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Johns Hopkins Disaster Experts Set Emergency Response Training Day for House of Worship Leaders - 09/29/2014

Johns Hopkins Disaster Experts Set Emergency Response Training Day for House of Worship Leaders

Maryland, Virginia and federal officials part of Washington, D.C.. event on Sept. 30
Release Date: September 29, 2014
Tom Kirsch, M.D., M.P.H.
Tom Kirsch, M.D., M.P.H.
Credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine

A team of Johns Hopkins disaster preparedness and response experts will provide disaster readiness training to local and national house of worship leaders at a one-day session in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30.

The event, one of a series of training days already held by the Johns Hopkins team in Philadelphia, Seattle and Los Angeles, will also feature participation by senior representatives from the Maryland and Virginia departments of emergency management, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the FBI. The Johns Hopkins team has been offering the training in conjunction with FEMA. More than 100 participants are expected to attend.

The team says training is designed to facilitate close ties between leaders of religious facilities and those from local fire, police, hospitals and other agencies so they can collaborate and formulate rapid responses to any natural disaster, terrorist attack, mass shooting 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 Tom Kirsch, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins Department of Emergency Medicine, who is leading the project.

“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,” notes Kirsch, who took part in the response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. “Our goal is to address that by training leaders and by providing easy-to-understand guides and other educational resources that any house of worship in the country can use right off the shelf to get better prepared.”

Lauren Sauer, M.S., associate director of the Johns Hopkins National Center for the Study of Preparedness and Catastrophic Event Response, is co-leading the project. She says research shows that houses of worship can be essential sites during disasters for emergency shelter, food, family reunification, medical services, emotional support and communication.

“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,” notes Sauer, a member of the Johns Hopkins project team. Training helps them stay safe while helping others, she adds.

The event in Washington will include sessions on setting up emergency planning committees, identifying potential threats, assessing risks to area communities and infrastructure, developing detailed response plans, and outlining potential roles for house of worship staff and congregation volunteers.

Along with officials from state emergency management agencies, FEMA representatives will be involved with in the training and breakout sessions.

Sauer and Kirsch emphasize the need for professional responders, volunteers and church officials to develop communication channels and plans before disaster occurs — and practice implementing the plans.

During recent training events in Philadelphia, Kansas City, Seattle and Los Angeles, the Johns Hopkins team gathered feedback from attendees on improvements they should consider for a guidebook and other resources they are developing for houses of worship. Once completed, the plan is to distribute it nationwide with FEMA’s help. Further feedback will be sought at the Washington event. Another event is being planned in Houston in November.

The team also plans to test the training guide later this year by working with several houses of worship across the nation to see how well the training materials work. They can then determine what challenges houses of worship face when starting to develop emergency readiness plans.

Christina Catlett, M.D., an emergency physician and director of the Johns Hopkins Go Team, which is trained to rapidly deploy medical support to disasters, says that long term, the project team hopes to train house of worship leaders to train others.

“I’d like to see us develop a strong network of expertise at houses of worship around the country,” notes Catlett. “With that in place, we can really bridge the readiness gap that exists now.”

Washington event details:

Location: Holiday Inn Washington-Capitol, 550 C St., S.W., Washington, D.C.
Note: The hotel is located directly across the street from FEMA headquarters.

Date/Time: Sept. 30, beginning at 9 a.m.

Johns Hopkins experts available for interviews include:

Thomas Kirsch, M.D., M.P.H.
Christina Catlett, M.D.
Lauren Sauer, M.S.