Phases of (or Life- Cycles of) Disasters and Parish Involvement The Rev. William V. Livingston

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1 Phases of (or Life- Cycles of) Disasters and Parish Involvement The Rev. William V. Livingston All disasters go through predictable stages or phases. The most commonly accepted description of these phases come from the Zunin/Meyers Phases of Disaster (Figure). 1 The line of the graph reflects the emotional response occurring as the phases progress. The more severe the disaster, the longer the duration of the disaster life cycle. While the chart predicts 1-3 years for a disaster life cycle, projections for recovery from Hurricane Katrina predict the recovery process lasting over 10 years. All disaster plans need to address how the congregation will address each phase. Pre- disaster This phase assumes the probability that a disaster is eminent: a forest fire near the city, 1.L. M. Zunnin & D. Meyers; Phases of disasters in Training Manual for Mental Health and Human Service Workers in Major Disasters; 2 nd ed., DHHS publication no. ADM ; D. J. DeWolfe. Phases of Disasters and Parish Involvement, ECF Vital Practices 1

2 rising floodwaters, a hurricane approaching landfall. With an economic crisis, this phase includes announcement of a potential closing or layoffs at a major employer or numerous employers beginning to layoff employees. A rapidly increasing number of illnesses in the community would serve as precursor of a pandemic causing a community disaster. During this phase authorities issue warnings of the disaster potential. Assuming the congregation and judicatory already have prepared plans, then they begin implementing them. Essentially, judicatories establish communication systems and begin coordinating evacuation assistance. Congregations secure buildings and remove items of value and communicate with the judicatory and with members. As much as possible, clergy and congregational leaders gather information of congregants remaining and evacuating and to where. Judicatories gather the same information on its clergy and determine appropriate means to communicate with one another during and after the disaster. Individuals and families connect with one another, make decision whether to evacuate, and either implement the evacuation and securing steps or steps to ride it out. Both plans were outlined in the first article. Impact In natural disasters, this phase may last from minutes to days of riding it out or, if evacuated, watching it from a distance. With economic and pandemic crises, the duration may be weeks or months of increasing intensity. All involved experience increased distress and a sense of loss of control. The appropriate role of the congregation and judicatory during this phase involves gathering and disseminating accurate information. The pre- disaster preparation plan included identifying how this information will be gathered and distributed. Immediate post- impact or heroic During this phase, folks who stayed come out of their homes or local shelters. Those who evacuated make their way home. Chaos often exists as debris covers everything, landmarks are unrecognizable, and first responders circulate and law enforcement personnel dictate the ability to move about. Initially emotions and energies remain high as most experience a major increase in the flow of adrenalin or a heightened fight- flight response. Common emotions include shock or relief, increased anxiety, and anger. Almost all react with shock when seeing the extent of the devastation. Those whose homes or businesses survived the disaster experience relief while those who realize they have lost their home, business, or both move into a state of incapacitating shock. Those unable to return because of impassable roads or security roadblocks experience heightened anxiety until knowing the status of their homes and Phases of Disasters and Parish Involvement, ECF Vital Practices 2

3 businesses. The anger comes from many sources. Those not able to return direct their anger at the law enforcement at roadblocks. Those who experience great loss often direct anger at themselves because they had not better prepared, at a family member who failed to perform a task, at God, at anyone to whom they can conveniently vent their anger. The essential tasks of the judicatory during post- impact include establishing contact with all effected clergy and congregations, assessing needs, making shelter space available as needed, receiving and distributing resources and volunteers, and providing pastoral support as needed and able. In some instances, the judicatory office itself may experiences the disaster, and this potential should always be considered a possibility and taken into account during the planning. During the post- impact phase the congregational response team will assess damage: to the building, to the community, and to congregants. The team needs to assess what happened, who was involved, and what appears to be needed in way of essentials e.g. shelter, water, non- perishable food, ice, and then communicate this assessment and the needs to the judicatory. Honeymoon/community cohesion Of all the phases of a disaster, this one involves the most heightened emotions and energies. The primary focus during this phase includes search and rescue and meeting physical needs. First responders arrive looking for survivors. Many local residents participate in this process. The second focus, providing for immediate physical needs e.g. as shelter, water, food remains essential and results in an outpouring of volunteers and resources. Sometimes such assistance is helpful and sometimes a nuisance. Those who show up with appropriate skills and resources and are willing to follow instructions are invaluable. Those who come to help but become personally overwhelmed or have no needed skills or resources become an additional burden in the immediate disaster recovery process. Those who consider volunteering after disasters should always assess their skills and resources and their motives compared to the needs. After Katrina local law enforcement asked all volunteer clergy to leave after numerous problems resulting from clergy attempting to proselytize at evacuation shelters and foods distribution centers. Phases of Disasters and Parish Involvement, ECF Vital Practices 3

