In many places in the world, our communities have faced sudden calamities, for which they weren’t prepared. The NSA in the USA has given us some good guidelines on how to prepare and how to respond, and I thought would be helpful to share with all my readers. Baha’i communities can be most effective when they are prepared for calamities and disasters, so they can best respond when they happen.
In times of national disaster, National Assemblies have 2 major lines of action:
Efforts at the national headquarters are, in time of crisis, divided between two major lines of action that operate from a broader perspective than regional or local levels of administration:
- Meeting current needs: creating infrastructure and mechanisms for information and funds flows, resolving regional problems and communicating with the Bahá’ís nationally and globally
Thinking strategically: reaching out to non-Bahá’í sources for information, asking “what next” questions about recovery and future needs and assessing community and humanitarian resources for meeting them. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 28)
National member databases should be up to date:
Community membership lists should be corrected and kept current in the National Membership Database at the Bahá’í National Center, so accurate records of believers are available for identifying and following up the Bahá’í population in the event of a disaster. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 29)
Regional Councils are intimately familiar with the human resources, development and conditions of the localities in their region:
Regional Councils are an essential link in the administrative network of the Faith, more intimately familiar with the human resources, development and conditions of the localities in their region, closer and better placed to respond to immediate needs than offices at the national level. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 28)
Local Assemblies should consider how they will function in carrying out their emergency plans:
An Assembly should consider how it will function to carry out its emergency plans and serve the community in the event its regular meetings are disrupted and/or one or more members become unavailable. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 28)
Assemblies should be familiar with guidance from the NSA re contact with officials:
Before making such contacts, Assemblies should be thoroughly familiar with guidance from the National Spiritual Assembly’s Office of Public Affairs regarding contact with officials and non-Bahá’í organizations, and should educate the community about such contacts. Contact the Office of Public Affairs at http://publicaffairs.bahai.us/, firstname.lastname@example.org or (202)833-8990 for more information. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 28)
Assemblies should inform every one of the emergency plan:
An essential ingredient of any disaster recovery plan is to fully and effectively communicate the emergency plan to those it will affect, to be sure believers are informed about where they can turn for help, and to practice carrying out whichever components of the plan are possible to practice. The practice afforded believers through the institute process is what enabled Bahá’í communities affected by the hurricanes to effectively implement responses to the conditions presented. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 27-28)
Assemblies should have a communications plan:
- Each community should establish a communication plan that includes contacts who are likely to be outside a disaster-affected area. This plan should be shared with the Bahá’ís, so they know where to turn, and where to check in, when the need arises.
- (800) 22-UNITE currently can serve as a supplement or backup, though not a replacement, for local provisions for locating displaced community members.
- Email and text messaging after Hurricane Katrina often worked when land line and cellular phones did not; community email and cell phone lists should be considered by communities that do not already have them, and this information be included in the members’ contact information given each Local Spiritual Assembly.
- Local Assemblies can identify commercial services that can assist with communications. For example: there are a variety of web-based services that automatically call an organization’s membership database and play a recorded message as a means of broadcasting information and alerts.
- Local Assembly Secretaries should use their Assembly email accounts as the first place they turn for information and alerts from the National Assembly, if their internet connection is functioning. Assemblies that do not regularly check their agency email may not be as current and well-informed as those who do. Assemblies may wish to investigate acquiring solar-powered laptops, batteries, or other communications devices that would be able to operate independently during power outages.
- The national Bahá’í community website at American.bahai.us is the National Spiritual Assembly’s primary method of up-to-date general communication.
As some members of the community may not have cell phones or computers, and for emergencies when available technologies fail to work, Assemblies may also wish to devise alternate plans for contacting community members. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 29)
Assemblies should complete an Emergency Contact Information Sheet for all its members:
Assemblies are encouraged to collect information to better enable them to serve the friends in their care should an emergency occur, whether a widespread disaster or an individual situation such as the death of a community member without local family. Each Assembly should create a list of information it would need to suit the particular circumstances and needs of its community.
It is suggested that a broad range of information be gathered from believers, similar to the information on the sample form, Emergency Contact Information Sheet to facilitate:
- Contacting relatives or friends
- Locating a person who may have been evacuated from the area
- Aiding and assisting disaster victims with health or other issues
- Assessing community resources
- Preparing a disaster plan
- Being better able to respond to any number of unanticipated situations.
