Disaster Plan Defines Roles and Responsibilities
The Lutheran Disaster Response Ohio (LDR Ohio) Preparedness Plan represents a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities of Lutheran expressions of church partnering in disaster response in Ohio. This plan was adopted by the Coalition of Ohio Lutheran Agencies (now known as Lutheran Services in America Ohio. LSA Ohio is a coalition of affiliated or recognized Lutheran social ministry organizations, Ohio synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Ohio District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). LSA Ohio has appointed the nine-member LDR Ohio Coordinating Committee with representation from each region, judicatory and LSA Ohio to implement and monitor the Ohio Preparedness Plan. The hope and promise of the plan and its implementation is that through a coordinated effort, Lutheran disaster response in Ohio and the corresponding mission of the church might be more effectively delivered.
The mission of Lutheran Disaster Response is to bring God's gift of hope and healing to a disastrous situation. Lutheran Disaster Response is the outcome of expressions of the Lutheran church (congregations, districts, synods, and social ministry organizations) working interdependently. In addition, Lutheran Disaster Response recognizes and honors the efforts of other community resources and seeks to avoid duplication in meeting needs. It is the intent of Lutheran Disaster Response not only to be present at the time of crisis, but also to be present throughout the stages of disaster recovery. Lutheran Disaster Response seeks to serve Lutheran congregations and their members as well as the wider community.
Declaring a Disaster
There are three stages to a disaster: first response or search & rescue, emergency relief or response, and long term recovery. Government agencies may or may not declare a disaster. When there is a government declaration, the county emergency management agency must assess and declare the disaster. If there are not sufficient resources at the county level, then there is a request forwarded to the state emergency management agency. The state must assess and declare the disaster. If there are not sufficient resources at the state level, then there is a request for declaration forwarded to the federal emergency management agency.
A disaster can result from a wide range of events, such as a flood, fire, drought, violent act or accident. For the purposes of disaster preparedness, naming the potential causes of disaster is not as important as determining the scope of disaster along with assessing community response resources. If community resources are present to meet the challenges of the disastrous event, then the level of disaster response has been established. In other words, if a tornado hits an area and community resources are in place to respond to the need, then broader mobilization of Lutheran disaster response is not necessary.
An assessment process is implicit in a community’s determination of response to a disaster. When a disaster occurs, the church needs to be present as a symbol of God’s presence and as part of the process of assessment and determination. Throughout Ohio, disaster task force representatives of the synods and District with disaster experience will be identified to consult with church representatives at the scene to decide when resources are present to respond to the disaster. Congregations, the district and synods are uniquely deployed throughout the state to be the church’s presence in the community. District and synod leaders, vice-presidents or assistants to the bishop are key communication links in disaster response, communicating the needs as identified by the synods and District Disaster Task Force representatives. Local pastors can consult with them for area response and referral to identified resources. In that process of consultation, the decision can be made concerning the need for a broader response and request for resources: regional, national, LSA, etc.
The Roles of Church Partners
Congregations should have in place an organizational disaster preparedness plan, which includes identified shelter, resources, agreements, equipment and evacuation procedures. Congregations need to be committed to maintain a safe facility and to respond when their community is in distress. That response involves not only contacting their own members who may be affected, but also to recognize the reality of the disaster in preaching and in mobilizing congregational and church response. In the event of a community disaster, the pastor and/or congregational leader should consult with district/synod staff in assessing damage and planning response. Congregations may be identified as a Lutheran command center. District/Synod staff may refer to an identified area leader to assist. In the process of congregational mobilization of Christian care, the effect of disaster response on children should be remembered. Congregations also need to be aware of local community resources and coordinate disaster response accordingly.
Judicatories who have endorsed and participate in the implementation of this plan are the Ohio District, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Northwestern Ohio, Northeastern Ohio and Southern Ohio synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
- District/Synod Leadership
Again, the district and synods need to have an organizational disaster preparedness plan, which includes identified shelter, resources, agreements, equipment and evacuation procedures. Their primary role is to care for congregations, pastors and/or congregational leaders. That care involves response consultation, training, presence and access to supportive resources. The district and synods are uniquely organized to cover the state and to provide ongoing support for professional leaders. Disaster preparedness planning, training and communication should be part of that support. Faithful stewardship will require the district and synods to coordinate resources to avoid unnecessary duplication.
