ORLANDO |Tropical disturbances began bubbling in the Atlantic Ocean nearly two weeks before the start of hurricane season June 1. So how do central Floridians stay calm and carry on? Gary Tester, president of Catholic Charities of Central Florida (CCCF) and Catholic meteorologist Brian Shields share tips and plans to set you at ease.
First and foremost, both Tester and Shields advise to plan. “It’s abundantly important that when storms approach, we believe in the power of prayer; we believe in the necessity for preparation; and we trust that God will see us through, whatever comes,” Tester said. He explained this is a unique aspect to the Diocese of Orlando’s Emergency Operations plan. In addition to being concerned about the nuts and bolts of how to prepare and respond, the diocesan plan also emphasizes, “we’re making sure we’re going to God asking for protection and assistance.”
In a recent letter to parishes, Bishop John Noonan wrote, “During this Year of St. Joseph, we pray through the intercession of St. Joseph the Protector for each other as we enter Hurricane Season on June 1. I pray with you, as we make our preparations for safety and minister to those in need, that our labor in the Lord’s vineyard will yield the richness of His mercy upon the people.”
In 2017, after Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit central Florida within weeks of each other, the people of God came to the aid of their brothers and sisters. Eight parishes served as distribution sites for necessary supplies. This year Catholic Charities has at least 16 parishes prepared to distribute food and water if necessary. Tester said the beauty of working with a parish is, “It can be a place of solace and comfort, as well as relief, following an event that has us out of kilter.”
Each parish has volunteers already in place. “We recognize that a critical partner in this is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul,” he said. Noting several conferences around the diocese “are the implementers of the emergency operations services at a particular parish,” he added, “You don’t have to have them, but for those parishes that have a conference, those tend to be strongest and have been involved the longest because it is something the Vincentians are very concerned about.”
To optimize support and communication, CCCF and the chancery “coalesced the emergency support functions.” Risk management, ecclesiastical properties, human resources, and finance departments work with CCCF which coordinates the Emergency Operation Center (EOC) coordinates, in conjunction with the chancellor’s office and Catholic Charities USA and the State of Florida EOC. “We now get information distributed very specifically to the network we have and activate that EOC when we anticipate a storm event to keep our partners apprised of what it looks like.” Streamlining information flow helps maximize assistance in most places with most urgent need. This is important because the parishes also serve as staging sites for emergency work crews.
Meteorologist Brian Shields, a parishioner of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Winter Park, helps keep Tester and the team abreast of route expectations and possible issues.
Shields said this year the season forecast is higher than average with an estimate of 17 named storms. “There can be a million storms out there. That doesn’t mean one will end up in your kitchen,” he assured.
His top three tips for preparation prioritize reducing anxiety. “Hurricane season can be stressful to say the least. These days we see mad dashes for supplies for various reasons. Before the season starts, have a simple kit with basic things: non-perishable food and water for three days. The great thing about it is they are all things you can use anyway – flashlights, first aid kit and a weather radio.” He adds, if a storm approaches, add “specialized items” like medication, cash, gas, formula for babies, pet food.
He too sees and seeks God in the midst of the season. “I see God in the people when a storm is coming, during and after. I see the Holy Spirit at work in our community when there is some devastation or tragedy. People come together.”
Noting that influx of people moving to our state since the pandemic, he finds many are nervous about a storm coming, having never experienced a hurricane. “I remind them, rely on the people who have been here before. We have such kind souls who have been through it doing God’s work. They are there to assist you in what you may need.”
He added, “It’s good for people to know most storms don’t hit us. That doesn’t diminish the reality of storms and how severe they can be. We need to be prepared… but also to keep perspective as we go into the season.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, May 21, 2021