Extreme weather, ice storms, flooding, and wind events are increasing in frequency and affecting our communities on a more regular basis. The New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS) is a faith-based federation of service providers and charitable organizations who work in partnership to provide disaster readiness, response, and recovery services to New York City (NYC). Their goal is to help faith-based organizations (FBOs) in NYC be better prepared for climate disasters and able to offer support to their neighbourhoods.
Recently, as part of their Faith Sector Community Preparedness Program (FSCPP) Summer 2022 ‘Lunch n Learn’ Webinar Series, I gave a talk called “Green Your House of Worship: Save $ and Increase Resiliency.”
There were various non-profit and governmental organizations, and leaders from faith communities in attendance, all trying to grapple with the climate crisis and what their role would or could look like during an event, given that many NYDIS faith communities are within marginalized areas of the city with limited support in times of need.
In my talk, I discussed how lowering the energy footprint of your house of worship can increase its resilience and in times of crisis, with the right resources and a plan in place, serve as a community ‘climate disaster emergency hub.’
You may be wondering, what energy efficiency has to do with emergency preparedness. Well, not knowing what our energy needs are makes it more challenging to manage or provide services. Tracking energy usage is necessary so as to make desirable changes. Organizations on the call strongly supported my recommendation of using software like Energy Star Portfolio Manager to understand building energy usage and consumption. This unique software is an interactive resource management tool that enables users to benchmark their energy use, and track and improve the energy efficiency of any type of building, all in a secure online environment. The national benchmarking tool in Canada, the Energy Star Portfolio Manager is a great tool to use across a wide portfolio of properties, including United Church (UCCan) buildings as it can show congregations their energy data in a clear and meaningful way. UCCan’s Faithful Footprints grant program is a proud supporter and user of the system.
Identifying Your Needs and Service Plans
Once you have a sense of your building’s energy consumption, you can then look at ways to lower it. Depending on the service you would like to provide at times of extreme weather crisis, there are different building and energy systems to consider. Do you wish to offer a place for neighbours to charge their phones and maybe get a cup of coffee? That could probably be supplied by a portable gas generator operating outside the building. For heat waves you may want to provide cold beverages. In the latter case, if you are still using that 1980’s fridge, the portable generator won’t be enough. You would also need good lighting throughout the building. LED lights would be a great option, as they are going to use way less electricity than incandescent lights. If you decide to offer meals, then you would need a lot of electricity for hot water, fridges, freezers, stoves, and more.* In many cases, a permanent backup generator can be the solution to offering multiple services, due to its wide array of uses. A backup generator can provide the capacity to have people stay overnight as well as offer public facilities like bathrooms and showers. It can help supply heating or air conditioning for temporary shelter as well.
Ultimately, in times of crisis, any service is a great help to the community. The first 72 hours after an extreme weather-related event is the most challenging as neighbours are at their greatest need. There are no right answers to what your faith community could offer. However, it is important to remember that equipping your building is only one aspect of preparing to be a climate disaster emergency hub. For instance, making sure you have enough volunteers and ensuring there are secure travel arrangements, safety precautions, and communication methods in place. All of this is critical in the planning process of preparing to serve your community during times of crisis.
Taking Part in City-Wide Extreme Weather Preparedness
It’s more than likely your municipality is already discussing climate-induced, extreme weather preparedness strategies. But they can’t do it alone. As pillars in the community, often located in central areas, FBOs can share the responsibility of responding to weather emergencies in becoming neighbourhood resilience hubs. In the case of Oakville, Ontario, as part of developing climate adaptation and community master plans to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience, the Town of Oakville works with local FBOs directly to roll out the OakvilleReady program. Faith & the Common Good is the inspiration behind this program and also a partner.
Funded by the Oakville Community Foundation, OakvilleReady has established neighbourhood extreme weather resilience hubs serving as care anchors. Currently, eight OakvilleReady hubs are operating across the city, including St. Paul United Church and Faithful Footprints participant, Maple Grove United Church.
Your municipality may also have local initiatives and financial incentives to help your faith group become better equipped to help the broader community during emergencies.
By better understanding your building and its energy consumption, you can make informed decisions moving forward, concerning how you can take part in serving your community in times of crisis and local environmental disasters.
Start with free guides that we have on our website. The DIY Faith Building Energy Audit Guidebook and the Energy Star Action Workbook for Congregations are amazing resources you can download, read, learn, and even take action with these free resources!
You can also utilize our professional knowledge with virtual Green Audits that look at energy, air quality, food, water, waste, maintenance, rental agreements, heritage and much more. The more you can learn about your building, the more you can save energy, minimize maintenance costs, and maximize the usage of your amazing faith community building.
Faithful Footprints Program
The United Church of Canada (UCCan) Faithful Footprints program offers grants, tools and inspiration to help its congregations reduce their carbon footprint. With the Church’s commitment to reducing its greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050, this one of a kind program offers up to $30,000 in grants towards energy conservation and renewable energy projects (conditions apply).
Faith & the Common Good is the delivery partner for UCCans Faithful Footprints program. To date, we have engaged almost 300 congregations, camps, and buildings across the country. Your participation in the program puts your faith into action and helps the Church reach its target.
Stephen Collette is the Building Manager for Faith & the Common Good and can be reached at 705-652-5159 EDT, [email protected]
*Warning! Gas stoves still need ventilation when in use, to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.