Church of Latter Day Saints Sets Example for Disaster Preparedness

Bob Ottenhoff
Robert G. Ottenhoff, President & CEO

Third in a series about the value of preparation

For most of us, making plans and being prepared for natural disasters is something we acknowledge as important – and something we plan to act on. Eventually. When we have the time. Or when we get around to it. It might even be on our list of things to do. For a few of us, we might even have preparedness plans, but they were made many years ago they are probably collecting dust somewhere on a shelf.

For years, I’ve been hearing about the legendary steps members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) take to prepare its members for natural disasters. So when business travel brought me to Salt Lake City, Utah earlier this year, I took the opportunity to meet with Lynn Samuels, Director of Humanitarian Emergency Response for LDS, who oversees a budget of about $100 million for humanitarian relief—and Darin Lowder of LDS Donor Services, to learn more about what the Church does.

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I was fascinated by some of the LDS preparedness tenets:

Personal Preparation and self-reliance.  The Mormon religion teaches its members to be prepared for adversity and to be as self-reliant as possible in times of personal or widespread emergency.

According to the LDS web site, Church members are encouraged to prepare a simple emergency plan for their family that includes:

  • Three-month supply of food that is part of your normal daily diet
  • Drinking water
  • Financial reserves
  • Longer-term supply of basic food items
  • Medication and first aid supplies
  • Clothing and bedding
  • Important documents
  • Ways to communicate with family following a disaster

Preparing the Church Community. Churches and communities of churches (Stake and wards in Mormon parlance) are urged to develop a plan with local community civic leaders that looks ahead by:

Step 1: Identifying natural disasters most likely to occur in your area and identify specific response actions that would be needed.

Step 2: Gathering critical information, including data for all members, maps, special needs, and list of member equipment and skills, and public safety agencies.

Step 3: Outlining Assignments and Procedures for church members and methods for communication.

Volunteerism.  Another key component of the Mormon faith is volunteerism and self-reliance. Volunteerism is not a “nice” thing to do that only some participate in if so motivated; instead, it’s considered part of the core of LDS faith. Volunteers — not professional employees — conduct most church duties.  Likewise, volunteering during natural disasters is something that is expected of all church members.

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Vertical Integration of Humanitarian Activities. During my visit to Salt Lake City, I took a tour of several LDS facilities.  What I found was a fascinating example of public service vertical integration. Like many faith-based organizations, the LDS accepts donations of clothing and other materials. Most of these are sent to overseas sites or used to support disaster relief.  Some are made available in LDS domestic stores (similar to the Salvation Army or Goodwill stores). Materials that aren’t used by the LDS are sold for a variety of uses.

The LDS church also operates a vast network of food production. Some of this material is made available to church members at no charge in its Welfare Square Stores. Other foods are boxed and distributed to disaster sites and distributed by Mormon volunteers or made available to other nonprofit organizations. Almost all of these foodstuffs are produced on farms, ranches or orchards owned by the LDS Church. It’s a remarkable far-flung enterprise, all designed to help those in need and at the same time encourage self-reliance and helping each individual’s self-recovery.

One of the first things you notice when you visit a disaster site is the proliferation of faith-based organizations providing generous service to those in need through their volunteer networks. In that respect, the LDS church is only one of many admirable organizations. However, the Church’s commitment to not only volunteerism, but also to planning and preparation before disasters, results in a very systematic model worth studying.  The LDS offers some very good plans for disaster preparation that anyone can use.  For more information on the LDS steps for planning and preparation you can learn more at the LDS website:  LDS.org.

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