“Churches often help their communities during natural disaster response, it is part of their nature. As a result, it is important for congregations and communities to understand the extent of congregational disaster preparedness and to map congregational connections to the informal and formal disaster response networks active in their communities. ”
Communities and governments across North America partner with peoples of faith during times of crisis. Yet, how prepared are individual congregations for disaster response and what could churches learn from each other about disaster preparedness? Answers are sought across two lines of inquiry. First, at an organizational level, how have congregations planned for disasters which may impact them directly? Second, situating individual congregations in their communities, how connected are congregations to formal and informal disaster response networks and in what ways?
Faith-based organizations and local congregations play a key role in the disaster response and recovery cycle (Singer 2017, see also De Vita et al. 2008). Churches may help to coordinate volunteers, provide space for shelters and staging sites, and assist with recovery and case work activities. Yet, congregations are hesitant to enter into formalized relationships with government (Monsma 2004; Cnaan 2002) and they frequently bypass official efforts during disaster preparedness and response efforts (Murphy and Pudlo 2017). While congregations are willing partners in disaster response, they fall outside traditional emergency management practices and networks (Nolte and Boenigk 2013; Robinson et al. 2013). It is unclear the amount of planning congregations put into their disaster response preparation or if they join with other disaster response networks to practice or execute their plans.
This project measures congregational disaster preparedness at the organizational and networked levels through a mixed method research design. The two-part study consists of an elite-level survey of congregational leaders followed by semi-structured interviews (Creswell 2014). Statistical analysis of survey data is paired with qualitative analysis of interviews to create a baseline of understanding about congregational preparedness and to map the formal and informal networks used by churches for disaster response.