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Chaplaincy in the First 72 Hours of Disaster
By Chaplain David J. Fair, PhD, CHS-V, CMC
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By David Fair Chaplain David Fair, on right, poses with Chief Chaplain Col. Thomas Vail at the 2011 NORAD/NORTHCOM Religious Affairs Strategy Conference.

I was privileged to be invited to attend the 2011 North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM)- Religious Affairs Strategy Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado earlier this year, themed "The First 72 Hours of a Disaster."

The event, hosted by USNORTHCOM/NORAD Chief Chaplain Col. Thomas Vail and the Chaplain Directorate, was designed to bring together chaplains and other religious leaders from the U.S. military, faith-based organizations, and other non-governmental organizations for several days of common conversation and training.

Along with presenters and topic discussions, Lt. Gen. Frank Grass gave the welcome speech, followed by a discussion on "Social Networking with Local Clergy and Faith-Based Organizations," presented by Chaplain Brig. Gen. Patrick Dolan.

It was noted that National Guard chaplains engage local religious groups in emergencies and disasters. This is because, in these situations, civilians will be there; and although traumatized by the disaster, they will be eager to help, but disorganized.

The civilians will be on their home turf with critical knowledge of the area and resources, whereas military chaplains will be able to provide "comforting" crowd control and serve as the civilian Incident Commanders liaison with groups such as Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) with local leadership because they have been involved in the original planning and vision.

Other presentations included:

Dr. Douglas Johnson, President of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, spoke on the "Theory and Practice of Inter-religious Cooperation in North America."

"Religious Diplomacy, Connecting People" was explained to the group by Dr. Chris Seiple, President of the Institute for Global Engagement.

Chaplain Col. Mike Hoyt (retired) gave a presentation of his personal experiences in religious diplomacy during his time as a chaplain in Iraq.

There was a panel discussion on recent advances in "Disaster Response and the Spiritual Care Community;" the group included Dr. Jannah Scott, DHS; Rev. Earl Johnson, American Red Cross; Kim Burgo, Catholic Charities; and Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR.

Dr. Jamison Day of Louisiana State University led the chaplains in a disaster logistics exercise and brief.

Dr. Clare Blong, of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), discussed the new FEMA initiative of involving the whole community in a disaster response, known as the Whole Community Initiative, which includes the principles of utilizing the whole community—shifting away from a "government-centric" approach to communities are capable of providing self aid and self help.

FEMA, in its new initiative, views the community as an asset, not a liability, asserting that training and exercising between all types of partners is essential to reducing impediments. They also are thinking outside the box in terms of resources and concepts of operation that will include regulatory waivers, alternate standards of care, and policy changes that may be necessary.

The FEMA focus is now on outcomes, with acute emphasis on increasing the number of people who survive.

One of the highlights of the conference was a scaled-down version disaster exercise, led by Chief Chaplain Col. Thomas Vail, that utilized the National New Madrid Earthquake Scenario, based on the assumption that a major earthquake in seven central states would encompass a population of 7 million in 25,000 square miles, estimating 190,000 fatalities in the initial hours, with 265,000 citizens requiring emergency medical attention.

Also included in the scenario exercise was the assumption of severe damage to critical infrastructure, key resources, and essential transportation infrastructure, as well as ingress and regress options limited.

This meta-scenario was showcased at the Department of Homeland Security/ FEMA National Training Exercise in May of this year. It involved the need for situational assessment, public messaging, command, control and coordination, critical communications, environmental health, and safety, as well as critical transportation.

One part of the exercise was to engage traditional and non-traditional partners at the federal, state, tribal, private sector, and faith-based and voluntary organization level, using their existing information distribution networks to disseminate information to the public.

Key components of the national expertise included public messaging, mass care services, and fatality management services.

The conference, attended by more than 50 people, was termed highly successful and is in its third year of being conducted at the Colorado Springs home of USNORTHCOM and NORAD.

It was an honor to be a part, and I extend my appreciation to Chief Chaplain Col. Thomas Vail and his staff for hosting the conference and his continuing vision.

Become a Certified Master Chaplain by enrolling today, to begin to not only provide religious support, but also key responsibilities in Incident Command System (ICS) Operation and Critical Incident Stress Management. Or call 877-219-2519 for more information.

About the Author

David J. Fair, PhD, CHS-V, CMC, is a member of the ABCHS Executive Advisory Board and chair of the ABCMC. Fair is president and CEO of Homeland Crisis Institute. As a Master Chaplain, Fair has served at dozens of disasters including ground zero following 9/11, hurricanes Katrina and Ike, the NASA space shuttle disaster, the Fort Hood shootings, and the Haitian earthquake.

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