On Thursday, January 16, 2020 Allison Farole spoke with the Grand Rapids Association of Pastors (G-RAP). She had been the Grand Rapids Emergency Manager for a few months at that point and, as she said, "This is my first time living in the Midwest, so people keep acting like I'm going to die. But I'm fine."
Farole first came to Grand Rapids for a conference a year ago. She liked the city, but the biggest draw for the position was "the chance to built a program so a city wouldn't have to go through what we went through in Charlottesville."
Before taking the position here, she was the Emergency Services Coordinator during Charlottesville, Virginia's Unite the Right rally and the resulting violence that occurred on August 11-12, 2017. In fact, there was a KKK rally one week into her work there, with Unite the Right five weeks after that. While she managed the disaster response to an Amtrak derailment, plane crash, tornado, major flood, search for a missing person, and a category 5 hurricane, she said that the lessons learned from managing civil unrest "made me who I am today."
Since G-RAP was started in 2015 following civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, we wanted to hear more about those lessons learned. Farole told us:
"In 2017 there were a lot of errors, chief of them the inability to coordinate between state and local police, so they couldn't be on the same page. Communication and coordination are the two keys to managing any emergency, but particularly in civil unrest situations. Moving forward, the state police sent all their deputies to incident command training so they would be using the same language as the city emergency officials. Things were very different after that. In 2018 officials did much more explaining of what their plans were and why they were doing what they were doing. These two Cs made things different--not everyone was happy, but things improved."
Until Farole came on board here, Grand Rapids' emergency services were managed through Kent County, but one of the reasons for creating her position now was because of this federal election year: "We are on the map politically, and we're getting a lot of attention, so the city wanted to make sure we were set with our own preparedness." Her work is done through the Fire Department.
She noted that the city does not have an Emergency Operations Plan, which is a plan that lays out who all the stakeholders and decision makers are and who has what responsibility. The process will take a year, and she said that she'll be contacting pastors over the course of that year, both to get to know our community better, and to understand what resources the churches of Grand Rapids have to offer:
"I want to connect with everyone. I've met with you, with neighborhood associations, with a safety commission. Next is the Red Cross and other backbone organizations and individuals. I want to know when things are happening, to work with you as you see things that happen around the country. But I also want to know what resources you have in your facility to help in a disaster, both during and after. What can you help with? What can I help you with?"
One of the pastors asked her to be specific about the ways that churches can be useful--and unhelpful. She said that the main way that a church can be unhelpful is to respond to the feeling of vulnerability that an emergency can cause by closing its doors and shutting out help.
But there are three things that churches can do to be useful in an emergency:
Farole talked about the four stages of an emergency:
She said that people like to talk a lot about preparedness and response, but that recovery is the stage that lasts the longest and that communities do very little work on ahead of time: "Having a good recovery plan and knowing the resources we have in the community to help us recover are crucial." She wants Grand Rapids to be asking, "What can we be doing now to make sure we can recover?"
One of the pastors noted that people who live in the urban core historically get the short end of the stick in recovery and mitigation after a disaster, particularly because there are more renters than property owners. Farole said that she sees insurance as being key to this issue, more so than the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA); she'd like to see a group insurance policy be developed to make insurance more affordable for renters. She said,
"Housing is the biggest need after a disaster and affordable housing is difficult enough in good times. We need to make sure that every single person has proper insurance because that means people get back on their feet quickly. It might mean working with local insurance companies or rolling is into housing subsidies--we need to figure that out."
Farole also noted that, with shootings happening at churches around the country, the safety and security of our facilities is a concern for pastors. She encouraged us to contact her office and put her expertise to work. For example, she can direct us to grants: FEMA has a Nonprofit Security Grant Program to help nonprofits make changes to their buildings. We can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and (616) 456-3900 ext. 3212.
We are grateful to Allison Farole for taking time out of her schedule to speak with us--we enjoyed hearing about her years in college when she spent time in India, and studied the effects of apartheid on women in South Africa, and orphanages in Tijuana, Mexico. And we look forward to working with her and being useful to the city during emergencies.