By Allen Siegel, OFS, MA, BCC
One of the goals of the American Red Cross is to establish a core group of professional chaplains that can respond to disasters at the local and national level. As a Red Cross cognate member, the NACC has partnered with the Red Cross to achieve this goal. For the past 18 months, the Red Cross has been training a new generation of professional chaplains to provide direct services for the Red Cross as Disaster Spiritual Care (DSC) chaplains. To date, more than 500 NACC chaplains have attended this specialized training.
On Friday, April 12, just prior to the start of the NACC 2013 National Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, a diverse group of 25 NACC members attended a four-hour training session, conducted by chaplains Tim Serban, Carol Bamesberger and Rabbi Stephen Roberts. The attendees came from all over the United States (NY, FL, WV, OH, MA, TX, KY, MD, SD, WA, MI, IN, MO, and WI) and represented chaplaincy in a variety of settings – religious communities, community hospital, medical centers, psychiatric hospitals, church ministry, cancer center, hospice/palliative care, and rehabilitation/long term care agencies. Those in attendance desired a greater understating of disaster chaplaincy as they reflected on their future contribution as Red Cross DSC chaplains.
Disaster Spiritual Care chaplaincy training begins at the Red Cross website with four important online presentations about the Red Cross. (www.redcross.org/support/volunteer/getting-started). These presentations present a foundational overview of the mission, vision and fundamental principles of the Red Cross.
The American Red Cross has 500,000 volunteers in 568 chapters, 112 regional groups in five service areas. The Red Cross collaborates with many partners in disaster response – faith-based partnerships, professional chaplain organization partnerships (NACC, CPSP, APC, NAJC), NVOAD (National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster ) partners, disaster relief organizations, many local, state and federal government agencies/departments, community religious and spiritual leaders and houses of worship and business and industry partnerships.
At the Pittsburgh training session, Tim Serban, American Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care lead, Rabbi Stephen Roberts, American Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care advisor, and Carol Bamesberger, DSC Leadership Team, provided an extensive overview of Red Cross chaplaincy past, present and future.
Red Cross chaplaincy was created after the 1996 Federal Aviation Act. NACC, APC and NAJC provided professional chaplains through the Spiritual Care Air Incident Response (SARS) team. In 2003, SARS became the Spiritual Response Team (SRT) and as of 2011, SRT has become Disaster Spiritual Care (DSC). This most recent modification aligns Red Cross chaplains and mental health providers as collaborative partners in disaster care on a local and national level. DSC also establishes a management and leadership structure for chaplains.
DSC training builds upon the knowledge and experience of the professional chaplain. This workshop focused on the role of the chaplain within the disaster experience and provided an overview of organization structure, command structure and integration with various disaster responders. The chaplain’s role is to help patients and families to identify and use their own cultural and spiritual resources. Chaplains also help their Red Cross colleagues promote disaster victims’ spiritual strengths and resources. DSC chaplains may be potentially deployed following a local, state or federal declaration, a terrorist event, or after a NTSB transportation event.
One goal of this DSC training was for the attendees to have a sense of familiarity and comfort with disaster situations. The presenters offered their firsthand experiences as Red Cross chaplains in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in American Samoa, Superstorm Sandy and in Newtown, CT.
Rabbi Roberts noted, “After disasters, we are the No. 1 source people seek.” For every one disaster victim, there are 10 family members that show up. Having had such experiences brings home the importance of professional chaplains providing spiritual and pastoral care in collaboration with victims’ spiritual resources and local community spiritual leaders.
Having attended the May 2012 training at the NACC conference in Milwaukee, WI, I was able to provide professional chaplain support to the Red Cross during Superstorm Sandy and again in Newtown, CT. My Red Cross DSC training provided me with the foundation I needed to be both confident and professional in these dynamic and emotionally charged circumstances. During both incidents, I experienced positive collaborative partnerships with other Red Cross volunteers, especially the Red Cross mental health volunteers. My presence as a DSC chaplain was new to other Red Cross volunteers and leaders. We referred disaster victims to each other in accordance with each other’s professional strengths and responsibilities and learned from each other. Through these encounters, I was able to demonstrate the important and effective role of Disaster Spiritual Care chaplains.
For more information, please contact Mr. Serban, American Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care lead, by email at Tim.Serban@redcross.org.
Allen Siegel is chaplain at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, NY.