The launch of a new innovative emergency operations center to help people across Central Florida before, during, and after an emergency marked the first day of hurricane season.

Bishop John Noonan along with Gary Tester, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, and Father Miguel Gonzalez, Rector of St. James Cathedral, held a news conference June 1 at St. James Cathedral to announce the program that will be run from Catholic Charities of Central Florida headquarters. More than 20 parishes across nine counties have been designated distribution sites in the event of a disaster, such as a hurricane.

Although water and supplies have been provided in the past, Tester said the center will allow the diocese to be more proactive working with local and state emergency agencies.

“Starting with the Pulse Tragedy in 2016 and then going through Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, we became mindful how important the resources of the diocese are in serving the nine counties of the diocesan region. We determined the best way to coalesce our resources and support communities was to create an emergency operations center for the diocese,” Tester said. “We brought together a strategic plan for the diocese that represents our efforts to be efficient and supportive of our communities based on the needs that they have. We are honored and thrilled to serve the community and brothers and sisters in their time of need.”

Volunteers from various agencies including St. Vincent de Paul, Knights of Columbus and Council of Catholic Women will assist with distribution of food, clothing, welfare assistance and other social services in the time of need. Parishes also will provide comfort stations following an event that will give people a chance to socialize, have refreshments and access to cooler air.

Bishop John Noonan celebrated Mass following the news conference to pray for the safety of Central Florida during hurricane season and to thank God for the gift of our environment.

“Pope Francis asks us to not only care for our environment, but also to care for our brothers and sisters especially during natural disasters and that’s why we’re here today,” Noonan said. “We ask the Lord to protect all of us over the next few months.”

Parishioners can contact the emergency operations center at 407-658-1818.

By Christine Commerce, Florida Catholic Correspondent – June 1, 2018