Church Emergency Preparedness – Is Your Church Ready for a Disaster?

It is difficult to turn on the news and not see a report of some natural disaster or unexpected emergency.  Wild fires, tornadoes, flooding and hurricanes are just a few of the unpredictable disasters that can impact a community – and churches are not exempt from these un-welcomed tragedies.

Preparing for a disaster is one of those things that is difficult to put at the top of the list of all the competing priorities that a church has. However, being prepared can save a church precious time when moments count and can lay the groundwork for a quick response to an emergency or disaster.

A disaster could be a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood or earthquake) an act of terrorism (think September 11) or an armed intruder (think Columbine).

Each of these examples has its own unique set of challenges but they all share the same need – plan and prepare for the unexpected.

The ever changing world, now requires everyone to be prepared for an emergency. However, most disasters or emergencies don’t allow enough time to come up with a response plan.  This  is why it is imperative for your church to have a plan in place that can be activated during a time of crisis.

Natural disasters and attacks on places of worship in recent years make this kind of planning essential. This type of planning can also help the church be ready to respond and be back up and running quickly so it can continue to care for its congregation and support those affected by the disaster.

What is a church emergency preparedness plan?

A church emergency preparedness plan is a written document that answers the questions of who, what, where, when and how to get your ministry back up and running following an emergency or disaster.

Thinking through all the details of the what ifs in any given scenario helps to create the content for an emergency preparedness manual.

For example, what if a tornado hit the church building or what if an armed intruder interrupted a church service or what if the church were flooded?

Planning for an emergency or disaster requires a representative team of your senior leadership, facilities management, information technology and telephone systems.

This team is charged with thinking through all given scenarios and determining the best course of action in each situation. The team then takes the information and organizes it into a book that can be used as a resource in the event of an emergency or disaster.

An emergency preparedness manual can be as detailed as is comfortable or as simple as mapping out some logistical first steps. The more detailed the plan becomes, the less thinking will need to be done during an emergency when there is typically a lot of chaos and many logistical challenges that need to be addressed.

For example, identifying where a command center would be located ahead of time saves valuable hours or even days trying to locate a gathering place.

Church leaders need to imagine their ministry running without a functioning facility, computer system, communication system or even employee support for days, weeks or even months.  Without a plan, a sudden disaster could literally wipe out a church and its congregation.  There were many church casualties in the Katrina disaster.

So what are some things your church should be thinking about?

Disasters and emergencies typically have three phases – first response, clean-up and recovery.  Mapping out a plan to address each of the phases is what church emergency preparedness is all about.  Obviously not all emergencies are the same so all phases may not be needed.

1. First Response

reparing for a disaster is one of those things that is difficult to put at the top of the list of all the competing priorities that a church has. However, being prepared can save a church precious time when moments count and can lay the groundwork for a quick response to an emergency or disaster.Ensuring the safety and security of the church facilities and providing help to possible victims is the first response phase.  This can include anything from providing first aid, basic living essentials or food and water.

This phase also requires responding to any media questions and having a prepared spokesperson to represent the organization.

2. Clean-up Phase

The clean-up phase may include clearing debris, cleaning the facility and preparing the building employees, volunteers or congregants to return.

Depending on the type of disaster or emergency, having a plan for clean-up is essential to a normal return of church operations.   If there is no major damage to the facility, a cleaning may be all that is needed to return to normal operations.

3. Recovery Phase

If the damage is extensive, the third and final recovery phase is rebuilding or repairing damage to the facility to get it back in order and ready for the public.  Depending on the damage, a rebuilding phase may take days, weeks or months.

If the recovery will be longer term, it is important to identify a location to temporarily have church services as well as a command center where a team can facilitate the recovery process.

What should an Emergency Preparedness manual include?

Action Steps

  • Well thought out steps of action for each of the three phases of recovery.  This is where you identify the who, what, where, when and how.  For example, who will speak on behalf of the organization and where will the congregation gather if the church facility is too damaged to hold a church service?

Emergency Contact Information

  • Who needs to be contacted, in what order and by whom?
  • Phone numbers of key church employees, volunteers or congregants.

Information Systems

  • What are the requirements for computer hardware, software and business data back up files?
  • Is the network complicated enough for a network diagram?
  • What is the telephone system layout?

Building Layout

  • Are there blueprints or building diagrams that would be helpful?

Emergency Preparedness Box

An emergency preparedness box should be kept in a separate location and should have contents to help get the church back up and running if the church building cannot be occupied.  Some possible contents of the box may be:

  • Emergency Plan Manual
  • Employee contact information
  • Backup files of  key accounting and church data
  • Copies of insurance documents and policies
  • A hard drive with copies of computer software
  • Key church volunteer and congregation contact information
  • Box with basic office supplies, ie:  pens, paper, stapler, tape, etc.

This is simply an example of what could be placed in an emergency plan box.  Obviously every organization is different and contents should be customized for your church.

Once the box is created, it is recommend to update it every six months or so to make sure contents are current. Once an emergency plan is in place, it should be tested by going through a fictitious what if scenario.

It is becoming more and more common for organizations to hold what is referred to as disaster drills to test their plans and try to identify holes that need to be improved.

I have worked with teams who have tested their plan by going through a drill and I cannot emphasize how much is learned and what a valuable experience it is.  It is definitely worth the time investment.

There are also some great resources that can also help with your emergency planning –  FEMA and can help you prepare your church for unexpected emergencies.

Lastly, emergencies and disasters are unpredictable at best but investing the time and doing a little planning ahead of time can minimize the chaos of an emergency situation and turn it into a smooth running response process.

Watch this incredible video from a church security camera as a tornado blew through its playground this spring.

If you found this article helpful, please share it!
This article was fist published October, 2012, updated July, 2014.
photo by:  towboatgarage


  1. Pastor Dennis Okeah says



  1. […] A good strategy can help build rapport with members, employees and the general public. The goal would be for the ministry to have a good reputation within their community and a plan for responding in the event of a church crisis or emergency. […]

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