials are left unable to open an ERC convenient to their community. This challenge creates a prime opportunity for faith groups to play an active role in response to an emergency, because nearly every town has at least one house of worship.

FCPEP Assists Faith Community Preparedness Efforts
FCPEP is working to help faith groups learn about emergency preparedness and partner with emergency management directors and other town officials to develop ERCs throughout the region.  To aid partnering efforts of officials and faith communities, FCPEP will also be developing a comprehensive ERC planning document, sharing best practices, and providing training tools for ERC volunteers.

Additionally, since their own emergency preparedness is a key factor in the ability of faith groups to help others, FCPEP is offering workshops and planning tools for those groups to improve the preparedness of their organizations, their members, and the community at-large.  Information about those resources and workshop dates can be found on the Faith Community page of

Do you have any questions?  Do you want to learn more about how your congregation or faith-based organization could partner on developing an Emergency Rest Center?  Contact us at: