As Pastor Walter Coleman launched into a tale from scripture – the one about the 10 virgins, five of whom didn’t have enough lamp oil and thus missed out on meeting an eligible groom – he came to a blunt conclusion: “That’s scripture’s way of saying we have to be prepared.”
And preparedness was the message du jour last week at Humboldt Park Vocational Center, 1645 N. California, where church leaders, nurses, teachers and Alderman Roberto Maldonado (D-26) and State Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago) gathered to talk about how community members can prepare themselves – and their neighbors – for what could happen if a terrible swine flu outbreak hits Chicago.
The goal, organizers say, is to create a manual for community preparedness before a possible outbreak.
“If we don’t start a movement from the ground that says, ‘Prepare us,’ if we don’t get prepared, we’re in trouble,” said Coleman, pastor of Adalberto Memorial United Methodist Church and Lincoln United Methodist Church.
About 30 people participated in the preparedness workshop, which required them to imagine different scenarios featuring a dangerous new flu virus, and how they would react, distribute information and work to keep their neighbors healthy.
Some of the workshop conclusions were sobering: Group members envisioned racial discrimination hindering health workers’ efforts in a scenario where a virus was imported from China. They worried about how information would quickly be disseminated with so many languages spoken in Chicago, and they imagined what might happen when 60 percent of doctors and nurses were so sick they could not come to work.
Maldonado said the meeting was an important step in getting people to take the first steps in reacting to H1N1.
“What are we supposed to do, just want and panic? Absolutely not,” he said.
“You don’t wait until a fire to have a fire drill,” said ShaVonda Fields, who works with the Broadcast Ministers’ Alliance to help prepare ministers for disasters.
Others thought such information should have been shared during the H1N1 scare in the spring.
“This meeting should have happened eight months ago,” said Juan Fernandez, a teacher who attended the workshop.
Participants said they learned that when an outbreak of something like the H1N1 virus hits their communities, the first responders are likely to be teachers, parents and community leaders.
“It starts with us,” Fernandez said.
Patricia Salgado, a nursing student at Wright College, said her friends and family see her as a reliable source for health information, and the scenarios showed her that everyone needs to know how to react in a disaster.
“People need to realize it does affect everyone. You really do need to know what’s going on to be prepared,” she said.