The Emergency Contact Information Sheet is available on the national Bahai community website in the Supplements to Guidelines section. All such information should be preserved with the utmost confidentiality and kept in a safe but readily accessible place. Assemblies should not send emergency information forms to the Bahá’í National Center. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 29)
Assemblies should encourage personal safety plans:
Assemblies may want to encourage believers to prepare a personal safety plan and to collect emergency supplies and essential documents that might be needed in an emergency or disaster. There are many sources for information on what such a plan might entail and what supplies and documents might be needed. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 29)
Assemblies should keep their members up to date with procedures to follow:
Each Assembly should be sure to let the members of its community know of various ways to contact it, the Regional Bahá’í Council, and the National Spiritual Assembly during emergencies and any procedures it would like them to follow. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 29)
Assemblies should be a rock on which the friends can seek solace:
Local Spiritual Assemblies are the stewards of their communities. If the Local Assembly itself is not temporarily dislocated as a result of the disaster, it can be the rock upon which the friends can steady themselves and seek solace. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 28)
Local communities can work with relief agencies in planning and mobilizing community resources in times of crisis:
Local communities may wish to promote and achieve higher visibility vis-à-vis local relief agencies, non-profits and local governments as a way to participate in disaster response in the planning stages, especially on issues with implications for social values and attitudes. This could also streamline the process of mobilizing community resources in times of crisis, locating displaced Bahá’ís and assessing needs, since existing relief agencies often have vital information the Bahá’ís do not. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 28)
Individuals provide selfless service in a manner consistent with Bahá’í principles:
It is impossible to anticipate the features of a future disaster, a fact which argues against elaborate response plans. Because Bahá’í communities and institutions are not relief agencies, there are limits to what they can and should do in response to a disaster. The focus of the friends on the Faith’s mission and on the goals of the current teaching plan have been instrumental in shaping a spiritually oriented response to disaster, whether on the part of those directly impacted, or of those who come to the aid of others in need. While Bahá’ís should never lose sight of the mission of the Faith or goals of whichever Plan is in progress, they should not seek to take advantage of a crisis to teach in a crass way, or to claim credit for their services; the orientation must be toward selfless service in a manner consistent with Bahá’í principles. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 27)
They respond to the needs of Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís alike:
The Bahá’í community’s experience with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita gave ample evidence of the friends’ spontaneous creativity, generosity and dedication as they responded to the needs of Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís alike. A wide latitude of action should be given the friends to follow the dictates of conscience and motivation, as they are capable of devising innovative solutions to urgent problems as they arise. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 27)
They draw on people’s diversity:
One of the most salient strengths of the Bahá’í community is its diversity. Planners should do their best to appreciate and draw upon that diversity. Differences in personality, aptitudes, skills and training determine to a great extent the ways in which people are more or less effective in actual crisis situations. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 27)
They adapt the core activities to the new needs:
Years of work in establishing children’s classes, devotional gatherings and study circles have provided local Bahá’í communities with a skill set and a structure of activities which they have used to good advantage in extreme situations. The Hurricane Katrina example showed how the ability to create and staff children’s activities was both recognized and valued in these new circumstances. Devotional gatherings were also used by the friends to offer a place where they and their fellow citizens could focus on the disaster, provide spiritual aid to the dispossessed and sort through the upheaval they were witnessing. Familiarity with the service or practice component of the study circle process enabled the friends more easily to organize food drives and other local forms of direct assistance adapted to situational needs. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 27)
There are many disaster planning materials and websites that offer useful information and ideas for all aspects of personal safety and disaster recovery. Local governments may also be able to provide referrals to resources suitable and/or available in the area.
Just a few of the many useful internet resources are:
- S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at www.fema.gov which provides a list of state emergency management planning offices that may offer useful planning resources and contact information to local communities.
- Reuters Foundation AlertNet at www.alertnet.org which offers multiple resources, an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) directory of humanitarian agencies, and resources for disaster response training.
- One thorough and well-organized state-level planning site is www.readycolorado.com which offers checklists across a wide range of situational needs, information about different kinds of disasters, and links to further information. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 29)
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