How do faith-based organizations help communities become more resilient to disasters? There’s an ongoing conversation among emergency managers, first responders, and government officials about the “vital role” these organizations play in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.
In the United States, faith-based organizations – religious congregations, businesses inspired by faith, faith-based charities, and other institutions – contribute an estimated $1.2 trillion to society each year.
There’s a perception that the role of faith-based organizations is limited to providing meals, beds, and emotional support when disaster strikes. And it’s true that these organizations do provide that level of care. But that’s not all they do.
When government assistance and resources can’t meet needs, faith-based organizations and other community-based groups directly supplement and fill gaps to help their communities prepare or rebuild.
So what should emergency managers, first responders, and government officials consider in seeking to build partnerships with these groups? First they need to understand the concept of swarm leadership and what it means to keep the F.A.I.T.H through a crisis, or any situation that requires navigating significant change.
Swarm leadership is a phenomenon in which no one is in charge and yet all leaders follow the same principles and rules to accomplish more together than any one leader could alone. It’s based on five key principles.
In You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When It Matters Most, the faculty of Harvard University’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative discuss the five principles that emerged during the Boston Marathon bombing response:
- Unity of mission
- Generosity of spirit and action
- Staying in lanes to help others succeed
- No ego – no blame
- A foundation of trusting relations
There are countless examples of emergency managers and faith leaders acting on these principles in the moments during and after a crisis, but what can we do to foster this type of response before disaster strikes?
That’s where keeping the F.A.I.T.H. comes into play. Keeping the F.A.I.T.H includes committing yourself and your agency to:
- Fellowship: Emergency management programs like Neighborfest or organizations like the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, and the International Association of Emergency Management Faith-Based Caucus reinforce the value of social cohesion – the willingness of members of a society to cooperate to survive and prosper.
A study conducted by Dr. Daniel Aldrich explains how social ties are the critical aspect of resilience in immediate survival and community recovery. Connectedness isn’t always developed in highly social settings, more practical options include training, exercises, and planning activities.
- Appreciative Inquiry (AI) – When faced with a crisis, focusing on current assets as opposed to deficits can be the difference in disaster recovery outcomes. Pastor Joshua Monda of First Baptist Church and Pastor Ben Davidson of Bethany Community Church reinforced the approach of focusing on “what’s left” instead of “what’s lost” when they responded to the needs of their community of Washington, IL in 2011.
Alongside Washington Ministerial Association, AmeriCorps and the Illinois Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, Pastor Monda and Pastor Davidson coordinated the community’s recovery efforts by simply asking themselves: “How can we make others around us successful”?
- Integrative Thinking is when two opposing ideas are brought forth and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, a creative resolution is used to form a new idea that contains elements of both. Sherry Capers, Emergency Planner for Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency Management partnered with faith-based and community-based organizations in response to FEMA’s “A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action.”
When building resilience, instead of choosing an “emergency management” approach versus a “faith-based” or “community-based” approach, Ms. Capers and her team confronted the tensions between approaches and laid the groundwork for others to follow. Sherry’s insight informed FEMA’s Engaging Faith-based and Community Organizations: Planning Considerations for Emergency Managers plan.
- Transparency – Manuel Soto, Emergency Manager for the City of Orlando, is one of the most transparent emergency managers that I have the pleasure of knowing. His transparency has served the city and the country well.
In the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Mr. Soto worked alongside other government and non-government partners to guarantee that survivors from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands had immediate access to information and resources. They organized a Multi-Agency Resource Center that survivors could use immediately on arriving at the Orlando airport. He took the additional step of engaging directly with members of the faith-based community, including Reverend Dr. Gabriel and Reverend Jeanette Salguero of Calvario City Church, who in turn opened their doors in service and humility to the community.
- Humility – The research supporting the connection between Humility and Leadership continues to develop, and it’s also the final principle towards keeping the F.A.I.T.H.
A recent interview led by, Dr. Jamie Aten, mentions that “Humble leaders have successfully tempered or tamed the ego and embraced a leadership perspective that seeks to elevate everyone.” In emergency management, humility means embracing uncertainty while actively valuing and verbalizing the strengths of those around you. When emergency managers, and faith and community leaders do this well, the world notices.
If you commit to keeping the F.A.I.T.H. before disaster strikes, you can set up the conditions that reinforce the positive outcomes of swarm leadership. These concepts are intertwined with my desire to change the world for good, and I hope they serve you in building a more resilient community. Which of the five principles will you commit to first?