As September rolls around and California enters its peak fire season, it’s more important than ever to be prepared for disaster. Masonic lodges have an important role to play in these settings—and one that, with a little bit of planning and foresight, can turn them into resources for more than their members, but their communities at large.
That’s the thinking behind the formation of the Masonic Emergency Response Team, or MERT. The program was developed at Santa Barbara No. 192, but has since been put into place at lodges all around the world, helping local groups get prepared and ready to spring into action at the next disaster—a scenario that for many is no longer hypothetical, but inevitable.
The Masonic Emergency Response Team was the brainchild of several members of Santa Barbara No. 192, including then-master John Woodruff, Kurt Russell, Bruce Rick, Don Flynn, and Past Grand Master Russ Charvonia. As Charvonia explains, the lodge included several members who worked in disaster-response fields, and thus had a wealth of knowledge and experience about how best to prepare. As a group, they built out a framework of best practices that any lodge can replicate, anywhere. The program is simple: members get trained in Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) protocols through their local city or county emergency management department or fire department; they take online FEMA disaster preparedness training; and they develop their own gameplan for responding to a local disaster.
For Santa Barbara No. 192, that gameplan involved creating a system for reaching out to members and widows in the event of a disaster to ensure they were safe, and for responding to calls for aid in the event they needed help. In many cases, that means routing members to Masonic Outreach Services through the Masonic Assistance Line (888-466-3642), which is well-positioned to offer advice, resources, or emergency funds. (Read more in the April 2022 Leader.) “We mapped out where our members and widows lived and broke that down by zip code,” Charvonia explains. “From there, we assigned each member of the team a zip code and tasked them with reaching out to those who lived in the area.”
This kind of MERT planning can also turn the lodge into a community resource. “Emergency response organizations like the Red Cross are always looking to partner with local organizations to better respond to emergencies,” Charvonia says. Many lodges have been able to enter into memoranda of understanding agreements (MOUs) with the Red Cross to serve as a shelter or a drop-off location for donations in the event of a disaster. “What’s great about an arrangement like that is that the Red Cross would take on the liability, indemnifying the lodge from any damages or other issues associated with being a shelter,” Charvonia says.
The MERT program is based on industry best-practices. But more importantly, it is yet another chance for lodges to meet the needs of their members and their communities. “At its core, it’s a chance for us to fulfill our Masonic obligation,” Charvonia says. “When a disaster strikes, that’s when we need to be prepared to help our brethren and widows the most.”
- Build Your Team
- First, you need to create your team of first responders. As with any initiative, it is vital to have someone take on the lead. “I would recommend having a past master take on the leadership role,” Charvonia says. “They’ll have the experience, but also the free time to devote to the initiative.”
- Gather a group of four or five members who will be dedicated members of the MERT. Membership should be voluntary since it will require a time commitment at the beginning to get properly trained.
- Get Trained
- The first step to create your lodge’s MERT team is to get trained. Go to FEMA’s website to access free online training modules that will get your team ready.
- Contact your local emergency management agency to schedule an in-person Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) course. You can host it at your lodge hall and invite other members of the community to participate as well. During the training, you will learn about the Incident Command System (ICS) used by government agencies to response to disasters, as well as resources on how to respond to disasters within your own community. Sometimes, these CERT trainings will include free resources like hard hats, first aid kits, and emergency worker vests.
- Contact your local Red Cross to schedule additional training opportunities for your team. Otherwise, go to their website to access free online training modules. It’s also a good idea to speak with local representatives of the Red Cross to offer the lodge hall as a possible shelter in the case of an emergency or disaster.
- Consider offering these trainings to all members, not just members of the MERT. “You’d be amazed at how much there is to learn from these courses,” Charvonia says. “They opened my eyes to how I can be better prepared in my own home, let alone at lodge.”
- Make a Plan
- Have your MERT team develop a gameplan for what to do in the event of a disaster. Make sure your membership roster and list of lodge widows is up to date; divide up the list so that each member of the team knows who they’re reaching out to.
- Route members or widows in need of aid to Masonic Outreach Services. MOS can connect members with resources throughout the state, and even provide emergency funds in some cases. MOS is an important service open to all members and their families and Masonic widows. Even the general public can access some of the services MOS offers, such as referrals and Masonic Value Network discounts.
- Connect to the Network
There’s lots going on these days, as lodges are busy catching up on their backlogged degree nights, rallying for Masons4Mitts, planning for Annual Communication, and getting ready for Public Schools Month this September. But don’t forget that the Masonic youth orders still need your support. Whether it’s sponsoring a chapter at your lodge, donating to the group, or something even more creative, there’s no shortage of ways to help give these young people a hand. A new tool is making that even easier. Visit the new Library of Masonic Youth Order Resources for articles, graphics, templates, and other information that your lodge can distribute through Trestleboards, emails, or over social media to help get the word out about the Masonic youth orders.
Stay on track of lodge business and prepare for important deadlines. Here’s your September checklist.
- Make plans for your lodge master, wardens, or other representatives to attend Annual Communication this October. Your vote is important to the future of Freemasonry in California. Please be aware of all protocols now in place for the 173rd Annual Communication being held October 21-23 to comply with San Francisco’s pandemic safety requirements. If you would like more information, you can read the San Francisco guidance here.
Senior Warden, along with Executive Committee
- Identify and approach members for 2023 open elected and appointed officer positions.
- Urge presumptive master, wardens, and senior deacon to perform their Master Mason’s proficiency soon, if not already completed.
- Urge respective officers to answer the master, senior warden, and junior warden questions early.
- Identify and approach members for the 2023 Audit, Membership Retention, and any other committees.
- Set calendar for 2023 and identify event leaders.
- Continue preparing 2023 budget.
- Set installation date and approach installing officer, master of ceremonies, and chaplain.
- Review all candidates’ progress toward advancement.
- Continue tracking 100 percent officer giving to the Annual Fund, with officers setting an example through gifts that represent their capability as well as their commitment to our charitable programs.
- If lodge per capita has not yet been paid, submit payment ASAP.
- Prepare to send out dues notices and begin collecting member dues, starting Oct. 31.
- If lodge per capita has not yet been paid, submit payment ASAP.
Questions? Contact Member Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 776-7000.
For Your Trestleboard
Last month we asked what your lodge needed to better handle incoming prospects. See results below.
- More prospect-oriented literature about Freemasonry (brochures, booklets, web articles, etc.) - 43%
- Technical assistance with your lodge website or social media channels. - 21%
- More Grand Lodge guidelines around welcoming prospects - 19%
- Other -17%