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Natural disaster seminar helps prepare area residents

August 2, 2013

Rev. Robert Murphy, a Unitarian Universalist minister active in emergency services and environmental justice work, spoke at Saturday’s seminar at Westminster Unitarian Church. (Photo: James Bessette)

EAST GREENWICH – Celia Humphreys, merely two, woke up after a storm of fierce wind and rain to discover that a willow tree was knocked into a play area her father had built.
This was the Great Hurricane of 1938.
Humphreys shared this story, and several others, to about 40 people, a congregation of congregations, within The Westminster Unitarian Church, the first of many personal stories of fierce storm damage, rescue, recovery and preparedness during the church’s July 27 all-day storm warning symposium entitled, “Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst.”

Everyone in the room had been through a great New England storm. Many had helped others survive them and shared their expertise and action plans so that church congregations could reach out to their own communities in advance of the latest hurricane season that’s about to commence in August.
Humphreys, now 77, was in Connecticut when Hurricane Carol hit in 1954. In 1955, she related, two hurricanes hit within a week of each other, dumping close to two feet of rain within that time frame, causing many rivers and streams to flood. One river that overflowed was called ‘The Mad River,’ and she found out why.
Humphreys was followed by an array of guest speakers, who generously donated their time to this summer workshop because of their belief in empowering church congregations and individuals to plan wisely and appropriately to help their communities on the eve of summer and winter storms.
Environments are changing. Whether you believe in climate change or not, New Yorker Magazine, it was revealed, recently published a story that showed that former seismic 100-year weather occurrences are now occurring every decade.
Among the seminar speakers were Veterinarian Scott Marshal, Rev. Robert Murphy, Janet Searles, Jay Burdick, Elizabeth McDonald of the Red Cross and Pastor John Wheeler. Marshal, a lifelong R.I. resident who grew up on a horse farm in North Smithfield and always wanted to be a horse vet, is the state’s veterinarian. He still lives on that same farm.
Thus, he said that beings saved during storms mustn’t only be human.
Dr. Marshal told the crowd that Hurricane Katrina was the reason that the state has adopted a new plan to save pets and animals during storms. He said that the reason people don’t evacuate is because they can’t bring their pets with them, so they stay behind.
The problem is that the more people that stay behind, the more recovery time is needed. Recovery involves both pets and people who are alive and pets and people who are not.
Marshal explained that the P.E.T.S. Act – an amendment to the Stafford Act (Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act) – show that every state needs to have a plan for emergencies that involve animals and their requirements.
It was driven by the effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with many pets and people caught in the aftermath. During 2010 flooding, caused by both Hurricanes Irene and Sandy locally, an agency that was supposed to coordinate local volunteers deployed only 20 people out of 200 volunteers who initially signed up because others weren’t available.
This organization isn’t supported by state or federal agencies and sustainability isn’t looking good, said Dr. Marshal.
How you can be prepared?

*Have individual plan set up for yourself and family.
*Include preparations for your pet.
*Have all necessary supplies ready for use in case of an emergency.
*Going to a shelter should be the last resort for people.
*Never leave a pet behind.

As for planning, Marshal added:
*Leave the affected area and go stay with a friend or relative.
*Pet-friendly hotels will take care of animals in emergencies.
*Board your pets if they cannot come with you.
*Know the location of a municipal shelter.
*Have adequate supplies on hand that would last at least three days.
*Notify a buddy in case problems arise.
*Move before a storm, never during.
*Carry all identification for each family member, including proof of pet ownership and registration.

Dr. Marshal was followed by Rev. Murphy – a Unitarian Universalist minister active in emergency services and environmental justice work.  He has received awards from the Red Cross, the NAACP, and the national Sierra Club.  
Rev. Murphy, the minister for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth on Cape Cod, formerly served congregations on the storm-buffeted Outer Banks of North Carolina. A graduate of the Harvard Divinity School and the Boston University School of Public Health, Murphy shared storm stories from several states where he coordinated survival plans through the Red Cross.
“We are (sharing) proper storm planning for congregations,” said Rev. Murphy. “I am an ordained minister and (while serving) on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, we had six hurricanes in five years. I learned a lot about the peak of the Hurricane season.”
What do you do, Rev. Murphy asked, especially when you are isolated?
He spoke of forming Buddy groups, knowing where each member of your group lives and how to get to them to come together, before, during and after a storm. “It is a ‘we,’ not ‘me,’ mentality,” he added. “You have to know your neighbors. A congregation’s role is different. You must get people ready.”
The to-do list for congregations, Rev. Murphy said, was reflection, education, preparedness, planning, and – in the midst of tragedy – healing and thanking.
“About 10 percent of what you do is physical care and 90 percent is emotional care. That’s what you do,” said Rev. Murphy, with a lump in his throat, reflecting privately on what he had seen and experienced.
He told the Westminster congregation how two members of his Falmouth congregation had nearly froze to death during Winter Storm Nemo in February because they had been isolated. Luckily, with a plan in place, they were located on a map and rescued, as were all 250 members of his congregation.
Rev. Murphy told the group that F.E.M.A., the Federal Emergency Management Administration Agency, will be calling on volunteers in church congregations nationwide to be the next critical wave in planning and rescue during fierce storms. “I think we are going to be called upon in the near future for this,” he said.
Pastor John Wheeler, fellow guest speaker and full-time minister at Stony Lane Baptist Church in North Kingstown, then informed the group that they can go to the F.E.MA. Website online and download a Congregation IS-360 form which details this calling and related preparedness from the government to the churches.
The Congregation was then directed to a table full of literature spread out for them on Hurricane and storm preparedness.
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Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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