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Faith in disaster preparedness - Religious institutions prepare for disaster scenarios

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They’re a huge part of people’s lives, so why not involve churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship in disaster preparedness? Such thinking spurned the creation of a Web site devoted to providing religious institutions, schools, and service providers with information about how to aid congregants in times of crisis and offer assistance during rebuilding efforts after a disaster. “This technology will build untold capacity for changing the way faith-based disaster planning and recovery management is done,” Peter Gudaitis, CEO and executive director of New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS), said at a press conference at Borough Hall to announce the opening of www.howcalm.org. The HOWCALM site, which is free, also offers details about evacuation zones and will gather information about which houses of worship maintain facilities that could accommodate evacuees if there is a full-scale emergency. “Emergency management professionals need to know the logistics in order to plan and respond in an efficient way,” said Robert Wilson, senior director of planning and preparedness for the American Red Cross. “NYDIS has gone a long way in making that a reality. After 9/11, when I was deputy commissioner of operations for the NYC Office of Emergency Management, I was at the receiving end of many faith communities that wanted to offer their resources. Now there is a central meeting point for all that information.” The Web site’s most important service is providing information about disaster preparedness to religious institutions that can relay those details to congregants. This will also prove helpful in communities with large non-English-speaking populations. “As centers of community life in Brooklyn, our houses of worship are critical partners,” said Deputy Borough President Yvonne Graham. A partnership with city officials “can create the kind of synergy that will help inform and safeguard our residents, assess our disaster preparedness, and coordinate services necessary for response and recovery.” Organizations specializing in preparing communities for emergencies welcomed www.howcalm.org. “We’ve needed HOWCALM for 35 years,” said Ken Curtin, volunteer agency liaison for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “For disasters small or large, involving the faith communities is essential. They hold valuable information and communicating the usefulness of this database resource is what we can do now in order to serve the community better during a disaster.” He added, “Local faith organizations – churches, synagogues, mosques and temples – are an indispensable element in relieving people’s disaster distress. HOWCALM will bring practical information to people, through their houses of worship, both before and after disaster.”

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