Pastor of disaster
The Wadena County Public Health Department recently created one more link in its effort to prepare for disaster response and recovery by adding a clergy representative to the county's Emergency Medical Services Joint Task Force.
Rev. Dan DeBlock, intentional interim pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, accepted the unpaid position last week. He is a retired military chaplain and said he is frequently asked to be a part of programs integrating religious communities with the government.
"I enjoy working with and helping the government and community to deal with critical situations," DeBlock said. "It's better to be prepared for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best."
Karen Nelson, public health director, said the state hired a Minneapolis faith-based initiative to maintain a communication list with the faith communities of Minnesota. The initiative will work with all of the faith communities whether they are Jewish or Buddhist, Protestant or Catholic, to get a coordinated plan about how they can best help the emergency response effort, she said. DeBlock will serve as a clergy representative for Wadena County and work toward developing communication among area churches, Nelson said. He will also be involved in emergency task force drills and evaluations of the drills.
The addition of a clergy member to the task force is another piece in the region's efforts to plan for the mental health aspects of a disaster, she said. Disaster-related mental health problems involve many circumstances including the death of a loved and the fear of dying yourself, she said, and churches play an important role in dealing with this issue.
"If we're stressed out who do we go to first?" Nelson asked. "Our pastor. If someone dies what's the first place we go to for comfort? Our church."
Nelson said after the disaster on Sept. 11, 2001, the county combined the emergency medical services, public health and emergency management planning and preparedness task forces into one. The task force includes 22 people representing hospitals, clinics, public health providers, law enforcement, first responders, ambulance services, coroners, veterinarians, pharmacists and county commissioners.
Prior to Sept. 11, most of the planning was for natural disasters and train wrecks, she said.
"Now with the advance of terrorism we had to plan for more biological and chemical and nuclear responses," Nelson said.
In addition to terrorism, Nelson said the issue of pandemic flu has taken a top priority. She said the United States has had three pandemic flus in the past 100 years with the worst one occurring in 1918.
"These things tend to be cyclical," she said referring to the pandemics. "We're about due for another one."
Nelson said churches can play an important role in coping with a pandemic by providing comfort for victims as well as volunteers to help deliver groceries and other essential items to community members who are either too ill or too scared to go out in public and get these items for themselves. The Center for Disease Control is warning that as much as 40 percent of the work force could be kept home due to illness and caring for family members who are ill, she said.