USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Faithful Action: Working with Religious Groups in Disaster Planning, Response and Recovery

Faithful Action: Working with Religious Groups in Disaster Planning, Response and Recovery

Executive Summary
Faith-based organizations provide services before, during, and after disasters. Studies of catastrophes—from 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina to local wildfires—describe the important role of the faith community as a source of physical, social, and spiritual care. The role of congregations and FBOs has not been regarded as a significant part of disaster preparedness, response and recovery plans by public agencies, outside of the work done by some VOADs (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster). This report details the need for increased involvement of the faith community, a discussion of barriers that both public agencies and faith groups face as they attempt to work together, and the benefits of bringing public agencies and faith communities together to address important social needs, in particular for this report, to be strategic partners with emergency managers and public health emergency agencies in building and sustaining disaster resilient communities in California. This partnership must encompass all phases of the disaster lifecycle: mitigation education, preparedness training/planning, as well as short and long-term recovery. Intermediary organizations could also play a role in enhancing the ability of faith groups of all kinds to participate with public agencies.

In order to facilitate the process of mutual learning between public agencies and faith communities, this report outlines a method of identifying the most likely candidates that could be successfully included in such a partnership. The report details four tiers of faith communities, based on their resources, capacity, and capability to engage publicly on issues like disaster preparedness and response.

Finally, the report provides several recommendations for public agencies generally, and Cal EMA in particular, as they seek to competently engage with faith communities in their disaster efforts. The following bullet points summarize the recommendations.

Strengthen Existing and Enable Emergent Networks
Create and/or enable strong, well-organized, self-governed and sustainable intermediary organizations to act as a bridge between government offices, and judicatory bodies, FBOs and congregations

Build Knowledge Within Public Agencies

  • Create faith-based liaisons for each county
  • Establishing a statewide faith-based steering committee
  • Harness the network of faith-based liaisons within each government agency
  • Create a manual for those working with faith communities
  • Create and implement religious competency training programs and materials
  • Create a more formal training regimen focused on the faith-based landscape for each area of operation

Assist and partner with Faith Groups

  • Reduce building code and other legal barriers
  • Link congregations to other community disaster infrastructure
  • Use congregations as liaisons to special needs and at-risk populations
  • Educate faith communities and their congregations about existing programs
  • Capitalize on key opportunities to educate using congregations as information depots

Download the PDF of the report


Brie Loskota is the former executive director (2016-2021) of the USC Center for Religion and Civil Culture.

Hebah Farrag was the assistant director of research of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture through 2023.

Richard Flory is the executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.