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Faith Community and Emergency Responder Forums

More than 200 participants took part in Faith Community and Emergency Responder Forums held in Holyoke and Lenox in early 2012.

Keynote Speakers

At each Forum, the keynote speaker was a national leader who had worked with faith-based initiatives in disaster preparedness, response and recovery throughout the country.  The Holyoke Forum featured Katie Mears, U.S. Disaster Preparedness & Response Manager for Episcopal Relief & Development.The Lenox Forum featured the Rev. David L. Myers, Director, Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Homeland Security.  Both speakers emphasized the importance of encouraging partnerships within the Faith Community and between the Faith Community and Emergency Responders.

David L. Myers, Center of Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, DHS. Credit: FEMA

Katie Mears, Episcopal Relief & Development. Credit: ER&D




 Forum Presenters

Forum participants were welcomed by regional leaders with extensive emergency response experience.  In Holyoke it was Patrick Carnevale, Region 3 & 4 Manager for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).  In Lenox, Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler initiated the proceedings.

Sheriff Thomas Bowler. Credit: Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office

Jason Dorval, Autism & Law Enforcement Education Coalition. Credit: Kathleen Conley Norbut.

Both Forums were informed and inspired
by a presentation on “Autism Spectrum Disorder and Emergency Preparedness and Response.” Jason Dorval, Firefighter, EMT-Paramedic and representative of the Autism & Law Enforcement Education Coalition provided information based on research and experience in his family.


Workshops led by Faith Community Project County Coordinators from Berkshire and Hampden/Hampshire included a Facilitated Discussion of an Emergency Scenario and a briefing about the Planning Guide/Continuity of Operations Plan.


The Salvation Army serving firefighters. Credit: Chris Farrand, The Salvation Army

Faith Community panelists at both Forums shared their own experiences with disaster situations ranging from the a Williamstown congregation aiding those who lost homes in Tropical Storm Irene flooding to small team groups at a Pioneer Valley church responding to the October snowstorm’s severe power outages.  Emergency Responder panels presented the firsthand emergency expertise of public safety officers, firefighters and public health officials as well as nonprofit and government organizations such as American Red Cross, FEMA, Medical Reserve Corps and The Salvation Army. A total of 21 faith and emergency leaders participated in panels at both Forums.

Forum Goals and Feedback

The goals of these Forums can be summarized as “4 E’s”:

  • Engage: Promote dialogue between emergency responders and the faith community
  • Empower: Offer positive examples of collaboration in disaster response/recovery
  • Educate: Present facilitated discussion of emergency scenario and planning guide plus handouts and resource links
  • Energize: Motivate Faith Community to start planning and to volunteer for emergency training

Western Mass MRC Volunteers take part in a decontamination drill. Credit: Stephanie Bozigian-Merrick

Feedback from Forum participants indicated that they were most enthusiastic about learning from the expertise offered in the faith community and emergency responders panels as well as in the autism presentation and emergency scenario workshop.  Looking to the future, participants also sought continued practical learning opportunities about psychological first aid/behavioral health, emergency rest center planning and participation in community disaster preparedness exercises.

The Faith Community seeks more involvement and communication with emergency leaders including:

  • Help with planning and disaster plans for people with disabilities
  • Partner around food pantry emergency vouchers in disaster recovery
  • Stay connected:  Add us to relevant community email lists, phone lists
  • Collaboration, understanding expectations, who will/can do what in emergencies
  • Inform the Faith Community about the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and how we can fit into it and help
  • Connect with us in non-crisis circumstances.  Could emergency responders invite local faith-based organizations and congregations for Open House visits to their facilities?

Organizations/Agencies/Congregations at Holyoke and Lenox Forums