Faith Community Preparedness Blog

Author: Vivian OrlowskiMarch 21, 20145:03 am
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Preparing is Caring: A Toolkit for Emergency Rest Centers

The volunteers and staff members who serve the community in response to an emergency are vital to the effective operation of  Emergency Rest Centers (ERCs).  It is the person-to-person contact that is so important for assisting and reassuring those impacted by a disaster and seeking a friendly part-time refuge.  As described in the toolkit, “ERCs are like a community open house with set hours, welcoming people with varying functional and emergency-related needs…”

Advantages of ERC Preparation
While Emergency Rest Centers can arise spontaneously, faith-based groups preparing in advance have the advantage of:

  • Helping volunteers and staff gain needed training
  • Arranging essential review and adaptation of facilities
  • Opening channels of communication with Emergency Management Directors, Emergency Responders and local/regional officials
  • Promoting cooperative relationships in advance of a disaster.

Learning from Recent Regional Disasters
With Western Massachusetts having experienced recent disasters such as tornadoes, flooding, snow/ice storm power outages, how can new efforts to develop ERCs draw on lessons learned by those who have already met similar challenges?   In response to this need, emergency planners from the four-county Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coalitions of Western Massachusetts collaborated on creating an Emergency Rest Center toolkit for faith-based and municipal groups.

Free ERC Toolkit
With support from the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council, the planners developed the Emergency Rest Center Guide for Faith Groups and Municipalities. This free toolkit, based on proven approaches and strategies, has three main modules:

  1. Plan Template: This 50-page document includes best practices, Incident Command System framework for ERCs, activation/demobilization instructions, standard forms, reimbursement instructions, suggested equipment/supplies/facilities, sample press releases, and job action sheets for ERC volunteers along with many other resources.
  2. Standard Operating Guidelines: This is a 16-page detailed checklist to provide step-by-step instructions for implementing Emergency Rest Center operations.  It covers Initial Response Actions, Daily ERC Operations and Recovery/Return to Normal Operations.
  3. Mutual Aid Agreement: This is a 5-page legal document to be agreed upon by the faith-based organization and its host community government. It outlines the roles, reimbursements, legal responsibilities and other important considerations in opening an ERC during a declared emergency. It is a suggested template and can be modified to meet local needs.

In addition, the toolkit includes outreach materials such as a welcoming flyer, informative brochure, and a poster showing the differences between ERCs and Shelters.

Adaptation to Each Situation
The intention of all these materials is to provide resources that can be adapted by each faith-based group to their specific situation. By sharing procedures that have proven track records, the Emergency Rest Center toolkit can help faith-based organizations and rural communities make a difference, even with limited resources.