Advisory meetings continue for diocesan disaster planning


CHARLESTON — As the Palmetto State deepens further into hurricane season, disaster planning activities are going well in the Diocese of Charleston, according to Dorothy Grillo, diocesan director of Social Ministries.

“Several parishes have really taken the ball and run with it, providing weekly bulletin updates on hurricane preparedness, shelters locations, etc.,” she said, adding that some parishes are meeting weekly to plan on that level.

Grillo said that the highest level of overall participation exists in the Pee Dee Deanery. Two deanery groups there have met twice with a third joint meeting planned for Sept. 11. “They are very enthusiastic and active,” she said. “They are doing great with 100 percent of parishes participating.”

And, at a recent meeting of the Tri-County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) group, the diocese was represented by 10 parishioners and staff.

After an initial series of meetings in early July, a second round of gatherings took place for two coastal groups on Aug. 22 in Charleston and Sept. 7 in Hilton Head. Upcoming events are scheduled for the Midlands on Sept. 14 in North Augusta and on Sept. 8 and 9 in the Piedmont. Another session was also held in Columbia at St. Peter Church on Sept. 5.

Grillo found that the level of response dropped off as planning moved inland. However, it now seems that the program is really catching on.

“Initially there was a slow response, but it has grown tremendously,” she said. There are now close to 200 host homes in the Piedmont, with that number still growing, and 26 host homes identified in the Midlands, even though that network is not quite as well established.

Catholic Charities regional coordinators also identified coastal clusters and paired them with Upstate clusters. This was done by factoring in the size of parishes along with potential evacuation routes. For the next step, parishes will be paired by size and availability of host homes with consideration given to those areas with the greatest identified need.

Not all parishes on the coast have identified members who are in need of a host home, Grillo said. And, she emphasized, that this service is specifically geared for those in special circumstances, with the most need.

One congregation in the Columbia area, Our Lady of the Lake Church in Chapin, has offered to make its facility available as a shelter.

Grillo said she received feedback that parishes are very leery about liability considerations. However, after speaking with a representative for Catholic Mutual Insurance, she was assured that the diocesan blanket liability certificate of coverage will adequately cover any parish that opens its doors to evacuees in a crisis situation. Churches that extend this service do need to have a safety/shelter manager on site at all times and an adequate number of volunteers to help staff the facility.

Catholic Charities has been working throughout the summer to develop a Disaster Response Plan at the request of Bishop Robert J. Baker.

“My own experience in being a refugee during the threat of Hurricane Floyd last September provided an incentive for this effort,” said the bishop. “We are in an excellent position as a diocese that covers the whole state of South Carolina to help in a coordinated relief effort such as this.”

Additional information regarding the Disaster Response Plan can be obtained from the Diocese of Charleston website at