4 Often needed supplies remain scarce, but unneeded supplies arrive unrequested and unexpected resulting in additional storage and distribution problems. Winter coats came by the truckloads after Katrina but in 98 F temperature and 95% humidity of Mississippi summers provided only problems in determining what to do with them. Those wishing to volunteer or send supplies following a disaster should always communicate with someone in authority, through the area judicatory if possible, to identify the needed supplies and how to get them delivered and distributed and the type of volunteers needed. Thus, the primary role of the judicatory during this phase is serving as the liaison between the effected congregations and the on- the- ground personnel and to those offering money, resources, and volunteers and, then, attempting to match need and availability. A fascinating component of this phase is the community cohesion. As our nation experienced after 9/11, a we re all in this together mentality rapidly develops after disasters. In one sense disasters can be a great equalizer. Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast Katrina destroyed million- dollar mansions, tiny homes, and apartment complexes. Many who had never experienced homelessness slept on cots and stood in food lines next to those quiet accustomed to the process. More than at any other time, a sense of neighbor and helping your neighbor dominates perceptions and behaviors. Many neighborhoods had Katrina parties. With no electricity and food in freezers and refrigerators at risk of spoiling, neighborhood groups, some of whom had never met one another, pulled out grills and camping stoves cooking and sharing whatever was brought. All were welcomed whether they came with a T- bone steak or came with nothing. This community cohesion also includes checking on others, even strangers, and grieving with those with loss. During this phase, congregations can take the leadership in the community cohesion. During this time the congregation leadership needs to communicate the status of its members, assess needs, and communicate those needs within the congregation. Communicate this information through multiple means: posting it on bulletin boards and on web pages, sending out s and via telephone calling trees. This communication supports the desperate need for community, provides information that offers a sense of control, and certainty in the midst of the chaos and may identify needs otherwise overlooked. Congregations can greatly assist victims who will be experiencing a disruption of the Phases of Disasters and Parish Involvement, ECF Vital Practices 4

5 normal and may be questioning their sense of faith and religious beliefs. Offering traditional worship in familiar settings is especially important in the aftermath of disasters, especially for sacramental faith traditions. Every Episcopal parish affected by Katrina, including the six leveled to the concrete slabs, offered the Eucharist the Sunday after Katrina. Some brought lawn chairs, some stood. Participants included parish members, first responders, and neighbors who had never attended the church before. That first gathering offers an opportunity to gather as a faith community to make connections, to learn about the status of others, to share a common grief, to bond in a totally new way. Over time, the Sunday worship moved to school gyms, other denomination church buildings, or other alternative locations, but every parish offered the Eucharist every Sunday. Doing so provides a sense of order, allows one to wrestle in a safe environment with theological struggles that occur after disasters. After the honeymoon After this phase of high emotion and energy and the initial process of search and rescue and meeting immediate physical needs passes, then begins the long process of recovery: cleaning up, tearing down, rebuilding. This is the most emotionally draining phase of the disaster life cycle. During this phase, the congregation may continue to assist members and the community in the rebuilding process, but it also shifts focus to emotional and spiritual support. During this process, the role of the clergy becomes more essential, and without proper self- care will, without a doubt, lead to burnout. Thus, the rate of clergy turnover during the three years after a major disaster ranges from %. Phases of Disasters and Parish Involvement, ECF Vital Practices 5

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