Mid-Missouri churches work to develop disaster response

Friday, September 5, 2008 | 6:51 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Several congregations in mid-Missouri are working on developing a plan for disaster response in their communities. In June, the Missouri Department of Public Safety and Gov. Matt Blunt's Faith-Based Initiative hosted a symposium on the topic in Columbia.

The symposium was one of several in Missouri and informed faith-based communities about becoming active participants in community disaster response. There is not a simple way to track the number of churches who participated in the symposium because individuals could attend without listing their church affiliation.

Since that symposium in June, Broadway Christian Church has set aside funds to make the church a disaster site in the future.

Jessica Robinson, spokeswoman for the governor, said that attendees of the symposium were encouraged to return to their congregation and pick one of eight human services missions. The eight human services missions include: sheltering, feeding, volunteer management, donations management, debris removal, supporting a multi-agency resource center and case management in response to a local disaster.

Debby Graham, coordinator of the mission and outreach ministry at Broadway Christian Church, said the church is still in the discussion stage.

"It is going to move to a more prominent place in the mission and outreach ministry in the agenda," Graham said.

Melissa Friel, executive director for the American Red Cross chapter in Jefferson City, cited the history of faith-based communities for stepping up and helping disaster victims as the reason why faith-based communities are well-suited for the program.

"They feel called by their mission and ministry to do so ... (and) this is an attempt to help them become more organized and more connected to the disaster relief community," she said.

Friel said that Cavalry Baptist Church's participation in helping hurricane evacuees was an example of how the faith-based initiative could work.

Program participants said that the program has been successful so far.

"The symposiums have started new dialogue among state and local government and within the faith-based community," Robinson said.

Graham said the program has been successful because it has "made disaster preparedness more prominent in everyone's thinking."

The next step for the initiative is training the faith-based organizations. Eric Evans, an emergency management specialist at MU's Fire and Rescue Training Institute, who oversees MU's involvement in the program, said that the attendees will receive a survey and can indicate which human services mission they are interested in. Each group will then inform the state, and MU "will help them to get the program going," he said.

The symposia, which are only part of the faith-based initiative, are funded by the Department of Homeland Security. The initiative will continue with help from other social service organizations.

"A lot of the initiative is about collaboration," Robinson said. "Gov. Blunt has directed the partners to look at ways to work together to ensure the program works."


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