As the residents of Moore Oklahoma continue their rescue and clean up efforts, it makes me wonder how many churches are ready to respond 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 need to plan and prepare for the unexpected.
The changing world that we live in requires everyone to be prepared for an emergency but 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 help the church be ready to respond and be back up and running quickly so it can continue to care for its congregation and also be there to help 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 disaster requires a representative team of your senior leadership, facilities management, information technology and telephone systems. 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. Without a plan, a sudden disaster could literally wipe out a church and its congregation. There were many casualties in the Katrina disaster.
So what are some things your church should be thinking about?
1. First Response
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, repairing damage to buildings or getting the facility ready for 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
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?
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.
- 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?
- 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 just 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 Ready.gov 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.
This article was fist published October, 2012.