When members of All Saints Church in Pasadena received a report of a gunman on campus one Sunday a few months ago, they quickly sprang into action.
“We were in between services and we had a report that a man had entered the church. There was a report he had a gun. We evacuated the church, and we had a plan about how to do that,” said Nancy Naecker, All Saints’ junior warden. “The police came and arrested the gentleman; he did not have a gun,” she said.
Any given Sunday, the church’s planned responses to natural and other disasters is on a clipboard located near the pulpit, along with an emergency bullhorn, a checklist of what needs to happen next and the names of designated leaders for that particular day.
For example, during an earthquake, Naecker said, “the designated leader for the day would flip to the earthquake section and it will list what he’s going to do, what’s he’s going to say, to begin taking charge, so there’s no memory that needs to happen.”
Such advance planning — whatever the disaster — can help churches better weather emergencies themselves and position them to more effectively reach out to vulnerable parishioners and community members, according to the Very Rev. Canon Michael Bamberger, a diocesan disaster preparedness coordinator.
Most of the diocese’s 20 specialized institutions and 40-some schools already have disaster plans. But the diocese’s 139 congregations — not so much, said Bamberger, a volunteer firefighter and rector of the Church of the Ascension in Sierra Madre.
At the request of Bishop Diocesan Jon Bruno, he and Canon Bruce Linsenmayer, a retired Pasadena police commander, are serving as diocesan disaster preparedness coordinators. Their aim is to assist congregations, schools and institutions in developing and updating disaster preparedness plans (DPPs).
“In my experience, people don’t do anything in the way of planning or preparation until something happens,” Linsenmayer said during a recent telephone interview. “And then, once a disaster happens, the first thing they want to know is, what do we do now?
“There’s just no substitute for planning, even if it’s rudimentary,” he added. “Even if you walk around the house with your family and say, ‘if there’s an earthquake, we’re going to stay where we are, take cover, and wait till it’s over. Or, we’ll follow this path out the back door, and if we can’t go that way, we’ll go this way.”
He added: “If there’s an earthquake during church services, you would hope the rector or someone in a position of authority would remind people to take cover and stay there till the shaking stops and then exit in a calm fashion, and that the Sunday school teachers will know where to take the kids, to point A or point B.”
The “ABCD” of disaster planning
Southland congregations can anticipate being contacted about emergency preparedness planning, and also about asset-mapping, a pilot program that the Diocese of Los Angeles, along with five others, is participating in with Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD), the international disaster relief agency, said Bamberger. (See related story HERE.)
ERD began working to develop diocesan and local emergency preparedness resources after August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other cities, killing some 1,800 people and racking up $81 billion in property and other damages, according to Bamberger.
About 42 of the 109 dioceses in the Episcopal Church are participating currently in ERD’s preparedness efforts, largely because “churches are incredibly well-positioned to serve the vulnerable after a disaster,” said Katie Mears, ERD’s director of USA disaster and preparedness response.
“In order to do an effective job, we can put simple systems in place that allow us to respond quickly and efficiently,” she added.
Mears said that by using asset-based community development or the “ABCD” program congregations can begin to know and understand both their own and their community’s resources and needs. Other participating dioceses include Mississippi, Louisiana, El Camino Real, Northern California and New York, she said.
“We’re specifying what the assets of the Episcopal Church are,” Mears explained during a recent telephone interview from her office.
“We know that in theory a lot of churches have food banks, and a lot have homeless shelters, and AA and other recovery groups, but we don’t necessarily know where they are. So, after a disaster, those ministries become really important because those churches are often the ones who have the easiest time jumping into action, because they’re already set up to help the community,” she said.
“We’re particularly interested in helping dioceses know exactly where those ministries are so they can better utilize them after disasters.”
The 4 Ps of Disaster 101
Bamberger invited congregations to designate disaster preparedness coordinators and to ask for help (see information box below). He and Linsenmayer will assist them in the basics of what he calls “Disaster 101” and the “4 Ps — people, programs, property and pesos, or finances.”
“The good news is, they don’t have to start a plan from scratch; there are resources available on the ERD website to help congregations” and institutions develop plans, according to Bamberger who, as part of ERD’s Partners in Response Team, has traveled to other dioceses affected by hurricanes and tornadoes to facilitate their process of recovery.
