The Silent Disaster
Disasters - whether natural, human-caused or technology-caused - test the resiliency of affected neighborhoods and communities.
There are many faith-based, secular, and organizational resources who are commonly deployed to the site of a natural disaster to assist with clean-up and recovery. Some organizations have also developed expertise for response to emotional and spiritual needs of human-caused disasters such as acts of public violence like a school shooting, or an act of terrorism like the events of September 11, 2001.
However, history has shown that when hazardous materials or dangerous manufacturing processes touch the lives and property of people, the resulting health, economic, relational, and political complexities present additional challenges for the community. This is true whether the disaster results from an acute event as part of a natural disaster, or is chronic and will span an extended period of time.
Think of this information as a part of your toolbox for preparing and responding to a disaster in your community, no matter your role in the community. It is a tool especially devoted to working in partnership with others when a technology-caused disaster is present or anticipated. This information will help you recognize a technological hazard, make plans to form a community response if you are currently experiencing a technology-caused disaster, or plan for your response if the emergency is a future event.
This information will not only define and illustrate technology-caused disaster, it will: 1) provide education for community leaders preparing for a possible technology-caused disaster, and 2) provide guidance to community leaders on organizing a response effort in the wake of a disaster with technological aspects. Strategies are presented for active participation by the religious community in preparation, response, and advocacy.
There are a few days in which we don't hear about a natural disaster next door or someplace in the world. Although devastating to communities and lives, there is a sense in which the hazards that make for these disasters are understandable: rivers flood, winds become tornadoes or hurricanes, earth's shifting makes for earthquakes. There is visible and measureable damage, with identifiable and often quantifiable costs for recovery. The disaster will frequently inspire a unity of community spirit.
Technology-caused disaster is often less visible than natural disasters and certainly less so than a human-caused emergency event, thus the name "The Silent Disaster." The disaster may be invisible in the devastation of a natural disaster or within other community issues. Costs of recovery may be indeterminate because of the length of time recovery will require or the health/clean-up costs attributable to the disaster.
Like natural disasters, victims of technology-caused disasters are often people with limited resources, live in undesireable locations, or otherwise have no political presence or power. These vulnerabilities may call for the involvement of the faith community as advocate and protagonist in ways not common to other disasters.
Technology-caused disasters are complicated, involving not only families or property, but often employment, economic development, tax bases, politics, and multiple levels of government. Persons advocating action may be accused of taking the issues too far at the cost of the local economic well-being and may find themselves threatened or isolated.
The faith community has accepted a role in response to disasters, that of meeting immediate living needs for the victims, but also has a particular opportunity to provide leadership for preparedness/response/recovery, to pilot advocacy and spiritual care, and to be the presence of caring, reason, and perhaps neutrality in the midst of chaos or conflict.
This publication made possible by National Disaster Ministries, a ministry of the United Church of Christ in partnership with Church World Services.