On January 25, 2019, a mining dam in Brumadinho, Brazil collapsed. As the dam burst, an avalanche of mud and sludge covered and destroyed homes, killing over 134 people. This disaster has left the community devastated with lost homes, lost lives, lost loved ones, lost livelihoods, injuries, and more. This disaster is duel in nature, as it is both a natural and man-made disaster in one. Investigations show that the mining company, Vale, is criminally responsible for the collapse of the dam and the resulting deaths and injuries.
Due to the fact that this disaster took place in Brazil, I will assume for the purposes of this study, that I am a part of a local church in Brumadinho, Brazil, or a nearby area.
Stages of Disaster Response
Koenig (2006) lays out three stages of disaster that faith communities should be prepared to help out in. These are the rescue/emergency phase, relief phase, and the recovery phase. He also discusses the importance of planning and preparation before disaster strikes, which I am including as the pre-disaster phase (Koenig, 2006).
This time of preparation is vital, ensuring that we can be effective in serving our community during a disaster. Before a disaster strikes, our church needs to do the work of creating a disaster plan, setting up an Incident Command System (ICS), preparing our facilities, gathering supplies, training our members and leaders in spiritual first aid and other skills, and assessing our recourses in the church (Koenig, 2006). The church should identify those who are trained in first aid, CPR, and other vital skills that are needed in disaster response. We should have a clear line of command set up, and have an emergency contact list in place. We should also use this time to build relationships with local police, firefighters, first responders, hospitals, and other disaster relief organizations in the community. We should also be networking with other churches in the area so that we can begin to work together (Koenig, 2006).
Following the collapse of this dam, our church’s disaster plan and protocols should be activated, while remaining flexible to the needs of the community and the evolving situation. The church staff and members should be contacted through the emergency list to assess any immediate needs or any people who may be unaccounted for (Koenig, 2006). During this emergency phase, the incident commander needs to give each section officer authority to begin to fulfill their roles. Our church should reach out to the local International Red Cross team, hospitals, and other disaster relief organizations on the scene, to offer assistance, pastoral services, and the church as a temporary shelter (Koenig, 2006). During this phase, some of our church members may be involved with rescuing family, friends, and neighbors from the sea of mud, and getting them to safety. This is a time where we may see some heroic acts taking place.
As people come to the church for safety, trained church volunteers can begin to meet victims’ basic needs for food, medical care, and shelter. Our responders can be present with survivors and offer spiritual first aid. Some common reactions to the disaster that we may encounter during this phase are rapid shallow breathing, chills, increased pulse and heart rate, sweating, fatigue, dizziness, fear, panic, anger, guilt, numbness, depression, and shock just to name a few (Roberts & Ashley, 2017). Pastors and other trained volunteers from our church can assist survivors in their grieving process and promote resiliency through normalizing the victim’s reaction to the disaster (Roberts & Ashley, 2017). One of our most important roles is simply listening well. We should offer immediate opportunities for spiritual expression such as through a special prayer service (Roberts & Ashley, 2017).
During the relief phase, our church through the ICS should be helping its own members with repairs and cleanup from the disaster. We will also be in contact with the FBOs and disaster organizations on the scene to offer help and work together. Our church should organize volunteers to go out and serve at shelters, hospitals, and on clean up/recovery crews. We should plan prayer vigils and other memorial services for the community. This is a time when our church can be present with survivors and those still hoping a loved one is found. As time passes and reality sinks in that their loved ones will not be found, people realize their lives will never be the same. Our church has the opportunity to listen and share the same comfort and compassion that we have received from Jesus (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
As the news gets out that the company, Vale, is responsible for this dam collapsing, people may need to process their anger over their loss due to the negligence of this company. In addition to that, disillusionment sets in as people realize their finances are dwindling and their insurance is not adequate to cover everything. Our church can also take up a special offering to assist those in need, and also help victims apply for government aid and housing. This is a difficult time where people grow weary and may begin to question their faith, and abuse substances. We can offer people a safe space to share their stories and feelings. Roberts & Ashley (2016, pg. 30) say that the church has “an essential healing role during this period.”
In the recovery phase, our church can offer spiritual and emotional care; yet know when to make a referral to a professional. This is also an opportunity to encourage and teach healthy coping skills and self care skills to both the congregation and those in the community. Next, our church leaders need to meet together with other local leaders to form a long-term recovery plan, which includes rebuilding the community physically, mentally, and spiritually. We should offer spiritual care and support groups that build community resilience. We can also encourage our skilled carpenter and architect members to be involved with rebuilding homes and businesses.
