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Members of faith-based organizations (FBOs) are in a unique position to provide support and services to their local communities during disasters. Because of their close community ties and well-established trust, they can play an especially critical role in helping communities heal in the aftermath of a mass-fatality incident (MFI). Faith-based organizations are considered an important disaster resource and partner under the National Response Plan (NRP) and National Response Framework; however, their level of preparedness and response capabilities with respect to MFIs has never been evaluated. The purpose of this study was threefold: (1) to develop appropriate measures of preparedness for this sector; (2) to assess MFI preparedness among United States FBOs; and (3) to identify key factors associated with MFI preparedness.
New metrics for MFI preparedness, comprised of three domains (organizational capabilities, operational capabilities, and resource sharing partnerships), were developed and tested in a national convenience sample of FBO members.
Data were collected using an online anonymous survey that was distributed through two major, national faith-based associations and social media during a 6-week period in 2014. Descriptive, bivariate, and correlational analyses were conducted.
One hundred twenty-four respondents completed the online survey. More than one-half of the FBOs had responded to MFIs in the previous five years. Only 20% of respondents thought that roughly three-quarters of FBO clergy would be able to respond to MFIs, with or without hazardous contamination. A higher proportion (45%) thought that most FBO clergy would be willing to respond, but only 37% thought they would be willing if hazardous contamination was involved. Almost all respondents reported that their FBO was capable of providing emotional care and grief counseling in response to MFIs. Resource sharing partnerships were typically in place with other voluntary organizations (73%) and less likely with local death care sector organizations (27%) or Departments of Health (DOHs; 32%).
The study suggests improvements are needed in terms of staff training in general, and specifically, drills with planning partners are needed. Greater cooperation and inclusion of FBOs in national planning and training will likely benefit overall MFI preparedness in the US.