Congregations will be asked “to think about the ministries they have that are the most vulnerable, about who in their congregation is the most vulnerable and then, taking it a step further to encourage people to get to know their neighbors so we can serve the most vulnerable in our neighborhoods in the event of disaster,” he said.
In other words, says Linsenmayer, “churches have a responsibility to their parishioners to be able to have a plan to take care of them during these kinds of incidents. The first stuff involves knowing how to get in touch with parishioners in your parish in multiple ways, just to make sure they’re okay.”
A next step is to make sure “your facility is going to work so you can get people into church as soon as you can, to get them back into a regular routine and prayer life, and to help them over the long term because, once the first responders leave, there’s no long-term follow-up and that’s what this whole disaster initiative is all about.”
DPPs evolve, need updating and practice
One certainty about All Saints, Pasadena’s DPP, says Nancy Naecker, is that it “keeps evolving.”
ERD’s DPP examples can be basic or specific, are adaptable to a variety of institutions and include evacuation procedures, what to do in case of a lockdown, and assigning specific tasks during a crisis. For example, at All Saints, in the event of an earthquake a medical team made up of clergy and ushers would help the injured with first aid.
Local police and firefighters are also tremendous resources. Initially, All Saints connected with the Pasadena Fire Department, whose liaison officer “and trainers have come out to visit and each time we learn new things we didn’t think about,” Naecker said. “We had an usher training also where some police and fire department personnel came in to teach us how to evacuate the sanctuary successfully, if need be.”
John Horton, administration director at Camp Stevens in Julian, said the camp has a “generic plan” adaptable to specific circumstances. And of course, there are regular fire drills as new groups of campers arrive, he said.
Previous fires have taught the staff that our plan “had good basics but we needed to work out more of the details” especially ensuring the interchangeability of roles, so the plan didn’t depend on any one person to be successfully executed, he said.
Camp Stevens’ DPP involves three basic scenarios, depending on the amount of time campers have to evacuate. If at “the last level, is the fire’s on the road and you can’t get out … we had to come up with basic alternatives,” including fireproofing the dining hall, Horton said.
Practicing the plan is as important as regularly testing equipment, like the hand-held radios campers might need to communicate. Horton said practice sessions have included allotting ten minutes for people to grab their most important personal belongings and pack their cars.
School prepares for fire, earthquake
At St. Martin in-the-Field Episcopal School in Winnetka, a preschool through 8th grade institution with about 110 students, everyone practices basic fire and earthquake drills, according to upper school headmaster Wendy Byrnes.
“But, if there’s an actual earthquake we have a much more complicated procedure, broken into different phases,” she said. “When the shaking stops, children are evacuated. We have different routes laid out depending on where children are, how to move the most children the fastest and get away from the buildings,” she said.
Their DPP involves ensuring everyone’s out of the building, setting up first aid stations, and overseeing the release of children safely to appropriate parents and adults. If need be, the school has “enough of everything—food, first aid supplies, clothing—to take care of the children for 72 hours” in an alternate onsite location.
The Los Angeles Police Department has assisted St. Martin’s in developing its DPP, and offered helpful advice about how to interact with law enforcement agencies, she said. “They’ve told us what will happen when they come onto the property, if they’ve been advised” of a shooter on campus or another potentially volatile situation, Byrnes said.
“We’re not saying that our plan is perfect, but the general consensus is to plan for the worst case scenario and hope for the best case scenario,” Byrnes said. “With all the things happening these days, you have to plan.”
Bruce Linsenmayer agreed.
“There’s just no substitution for good preparation,” he said. “People need to make sure to have something to eat or drink for several days, or to have the ability to go to a Red Cross shelter, or a food distribution point. You need to think about what you will do a week afterwards, two weeks later. Those are the kinds of things we need to include in plans.”
Adds Bamberger: “It’s never too late to start planning. It’s important to have these plans because things happen. It’s not a matter of if we’re going to have an earthquake, it’s a matter of when.”
Disaster planning in the Diocese of Los Angeles
Congregations, organizations and institutions of the diocese are encouraged to name a disaster preparedness chair and to call upon the diocesan coordinators for help in developing a plan for dealing with disaster.
The Rev. Canon Michael Bamberger
Canon Bruce Linsenmayer
Planning and training material also are available on the website of Episcopal Relief & Development (select “Resources & Learning”)