Incident Command System
ICS is a standardized approach to emergency response that is broken down into five areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance (Wang, Ma, Henson, & Laranaga, 2012). Wang et al. (2012) explain how a timely response to disaster is critical in decreasing potential damage to people, the environment, and property. Having an ICS makes that possible. The ICS consists of an incident commander, command staff, and general staff of the four sections. It is critical to have an incident commander despite the size or nature of the disaster, so that a clear chain of command exists. The incident commander also has the ability to assign additional personnel to each section, so that the ICS can be more effective. ICS is important as it allows different organizations to work together safely and effectively (Wang et al., 2012).
In response to the disaster in this study, it is vital that our church already have an ICS in place. We would have already named the incident commander, the command staff, and the section leaders. Our church’s incident commander will add staff to each section as needed. Wang et al. (2012) contend that assigning the right person to the right section of ICS increases the probability of effective response. In addition, all parts of the ICS must know their individual roles and responsibilities. With an ICS in place, our church will be more prepared to respond.
Interventions and Assessments
It is important to choose interventions that focus on building individual resiliency and community resiliency. Pfefferbaum, Pfefferbaum, & Van Horn (2015, pg. 241) define resiliency as “an attribute, a process or an outcome associated with successful adaption to, and recovery from adversity.” In the face of disaster, the goal of interventions should be resiliency.
After comparing six different interventions that enhanced community resiliency, Pfefferbaum et al. (2015) compiled a list of core principles for interventions that build resiliency. These interventions emphasize the uniqueness of different communities and their local culture and make up. Pfefferbaum et al. (2015) explain how these interventions help each community analyze their situation and develop goals, objectives, and actions. The first principle is having a multihazard approach, which really depends on the local context (Pfefferbaum et al., 2015). Next, it is important to have community assessment. This is a risk assessment that looks at the community’s unique threats and vulnerabilities (Pfefferbaum et al., 2015). The next core principle in intervention is community involvement. Pfefferbaum et al. (2015) say that participation should reflect the make-up of each local community, representing both majority and minority groups. Intervention should focus on the uniqueness of communities, and thereby rely heavily on local input in building community resilience (Pfefferbaum et al., 2015). The next core principles are adhering to bioethical principles and focusing on both assets and needs. This involves helping people identify and develop their strengths, capabilities and skills (Pfefferbaum et al., 2015). It is also important to build reliance on services from within the community as much as possible, instead of becoming dependent on outside resources (Pfefferbaum et al., 2015). The last core principle listed is nurturing local skill development such as leadership, team building, communication, and risk management (Pfefferbaum et al., 2015).
As our church seeks to be a part of the intervention process after this disaster, we can offer a safe space for people to come to discuss their experiences. We can offer support groups and counseling that seek to build resiliency. Roberts & Ashley (2017) say another intervention that the church can be a part of is educating people through the sermons. The worship and sermons can be a source of healing and offer hope in the midst of tragedy. Our church can serve as a triage center as we meet with people in need and connect them with professional help.
Assessment is an important part of the recovery process as it helps us to see if we are being effective and evaluate if we are helping people move forward. This is a tool that can help us evaluate the care we are giving after a disaster (Roberts & Ashley, 2017). We also use assessment in trying to evaluate the specific needs that a community has after a disaster. We assess people’s strengths, weaknesses, and abilities to cope. As we meet with survivors, an important part of the assessment process is being curious and asking appropriate questions (Roberts & Ashley, 2017). Finally, assessment helps us reflect on our goals and measure whether or not we achieved them. We should remain flexible in our disaster response and make adjustments to our plan as we assess the changing needs and the effectiveness of our care.
In response to this huge disaster, our church recognizes our need to work together with other organizations, churches and the local community. We can best aid the recovery process when we work with others and develop relationships within the community (Roberts & Ashley, 2017). Taking into account that this disaster occurred in Brazil, there are many organizations that work internationally that we could contact for help and support and work alongside. The International Red Cross has local branches in many countries that are trained to address both immediate and long-term needs. Our church can get in touch with our local branch to work together. Some other international organizations that we could collaborate with are Direct Relief International, REACT International, All Hands, International Aid, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Shelter Box, Medical Teams International, Samaritans Purse, and Operation Blessing.
Culture should be taken into consideration during disaster response, recovery, and in prevention of further events (Maldonado, 2016). Maldonado (2016) explains that culture includes ones’ heritage, oral traditions, customs, practices rituals, beliefs, and worldviews. It is the framework through which we view the world and all our experiences. Therefore, it is important for our church to understand and respect the Brazilian culture when responding to their needs, so that we do not do further harm. As we help survivors from outside our church, we must also be sensitive to their cultural and spiritual beliefs and needs. We should be inclusive and respectful to all people of all religious backgrounds (Roberts & Ashley, 2017). This is not the time for us to be proselytizing or judging others.
It is also important to truly consider the culture when building a recovery plan. There are certain cultural variables that bring people together, whereas, other variables separate people (Maldonado, 2016). Therefore, it is important to involve the locals in this planning process, as they have the expertise of having lived in that area and cultural context for years. Otherwise, recovery programs may be created that work on paper, but not in practice in that local context (Maldonado, 2016). The locals should be seen as equals in the recovery planning and be given veto power (Maldonado, 2016). Reconstruction must be a culturally sensitive process.
