Mike Curry showed a slide of a solitary person walking through a deserted, debris-strewn neighborhood after a devastating tornado. The Jackson County Emergency Preparedness Director said, "We never want anyone out there to think they are all by themselves in a disaster."
Curry joined County Executive Mike Sanders and officials from across Missouri to discuss the role faith-based organizations can play in assisting governmental agencies and other entities, including the American Red Cross, with emergency preparedness and disaster response. The September 25 seminar at Crown Pointe Church in Lee's Summit was the last of five meetings Missouri Governor Jay Nixon sponsored across the state to kick off the Faith-Based Organization (FBO) Disaster Initiative.
Jackson County has taken a lead role in the State Emergency Management Agency's FBO effort. Curry served as co-chair for the meetings held September 21-25 throughout Missouri.
A Historic Role
"This is an important mission that we have, bringing faith-based community organizations together to look at emergency preparedness," said Sanders as he welcomed officials from local police and fire departments, as well as representatives from the American Red Cross and the State Emergency Management Agency.
Sanders pointed out that faith groups have historically played a vital role in bringing communities together during a crisis. "When the chips are down, we turn to our churches and our churches have responded," he noted. "Any plans that deal with our society responding to a disaster must involve our faith-based communities."
Curry praised Sanders for having the "foresight to see we had a need" when, upon becoming County Executive in 2007, Sanders created the Jackson County Department of Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security.
In Lee's Summit, to the largest audience to attend one of the FBO Disaster Initiative meetings, Sanders stressed, "These are issues, disasters and emergencies that we hope to never deal with, but for which we must be prepared."
A Call To Organize
Cole County Sheriff Greg White echoed Sanders' sentiment that faith-based organizations must be included in emergency preparedness planning.
"We, the government and faith-based organizations, need to be able to hold hands and work together on this," said White, Development Committee Chair for the FBO Initiative.
White urged faith-based organizations to develop safety teams and "all-hazards" plans, and to contact local government agencies to determine how they can help in a disaster situation. Furthermore, while FBO facilities can be used for shelters and food stations, White stressed the importance of continuing religious services to help people maintain "some continuity in their lives" after suffering through a disaster.
Being Prepared For A Regional Disaster
Some disasters, such as tornadoes and ice storms, may be "localized," but others can strike on a regional scale, pointed out White.
A repeat of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, which caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards, would impact more than Missouri's boot heel. While centered in the southeast corner of Missouri, a quake equal to those in the early 19th Century would cause considerable damage to the modern cities of Memphis, Tennessee, and St. Louis, with the jolt being felt throughout more than just the state of Missouri. Shockwaves could ripple out as far north as Canada, east to New York and into the Deep South.
Damage from flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, Cole warned, "could be worse than Katrina." Also, in the wake of another New Madrid magnitude-8 quake, much of the central United States would be without power for an estimated two or three months.
"How do you respond to such a disaster?" asked Cole. "Historically in the state of Missouri it has been our faith-based community that has helped to respond."
White suggested faith groups encourage their individual families to stock supplies such as drinking water and food "should they be on their own for two weeks" in the event of a major disaster cutting off utilities for a prolonged period.
Focusing on the sheltering of disaster survivors, Curry, likewise, stressed that faith-based organizations need to join government agencies in preparing for large-scale emergencies.
"We cannot pick and choose what type of disaster might strike," he said.
The day-long seminar included presentations about the safe handling of food after a disaster, "psychological first aid," emergency planning and long-term recovery.