- Social Ministry Organizations (SMOs)/Recognized Service Organizations (RSOs), LDR Affiliated Disaster Organizations
Lutheran social ministry organizations/recognized service organizations provide a variety of direct services on behalf of the church at many locations throughout the state. These services may or may not fit the need of a particular area disaster. In most cases, SMOs/RSOs are required to have a disaster response plan. The resources SMOs/RSOs can bring to a disaster vary. Generally, SMOs/RSOs have fundamental operational resources necessary for responding to people in need. These resources include office space, communications, fiscal accountability, knowledge, contacts, human resources, and other resources. If needed, organizational resources could be mobilized to establish disaster response coordination for a disaster of broader scope.
The SMOs/RSOs associated with this plan are the member organizations of LSA Ohio. A listing of those members can be found on the LSA Ohio web site.
Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio has been designated for SMOs/RSOs in the state of Ohio as the LDR affiliate agency.
- National Disaster Response
Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) is a cooperative ministry of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LDR’s primary role is to communicate need and marshal resources from all over the country to support local recovery of a disaster. Those resources could be financial, material goods, services, experience and counsel. Additionally, LDR is a consultation resource in disaster declaration and response. Lutheran Disaster Response works through identified social ministry organizations, interfaith coordinating committees and other community groups like Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) to develop and implement local recovery plans. LDR Ohio is a member agency of the Ohio Chapter of VOAD, which is a part of National VOAD.
Clergy/Professional Church Leaders
Clergy and professional church leaders have a variety of interests and gifts. Naturally, in response to a community disaster, they focus and bring a gospel word of hope and healing to human suffering and despair. In all cases, they need to provide leadership in times of disaster including presence, assessment and mobilization of resources. Initially, they need to assess the situation and consult with district/synod leaders to determine the next step of Lutheran Disaster Response. In some cases, clergy/professional church leaders have advanced levels of experience, passion and knowledge with Lutheran Disaster Response. They may have standing with community resources including unmet needs committees. These leaders need to be regionally positioned as a consultation resource for disaster declaration and response.
Initial and Ongoing Disaster Preparedness Training
Once established, a shared disaster preparedness plan needs to be communicated throughout the state and revised on a periodic basis. Each disaster experience will provide an advanced level of learning and hopefully the blessing of additional disaster preparedness. The plan needs to be a visible part of clergy/professional leadership orientation and discussion. The district/synod is best structured to include disaster preparedness planning and training in their schedule of leadership contacts. Persons interested in assisting during times of disaster are strongly recommended to take the Level One and Level Two Disaster Preparedness Training that is FEMA recognized. Proper credentials may be required to enter disaster-impacted areas. Part of planning and training includes identifying the resources available in each area for disaster response. A listing of training events and other information may be accessed at each synod and district website.
Key Committees in Disaster Preparedness and Response
- LDR Ohio Coordinating Committee
LSA Ohio appointed a coordinating committee to review the plan on an ongoing basis, monitor implementation, evaluate results and encourage local participation with community partners and unmet needs response development. The committee will also consult and coordinate the formation of a steering committee as needed. Members of this coordinating committee include representatives from each Ohio synod of the ELCA, the Ohio District LCMS and LSA Ohio as well as ex-officio participation from Lutheran Services in America, Lutheran Disaster Response and the fraternal organization. A quick reference flow chart is included in the Appendices.
- Steering Committee
Once a disaster of sufficient scope is assessed and declared, the designated disaster task force will organize the response. Lutheran Disaster Response national staff may be consulted and involved accordingly. The LDR Ohio Disaster Coordinator will provide overall coordination of the Lutheran and community response, including case management, donations management, volunteer management, spiritual and emotional care, Christian Care, and LERT. Other important activities include affirming understandings related to communication, fundraising and financial management.
- Long Term Recovery Committees
Each area is encouraged to develop an interfaith coordinating or long term recovery committee, comprised of community partners. These groups review case presentations of individual and family needs arising from a disaster. As a result, response is organized and ministry is accomplished. These groups are a significant piece in timely disaster response.