No single agency or program exists that can effectively address a community’s needs following a disaster, according to Mark Widner, city of Independence emergency preparedness manager.

No single agency or program exists that can effectively address a community’s needs following a disaster, according to Mark Widner, city of Independence emergency preparedness manager.

Instead, Widner said, the city of Independence and Jackson County are partnering with faith-based organizations in developing individual plans for responding to a variety of disasters, including floods, winter storms, tornadoes and fires. Along with Mike Curry, Jackson County director of emergency preparedness, Widner presented what comprises the faith-based initiative in Independence Monday night during the Independence City Council meeting.

The faith-based program aims to increase the number of trained and active volunteers in preparation for disasters and to develop advanced relationships that will be needed in times of disaster, Widner said. Regardless of denomination or belief, Curry said, faith-based organizations aim to provide assistance and a place of shelter to community members.

This program coordinates Red Cross shelter training, and each faith-based organization is asked to find 25 shelter volunteers. Five of these volunteers then will receive training to become a Red Cross shelter manager. Each organization receives a program catered to that congregation’s needs, Widner said, and the services of the city are available at no cost to faith-based groups.

“Faith-based organizations are the recovery in the community – they are,” Widner said. “They work to prepare, and they want to help. We’re going to help them and let them know how they can do that.”

Residents may visit www.readytohelp.org to learn more about the existing and future faith-based community partnerships with emergency management teams. Mayor Don Reimal said he wants to see more faith-based organizations get involved with the initiative.  

“The city needs to be blanketed with these organizations that are up and ready to go – if and when – we need them,” Reimal said.

Several months ago, Widner said, the state of Missouri said communities should aim to shelter 25 percent of its residents in a disaster.

“We’re going to take that challenge,” Widner said of Independence and Jackson County. “Every day, we add more shelter capacity. Tomorrow, we’re going to add more. You know what? We might not be at that 25 percent right now, but we’re eventually going to get there. Every day, we’re adding just a little bit more.”