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After the November 2019 Parish Council meeting, St. Anthony The Great Orthodox Church signed an agreement with the IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities) to form a ministry which will work using the IOCC Homefront Preparedness Guidelines as our template, devoted to being better prepared for any natural disasters or other emergencies which might befall our St. Anthony community. In early January of 2020, prior to the Wuhan outbreak of the novel Coronavirus in Hubei Province, China (COVID-19) reaching America's consciousness, Fr. Anthony commissioned a new ministry team, the Disaster Prevention And Response Ministry (DPARM), also known a the Homefront Preparedness Ministry. There are a number of reasons why this is a Good Thing, as will be described in detail in the sections below.
For instance, we are situated on the Gulf Coast where hurricanes are common, and the greater Houston area is prone to flooding. Other risks that are more local and narrower in scope also exist such as house fires, burglaries, job loss, and sudden illness or injury. It will be this ministry's task to look at all of these risks, help to prevent the preventable ones, and mitigate as best as possible those which are unpreventable.
As Christians we are unquestionably called upon to help out brothers and sisters in Christ in times of need (Phil. 2:4). While this will be our initial priority, the long term goal is absolutely to extend this outward and also be a blessing to our greater community - to reach out as neighbors to our local community in times of their need (Luke 10:25-37). As the IOCC Guidelines state it, we will join in IOCC’s vision to “respond, without discrimination, to those who are suffering and in need, to enable them to continue to improve their own lives and communities and to have means to live with dignity, respect, and hope.”
This is an umbrella team, and will be composed of smaller teams devoted to such areas as Safety & Security, Property & Equipment, Supplies, Pastoral Care, First Aid, Response & Recovery, and Logistics.
Preparedness: Everyone's Responsibility
The St. Anthony Disaster Prevention And Response Ministry is tasked with helping our community become better able to avoid and minimize impacts from numerous potential threats. This will be accomplished through actions we will undertake corporately as a Church community, but also with actions you can undertake as individual families. Education is a key part of our Parish endeavor, and includes increasing everyone's awareness that this is something we all need to be doing within our own households. This ministry will have as one of many goals gathering emergency foods and supplies in our Community Center, but our community benefits most when all families are actively taking these same steps in their own homes as well. In this way, each of us can, as a purposeful Orthodox family, not only better care for ourselves and our Parish but also become a blessing to our neighbors, to the unknown injured man on the side of the road who bears the image of Christ. An injured man does not care nearly as much that your theology is logically superior, as that you can stop his bleeding. Stop his bleeding first, and he might perhaps then listen to your theology (James 2:14-17).
It is important that we as Orthodox Christians do not personally approach emergencies and disasters (or any hardship or challenge of life) with a spirit of timidity or fear, but instead with power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7). So... no knee-hugging for us Orthodox, but caring, concerned and serene service to others - just like Christ and His Apostles taught us. This is not "bullets and bunkers" doomsday prepping, but rather a rational acknowledgement that smooth operations of supply chains can be compromised, and making provision for our family against that realistic potential. We certainly want to "look out for our own" and be able to provide some relief for our own parishioners, but remember that the ultimate vision we share with the IOCC is to reach out to everyone. The more of our own parishioners we have to care for, the fewer resources we will have for the injured strangers. We therefore ask all of our fellow parishioners to do what they can to first prepare for their families, and secondly to assist us in funding the larger effort of helping others.
Some might question this - after all, Christ told the parable of the "Rich Fool" (Luke 12:16-21) who was "prepared" with filled grain silos. Did Christ not criticize him for that? Please understand that Christ never spoke against having silos filled with grain, but rather with placing all our trust in such things as filled grain silos - or the modern equivalent of well balanced 401(k) and stock portfolios - rather than on placing all our trust in God's lovingkindness and provision. Having filled silos is not the sin - rather, we "miss the mark" not because we have our own provisions, but when we trust in our own provisions, rather than trusting in God's provisions. It is not the provisions, but correct understanding of who the source of the provisions is, which is important. A farmer prays and trusts in God's provision of rain and sun, but he still plants seed, reaps the field, and stores the harvest to feed his family and plant next year's crop.
