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Proactive hurricane response emphasized

BY PJ HELLER | Santa Barbara, CA | October 8, 1998

Even before the first tropical storm of the 1998 hurricane season had taken place in the Atlantic, faith-based organizations were whirlwinds of activity as they prepared for the storm season.

But rather than developing plans to be reactive to any disasters that might befall the southeast Atlantic coast or Gulf Coast states, the approach this year has been more proactive. It ranges from establishing interfaith organizations in communities -- designed to create awareness of their role in disaster relief -- to printing and distributing a detailed manual about how to survive a hurricane.

Some 500,000 booklets titled "Surviving the Storm: A Citizen's Guide to Emergency Preparedness" were printed and distributed in 13 Louisiana parishes (counties) by the Terrebonne Readiness and Assistance Coalition (TRAC).

The 65-page booklet contains everything from evacuation routes and telephone numbers of veterinarians who will house pets, to a 10-step survival plan and information about insurance.

"It's one of the best handbooks that I've seen," noted the Rev. Norman Hein of Lutheran Social Services of the South and a regional disaster facilitator for Church World Service (CWS).

Peggy Case, director of TRAC and a disaster resource consultant for CWS, said the booklet was an outgrowth of efforts that began in 1992 in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. The publication was funded by the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisiana and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Case said the goal of the book was to offer advice to help people prepare for a hurricane.

"There's a lot of consciousness to raise," she said.

In Florida, meantime, Jody Hill of FIND -- Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster -- has been continuing efforts to raise people's consciousness about the role of interfaiths in disaster relief.

"The most important thing we've been doing is public awareness and developing the understanding of what the faith community's role is in disasters in communities that have not recently been affected by disasters," she said.

By meeting with ministerial associations and state emergency management personnel throughout Florida, Hill has been working to establish interfaiths throughout the Sunshine State. She said those groups could prove pivotal in providing relief should a hurricane or other disaster occur. FIND is serving as the statewide umbrella group for those interfaiths.

FIND, an affiliate of CWS and the Florida Council of Churches, grew out of both Hurricane Andrew and another unnamed storm, Hill noted.

"The need to be collaborating, coordinating, cooperating and communicating in the future is what made it happen," she said.

Hein and Charles Moeller, another regional facilitator with CWS, have both contacted religious leaders in the Southeast to keep them on alert to any storms and to offer any assistance that might be needed.

"We're trying to get the word out to the religious leaders that we will be there (if needed)," Moeller said.

One of the challenges, he noted, was in figuring out how and when to respond to a hurricane.

"Every disaster, every hurricane, is different," Moeller noted. "You have different settings. You have different people. You have different denominations involved. So that always turns things in different directions."

Hein, through the Texas Conference of Churches, sent out an alert to congregations in that state about hurricane season and offering some advice. It included the need to have adequate property and flood insurance for all buildings and parsonages. He also suggested that congregations develop teams of people to care for and assist any members with special needs during and after any evacuation or hurricane.

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