We recently asked church leaders about the following situation:
Churches often make important contributions to help communities recover from disasters. But their charitable acts do not make them immune. Events like floods, fire, severe storms, tornados, arson and earthquakes can strike churches with little or no warning.
Churches are more accustomed to responding to a disaster, not being a victim of one. They may even have detailed plans in place so that they can respond quickly with crews of dedicated volunteers. But are they as well prepared and do they have the necessary plans in place for when a disaster strikes them?
Has anyone at your church thought through any of the following questions that will need to be answered if your church is the victim of a disaster?
As for the last question, heres a list of community partners that your church should know before a disaster strikes:
Even better, your church should begin developing relationships with these key community partners now. The time to exchange ideas and business cards is not after a disaster has occurred, but well before. If your church chooses to put together a disaster plan, these contacts may prove to be very helpful as you go through that process.
Fortunately one community partner with expertise in dealing with disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has published a guide to assist churches in creating a disaster plan, or what they refer to as an emergency operations plan, or EOP.
For those who have a tendency to resist when they see the federal government wanting to
guide states that it is intended to provide informal guidance to houses of worship and does not
create any requirements beyond those already included in applicable law and regulations.
Basically FEMAs disaster planning guide is meant to be helpful. We believe that churches will find it to be exactly thathelpful.
FEMAs guide starts out by noting there are five areas involved in any thorough assessment of emergency preparedness:
A churchs EOP will want to take into account all five areas as they align with the three timeframes associated with an incident: before, during and after. Most of the work associated with prevention, protection and mitigation generally takes place before an incident. Response activities generally occur during an incident. Recovery activities can also take place during an incident, but most occur afterwards.
FEMAs guide lists five planning principles that it considers key to a church developing an EOP:
Planning can be done in many ways. In fact FEMA says that the six steps that they recommend are flexible enough that they can be adapted to accommodate any churchs unique characteristics and situation.
If your church becomes a victim of a disaster, its EOP can guide your leaders in protecting your church and maintaining its operations to the greatest extent possible.
We suspect that few, if any church members will be able to recall the last time their church held an emergency drill, if at all. Nonetheless, thats exactly what FEMA recommends. Granted, there is a cost and time commitment involved in holding drills, but if they are done with the collaboration of outside agencies, your plans moving parts can be evaluated better. This will result in your churchs efforts most likely being synchronized more smoothly with the efforts of your community partners.
If your church becomes a victim of a disaster, its EOP can guide your leaders in protecting your church and maintaining its operations to the greatest extent possible. If operations are discontinued for a time, your churchs EOP can also provide guidance in what steps need to be taken in order for operations to resume at your church.
Hopefully your church will never need to put its EOP into practice for real. But your congregants may not be so
fortunate. Since you rely on them to be the
helping hands that your church will send out to assist victims, your
church may want to share some basic tips with them on how they personally can be better prepared.
It is probably more likely that instead of your church being a victim of a disaster, a nearby community will be. Or perhaps other parts of your community will get hit while the church remains unscathed. In situations such as these your church likely will want to be at the forefront of serving victims.
Often people think that the best way that they can help when a disaster strikes is to just show up and do whatever is asked of them by the people in charge. That may be fine for individuals, but in severe disasters your church, working alongside govermental agencies in an organized and strategic manner may have a more significant impact on recovery efforts. Churches are well suited to provide what is known as Mass Care.
Mass Care includes:
In addition, other Mass Care opportunities can include hosting a volunteer reception center, or a multi-agency resource center or chain saw gangs.
Often in the wake of large disasters you will see people who have been forced out of their homes as well as
an influx of out-of-town volunteers pouring in to your community to help. Both groups need somewhere temporary to stay. Does your
church have the facilities to shelter these people? Do you have the necessary volunteers to staff a shelter?
If your church can answer
Yes to both of these questions, then you will want to prepare a shelter plan
ahead of time. Those who are part of your church and who wish to staff a shelter should also take the Red
Cross course on Shelter Management.
When communities are victims of disasters, its the churches in those communities that are in the best position to help in a variety of ways.
Perhaps your church has a great kitchen. In the aftermath of a large disaster people need to be fed. If your church wishes to help in this way you need to run your volunteers through the food handlers course offered by your local public health agency.
If your church has one or more large open rooms with easy access you may wish to offer your church as a distribution center for emergency supplies. When a large disaster occurs agencies move in and distribute large quantities of water, food, blankets, and other necessities to survivors. If your church chooses to help in this way you will need to have a facility that can handle a large volume of traffic and storage for bulk supplies. Volunteers will be needed to staff this project 24 hours a day 12 hours of distributing supplies, and 12 hours of receiving incoming supplies.
Fellow volunteers streaming in from everywhere will need a central place to go to for work assignments as well as information on where they can bunk down when theyre not working. Perhaps your church can serve as your communitys Volunteer Reception Center. Another centralized facility that is needed in a large disaster is a place where various agency representatives can set up shop so that victims can sign up for assistance that those agencies offer.
When communities are victims of disasters, its the churches in those communities that are in the best position to help in a variety of ways. We hope that weve given your churchs leaders some ideas on how your church can prepare for a disaster, and if spared, how it can reach out and help your community when disaster strikes. Frankly, we cant think of a better way your church can represent our Lord.
I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you did for me.
(Matt. 25:40 NIV)
Please Note: This information is provided with the understanding that Church Administrative Professionals is not rendering professional advice or service.