Gallant’s program focuses on three steps: Preparedness, Response and Recovery. Over the past two years she has helped all 26 Catholic schools in the diocese and 18 parishes develop their own disaster plan.
“The goal is to provide an overview of the program and all of its components. I basically take the show on the road,” says Gallant, who likens her work with parishes and schools to a mentoring program. “ It’s got to be more than handing them a manual and saying ‘do it.’”
Gallant will make an initial visit to a parish or school site to make an assessment and then return at a later date to do an all-day training that includes instruction, basic medical triage and role playing exercises to prepare for everything from an earthquake to an armed intruder. Following the on-site training Gallant assists the parish or school in developing a formalized Emergency Operations Center activation plan that includes designated leadership roles and responsibilities assigned to key pastoral leadership.
Many parishes are blessed with volunteers who have a public safety background and have taken the lead in developing and implementing the plan, and giving follow-up trainings.
For Jim Brunetti, a retired firefighter involved in several ministries at St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Parish in Crestline, it was the training in how to deal with an armed intruder that was most eye-opening. Unbeknownst to his fellow trainees, Brunetti was selected to play the part of an armed intruder in a role playing exercise. He nailed the part, storming into the meeting room and firing a gun loaded with blanks.
“They thought, ‘Jim’s gone crazy,’ ” Brunetti recalls with a laugh. “But the whole point was that this kind of incident can happen in the work place, at the store, when you’re on vacation, at church…”
The training, which included staff and ministers from Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Arrowhead, also helped attendees learn to use a defibrillator, administer first aid and learn or update their CPR capability.
“It gives you confidence,” Brunetti says. “It renews some skills you have in yourself and it teaches you some new ones.”
In some cases, the disaster training has been expanded to include liturgical ministers and even those attending weekend Masses. Al Mozingo, the volunteer safety officer at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, provided training support and helped to develop the parish’s disaster prep manual, which Gallant calls the “green book.” He started with the basics – helping ministers know where the plan is kept, where the first aid kit and fire extinguisher are located. Many did not initially know, he said.
“Everybody needs to be trained to some degree,” says Mozingo, a longtime firefighter and homeland security instructor.
St. Francis Xavier Cabrini parish in Yucaipa has actually practiced evacuation of the church during weekend Masses on two occasions.
“It took nine minutes to get 900 people out. We thought that was pretty good,” said Joe Scarite, who participates in disaster preparedness ministry at the Yucaipa parish. “[The people] have a memory of what the fire alarm sounds like, which direction they should go. It made an impact.”
Gallant says she aims to pick up the pace of parish trainings with a goal of completing site visits in two-thirds of the parishes by the end of 2015. She has offered a synopsis of her program at vicariate meetings across the diocese and at a meeting of the Diocesan Vicars Forane last year in efforts to promote it. She said she hopes affirmative testimony of those parishes that have taken the training will increase the interest of those parishes that have, thus far, not pursued it. The idea that disaster preparedness is a responsibility of the faith community is a new focus for some, Gallant acknowledges. “For many of the priests, it’s not on their radar,” she says.
Gallant’s work has also forged connections with the broader community through her participation in the “Ark of Safety” program, which aims to create virtual disaster preparedness and emergency response network among faith-based organizations in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. State Senator Mike Morrell has provided government support for Ark of Safety and Southern California Edison has given a $5,000 grant to train parishioners in home preparedness and community emergency response.
Gallant plans to conduct the trainings this fall at Our Lady of Guadalupe, San Bernardino; St. Charles Borromeo, St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Francis Cabrini, Yucaipa and St. Bernardine parishes. Churches are uniquely qualified to play a key role in disaster response and recovery, Gallant says, with high levels of trust among their people and having ideal facilities for the American Red Cross Shelter in Place program.
“We have an asset that we should not underestimate,” she says. “The facilities – parking lots, full-service kitchens, large rooms where people can sleep; relief agencies can come in with food, clothing and medicine to dispense at these sites.
“With EOC training our diocese can be a true blessing in a time of need for those impacted by disaster.”