The purpose. It is vital that the crisis response team and spiritual care givers be practicing good self-care, so that they don’t end up becoming secondarily victimized. When building a disaster response team and training your church, principles of self-care should be taught. It is important to make sure that all clergy and responders are prioritizing self-care throughout every stage of disaster response. If they don’t, they will burn out and suffer from compassion fatigue. We should encourage the entire church and community to take responsibility for self-care and maintaining resiliency throughout the long haul.
The practice. Some effective self-care practices are exercising, resting, eating well, and doing something you enjoy (Roberts & Ashley, 2017). As responders, it is vital that we have a safe place to talk about our feelings, and what we are experiencing. Debriefing with our team each day during disaster response is vital to our own health. Another aspect of self-care is teaching stress management techniques such as deep breathing, relaxation, meditation, creative expression, and time management (Roberts & Ashley, 2017). Listening to music, being creative, reading, and journaling can also be helpful. Overall, self-care is important and should be a part of our “vocational tool kit” (Roberts & Ashley, 2017, pg. 259).
Spiritual Care and Follow-Up
Entwistle and Moroney (2018) explain that disasters are a natural part of living in a broken world. The church has a vital role in meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of those who are affected by disaster. In fact, Christians have an obligation to help in the wake of a disaster (Entwistle & Moroney, 2018). God taking on flesh and entering humanity’s suffering should serve as an example of how Christians should humbly enter into the suffering of others.
In the wake of this dam collapse, our church should offer spiritual care to its members and anyone in the community at large. It is important for the spiritual caregivers to remain humble, and guard against the idea that they know why others are suffering (Entwistle & Moroney, 2018). Entwistle and Moroney (2018) also suggest that organized prayer can be an affective coping strategy. Our church should offer prayer vigils in a culturally appropriate manner, taking survivors’ religious backgrounds into consideration. We should also offer regular worship services, and sermons can focus on healing, loss, and forgiveness. Due to the dual nature of this disaster being caused by the negligence of men, people may need to learn how to process their anger and come to a place of forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32) amidst their grief.
Another spiritual response is sitting with those who suffer (ministry of presence) and bearing their burdens (Galatians 6:2). Sometimes our presence and listening are the best gifts we can offer. Studies show how social support is directly linked with resilience after disaster (Entwistle & Moroney, 2018). Furthermore, our religious social structures can buffer against mental and physical health problems, so it is vital that our church tend to the most basic needs (food, shelter, safety, comfort, and belonging) of those who suffer (Entwistle & Moroney, 2018). Meeting these basic needs can simultaneously meet one’s spiritual and emotional needs.
It is also important for our church to follow-up with people that have been affected by this disaster. We need to schedule follow-up visits with those who needed spiritual care. If needed, we should make a referral to a professional counselor (Roberts & Ashley, 2017). However, we should still follow-up with them to ensure they got the help they needed.
In the midst of this horrific disaster, our church has an opportunity to act as a healing agent, and offer hope and comfort to those who are suffering. However, it is vital that we do the preparation work necessary and set up an ICS so that we are prepared when disaster strikes. As we activate our disaster response plan, it is important for us to remain flexible throughout every stage of response and make the necessary adjustments to the plan as we assess its effectiveness. Our church should collaborate with other local responders, organizations and churches, while remaining sensitive to specific cultural needs. Self-care should be taught and encouraged.
- Entwistle, D. N. & Moroney, S. K. (2018). Integrative reflections on disasters, suffering, and the practice of spiritual and emotional care. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 46(1), 67-81. doi: 10.1177/0091647117750658
- Koenig, H. G. (2006). In the Wake of Disaster: Religious responses to terrorism and catastrophe. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.
- Maldonado, J. (2016). Considering culture in disaster practice. Annals of Anthropological Practice, 40(1), 52-60. doi: 10.1111/napa.12087
- Pfefferbaum, B., Pfefferbaum, R. L., & Van Horn, R. L. (2015). Community resilience interventions: Participatory, assessment-based, action-oriented processes. American Behavioral Scientist, 59(2), 238-253. doi:10.1177/0002764214550298
- Roberts, S. B., & Ashley, W. W. C. (2017). Disaster Spiritual Care: Practical clergy responses to community, regional and national tragedy (2nd ed.). Nashville, TN: Skylight Paths Publishing.
- Wang, Q., Ma, T., Hanson, J., & Larranaga, M. (2012). Application of incident command system in emergency response. Process, Safety, Progress 31(4), 402-406. doi:10.1002/prs
Cite this essay
Investigations of Dam Burst in Brazil. (2019, Dec 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/case-study-4-essay