PRINCETON, N.J. – In response to domestic disaster, a forum sponsored by Church World Service, was held March 27-31 on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary in the presence of leaders of various disaster ministry groups such as Participatory Action Research (PAR), Florida Interfaiths Networking in Disaster (FIND), and Missouri Interfaith Disaster Recovery Organization (MIDRO).
The forum titled “Do No Harm” was the first Forum on Domestic Disaster Ministry sponsored by CWS. 60 participants of disaster ministry leaders gathered and discussed the issue to reinforce faith community involvement in domestic disaster management knowing the possible damage they can bring unintentionally to the communities while they carry out their activities.
During forum following topics were discussed among the participants: facilitating versus leading in responding; cultural sensitivity, local ownership and sustainability; the role of listening, building confidence and relationships.
"Until now, there has been no disciplined venue to look at disaster management research and cutting-edge field activities that inform the way disaster ministry is carried out," said Bob Arnold, CWS Emergency Response Associate Director for Capacity Building.
During his presentation, James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), whose focus is primarily on addressing the need for stronger mitigation initiatives, affirmed the role of the faith community in disasters and encouraged participants to "stay focused in their mission to provide compassionate care and to assist the most vulnerable."
"Mitigation is a burning issue that will continue to be a challenge, but is key in developing sustainable communities," he said.
Dennis Mileti, former director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, reiterated Witt's emphasis on mitigation in a presentation on disaster research and its significance in disaster ministry. "Research has driven the modern emphasis on community sustainability, mitigation, and preparedness,” he said. “Lessons learned from past disasters are essential tools for mitigating future ones."
Other key issues observed at the forum include: using practical tool for responders trying to build the capacity of a disaster-affected community, changing public policy, Preparing Neighborhoods for Emergencies and Disaster, Social Enterprise and Local Sustainable Development, Needs of Vulnerable Populations, and Preventing Technological Disasters Through Public Policy.
Johanna Olson, Associate for Lutheran Disaster Response; and the Rev. Jeannette Sutton, Presbyterian Church (USA), also illustrated aspects of spiritual and emotional care.
“Since September 11, expectations regarding spiritual care in disaster has risen significantly,” said Rev. Sutton. Small group discussions centered on ways to ensure proper training for disaster chaplains and emphasized the need for continued “care for the caregiver” programs.
The issues that were discussed during the forum will be compiled and shared with CWS denominations and partners for the development of further collective action.
“Being informed and up-to-date about current trends and knowing what resources are available is very helpful, especially for the trainers,” said Cherri Baer, Kansas-based CWS Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison (DRRL).
“Bringing the varying perspectives of program managers, field-workers, and research specialists together in one room, cultivating the dynamic and complex nature of our work is critical," said Nina Martin of United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in Omaha, NE.