What Can Each Family Do?
First and foremost, do what St. John Cassian and St. Benedict of Nursia taught the ascetics under their watch: pray and work. Like the farmer planting wheat, pray to and trust in God, and do those things which need to be done.
There is a saying in business continuity planning: "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." We have home insurance, car insurance, health insurance... What if there was a grocery store insurance that buffered us from shortages? Think about it - a week after COVID-19 is declared a global pandemic by the WHO, toilet paper, paper towels and many staples like milk and eggs were practically impossible to find. How many people in America were purposefully prepared for a TP shortage? If COVID is a "black swan" event, toilet paper was one of her black cygnets. The vast majority of Americans were underprepared. (Watch this FEMA video by Dr. Kunreuther on why people underprepare).
Fortunately, preparing for any given disaster will typically prepare you for most all disasters (which is why this section is presented first). There are many practical things which each family can do to better prepare themselves for the uncertainty following disasters. Previously, the Red Cross used to recommend having only a 3 day's minimum supply of extra food and water per person available; today they and many other organizations have thankfully increased that recommendation to a minimum of 14 days of food, water & supplies for each person AND ANIMAL (your pets need to eat and drink too!) Remember also that 14 days is the MINIMUM recommended. If you do decide to heed these recommendations (even if only at the 3 or 7 day levels), you don't need to buy all this at once. When you go shopping, simply pick up a little extra, and get the larger sizes. Building your supply gradually and purposefully does not wreck your food budget and doesn't lead to empty grocers shelves.
So - assuming you follow this advice from the experts in emergency management, where does one start? Based on multiple federal and state as well as many different non-governmental organizations and individual experts recommendations, consider the following supplies which have medium to long-term shelf life and (unless noted) don't require electricity which can be lost after hurricanes, storms, long unemployment, etc. Obviously, only choose the foods your family likes and will eat, and rotate your stock, eating the older inventory and buying fresh replacements. (Perhaps try to widen your family's palates and introduce new things on the list.) Coming up with a 3 meal-a-day menu for 14 days, repeating favorites if necessary (ex: rotating between hot and cold cereals for breakfast), can help in deciding what to purchase; choose a wide variety of foods to avoid boredom. Granted this may at first sound a little "over the top", but for food and similar necessities in an emergency, it is far better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Some specific suggestions are:
- Frozen foods & juices if electricity loss isn't an immediate threat (ex: the COVID-19 environment)
- Consider obtaining a generator, even a small portable one, capable of keeping at least your refrigerator running during emergencies like hurricanes - and don't forget fuel!
- You can freeze milk & butter, a good way to have a larger supply on hand (still rotate - frozen to fridge, fresh to freezer).
- Canned fruits, vegetables, beans, sauces, soups and meats
- Staples: Flour, salt, sugar, dry yeast, cocoa powder, corn meal, baking soda & powder, powdered milk*, baking mixes, herbs and condiments
- Breads & cakes are surprisingly simple to make from scratch, good recipes are available online
- *Powdered milk should be left to sit refrigerated or iced for 12 hrs before drinking for best taste. Some good brands exist, and all can be used in baking.
- Hot cereals such as oatmeal, grits, and Malt-o-Meal - instant packets are both more convenient and more expensive
- Cold cereals, especially those which are also palatable dry (consumed without milk as a snack)
- Granola bars (the dry kind which don't have components which can melt or go rancid)
- Dried fruits such as raisins, apricots, prunes, etc. as well as fruit leathers
- Healthy oils (olive, C8 MCT) and shelf-stable clarified butter (ghee)
- Fresh pumpkins and hard-shelled winter squash (some store for a year or more depending on type)
- (Add brown sugar and nutmeg for a desert; add salt, sage, rosemary, thyme &/or garlic for an entree)
- Dry pastas and noodles of all types (to go with the canned tomato & creamy sauces)
- Dry beans, nuts, rice, seeds and grains
- Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods (often available in 1 gal. #10 cans)
- Baby food & supplies such as diapers, ointments, etc.
