Spirituality in Preparedness

I was trying to think about what to write as an opening paragraph and found myself struggling.  Should I try something funny or witty (some of you might say “that would be a first”) or should I find something going on in my personal life and share it with you (boring!).  So what the heck, let’s just jump in …

Years ago, when I first entered into the business continuity field, I took several classes through the Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRII) whom I later received my certification through.  In one of those early classes, I remember the instructor talking about the emotional and psychological effects that we experience as a result of being in a disaster.  And I remember him saying that while our employers would very much like to think the first thing we will be thinking about is workplace and operational recovery, in reality “work” is very low in our thoughts and priorities.  Once the “dust settles” and we pick ourselves up, we make sure we are OK.  Then, we check those immediately around us.  After that, we think about our families.  Somewhere in the hierarchy, our “faith” or our “spirituality” is very high – maybe like fourth or fifth in our priorities.  In reality, work is quite low.  And as I continued to grow in both my faith and as a business continuity professional, this idea of how important our faith is in a disaster has always stayed with me.

On February 2, 2012, I’ll be conducting a workshop on business continuity for places of worship.  The workshop is part of a day-long faith-based conference being conducted by the Heartland Center at Saint Louis University here in St. Louis.  I want to share some insight with you that I will also be sharing in the workshop that day.

The information that was shared back in the DRII course was later supported in a Caravan ORC poll that was conducted in October, 2001.  In that poll, they found that :

  • 59% of disaster victims preferred to receive support from a clergy or religious counselor compared to 45% seeking a physician and 40% seeking a mental health professional.

Furthermore, I found in a publication titled “Light Our Way – A Guide for Spiritual Care in Times of Disaster for Disaster Response Volunteers, First Responders, and Disaster Planners”, that statistics confirm:

  • 96% of Americans profess to believe in God
  • over 90% pray
  • nearly 70% are members of churches, synagogues or mosques, and
  • over 40% will have attended a house of worship in any given week.

Now, in most free countries of the world communities are quite diverse.  That diversity applies to our cultural beliefs as well as our faith or spiritual beliefs.  Wait a minute … faith? … spiritual?  Are they the same or are they different?

In the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, “faith” is defined as belief and trust in and loyalty to God, or belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion.  Having a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.  Complete trust.

Spirituality is a broader concept than religion or faith tradition.  Many people choose to adhere to a religion or faith tradition which provides a source of belonging, meaning, and identity.  Spirituality is broader because every person has a sense of spirituality, whether or not she is ‘religious’.  There may well be as many definitions of Spirituality as people on the globe, however there are some common elements including the struggle for meaning, and the relationship of the Human Spirit to transcendence and hope.  The bottom line is that our “spirituality” is a complex and intricately personal experience.

So, how do disasters affect our spirituality?  Quite simply, when we are faced with any loss, but especially sudden and profound loss such as in disaster, one’s sense of meaning and purpose—indeed everything one may have thought about how the world works—is turned upside down.  And, this sense of disruption can pervade an entire community.  As planners, we must consider these implications as we look to supporting our employees as well as asking our employees to support us.

Let me leave you with this story about the Maltese Cross


Often, when you see a firefighter in uniform, one of the patches on his/her sleeve is that of the Maltese Cross.  This history lesson shoes how religion/faith/spirituality played a role in emergency response.

When a courageous band of crusaders known as the Knights of St. John, fought the Saracens for possession of the holy land, they encountered a new weapon unknown to European warriors. It was a simple, but a horrible device of war; it wrought excruciating pain and agonizing death upon the brave fighters for the cross. The Saracen’s weapon was fire.

As the crusaders advanced on the walls of the city, they were struck by glass bombs containing naphtha. When they became saturated with the highly flammable liquid, the Saracens hurled a flaming torch into their midst. Hundreds of the knights were burned alive; others risked their lives to save their brothers-in-arms from dying painful, fiery deaths.

Thus, these men became our first firefighter and the first of a long list of courageous firefighters. Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow crusaders who awarded each here a badge of honor – a cross similar to the one firefighter’s wear today. Since the Knights of St. John lived for close to four centuries on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea named Malta, the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross.

The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection. It means that the firefighter who wears this cross is willing to lay down his life for you just as the crusaders sacrificed their lives for their fellow-man so many years ago. The Maltese Cross is a firefighter’s badge of honor, signifying that he works in courage – a ladder rung away from death.

UPDATED January 20, 2012 – I just ran across this Wall Street Journal article that touches on several things I’ve recently written about … business continuity (keeping the ski industry running), spirituality, and the Native American culture.  I hope you enjoy reading this article as much as I did.

Ski Resorts Call On Higher Authorities to Save Season After a Native American Ceremony, Vail Gets Blanketed; ‘Pray to Ullr’

Getting Prepared In a Year

Picking up where we left of on my first blog of the New Year, I’m including a series of simple actionable items each of us can perform to become better prepared for emergencies or disasters.  The following continues our second point on our Preparedness Roadmap!

When you are at the hardware store, pick-up the following items and add them to your preparedness kit:

  • Crescent wrench
  • Heavy rope
  • Duct tape
  • Two flashlights with batteries
  • “bungee” cords

Also, here’s a couple of things to do around the house:

  • Check your house for hazards (electrical, fire, water, chemical, etc) -if you aren’t sure what to do, drop a comment to this blog.
  • Locate your gas meter and water shut-offs and attach a crescent wrench near them (to shut-off the utilities in a disaster)

One Response to Spirituality in Preparedness

  1. knoblezunie says:

    Wow, thank you for sharing the story of the Maltese Cross, I had no idea, but am so grateful for the service of firefighters across the nation!

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