By Rose Gras
ell phones rang and pagers shrieked, faxes and e-mails criss-crossed Los Angeles: Disaster had occurred. Response was urgent. While the mock crisis for impending Y2K never materialized, the success of the drill demonstrated that six years after the Northridge earthquake, the communication gap between the city and the community has been thoroughly closed.
This is no minor feat. Los Angeles has the unfortunate distinction of receiving 10 United States Presidential declarations of disaster since 1992. Emergencies from floods to fires and civil unrest have understandably made preparedness a top priority. Central to that effort was officials’ founding of the Emergency Network of Los Angeles (ENLA), charged with establishing a network of public and private community organizations to work with the city to respond to emergencies.
“After Northridge, there was a gap in servicing a lot of the community organizations,” said Ellis Stanley, Assistant City Administrative Officer for the Los Angeles Emergency Preparedness Division. “The Emergency Network Los Angeles filled that gap by linking to the community.”
At the close of 1999, ENLA proved that its network of city and county agencies, the Red Cross and denominational and community-based disaster response efforts could rapidly link up and respond.
Facing the Future
Today, Los Angeles faces the future, whatever it brings, as a coordinated team.
ENLA was formed just after the January 1994 Northridge quake. While unquestionably a disaster, remarkably only 57 lives were lost despite the widespread property damage. Speculation on what might have happened had the quake struck during rush hour instead of the pre-dawn hour made it apparent to both city and county that better disaster preparedness throughout Los Angeles needed to become a top priority. That sense of urgency has never waned, as the population swells and as news of disasters elsewhere continue to remind officials and community leaders of the necessity to respond quickly and efficiently.
ENLA, which has since extended to other cities around the world, is a coalition of religious and secular relief organizations dedicated to working together during emergencies to help handle the impact of a major disaster.
Among the groups which comprise the ENLA coalition is the Church of Scientology International Hubbard Ecclesiastical League of Pastors (I HELP), which sponsors the Volunteer Minister Program. Through the years, teams of Scientology Volunteer Ministers have been on the scene of disaster relief efforts around the world.
The activities of the Volunteer Ministers are coordinated from the main I HELP office in Los Angeles and continental or regional offices for the Western and Eastern U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central and South America, England, continental Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
While the volunteer program was created in 1976, it was during the 1990s, with the boom of the Internet and satellite-based communications, that a true global response network developed.
In Los Angeles, several hundred Volunteer Ministers are organized around a 50-man core group acting as an immediate response team. They comprise a “minute-man” system of communications and pre-designated functions for fast response to city-wide disasters. The priority for the year 2000 is to double the ranks of both the immediate response team and the broader network of volunteers to be able to better respond to virtually all types of L.A. emergencies. While natural disasters strike infrequently, many other forms of disasters—injury and illness, fire, conflict, urban strife—strike every day.
“If we are fully prepared, the worst will never have a chance to happen,” says Kathy Evans, a hospital nurse who heads up the Church of Scientology Volunteer Ministers network in Los Angeles. Evans organizes seminars at the Church’s Celebrity Center International in Hollywood, in which scores of volunteers, both Church members and non-members, have been trained to provide spiritual assistance in emergencies and disasters. Evans and the Volunteer Ministers work with ENLA and many other groups across L.A.
Volunteers train with the Volunteer Ministers Handbook to be able to deliver “assists,” simple yet highly effective procedures which relieve the spiritual trauma associated with an accident, illness or an emotionally stressful situation. Assists enable an individual to restore communication with his own body, his environment, and with others. Easy to learn, assists were developed by Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard, and enjoy wide application by people from all walks of life.
One of the most commonly used assists is the “touch assist,” through which a person is put into communication with injured or ill parts of his body and which, when used in addition to first aid or other medical handlings, speeds up the healing process. Another assist is the “locational,” which helps a disoriented, confused, or in-shock individual to quickly get back in touch with his surroundings and other people by reorienting him to them. This can be particularly important in helping a person pull himself together and start helping others in an emergency or disaster.
Teams of Volunteer Ministers were among the many community groups which mobilized during the Northridge earthquake. Nearly 200 volunteers fanned out to parks, relief centers and Red Cross shelters in those parts of the city hardest hit by the quake, providing blankets, water, food, clothing and other desperately needed items.
During the ensuing weeks, volunteers provided thousands of blankets, 5,000 gallons of water, ten tons of clothing, thousands of diapers, medical supplies and more than 40 truckloads of food, contributing more than 10,000 volunteer hours to the relief effort.