- Pet food & supplies
- Vitamin and mineral supplements - to insure good nutrition is maintained
- Non-food supplies:
- Cleaning and hygiene products - paper towels, TP, feminine hygiene products, laundry, dish and bath soap, bleach, band-aids, antibiotic ointment, etc.
- Both over-the-counter and prescription medicines - have an extra month's supply if possible
Water will generally be available when food may be scarce, but there are times such as after hurricanes when the pumps that push water into water towers have no electricity, and the cistern quickly runs dry. Prior to hurricanes when pumps are still working, it is wise to store water in your home - in any and every vessel which holds water - if they don't have covers use foil or plastic food wrap to keep out dust. Products such as the WaterBob allow your bathtub to hold a supply of drinkable water so you can siphon what you need. Bathtub liners are also available on Amazon. These of course assume you have a spare tub which can be used for water storage. A 55 gal. water barrel (another option) will store enough water for 4 people for 14 days. Storing water in the dark prevents algae growth.
Beyond storing a minimum of 14 days of food, water and other necessities, there are a number of other steps you can take:
- Install the FEMA app on your iPhone or Android phone.
- Bookmark other important websites such as NOAA, CDC's COVID-19 site, etc. and follow their advice
- Maintain situational awareness of your surroundings and prevailing conditions.
- Have a battery operated flashlights and a NOAA radio, preferably with a built-in hand-crank generator - and spare batteries.
- Have all your most valuable papers in a safety deposit box, and copies in a sealed ziplock bag ready to evacuate with.
- Along with the 14 day supply of food, have 3 days of food & supplies per person & pet in a plastic storage tub ready for grab-and-go evacuations.
- Unless you have a very secure gun safe, pack all your non-carried firearms in the far back of your trunk if evacuating to prevent their theft while you're gone.
- Deluxe family first-aid kit
Numerous other outstanding suggestions for a grab-and-go box* can be found at The Red Cross. *If you plan on taking a lot of canned food, water, and other heavy items, for your box consider getting an ice chest with heavy duty wheels and strong handles on either side. This can make loading and unloading to a car trunk much easier, and you have an insulated ice chest if you can find ice.
No matter what the emergency is, you will need food and basic necessities. Each emergency scenario also presents it's own unique issues, which will somewhat alter the specifics of those needs. These are discussed in more detail in the sections below.
Most Likely Scenarios
Perhaps instead of calling them "most likely" we should call them "least unlikely" scenarios. Thanks be to God, disasters are rare and tend to be spread out over time. None of these events outlined below are statistically likely to occur; and yet, they do in fact occasionally occur, you can bank on it. Many besides the ones listed below are possible, but the Disaster Prevention And Response Ministry feels these represent a few of the "least unlikely" ones.
Many resources exist for information on being prepared for both natural and man-made disasters. A few of the best for broad-ranging sites for information on preparedness specific to Texas (ex: earthquakes are not an issue here) are linked below:
Even though epidemics are not the most common of risks, it makes sense to start here given recent events. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel COronaVIrus Disease recognized in 2019 (COVID-19) to be a global pandemic. Not too many years before that, the N1H1 (Swine) Flu, MERS, SARS and Ebola viruses were being fought off, and the list grows quickly as you look farther back in recent history; COVID-19 is simply the most recent, and (baring Christ's imminent return) will most likely not be the last. Each new virus or bacteria strain we face is different, but most have similar ways of spreading, and thus there are similar ways of reducing our risk, such as thorough hand washing, increasing the physical distances between others in social engagements, avoiding unnecessary meetings & social get-togethers, not touching the communion spoon with your lips, etc. With the Antiochian Archdiocese recommending only clergy and chanters be at Divine Liturgy and parishioners participating through live-streaming feeds, the Church is taking all possible precautions to stop the spread of COVID; we as Antiochian Orthodox should apply this same level of precaution to other aspects of our lives as well.
