Church has a Role in Disaster Preparedness


As society evolves, calls for the Church to assume greater responsibility for more than just the spiritual well-being of its congregation, have become louder.
This time around, the church is once again being called on to be an educator on disaster preparedness matters, particularly as June marks the beginning of the hurricane season, and is being observed as Disaster Preparedness Month.
Chairman of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and Custos of Kingston, Reverend Weeville Gordon tells JIS News, that in the process of preparing for disaster, the role of the church rests in educating members of its congregation. This involves instructing persons not to panic, while educating them about the dangers of hurricanes and other disasters and the ways to preserve life and protect their homes, he says.
“Prepare the congregation to understand that these events are not sent by God to kill, they are part of nature and may be uncomfortable, but they have to prepare for them,” he points out.
In terms of floods, Rev. Gordon tells JIS News that persons are to be advised about not constructing in flood prone areas and not to build without the guidance of the relevant authorities.
Furthermore, he says the church also has a duty to prepare persons emotionally for disasters, with special care paid to the concerns of the elderly. Rev. Gordon notes that based on the realization of the helpfulness of such a practice, churches provide counselling sessions for persons taking refuge on their grounds during hurricanes. “It does help,” he argues.
The Custos emphasizes that the church’s role is not restricted to before or during the hurricane, but in the aftermath as well, in the form of providing relief supplies and helping in the reconstruction process. “The church before, during and after a hurricane is a steward of the total lives of people. The church has to do this education from now onwards and all the while,” he notes.
He points out, however, that the extent to which the church can provide help or act as a shelter, is sometimes limited because of faulty construction and failure to maintain roofs and structures on their part. He says this was demonstrated during the last hurricane (Ivan), when several of the older churches lost their roofs, as they did not follow certain guidelines where the maintenance of roofs was concerned.
Rev. Gordon advises that in its own preparations, churches should first check on the structure of their buildings to ascertain whether they can accommodate persons and also take the necessary precautions to secure valuables.
“One has to first examine your church, examine your basic school, primary school to make certain that they are ready for housing. If not, you are going to be in serious trouble,” he points out. Reverend Gordon notes further that the church has a part to play as “stewards of the environment”, in terms of clearing blocked drains and cutting trees, which may endanger lives and buildings.
“Creation is part of the theology of the church, where we take care of our environment, not only when hurricanes are coming but also after hurricanes,” he says, adding that churches are becoming more proactive, with some having websites and involving teachings on ecology in the curriculum of theological colleges and seminaries.
Furthermore, he tells JIS News that the church is in a good position to help in the education process as several have radio programmes and newsletters and can reserve sections for disaster preparedness tips.
Looking at the lessons learnt from the last hurricane, Rev. Gordon says more information must be given as to the strength of a hurricane and the damage potential, as many Jamaicans take risks with the wind, which can be as much as 120 miles per hour, instead of taking cover.
“It’s amazing when you think they should know these things, but not everybody knows the danger of a hurricane,” he says.
Disaster Preparedness Month is being observed under the theme: ‘Learning from Today’s Hazards to Prevent Tomorrow’s Disaster’.

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