Volunteer Ministers worked with other community groups involved in handling the emergency, including the Red Cross and the Federal Management Agency (FEMA), where they helped to process over 2,000 applicants for federal assistance. Working with the Los Angeles Mayor’s office, others joined the city’s Reassurance Teams, touring parks and public shelters to help get people back to their homes or into other appropriate shelters.
“After Northridge, there was a gap in servicing a lot of the community organizations. The Emergency Network Los Angeles filled that gap."
Assistant City Administrative Officer
LA Emergency Preparedness Division
Throughout, Volunteer Ministers delivered thousands of Scientology assists to adults and children left injured or traumatized in the wake of the temblor. Several physicians who are also Volunteer Ministers went to the parks and shelters to tend medically to more than 200 children who were at high risk or had already contracted illness by living outdoors in the chill of January for days on end.
The lessons of the Northridge quake have been well-learned, not only by the City and County of Los Angeles, but also by the Volunteer Ministers in many other countries.
When a magnitude 6.0 earthquake leveled sections of Quindio, Colombia, in 1998, Volunteer Ministers, including a team from the Los Angeles area, were there. In the town of Pijao, Quindio, the mayor, personally experiencing the relief available with assists, called in his entire office staff so they could also receive assists, thus enabling them to continue their work at the height of the crisis.
Mayor Guilardo Marulanda Florez later stated, “The effectiveness of the assists led to a formidable result of mental relaxation and relief that has made it immensely more possible for us to carry out our work.”
Volunteer Ministers also gave assists to truck drivers who had been slowed by exhaustion in their delivery of important medical supplies and food. After giving assists to a number of the drivers, the speed with which badly needed supplies reached the earthquake victims nearly doubled.
In a letter of gratitude to the Volunteer Ministers, Johan Alberto Arellancela, Director of the Operative Unit of the Pijao Red Cross, wrote, “I thank you in a very special way for the help you have given to my volunteers and to me personally, because the peace and physical and spiritual relief allows us to continue on with our difficult labor.” Arellancela urged the Volunteer Ministers to carry on with their good work.
The volunteers’ successes in Colombia mark both the ministers’ dedication and the effectiveness of the assists developed by Mr. Hubbard. Testimonials abound: A woman forced to use crutches due to hip injuries sustained during the earthquake, regained the use of her legs—without crutches—after assists. Another woman, terrified to return to her house, addressed the spiritual causes of her fear and was able to calmly return home and go on with her life. A traumatized young man who could not sleep after being buried for hours beneath rubble was able to sleep for the first time in days after receiving an assist. Those on the scenes of emergencies and disasters tell hundreds of similar stories.
In response to the demand for Volunteer Ministers, the teams in Colombia trained members of the Colombian Civil Defense Department to deliver assists, and then trained police, Boy Scouts and hundreds of civilians. In all, more than 500 people trained in Colombia by the Volunteer Ministers have used assists to help others.
Los Angeles and Colombia are two of many locations Volunteer Ministers have answered the call to assist others, with equally remarkable and beneficial results.
When an earthquake struck Turkey in August 1999, Volunteer Ministers again were there, contributing their energy and unique skills.
In Nicaragua, the dedication and effectiveness of the Volunteer Ministers again proved that in even the worst disasters, there still can be hope. After Hurricane Mitch devastated that country, Volunteer Ministers not only tended to the needs of the hurricane victims, but also trained Nicaraguan Civil Defense, fire service and other workers and volunteers how to use assist techniques.
When Hurricane Georges hammered Puerto Rico, when earthquakes rocked Sakhalin Island and Tokyo, when a tidal wave devastated portions of Papua, New Guinea, and when the federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed, Volunteer Ministers answered the call.
In Los Angeles, and throughout the world, the Volunteer Ministers work to relieve the worst effects of disasters, and are empowering individuals to help themselves and others in their times of the greatest need.
“We are putting individuals in a position where they can then help themselves and others in the worst time of need, and to be able to do so with speed,” said Kathy Evans. “Addressing the spiritual and mental side of disasters is half the job.”
In their way, the Volunteer Ministers are helping Los Angeles to prepare in a way that has far-reaching effects for all.
For more information on the Volunteer Ministers program in Los Angeles, or for assistance from a Volunteer Minister, call the Volunteer Minister Hotline: (800) 435-7498.