- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2014

It is a sign of the times - and a clear-eyed, viable idea from Johns Hopkins University emergency preparedness and response experts, who have led pastors, ministers and other clergy in disaster readiness training in three cities, capping off the outreach in the nation’s capital on Tuesday.

They specialize in schooling folks of faith who also have a calling to be spiritual boots-on-the-ground during a terrorist attack, mass shooting, natural disaster or other unexpected calamity.

“In many communities, churches, synagogues, temples and other houses of worship are the very first places people turn to in a disaster for help and just the comfort of someone to tell them everything will be OK,” says Dr. Tom Kirsch, project leader and an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine on the campus.

“Unfortunately, many of the houses of worship are not prepared to even survive a major disaster. You can’t help if you also become a victim,” he says.

Churches, temples and houses of worship also come into play. Research shows that these holy places can be essential sites during disasters for emergency shelter, food, family reunification, medical services, emotional support and communication, says Lauren Sauer, M.S., associate director of the Johns Hopkins National Center for the Study of Preparedness and Catastrophic Event Response.

“Disasters and their immediate aftermath can be very chaotic, and our studies show that people at houses of worship who step in with the best of intentions can end up overwhelmed or traumatized,” she says.

Training helps them stay safe while helping others, Ms. Sauer adds.

Washington clergy will be schooled in emergency planning, identifying potential threats, assessing risks, developing detailed response plans, and outlining potential roles for house of worship staff and congregation volunteers. A hundred worship leaders and pastors have signed up for the training.

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