We strongly discourage panicking or approaching the situation with fear and dread (remembering again 2 Tim 1:7), but we also advise taking reasonable and logical precautions to minimize possible spread of the disease. Certainly think of what you can do to prevent contracting the disease. But also plan your actions as if you already unknowingly have it - always act in a way that you reduce all chances of spreading an unknown contagion to others.
Perhaps the best American resource for up-to-date information is the Center for Disease Control's COVID-19 webpage, and we encourage you to visit it often for the latest information and advice on prevention and mitigation.
Other worthwhile links to the Coronavirus pandemic:
As the COVID-19 Panic of 2020 can attest, our economy can go from a time of unprecedented high employment, prosperity and financial markets to times of deep uncertainty. Certainly doing everything you can to be valuable to your employer is of utmost importance, not just to remain employed but to honor God ("Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve." - Col. 3:22-24)
This of course will not guarantee employment. Not only a bad economy, but also illness or injury, can cause conditions which threaten our normal income. Setting money aside every month is not always easy - not nearly as easy as it is to get caught up in society's lies - that you need a bigger house, a newer car, a more exotic vacation, or frequent dining out on plates overloaded with rich and delicious foods. Think of the ascetics we Orthodox venerate - these are all things they purposefully eschewed. These Saints understood that none of these are bad things in themselves, but we can make them personal idols that separate us from that which is more important and needful. If they are the reason you live paycheck-to-paycheck, consider downgrading your lifestyle just a little. Along with giving tithes and offerings to Church (Mal. 3:10), also put 10% of you net income, or whatever amount is achievable, into a short term savings account (Prov. 21:20). We don't have to move to a desert cave and wear animal skins to practice a little asceticism in our lives. Should hard times befall you, you will be better prepared to weather the storm. Should hard times befall your brother, you will be better prepared to help them (Acts 2:42-47).
Hurricane and Flooding Preparedness
Spring Texas, the greater Houston area, and our entire Gulf Coast region are very prone to having seasonal hurricanes make landfall every few years, especially through the months of June through November. For those new to our area, welcome to the Gulf Coast! Hurricanes may be something you have never experienced and may sound like nothing more than a bad storm, but lifelong residents will quickly attest to their incredible destructiveness and ability to forever alter lives. Hurricanes are also responsible for the majority of tornadoes experienced in the region, as they are often spun off of the hurricane as it passes through and churns the surrounding atmosphere. Many escape the worst of the hurricane only to have their homes damaged by a residual tornado.
These kind of regional disasters can create not only massive destruction to individual's homes, lives and livelihoods, but can dramatically disrupt community infrastructure and economy. Hurricane Ike created some outages of electricity and water for some St. Anthony parishioners that lasted two weeks, along with accompanying disruptions to grocery and gas station supply chains. Secondary dangers such as carbon monoxide poisoning from poorly placed gasoline generators, or tetanus infections from metal cuts suffered while cleaning up debris, are also issues which health care workers deal with after a hurricane. Common sense precautions such as purchasing extra emergency food and supplies BEFORE hurricane season is upon us and being up to date on your vaccinations can make natural disasters less stressful and dangerous. If a hurricane is coming, set refrigerators and freezers to their coldest settings (taking care not to freeze refrigerator produce drawers). After the hurricane, if you still have electricity, return temps to normal. If you loose electricity your food will be frozen more solid and will last longer, just remember to keep doors shut. This can extend "grid-down" refrigeration up to a few days.
We typically have forewarning about hurricanes, and the simplest protective measure is to board up your windows and evacuate (with all your animals!). Just before Hurricane Katrina, people evacuating to Dallas found I-45 to be at a gridlocked standstill. Many people ran out of gas and suffered sweltering heat, with nowhere to go. From this it is advisable to keep your vehicles gas tank filled and have extra gas in gas cans if your trip would suggest it. Have multiple evacuation routes planned, and remember that every thoroughfare, from a superhighway down to a residential road, is a potential evacuation route. Evacuating to a small town is preferable than being stuck on a major highway. Leaving at off hours can also help insure a safe evacuation.
There are a wealth of resources on Texas and Gulf State hurricane preparedness. Some of the many are: