This is the seventh installment in a series of ten articles about the Discovery Channel Series The Colony [airing Tuesdays at 10PM ET/PT], which follows the lives of ten volunteers living in a simulated post-catastrophic environment.
In last night’s episode, the Colonists ran into missionaries on a trip to the L.A. River to replenish their water supply, and one member’s moral compass was shaken. At the beginning of the experiment he entered the Colony as a highly religious man, but his morals have changed during the volunteers’ fight for survival over the last seven weeks.
Most major religions and cultures postulate an “end time” or apocalypse in their view of the future of mankind. Christianity has Armageddon, Judaism “The End of Days” (aharit ha-yamim), Islam the Qiyamah (end of the world, or Last Judgment). The Mayans predicted the end of a 26,000-year cycle on 21 December 2012 – a date that some believe also will be the end of the world. But it should be remembered that some groups predicted that the end of the millennium in 2000 would also, rather conveniently, be the end of the world as well, so it is not surprising that many people might view a truly global disaster as a sign of the end and look back to their faith for answers and guidance.
When society faces issues of national or global significance, such as the Great Depression and World War II, or the current economic state of the United States (and most other countries of the world), or some other major disaster, many people turn to their religion for support. Others turn to community organizations for help.
Religious and community organizations are, in fact, so important during most times of disaster that President George W. Bush established the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (CFBCI). The Center’s primary mission is to enhance emergency preparedness, response, and recovery capabilities, without regard for religious denomination or political affiliation, and thereby help make the nation more secure.
In the aftermath of catastrophic weather disasters such as the California wildfires, the Midwest floods, and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, CFBCI partnered with other DHS and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) agencies, as well as state and local FBCOs (Faith-Based Community Organizations), to provide up-to-date information, respond to inquiries, and connect FBCO leaders with the appropriate government officials for support.
In addition, the Center has worked on creation of the National Response Framework to ensure that it would include FBCOs as full partners in emergency-preparedness and homeland-security programs.
Today, the strategic activities in which CFBCI is involved include but are not limited to:
- The development of policy and protocols for the engagement of faith-based and community organizations in departmental initiatives;
- The development and coordination of departmental outreach efforts to disseminate information more effectively to faith-based and other community organizations about programs, contracting opportunities, and other agency initiatives;
- Providing opportunities for unaffiliated faith-based and community organizations to formally engage in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery activities by building strategic relationships with voluntary organizations active in disasters, and with state and local emergency-management professionals; and
- The co-sponsoring of joint training efforts with DHS agencies – and other local, state, and federal agencies and organizations – to build the capacity of faith-based and community organizations to participate in DHS-related efforts.
President Obama not only continued the Bush initiative after taking office but actually expanded it – to include CFBCI, along with 11 additional federal agency offices/centers under the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships – by amending Executive Order 13199 on 5 February 2009. The Office’s now broader mission is to serve as a resource for non-profits and community organizations, both secular and faith-based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in communities, such as learning about legal obligations, cutting red tape, and making maximum use of what the federal government has to offer.
Emergency managers across the country have long utilized faith-based and community organizations to more effectively respond to disasters through the resources they can bring to bear and the targeted outreach and communications those organizations have with their own members. In short, the federal government has learned a valuable lesson from local communities and has worked with religious and community organization leaders from across the country, and at all levels of government, to make a difference in how disasters are planned for, responded to, and recovered from.
Adam Montella is vice president of homeland security and preparedness services for Previstar Inc. and a nationally known emergency-management and homeland-security professional with more than 23 years direct experience in both government and the private sector. He served as the first general manager of emergency management for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the period following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and has served in many other emergency-management positions at all levels of government. A former member of the House Operations Recovery Team of the U.S. House of Representatives and of numerous local, state, national, and international emergency management associations, he also is a well known public speaker in his chosen field and a former recipient of Harvard University’s prestigious Innovations in American Government Award.